In May of 2012 UNICEF reported that of the world’s developed countries, the United States had the second highest rate of child poverty, with more than 23 percent of its kids officially living below the poverty level. Only Romania, still struggling to shed itself of the awful legacy left by Nicolae Ceausescu’s dictatorship had worse numbers.
Sasha Abramsky, in his excellent book on poverty, The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives, emphasizes in his Introduction that poverty is not the problem—-we have the means, technology, and ways to deal with it. He says that in the United States poverty is a “scandal“. not a “problem“. It is a moral scandal that a rich country like the U.S. produces the statistics reported above by UNICEF.
As Abramsky says: “As long as people think “poverty” is the problem, they’re missing the whole point. Poverty is evidence of a problem; it’s not the source of the problem….The galloping poverty in the United States is evidence of a retreat from democratic beliefs and practices.” Some refer to poverty as being like the “canary in a mine“. Such widespread poverty in such a rich country is a warning of severe problems with our democracy in not providing for the “common welfare” that is demanded by the Preamble to the Constitution. It is a warning that something is terribly wrong with our political and economic system’s developments in the past few years that allows this to happen.
Pope Francis recently framed the moral scandal of poverty in the U.S. when he said: “We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient Golden Calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.”
Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor under President Clinton adds: “The moral crisis of our age has nothing to do with gay marriage or abortion. It’s insider trading, obscene CEO pay, wage theft from ordinary workers, Wall Street’s gambling addiction, corporate payoffs to friendly politicians, and the billionaire takeover of our democracy.”
I know in these posts I have pointed to poverty and homelessness many times and you may be tired of hearing about it —-So what are we as Christians going to do about it? What can we do? I make these recommendations:
First: Read Sasha Abramsky’s book, The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives. This is a well researched look at Poverty and updates the work by Michael Harrington, The Other America, that inspired the 1960’s War on Poverty. Sadly, the situation is worse 50 years later than it was when Harrington wrote.
In the first half of his book Abramsky’s details the statistics as well as the human face of poverty today. In the second half, he gives well thought out solutions that are doable—-if the moral and political will is there.
We have been brainwashed by our politicians to blame poverty on the poor. We have been told that people are poor because they are lazy, lack ambition, are drug users, alcoholics, etc. Feature Governor Brownback, who during the last campaign said that “People don’t have to be poor, they need to get a job?” That is Brownback’s cure for poverty—get a job!
While this may be true in a few cases, how about elderly poor? How about those who are unable to work because of physical problems that limit them? How about those who are mentally challenged? How about children? Many people are caught in a trap from which the laws and the economic system do not allow escape.
We as Christians and as a church must view the human face of poverty in all its aspects. We need to establish a relationship with the poor of our country—-get to know them and the problems they face every day and how hard so many of them try to escape from poverty and seem to be thwarted at every turn. One example-—the young woman who is laid off from her job, loses her apartment, is not able to find another job because of poor education and skill. She has children—-and to improve her chances for a job she needs to go to a community college. She not only can’t afford the tuition but also can’t afford child care? And yet we let our legislators in Congress jeer at President Obama’s call for free tuition for those who maintain a C average in Community Colleges and free childcare while they are attending. As Republican leader, John Boehner said—that bill will be “dead on arrival”.
Second: As a church, develop a sense among our members as to the causes and the extent of poverty in your community. As a church and as individuals, take action to change the climate that blames poverty on the individuals rather than on the fact that features of our present political and economic system do not help those in poverty, but make their problems worse.
Third: As individuals and as a church find ways to challenge the present political system that, at present, operates on the principle that those with money fund the political process and elect those who will favor their own selfish interest. A democratic system will seek the common good—-those we now elect are manipulated by the money needed for advertising to be elected and in return will pass laws that benefit those who support them with the needed cash. If you don’t have money you don’t have any political influence. Those with enough money can manipulate the voters to vote the way they want them to with enough half-truths told enough times on costly TV ads. Who speaks for the poor in the halls of the Kansas legislature and the U.S. Congressional leadership? Very few!
When poverty flourishes as a direct result of actions taken or not taken by political and economic leaders, then search for the reasons that is so. How do the present laws and economic system keep people in poverty from helping themselves? Hang around some poor people and they will quickly and accurately fill you in on this question. We tell people to “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps” and then cut off the straps or take their boots away from them!
The above three recommendations should get the churches and Christians started to thinking about the scandal of poverty. Christians and Christian Churches have a responsibility for maintaining the moral backbone of our people in this country. If Christians and the churches do not stand together as a voice for the Way of Jesus today that gives priority to the marginalized, the poor, the outcasts, the homeless, the hungry of our society, then who will be that voice? Together, churches can make a vast impact on the scandal of poverty today. It will not be easy—the causes of poverty are many and varied. But the churches can work to end the needless scandal of poverty in the U.S. if they have the will and love for God and for neighbor that is at the core of the Christian faith!