July 18, 2014

Working for the Least of These

We have a tendency in our media-driven, fast-paced culture to pretend like we care – we share a story on Facebook, retweet an activist on Twitter, or wear a pair of shoes or a t-shirt with a particular label – and feel satisfied with our attempt to make the world a better place. Not many would still consider “slacktivism” as entirely effective advocacy for justice, but such actions reveal both a desire to do good and either an ignorant approach or an inability to do so. In a world full of so much brokenness, violence, pain, and suffering, should we even care? Isn’t it easier to just turn aside and maintain a blissful ignorance than actually care?

Forgive me for being so cynical, but our ever-increasing levels of connectivity only offer delusions of relational interaction with one another. The status of our relationships depends on a pick-list, not the last time we talked or grabbed lunch. I’m sorry, but you can’t have a conversation by contributing approximately 140 characters. Blogs aren’t going to change the world (yes…I realize the irony).

I promise there’s a point to my railing. The Heritage Foundation hosted a panel to discuss topics surrounding the new book sponsored by the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics titled For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty. Michael Craven of The Good Works Company and Derrick Morgan of Heritage joined the books editors and contributing authors, Dr. Anne Bradley and Dr. Art Lindsley of the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics, to promote the books and discuss tactical, biblical solutions to poverty around the globe.

The discussion was fantastic, and I encourage you to watch for yourself below. Dr. Lindsley, a theologian by trade, began the discussion with encouraging statistics. In 1800, 85 percent of the world’s population lived in what we would classify today as “abject poverty.” In 2007, that percentage had dropped to 15 percent and continues to plummet. The World Bank predicts this form of poverty will be completely eliminated by 2030.

Understanding the limitations of a theologian discussing economics, Dr. Lindsley handed the microphone to his colleague, Dr. Bradley, who discussed income inequality as it relates to poverty. She asked, “Are the rich getting richer at the expense of the poor?” and claimed that issues of income inequality will be one of the most important topics for the 2016 presidential candidates to address. Dr. Bradley does not think income inequality is the major problem, but “income mobility and overall well-being” are the important things to keep in consideration, both of which are much more difficult to track than income inequality. These two presentations were followed by Craven’s description of The Good Works Company and their work, which included a statement saying jobs are the best form of poverty alleviation, and brief concluding remarks by Morgan about Heritage’s work advancing free enterprise around the world.

I absolutely admire the effort put forth by the IFWE and other groups involved in the compiling of this book and look forward to learning from their work. However, I think they would join with me in saying a book about Christians responding to poverty is not enough. Blogging about poverty is not enough. These awareness activities are great places to start, but they are not ends in themselves. Jobs will absolutely help alleviate poverty, but not as well as relationships will.

Poverty is incredibly complex, and has a variety of causes including poor human choices and broken systems. However, poverty is not merely a material wealth problem; spiritual and moral poverty also affects all of us (which makes me question the statistics I mentioned earlier). Scripture is rife with commandments to help the poor among us, but if we are all suffering from poverty, why do we take such a prideful, paternalistic approach to those that have less material wealth than us?

I need to hear this message first; I am just as guilty of this mindset at times as anyone. But maybe, just maybe, we can capture a vision of the kingdom of God that allows us to not define or filter our friendships based on socioeconomic status. Maybe, just maybe, we can begin to see one another not as beneficiaries in mutualistic relationships but as friends, as brothers and sisters in symbiotic relationships where we realize our great common need for God and depend on him through one another. Maybe, just maybe, we can live a sacrificially generous life as did our Savior, who had “no place to lay his head.” Maybe, just maybe, we can show compassion rather than pity; weep and extend a hand rather than weep and turn away. And maybe, just maybe, we won’t project poverty on others without first realizing how much we first also need.

Should we even care? Of course we should.

Isn’t it easier to just turn aside and maintain a blissful ignorance than actually care? Of course it is.

Doesn’t Christ’s love enable us to walk with Him and others and turn definitions of poverty on their head? Of course it does.

Soli Deo Gloria

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