Power vs Poverty

I must admit that I know very little about the reasons for poverty or its solutions.  What is even sadder is that I have not even begun to apply what I already know.  As I begin to read about poverty and how Jesus interacted with the poor and rejected, I am also searching my heart to find both why I haven’t gotten involved before and how I should begin.

I am also learning that it is easy to “help” with the wrong motives and with broken results.  For instance, at a macro scale, aid money given to poor countries is sometimes used as a way to control that country.  I will give you this money to feed your people if you will stop x (producing a certain product, harboring so and so, etc.).  In the same way, aid money is rarely given for the purpose of helping a country achieve economic wealth.  More often than not it is simply a drop in the bucket that makes the donors look good but does little to alleviate the REAL problems.  This cycle is difficult to break because is allows those with power to look good while avoiding the risk that another power will arise.

On an individual level, we are just as guilty of using acts of charity for our own interests.  It makes us feel really great to give 5 bucks to the homeless guy on the corner, but that gift has little impact and does more to boost our own egos than to bring about change in his life.  What is more, the gift may well given be out of a desire to be relieved of guilt than to care for that person.

When we toss money at people who are hurting, we assume that they have no power, no voice, no value.  We must stop giving as a means of self-aggrandizement or a way to exercise power.  If we were instead to love the poor much in the same way Jesus did, then we would talk with them and find out their real needs.  We would sacrifice to see them made whole.  We would see them as valuable and give them opportunities to contribute to alleviating their own need and becoming productive members of their communities.

Have you seen instances of people helping to care for the long-term needs of individuals, valuing them and walking along side?  Please share.

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~ by Joshua Long on August 20, 2009.

6 Responses to “Power vs Poverty”

  1. So how do you see the church being involved in this – particulary in the United States. How do we care for our own; ie., the single moms who hide in our congregations with gaping needs and so much shame she cannot reach out?

    • The church (any group of God’s people) should care for those around them who are hurting. For instance, a small group of believers may see a need and commit to long-term care for an individual, seeking holistic growth. The church (an organized body of believers) and its leaders should create environments where such relationships can form and should also provide support as a larger entity when needed. I definitely believe that the best impact is to be had at the individual level. Let me also take a moment to encourage people to engage in genuine relationship with other believers now. I encounter people who have attended various churches for years and suddenly find themselves in a difficult situation (poor health, lost jobs, divorce, depression, addiction, etc.) and have no authentic community. The church (organization) can provide some resources and support but it is much less productive than the care of long-term spiritual friends.

      • I would also add that we be a people of grace so that people don’t feel the need to hide in shame.

  2. Joshua,
    Excellent questions and a great post. It’s good that you’re struggling with these questions. The church – as individual believers and as a community – is definitely called to minister to the poor.

    First, any effort to address poverty that ignores the root cause of suffering – sin – will fall short. It’s not just about changing government or meeting needs. It’s about allowing the life of Christ in us to change the world. But I’m not going to address that here 🙂

    Any strategic effort to confront poverty will need to have these elements:

    1. Provide for the immediate need (feed a man a fish)
    2. Provide education and opportunity (teach a man to fish)
    3. Provide accountability for lifestyle changes (expect the man to fish)

    I deal with the Benevolence ministry at our church. This is the way that we try to apply these principles.

    1. We will meet an immediate need. If food is needed, we provide food. If an essential bill is due, we will do what we can to make sure the bill is paid.

    2. We provide financial counseling free of charge. And if the person or family needs more than our counseling can address, we may pay their way to a Dave Ramsey course.

    3. With few exceptions, we will not continue to help the same people over and over. In fact, the only real exception we make is for widows on a fixed income with medical bills.

    • Thanks, Bryan.

      You noted that sin is the root cause of suffering (i.e. poverty). I agree with you that sin is the cause of poverty and suffering in general but I want to be careful to make the distinction that individual poverty and suffering is not always the direct result of that individual’s sin. Because we live in a fallen world, suffering exists. However, it would be inappropriate to look at a poor person and assume that their poverty is the result of their own sin. See John 9 for Jesus’ treatment of this subject.

      Thanks also for clarifying that we must meet both immediate and long-term needs with accountability. When do we cross the line of controlling through “accountability” (i’ll give you this money if you do x)?

      • Absolutely. Sin – not necessarily the sin of the individual. I didn’t explain that very well at all. I’m not much addressing the need to call out sin when dealing with poverty but to make sure we’re allowing God to address brokenness in the world through us.

        Accountability is always a difficult topic. On the one hand, we certainly don’t want to take away people’s God-given dignity and ability to choose. At the same time, we don’t want to take away their dignity by making them dependent on us. In all of this, we have a responsibility to God to be good stewards of our resources and relationships.

        When I talk about accountability, I don’t mean trying to control somebody’s life. I’m not talking about requiring them to bring in income statements or to follow a “one size fits all” course of action. I am talking about offering resources and accountability as a tool to help break the chains of poverty. About refusing to facilitate destructive behaviors and life patterns and making sure that donated resources are used for the purpose they were given.

        For example, one of the things we (the church I attend) do not do is give cash. Period. We’ll write a check to a landlord or the utility company. We’ll provide food. But we won’t give cash.

        We also shy away from helping the same people multiple times within a short time period – especially if they flat out refuse financial counseling. In this we’re not trying to control people’s finances but to give them the resources to be in control of, rather than at the mercy of, their resources.

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