I am in favor of and an advocate for a public social service net--I have worked hard at and made my livelihood from one for may years. I have designed and facilitated programs on behalf of our most vulnerable. While still a good thing, I am very weary of a government-run system whose programs still leave the poor in poverty with little or no escape (no upward mobility, if you will) and, in the end, that mostly benefits the politicians who are dependent on the poor, well, being poor for their votes and, as well, the massive bureaucracies--the armies of clerical and professional poverty-fighters whose livelihoods and their own upward mobility are only secure in as much as poverty continues. The least likely beneficiary for such a system is the actual poor. In fact, too many people and groups are dependent on the poor remaining poor. I have a problem with this. It is time to rethink how poverty is addressed.
Even large corporations—the biggest ones—aren't geared to support a truly anti-poverty approach to, well, ending poverty and/or moving the poor out of poverty. I asked one of the most involved funders of poverty programs (GE, Inc.) if they'd consider a new approach to fighting poverty, that is one that will actually move individuals and families OUT of INTERGENERATIONAL POVERTY and the response: "Sorry, we can't. That's just not one of our buckets."
Yes, indeed, all players need to be at the table (including BIG BUSINESS and the GOVERNMENT), yet I believe the church, or better, churches (implying churches local) are the ones to offer a new (really an older) paradigm for fighting poverty. But, in order to be able to and best positioned to alleviate poverty and actually move people (really communities) out of poverty, the church needs to rethink church, which in the end might be the harder system to undo.
A while ago, I was reading a novel about the investigation of a mysterious plane crash. It was a great read. Enjoyed it immensely. It was entitled Crashers, written by Dana Haynes. “Crashers” is the name given to Go-Teams who are sent in immediately to investigate airline plane crashes, leading experts from specific fields vested in determining the cause of the crash, so it never happens again. In the midst of the storyline, a character, not necessarily religious, ponders a rather curious thought that got me thinking about the church and the poor. She said,
"Land of milk and honey . . . Bloody lot of good it does if you can’t handle lactose and you’ve got diabetes to boot."
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.