It is a wholly different thing to tell a person of means, of privilege, who has a measure of economic security and stability to "be patient, God is good" and telling someone who lives with food insecurity, unstable shelter, and a lack of economic opportunity to "be patient, God is good."
Do you see how this works?
“Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was ‘well timed’ in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied’” (MLK, Jr., Letter).
“But in general, when ancient Latin writers used the term patientia, they didn’t have heroes in mind; they were thinking of subordinates and victims. Patience seemed an appropriate attitude for people of no account who were on the receiving end of actions or experiences. For these people—powerless, poverty stricken, and often female--patientia was ignominious. Patience was the response of people who didn’t have the freedom to define their own goals or make choices. Notably patience was a response of slaves, for whom it was an inevitability, not a virtue” (Alan Kreider, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church: The Improbable Rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire).
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.
*Here are the first set of quotes from a presentation I gave on "Church (local), the poor and their neighborhood," where I sought to ask: "If a local church is “the flesh of a neighborhood” (i.e., the body of Christ local), does this mean a church should be activity concerned about the flourishing of its neighborhood?" This is the first post of a series of quotes (sets of quotes) to provoke our laissez-faire attitutdes and posture toward the issues of poverty and regarding the poor. For all the posted "Church (local) quotes >>
Gary Haugen, President and CEO of International Justice Mission, raises an important point:
Gary points out that for poverty to be eradicated, decreased, or lessened for individuals and communities, everyday violence needs to be addressed first. Good intentions, targeted anti-poverty programs, and crisis services are nice and fill a need, but they will not, ultimately, bring an end to poverty. Building a school in an impoverished global city is a good thing, but it does not good for the young girls who need to walk to school if that walk endangers their lives. As I heard Gary's TED Talk and read his book, The Locust Effect, I could not help but think locally as I serve as a pastor in a very poor community in New Haven, CT, called The Hill. Violence is an everyday threat to good families, adults, teens, and children who are seeking to manage messy, difficult lives in order to have any sense of a good future.
International Justice Mission is an organization that seeks to rescue victims of violence, sexual exploitation, slavery and and protect the poor from violence throughout the developing world.
Dangerous Sunday morning devotions: James 5:1-6, horrified by the poor rich readers' response to this text
While attending an early morning men’s prayer and devotional time (as a guest of the one leading the study component), I was horrified by some of the strained thoughts on the passage. The study leader actually tried to stick to the James text; it was the poor rich readers that made comments to lessen the impact of what God was saying through James' words in chapter 5 of his letter. Here are some of my thoughts as the poor rich readers of the Bible commented on James’ words:
Some might not think it, but I was being charitable here. My thoughts were a bit more harsh and even more direct than what I penned above. I will grant that it took me eighteen years after becoming a Christian to begin to see how suburban, affluent, and political I had been reading the Bible--all the while thinking I was interpreting rightly. We need to stop taking the poor out of the texts that actually call us to judgment for not doing something for the poor--neutrality, distance, time, politics will not be allowed as excuses on that day God judges all of our hearts. For on "that day" our riches will have rotten and our garments will have become moth-eaten. Our gold and our silver will have rusted; and their rust, on that day, will be a witness against us and will consume our flesh like fire.
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.