American Perspectives on Poverty

Rick over at The Blind Beggar has an interesting post by the title: American Perspectives on Poverty, which highlights some of the Barna research groups recent findings.

Below are some excerpts, but what it more interesting is the conversation that ensued in the comment section. It's pretty interesting. The conversation between John and NWProdigal illistrates an escatelogical tug of war between those that see the present world as having little to no value because it will all be swept away, and those that believe that Christ is making all things new, redeming the present. Both sides argue well, making the conversation very informative.

Post Excerpts
Three out of four adults (72%) consider poverty to be one of the most serious social problems facing the United States today. That includes one out of every five adults (21%) who contend that poverty is the single, most serious social problem of all. Just 4% argue that poverty is not much of a problem in the U.S. Evangelical Christians were only half as likely (11%) as the rest of the adult population to deem poverty to be the nation’s most vexing social challenge. Asian Americans (11%) were similarly less likely to see the issue in this way.

Two-thirds of Americans (64%) consider poverty to be an issue that the government is primarily responsible for addressing. Nearly one out of five people (18%) say it is the primary responsibility of each individual citizen to address poverty. Much smaller numbers of people say it is the duty of churches (4%), non-profit organizations (4%) or businesses (3%) to take the lead on dealing with poverty.

Evangelicals were among the groups least likely to see poverty as a job for the government (55%) and were the group most likely to see it as a matter for churches to address (14%).

Comment Excerpts (you should really read the whole conversation in context)

NWProdigal: I would much rather give my money to missions that promote the gospel to people that haven’t heard it, than to spend it on thankless people who have heard of God, but want nothing to do with Him. Then again, we are told to be like God, and not be a respecter or judge of those outside the fellowship. So, while I too am cynical about giving to thankless people, we cannot be Christians and allow people to be homeless or hungry who are in that position through bad judgement, addiction or bad luck. But, I have no desire to help those who can work, and won’t (see Romans 4:5).

John: Rick, those statistics are interesting. I personally feel I have gone (and continue to go) through conversions in my faith. Perhaps the greatest awakening for me is the realization that my faith is not about what happens to me after I die, but about participating with God to put the world to rights (if I can use NT Writ’s language). This means that issues of systemic poverty, injustice, and oppression have become my mandate beginning right here in my own back yard.

To answer the question of how to get more believers to understand this: we stop preaching a gospel laden with afterlife benefits and “here and now” blessings of happiness and comfort, and begin to call people into the greatest adventure of healing all creation.

NWProdigal: All I am saying is that this ecological and social justice approach to Jesus is somewhat valid, but the true purpose of Christianity is not to save the present world or earth, but people’s souls.

John: NWP, I can’t buy into a dualism that contradicts the very reason for the incarnation and the very first doctrine of the bible that proclaims that all creation is good. The kingdom is overlapping and interlocking with the here and now…that is the Kingdom message that got Jesus killed. It is not (just) about some afterlife place that is disconnected and disembodied from the texture of the world we are living in. To go extremely in the direction of focusing only on the heavenly is dualistic and resembles gnosticism. The challenge is that the gospel is calling people into the hope of the future of a new heaven and earth by inviting people into the family (church) to reflect the very image of the creator here and now…by his image i mean the nature and attributes of the trinity..all of them, not just the easy ones. Sometimes we too narrowly cling to the niceties and forget how close to God’s heart dealing with systemic injustice and oppression are.

Too many in our western christian culture reduce the gospel to mere personal piety as they strive to be nice people like Jesus…hoping they have done and said all the right things to ensure they are “in”. Not realizing that they are denying the more important elements of the law like justice and mercy.

“You will always have the poor among you” has been the defacto cop put verse that Christians use to justify their inactivity. Yet that type of behavior resembles more the traditions of Karma that suggests that those suffering have made their own bed and are under judgment. (emphasis mine)

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