*** I started writing this post before the big announcement by Obama last night. By the time he finally spoke, I was too far into it, and I actually think the topic is somehow fitting ***
I’ve started reading a new book recently. When I was in Haiti, all the members of the organization we were working with were reading it and I took that as recommendation enough to pick it up when I got back.
The name of the book is “When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor… and Yourself”. Not that I needed convincing, but there are astonishing statistics about the prevalence of poverty around the world. “While the average American lives on more than ninety dollars per day, approximately one billion people live on less than one dollar per day and 2.6 billion – 40 percent of the world’s population – live on less than two dollars per day” (p 42).
This isn’t a political issue. This isn’t a religious issue. This isn’t an issue that either the church or the government can solve on their own. Like I said, I’m only one chapter in but I’ve already learned a ton.
One of the first questions the book asks is why Jesus came to earth. The “Sunday school” answer I have always given is about forgiveness of sin. While that is true, even what Jesus shares at the beginning of his ministry indicates there is more to the story. He reads a passage from Isaiah that explains a larger purpose.
17And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:17-19)
There is additional evidence in the Old Testament that the laws given to God’s people were designed with address poverty as well. “The commands were so extensive that they were designed to achieve the ultimate goal of eradication poverty among God’s people” (pg 39, see Deut 15:4).
What frustrates me most at this point is that the issue of poverty and helping the poor has become less of a direct religious issue and one tied up in politics. In my opinion, the church has largely moved AWAY from the cause of poverty. In general, the church tends to align itself more with the Republican side of the political spectrum, while issues of social welfare tend to be causes on the Democratic side of the political spectrum.
I thought that was the reason why the church had abandoned issues of poverty. Apparently it is not as simple as that and the “Great Reversal” from the 1900s-1930s which was the “the evangelical church’s retreat from poverty alleviation was fundamentally due to shifts in theology and not – as many have asserted – to government programs that drove the church away from ministry to the poor” (p 45).
I don’t really understand yet how shifts in theology can explain abandoning a cause that was so close to the heart of Jesus. Being a Christian literally (in Greek) means being a “follower of Christ”. Shouldn’t I continue to follow the same ministry that Jesus declared at the beginning of His?
I was blessed to attend a concert this weekend by the artist Brooke Fraser.
I was even able to meet her briefly after to thank her for her music and ministry. Her song “Albertine” speaks to the same feelings I have in my heart after seeing poverty in my community and around the world.
Now that I have seen, I am responsible
Faith without deeds is dead
Now that I have held you in my own arms, I cannot let go till you are
I am on a plane across a distant sea
But I carry you in me
and the dust on, the dust on, the dust on my feet
I will tell the world, I will tell them where I’ve been
I will keep my word
I will tell them Albertine
As I’ve read and studied deeper, it has become more and more obvious that this is not an issue that money alone will fix. I have more thoughts about that topic than I could bear to include in this post. Maybe I’ll revisit that idea as I get further into this book (as they have obviously done more research than I have).
If you scrolled down to the end of this post to leave a comment or remarkable read the whole thing and found yourself here. Our Uncle Stephen Colbert summarized the issue himself back in December in a quote I have not forgotten since –
“If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we’ve got to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition — and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”