Blaming the poor for their poverty is an old and cruel American tradition. It is not Biblical, as both the Prophets and the Gospels see the problem of being poor rooted in the oppression and “hardness of heart” of the rich and powerful—-those who use their political and economic power to further their own wealth and power built on the backs of the poor.
Jim Wallis in his book, Call to Conversion, says: “The question to be asked is not ‘What should we give to the poor?’ but ‘When will we stop taking from the poor?'” He adds: “The poor are not our problem; we are their problem.” (Wallis, The Call to Conversion, p. 43)
He adds: Throughout history, the rich have had a difficult time in seeing that their prosperity is based on other people’s poverty.” (idem)
The Wichita Eagle recently reported that the Kansas governor turnied down a federal grant of several million dollars meant to insure that the poor and needy would receive communication about the resources available to them. The Kansas Director of Social Services defended the state’s refusal of the grant by saying” we don’t want to encourage peoples’ dependency” or words to that affect! She said this when she, of all people, should be aware that those depending on aid are to a large extent children, the aged, the mentally challenged, and families where two people working cannot make enough to pay the monthly costs of food, utilities, housing and utilities.
Those in power—and have you ever met a “poor” legislator or member of the executive branch either in Kansas or Washington?—-are using that power to enrich themselves and gain political advantage and power by cutting food stamps, withholding health care coverage, and justifying themselves by blaming the poor for being poor. Their prosperity and power is at the expense of the poor.
Let’s look at a few examples of hundreds that could be given….
IN BUSINESS and INDUSTRY: We, as consumers, demand cheap goods. We complain about high prices and will buy at the lowest prices. To be competitive, make a profit, and satisfy the demands of their stockholders as well as consumers of their goods, business and industry needs cheap labor. So they send their production business to countries where labor is very cheap. That not only keeps persons in that foreign country at subsistence income or lower, but it takes away jobs from those who are needing them in the United States. Either way, the poor are supporting our demand for cheap goods!
IN HOUSING: The poor shudder when they hear that cities are going to engage in Urban Renewal. What it means to the poor is that they will be evicted from the only housing they can afford, which is owned by absentee landlords and allowed to deteriorate and never improved on, so that upscale apartments . will be built to “improve” the image of the city. The poor will have to move from their squalid but affordable apartments and no place will be provided for them. We build our new and improved urban image on the backs of the poor we evict and displace, hoping they will disperse to some place where we can’t see them!
IN RESPECT: When is the last time you hugged a homeless person? When is the last time that you even spoke to a homeless person? When is the last time you have said to a poor or homeless person—-“Why are your circumstances so dire, and what can be done to improve them? We point the fingers at the poor and call them lazy, unmotivated, “on the dole”, unwilling to take care of themselves. But what are we doing to deal with the problems that cause them to be poor and needy in the first place? Jesus said: “Blessed are the poor!” in the Gospel of Luke. When is the last time you have seen them as “blessed by poverty” and not “cursed by poverty?”
FOOD: Let’s cut the amount of food stamps so we can balance our national budget. Let’s not cut the amount of aid to Big Oil, or Big Business. Let’s cut taxes for the business community—but let’s take away more of the little that the poor have! After all, they are just lazy and no good anyway! Have you ever tried to live on Food Stamps? Do you have any idea what they will buy of the necessities of life that are needed?
HEALTH CARE: In today’s Wichita Eagle, two county commissioners objected to a federal grant to train social workers to help people in obtaining health care through the Affordable Health Act. For political gain they are willing to deny those without health care a chance to obtain it! We are talking about families with small children of whom a sizable number live in Wichita. Read the percentage of the children in our schools who qualify for free lunches. Last time I saw it the figure was astounding!
Americans are conflicted—schizophrenic?—-about their generosity. We are so very generous when disasters strike other countries such as the typhoon that recently hit the Philippines. We are quick to aid those who are victims of hurricanes or floods or tornados in our own country. Yet we seem to be oblivious to the disaster of large scale lack of food, clothing, housing, and adequate medical care for the poor and needy and homeless persons in our own communities!
When will the words and ministry of Jesus penetrate the minds and the hearts of the people of the United States who call themselves Christians? “Blessed are the poor!” “Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these, my children, you have done it to me!” These are Jesus’ words—how do they square with what I have said above?
When are we going to be part of the solution and not part of the problem of the poor?