Speaking More For the Poor!

In my previous post Speaking of the Poor — It’s Not Their Fault, I wrote about poverty through my experience as a minister. The post was in response to recent comments made by noted financial expert and evangelical author Dave Ramsey, who suggested that poverty in America is simply a result of bad decision making on the part of the poor.*

Preposterous Assumptions…

Though there isn’t any denying that poverty is compounded by bad choices, poverty is also the result of problems that are beyond the control of any single individual or family. In fact, while everyone of us has made choices that either help or hinder a healthy life, we also are the product of choices that others made for us. From the family into which we are born to systemic issues such as racism, poor health, lack of education, etc… are issues that contribute to poverty and are often beyond the control of those suffer in poverty.

Yet for those of us raised in a functional home where such issues were not a problem, it becomes easy to forget how difficult it is to overcome such challenges. Even worse, it’s tempting to judge the behaviors of those who still struggle in everything that is poverty, be it the working poor or the homeless. I’ve heard some people suggest before that people are poor because they choose to be or that poverty is some sort of bed they deserve to sleep in. One person commenting on my blog even suggested that some poor people are like a prodigal child and that “hunger sometimes is the best discipline to bring a prodigal to his senses.”

This is disturbing! I don’t know the people who have such thoughts. However, I can surely say that I’ve never met a poor person who was happy living in poverty or a hungry individual who was better served by starving. Herman Melville once said, “Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.” In fact, at some point such criticisms become an exercise in self-righteousness. Can I get an “Amen!”?

What Can We Do?

As a minister, I encounter a lot of individuals and families who call the church looking for help. To be honest, “benevolence” is often a very frustrating. I’ve never met a church member who disagrees with me on that. The frustration comes from seeing people make bad choices as well as seeing the systematic problems (sometimes injustices) that prolong a never ending cycle of poverty.  Yet I wonder if part of the frustration stems from the fact of wanting to help by trying to solve a problem that isn’t ours to solve.

Let me be clear, as people belonging to God, the church is called to do justice and show mercy (cf. Mic 6:8). That involves helping people when we encounter them in need (mercy) and addressing the systemic problems that create poverty (justice) as we can. What role the government and other civic organizations have towards the poor is an important question but not my concern. My concern is the church and I believe the church’s first response to poverty is to follow Jesus.

For Christians, this time of year is known as Advent and our attention is focused on Jesus coming into the world. If that means anything then it is a call for us to follow Jesus as he comes into the world for the world. Born in a manger and put to death on the cross, Jesus is born in humility and dies in humility before he is raised in victory. Throughout his ministry Jesus chose a life of downward mobility, willing to be present with those rejected by others—including the poor. So rather than trying to solve the problem of poverty, our first responsibility is to be present with the poor that we encounter. Not as a judge nor as someone who is better but as a friend!

Such presence can take the form of volunteering in a shelter, inviting a struggling family over for dinner, taking time to listen to the story of the person we’re trying to help, and so on. When we spend time with Jesus and allow Jesus to take us into the world as he comes into the word, among the poor (and others who suffer), possibilities abound. As we are present with the poor, we trust the problem of poverty to God who is always redeeming and restoring. For one day, all things will be made new!

——————–

* This post was originally published as a similar article titled The Church and The Poor in Connecting 28 (December 4, 2013), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ.

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6 responses to “Speaking More For the Poor!

  1. Amen!

  2. Great post! I definitely see the completed work of Jesus in this call. Something I HEAVILY depend on the Spirit for, is to be motivated BY the Spirit, BY the completed work of Jesus, FOR others to experience Jesus. Instead, I am motivated by my own goodness, which is worthless. Or by works, deeds, and humble selfishness so I can mark the tally on my non existent, but ever looming, check list that I measure myself on to earn my reward with Christ…which is clearly a lie. So I loved the reminder.

    • Thanks for your comment. It definitely can only be Christ at work in us. When we rely on our own goodness, our own merit, and so on, we’ll never go where Christ calls us to follow, because the challenge will become too great. But when trusting in his promise and power, can we truly follow Christ into the world…to the cross.

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

      • Agreed. And we’re probably saying the same thing so I hope this isn’t taken as me beating a dead horse…But I’m seeing that it’s taken a step further, to the point that it’s not just me “trusting In his promise and power”, bc yet again, my legalistic mind checks that off the list. So for me, and from what I can see in scripture, it’s allowing that promise and power to motivate your heart and do a work internally that will produce an external fruit the Spirit cultivated.
        The “follow me” call of Christ has been perceived as a huge lie, lined with duties, what fors, and judgements…at least in the culture I live in. And most “Christians” believe it, which causes us to follow a false god, or a mean Jesus as I call him. We can see where Jesus calls us to lay down our lives in response to his sacrifice, for the sake of others, bc our lives aren’t ours once we come under the completed work of Christ. However, again, this is an internal work if the Spirit. You can’t help but to change, to follow, to sacrifice, to serve in the same way Christ did. Why? Because HIS Spirit lives in us, motivating us, changing us, loving us. We are motivated by a loving call to “follow me” that lovingly reveals Jesus’best for our lives.
        Again, hope I’m not kicking a dead horse. But THIS love, this is a motivating love. THIS love has broken the chains of bondage in my life that have held me captive my entire life to legalism, duties, and a mean Jesus. THIS love is the gospel, the real one, not the one that I’ve always believed for fear of not believing. So hopefully I’m not kicking a dead horse, but if I am, it’s bc I’m excited about a loving Jesus and desire others to see him too.

      • You’re not kicking a dead horse. I wish more people understood that following Jesus can only be motivated by God’s love.

        Grace and Peace,

        Rex

  3. Many of the most notable saints of the Church chose poverty- why, because the New Testament has an ascetic ideal- one can know God better, Him, the Power of His Resurrection, and the Fellowship of His Sufferings, in poverty. The son of Man had nowhere to lay his head. ‘Blessed are the poor’ states the beatitudes in the Gospel of Luke, the the chapter the sixth of that Book. Material poverty is more able to produce the poverty of spirit that makes for revelation of the Kingdom of God. Hence, the lamentation of Christ over the riches of the rich man whom he loved, who had kept the commandments, but could not forsake his riches- for such a man it is impossible to find salvation, apart from miracle.
    Is the alleviation of material want the summation of our ministry to the poor? No. Giving them a fish if they are hungry is part of it for sure, but drawing them into the Gospel of the Kingdom, into the inner simplicity of non-acquisitiveness, of the Paternal Providence of the King, into the fecundity of giving is also part.
    Is the charity of the Church fulfilled by the social welfare of the State? By no means. Material aid given as charity by the Church is a Sacrament and has within the things given Divine Energies, Graces, that offer the potential of rebirth in the Kingdom, something that mere social welfare can never impart. Charity is a Sacrament imparting enabling grace. Social Welfare is not, and at its worst can be Antichristian parody of the real thing.

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