Recently, newspaper columnist E.J. Dionne, Jr. emceed a “poverty summit” that included President Obama as a panelist. Because of the president’s involvement, the summit received significant news coverage; however, it seemed to devolve into the political food fight we’ve unfortunately become accustomed to rather than promote any real solution for how to address poverty in our country.
Dionne wrote about the summit in a column a few days later and said some things about the role of religion that I found curious. He asked the question, “Might the condition of low-income Americans galvanize religious people to see alleviating poverty and righting social injustice as moral issues?” Later in his column, Dionne recognized that religious groups are helping poor people but have been late to the game: “Religious groups were long at the forefront of our nation’s movements for civil rights and economic justice. People of faith are reassuming their rightful place in these struggles.”
Where does Dionne think we’ve been? Does he really think the Christian church has been turning its back on the poor people in their communities until recently?
In America’s history, it was Christianity that founded universities, built hospitals, started orphanages, created relief aid agencies and the like long before the government got involved in education, medicine, and social justice issues. And Christianity has been providing safety nets for its poorer neighbors since it began – and the church has never stopped.
But the church also does something else to address poverty that politicians, pundits, and columnists rarely acknowledge: we teach the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The reason why the gospel of Christ is an important tool for improving the lives of impoverished people is that it addresses the real-life issues of poverty that politicians don’t seem to understand. You see, “fixing” poverty requires more than money. You must also recognize that the causes of poverty run deeper than a lack of income. You have to address…
1. Behaviors, habits, and lifestyles that prevent people from moving out of poverty.
2. The “poverty mindset” (as famed sociologist Ruby Payne defines it) that creates generational poverty.
3. A lack of understanding regarding how to handle money.
4. A victim mentality that causes a person to believe that he or she is not worthy, important, valuable, or needed.
If these things are not changed within a poor person’s life, then it is highly unlikely that he or she will rise up out of poverty no matter how much money governments or churches hand out.
The good news is that, as a minister, I know many people who grew up in poverty only to break free from it and create a different life for themselves and their families. But none of them did it without addressing the four things mentioned above. And this is where the gospel of Jesus Christ comes in.
The Bible instructs people on how to live in such a way that they build positive and productive lives. The Bible outlines principles of money management that have been proven through time to help people be good stewards of the financial blessings God gives to them. And the Bible teaches people to view themselves as “the beloved of God” who possess intrinsic worth and value because they were created by God – and through Jesus Christ are victors over their circumstances not victims.
Christianity’s long history of providing help to the poor through practical means is well-documented and cannot be argued against. But it’s way past time that our society recognizes that the Christian church that faithfully teaches the gospel of Jesus Christ is drilling down to the root causes of poverty through its teaching of the gospel and providing all people with the practical knowledge of how to live the “abundant life” that comes through Christ.
I am constantly inspired by the work that churches, community groups, and government agencies are doing to help the most vulnerable in our society. Can we do better? Sure. But we won’t do better until we stop politicizing poverty, alienating religious people, ignoring the real causes of poverty because they are deemed to be “politically incorrect,” and using poverty as an issue with which you can “attack” the other political party.
If politicians, pundits, and columnists want to keep holding summits about poverty to make themselves feel better because they talked about it, that’s fine.
Meanwhile, I’ll be with the Christians who are actively working with people of all races, religions, ethnicities, and political parties to better the lives of our neighbors.