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A Christian Response to Poverty

04/27/2012

Yesterday I wrote a post for Jessica Goudeau’s blog. (Check out her blog here. It is good reading.) She has been doing a series about Christianity and poverty. She asked a few people to write about their perspectives, and I was honored to join the conversation. I reposted my thoughts below. (I haven’t had time to write anything else lately, so I figured I would just plagiarize myself.)

 

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” 2 Cor 8:9

What is the Christian response to poverty?

The angles one could take in answering this question are numerous. There are multiple strategies and methods Christians can utilize when engaging poverty. There are various principles and guidelines of which they should be aware in order to dodge potential landmines. These are critical ideas to be talked about. But, I would like to frame the question in a slightly different way.

Is there a response to poverty that is uniquely Christian? And, if so, what would that look like?

I think we need to have a lot of conversations about what constitutes an appropriate attempt at alleviating poverty. There is much to learn from other people’s experiences. In fact, I know of a few socially-engaged Buddhists who could add to the conversation. I’ve heard many good ideas from atheists about combating systemic poverty. As Christians, we can and should listen to the wisdom of others and add our two-cents as well. We need to be talking about better practices and strategies.

However, at some point, we need to take a step back from talking purely about economic theories, government issues, and business practices. We need to be reflective about how the gospel shapes our attitudes, perspectives, and service in regard to those suffering in poverty. How does engaging poverty change in light of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ?

Here is what I think in the simplest of terms: the Christian response to poverty is a willingness to die for the sake of the poor. To be clear, I am not talking exclusively about literally dying, though that very well might be an option at some point. I am speaking about entering into the lives of the poor without holding onto anything too tightly. Let me explain.

I am a firm believer that the good news of the gospel is that the world is being renewed because death has been defeated in Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Jesus, and thus our participation in that resurrection, creates a unique people who live differently in this world. No longer slaves to the fear of death, we hold everything loosely. All the things we grasp onto in order to seemingly gain power, security, and status—that is, those things that give us control over our own destinies—begin to lose their appeal. We now can cross borders for the sake of unity because we realize our national identities do not have the power to protect us from death. We can share our clothes, and not just the old ones, because we know that “image is everything” is a hopeless and tiring pursuit. We can move into poorer neighborhoods because we are no longer trying to keep up with the Joneses. Living under the banner of “Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?” is to move toward alleviating poverty.

Now, I am aware that poverty stems from a complexity of issues, such as systemic economic injustices, corrupt business practices, and a lack of educational opportunities, to name a few. However, I am becoming a bigger believer in the idea that the most significant cause for poverty is our (or at least my) unwillingness to live in reciprocal, self-sacrificing community with the “other.” I create poverty when I grasp on tightly to what is mine. I create it by holding onto the differences between “us” and “them.” I create the poor because I do not see them as my brother or sister. What the world needs is a people who hold onto things loosely in order to live in reciprocal and sustainable community.

Therefore, the Christian response to poverty is for God’s people to live as if the resurrection is true. This is the unique “strategy” we have. The church, at its core, exists for the sake of the other. It is the only entity that fulfills its call by giving itself away.

Let me juxtapose this with government intervention. I am all for nation-states giving relief to other countries. I would rather governments spend money on helping the poor than producing more weapons. But, I don’t put much hope in nations when it comes to eradicating poverty. Because, when push comes to shove, a nation will only give if its own power, security, and status are not at stake. However, once those things are threatened, self-preservation and the fear of death will ultimately maintain the status quo of inequality. Reciprocal community is impossible when a threat of violence stands behind acts of charity.

On the other hand, when the fear of death is no longer the power at work in us, the church can fully love and serve the poor, even potentially to the point of losing itself. If we can get to this point, then we can begin to devote ourselves to long-term community and economic development, not just periodic acts of charity. We can then downsize our homes and live among those whom the world often forgets. We can give, without remorse, our second shirt to the one with none because we realize grasping onto riches is actually taking away our freedom. We can live in reciprocal community with the poor because we live now in light of the fact that a day is coming when there will no longer be rich and poor. We can live without fear of death because, in Jesus Christ, death has lost its sting.

I realize that this might all sound idealistic. But, then again, eradicating poverty is quite idealistic. So, keep doing the little things to serve those in need and think hard about how we can most effectively bring about economic justice. And, most importantly, love so much that even death can’t stand in the way.

By the way, I am in no way speaking from experience in this post. I am a long, long way from living like this. But, I like imagining a life such as this. And, you never know—maybe, after a time, my imagination will become reality. Here’s hoping. 

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One comment

  1. Chris . I can ditto the comment of thnaks that was shared. Your manner of teaching leads folk to sharing out of the abundance of what the Lord’s done and is doing in our lives rather than mere duty. Also appreciate learning to listen to the Spirit.



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