Monday, August 29, 2011

The Depraved Poor?

The other day I was perusing blogs and I came across this one that caused me to sit and stare at my computer completely dumbfounded. The author was apparently a prominent voice within some evangelical circles. He wrote in regards to a recent study by the American Sociological Association that says that less educated, low income Americans are leaving the church at double the rate of those with more education and higher incomes. 

The author began by saying: 

"It is past time to admit a very hard truth: America’s poverty problem is also a depravity problem. It is simply a fact that people who work hard, finish their education, get married, and stay married are rarely — very rarely — poor.  There is no other proven formula for lifting Americans out of poverty.  None.  Food stamps don’t do it.  Medicaid doesn’t do it.  Soup kitchens don’t do it.  Good intentions don’t do it.  Hundreds of billions of dollars of transfer payments have not budged the poverty rate."

Wow, well that's nice for those of us lucky enough to be born into a home where the opportunities to accomplish these things are readily available. It's really too bad for all those other poor folk that face very real, complex, and depraved institutional, social, and economic roadblocks that keep them within the cycle of poverty. But, I'm sure hearing from someone in a higher class that they just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps- and accept Jesus- is the way to end the cycle. I'm also having a hard time seeing the connection between depravity and something such as not finishing one's education. Am I missing something? As far as I know, depravity isn't confined to socioeconomic class. 

The author goes on to say that the Cross is the only answer to poverty. 

However, can you really say that the Cross is the only answer to poverty when you initially say hard work, finishing school, and staying married is the answer? 

Is the gospel of Jesus the answer? Surely it is. But, the answer to the problem of poverty is found in kingdom values, not middle class values and social stability. Jesus came to bring good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted and set the prisoners free. The Cross frees us of our poverty. The gospel shows us a better way to live, though this has absolutely nothing to do with income, education, or possessions. The gospel provides a voice to the voiceless, covers the shame of the disgraced, and brings hope to the dejected. It says you are created in the image of God, you have worth. It says, even in your depravity, Christ died for you. It says hope is not in things but in a risen King. The gospel allows us to put our faith in a God that's able to paint a beautiful portrait of redemption through pain, sacrifice and despair.

When you view poverty through the eyes of the impoverished, using their own definition, it's no wonder they are leaving the American church in droves. Those that are poor define poverty less in terms of material possessions but as the lack of opportunity and voice and feelings of shame and worthlessness.  If this is true poverty, than maybe when looking for solutions to how to alleviate it, we're asking all the wrong questions. Is the ultimate goal to bring someone to middle class status where we have a whole new set of issues, including pride, apathy, entitlement, materialism, and consumerism? 

Those living in poverty aren't finding a home within churches built primarily on middle-class values. There are certainly many, many wonderful churches engaged in serving those in poverty. I wonder though, are we actually giving the marginalized a voice within the church? Do we choose leaders more often based on spiritual gifting or on education and status? What happens to those that feel like they have no voice? Quite often they disengage. Are these people running away from Jesus or are they running from Pharisaical churches? How many of our middle-class churches have become a place of comfort instead of a place of mission?

One of the more troubling assertions in the article, is the author's reflection about his time "in the trenches." He talks about how he spent several years working in mentoring programs, providing financially for people in need, and generally giving of himself. Through all this, he claims he was taken advantage of until the point where he realized that everything he had done was meaningless. 


To say that we don't serve, we don't give of ourselves because "it doesn't work" sounds like quite the depravity problem to me. 

We serve the poor, the unloved, and the marginalized because Jesus told us to and showed us how. We meet the physical needs of people because Jesus said in Matthew 25 that in taking care of these people, we are taking care of Him. I believe wholeheartedly as followers of Jesus we must work to alleviate poverty and work for all kinds of social justice. There is no doubt that when we look at the life of Jesus we see that we are called to do this. In Luke 4:18, Jesus quotes from Isaiah saying,
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Then, he goes onto say that today this Scripture is fulfilled through Him. 

He is the answer.

Jesus brought freedom as no one else could. When he rode into Jerusalem days before his crucifixion, people were laying palms before him. They wanted a messiah that would free them from the oppressive Roman rule. But the Kingdom of God was not of this world, and it provided so much more than just freedom from tyrannical governments. The freedom that God gives goes so far beyond physical needs, yet we still serve people's physical needs as Jesus did during his ministry. The cure for poverty isn't in more money, but we give more money. The cure for poverty isn't in providing better education but we provide better education. The cure for poverty isn't in working at soup kitchens but we still work in soup kitchens. We do all these things and love Jesus through loving people. 

We work to promote kingdom values, and we speak to the needs of the whole person. 

We bring hope in despair, voice to the voiceless, and restore dignity to the marginalized. We don't shove middle-class values down their throats; we serve, we love, and we show the person of Jesus, who is the answer to the poverty of every heart, regardless of class or status.


Bethany Green said...

This is great! You are right on Kelly. Being in the area of social work has brought these glaring issues into a whole new light for me. Thanks for that!

hcfischer1 said...

I wrote this article back in 2007 about the prosperity gospel:

White, rich people always think that people are poor b/c the do not have Jesus...even if they do. And if they could just tell them about Jesus that a poor person's wildest dreams would come true.