Compassion for the Poor Isn't Enough
This week will forever be remembered as the week of the “Polar Vortex.” As extreme Artic weather blew through America, temperatures in all 50 states dipped below freezing, with some states recording temperatures 25 degrees below zero. The National Weather Service warned that the cold was severe enough in North Dakota and Minnesota to freeze human flesh in five minutes!
All the focus on the weather also brought reports about the poor- those living either out in the cold or whose homes were insufficient to keep them warm. At least 17 deaths were blamed on severe weather this week, and I saw several stories on homeless shelters overwhelmed with people seeking relief from the cold.
When natural disasters or severe weather strike, there’s often more attention given to the poor and needy, as there should be. But feeling brokenhearted is simply not enough to fix the problem of poverty in America, as Jennifer Marshall point’s out in her recent blog post, “It’s Not Enough to Care About ‘The Poor.’”
Marshall notes that although our federal government runs eighty programs focused on providing services to the poor and has spent nearly $20 trillion since President Johnson declared a “War on Poverty,” the poverty rate still remains almost as high today as it was in the mid-1960s. Clearly, it’s a problem government alone cannot fix. Though reactive measures like government aid are needed, a more proactive response is necessary.
Individuals, communities and institutions must care enough to roll up their sleeves and get into the mess of insufficiency. Those who God calls, he equips, and who is more equipped than the Church? As Christians, we have been given this high call to “defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82).
True flourishing, Marshall believes, goes beyond assisting material need. In the pursuit of human flourishing, a greater focus is needed on righting wronged relationships. Where do we start? Marshall offers several practical suggestions:
1. Family- Family breakdown is a significant predictor of hardship for a child. Single-mother families are more than four times more likely to be in poverty than married-couple families. Couples should consider serving as marriage mentors to those who never have witnessed a stable, loving marriage. Singles might consider being mentors in programs like Big Brothers, Big Sisters.
2. Church- the church is equipped to address all the dimensions that contribute to brokenness, says Marshall. Churches can create ministries which not only aim at meeting physical needs, but also address the deep emotional and spiritual challenges underlying those problems as well.
3. Business- We so often think of business as inherently evil. It’s not. Enterprise provides jobs, and work is essential to human dignity and flourishing. Business owners might consider how their business can work with those who lack traditional work history, or how their companies might rework their standards to insure workers are being treated with justice and care. Accordingly, individuals can honor companies that promote high standards by putting their dollars where their hearts are, or by boycotting businesses with unethical practices.
4. Government- Though we all know how ineffective government can be, government is at its best when, as Marshall says, it’s “protecting what family, church, business and other communities cultivate.” Good government can protect the weak and punish oppressors.
As Christians, we are called to seek justice and care for the poor—a task that goes way past compassion and propels us to action. Crosswalk Editor Debbie Holloway reminds us, “Christ made no bones about it: we at least have to try. Not just the important, desperate, convenient people. God’s empathy extends to “even the least of them” – He feels both their pain and their gratitude.”
Our call is a high one, but it’s also a joyful one. “When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices,” Proverbs 11:10 reminds us. When we steward the opportunities, talents and treasure God has given us to help our neighbors flourish, we flourish too.
Kelly Givens is the editor of iBelieve.com.