NASHVILLE, Tenn., May 25 (ABP)--Giving to religion comprised the largest share in what one expert called a "charity boom" in the United States, according to figures released Wednesday.

A Baptist ethicist credited the stock market and "good economic times" for an increase in overall charitable giving.

"Let's hope the religious community's moral teachings to support causes for the poor and the common good also played a part," said Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics in Nashville, Tenn.

Religious charities received nearly $82 billion of $190 billion given in 1999, a rise of 5.5% from 1998.

Religion showed the largest gain in charitable giving, $4.29 billion. That was double that of the next largest increase, gifts to education, which grew by $2.14 billion.

Total charitable giving grew faster than last year's economy and has increased more than $15 billion annually since 1997.

"The new figures are remarkable," said Bruce Reed in a New York Times article, saying charitable giving in the last seven years now totals $1 trillion.

In 1995, personal giving represented 1.5% percent of personal income. In 1998 and 1999, it reached 1.8%.

"Clearly America is in a charity boom," Reed added in comments to the Washington Post.

While charitable giving has increased, "it did not quite keep pace with the tremendous accumulation in wealth," according to the Times article.

Though personal giving represents 1.8% of personal income, "it could ultimately be 3.6 or 3.7% without affecting wealth," Claude Rosenberg, founder and president of the San Francisco-based New Tithing Group, told the Post.

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