In my previous articles, I talked about my struggle in how I think about & relate to the poor. I also shared a summary of what the Bible says about the poor. At the same time, I questioned the appropriateness of applying the Bible’s commands regarding the poor to “America’s poor.”
It’s time for some conclusions. I have 5 of them.
Please note: These are my conclusions. You need to evaluate them for yourself. Again, I invite your comments.
The poor in the Bible and “America’s poor” are indeed quite different. There are millions of people in the world today who are literally starving to death. I would argue that their situation is the most urgent, and thus should receive the greatest attention from the standpoint of the Church.
As it stands, the American church virtually ignores the millions on the verge of dying from starvation while concentrating on the American poor, who are only poor in the relative sense. I believe this is both a tragedy and travesty.
The American model of forcibly taking from the well-off (through taxation) to give to the less-well-off (through entitlements and government programs) is problematic on many levels. One can question its basic morality. At the very least, it tends to produce resentment (on the part of the rich) and greater dependence (on the part of the poor).
Presently, over 100 million Americans receive some kind of government assistance, not counting Medicare or Social Security. The number goes up every year. Eventually, we’ll reach a crisis point, if we haven’t already.
For the objectively poor (those on the verge of starving to death), it is appropriate to help them without any qualifications or conditions. If a person is dying of hunger, you do give him food.
But, for the American poor (including many of the disabled), it is unwise and harmful to simply give them things (money, property or services) without requiring anything in return. Not requiring anything in return tends to reinforce their bad behavior, which (in most cases) is the cause of their poverty.
With respect to the disabled, most are able to do some kind of work and giving them that responsibility enhances their well-being.
The American poor, while different from the Bible’s poor, must still be viewed with compassion (as called for in Scripture). This should be our basic stance (attitude) toward the poor.
The vast majority of American poor were raised in dysfunctional homes – marked by abuse, violence, parental abandonment, bad schools, alcohol/drug addiction, the absence of healthy role models, etc. In my experience working with the poor, this was the case virtually 100% of the time.
More than others, Christians should understand the enslaving power of sin, as well as the role of Satan in destroying lives. The poor are often in bondage to sin (alcohol/drug addiction is common) and are being ravaged by the evil one. They need our compassion.
Even though the poor in the Bible and America’s poor are quite different, all of the biblical commands still apply because the commands are not just for the poor’s benefit, but for OUR benefit (the well-off).
We can learn a lot from the poor, and serving them in the ways talked about in Scripture (see Part 2 of series) will make us more Christ-like, which is God’s ultimate purpose in our lives. Even if we’re being taken advantage of by the poor, we’re still growing in the characteristics of Christ.