The Christian church has a long history of involvement in social issues. The paper discusses what, if any, is the Christian church's responsibility regarding the elimination of poverty and the combating of unjust economic systems. There are many figures throughout Christian history who are known for their generosity and compassion for the poor, most namely Jesus Christ of Nazareth, as well as a number of saints and other notable figures. Therefore, a sense of responsibility toward the poor is a long tradition within Christian culture and in some ways, fundamental to the Christian spirit of giving, and assisting those less fortunate. The paper argues not necessarily that the Christian church has a special role in the combating of poverty, but that it is definitively has a role, which is closely linked to fundamental elements of the Christian faith.
Most notably, figures such as the saints and Jesus Christ advocated the eradication of poverty as part of the Christian faith. Throughout human history as well as throughout Christian history, there have been many instances of the poor being exploited, degraded, and mistreated. Over and over, figures from Christian history have made incredible sacrifices and taken noble, humble actions to combat poverty and confront injustices that often result in increases in poverty. Therefore, while it may be a challenge for some modern Christians to connect Biblical stories and lessons to modern day problems, the issues of poverty and economic injustice offers a more direct and readily accessible connection between the oldest elements of the Christian faith, and the 21st century, modern world.
Christ our Lord teaches us that when we serve and stand with "the least of these," we serve and stand with Him. Our Bible teaches us in hundreds of places that the God we worship has a special concern for the poor. God judges individuals and societies by how they respond to the needs of the poor. As leaders in Christian Churches Together, we believe that a renewed commitment to overcome poverty is central to the mission of the church and essential to our unity in Christ. Therefore in order to obey our God, respect the dignity of every person, and promote the common good of society, we must act. Our focus here is domestic poverty, but we reaffirm our commitment to overcome poverty all around the world. Widespread and persistent poverty challenges us to action. The painful truth is that about thirty-seven million people in our country live below the poverty line. Tragically, 18% of all our children struggle in poverty. The sad reality is that millions in our nation work hard and still cannot escape poverty. (Christian Churches Together, 2012)
For groups such as the CCT, they see a core connection between true representation of Christian faith and combating poverty. They are not separate. To help those in need is to demonstrate and rejuvenate one's Christian faith, beliefs, and connection to God. The Christian faith believes whole heartedly in the eradication of social problems through unification and action. When there are social issues such as poverty and economic injustice in existence in the world, this is a message to Christians everywhere that there is a lot of God's work still left to be done on Earth. While it is not the responsibility, nor is it realistic to believe that the Christian church alone is and can be fully responsible for the eradication of poverty, the actions Christians take, meaning, the examples that Christians make for others to follow, contribute directly to the spreading of the Christian spirit and to motivating those within and outside of the church to follow their example. Together, we can effectively combat poverty and the economic injustices that contribute directly to poverty.
There are some Christians that believe so strongly regarding the Christian churches' role in the elimination of poverty, that some groups have organized solely around this issue. Members of such groups feel very strongly that to ignore the needs of the impoverished is to disrespect the Lord as well as to disrespect or deteriorate one's faith. As with any religion or organized belief system, there is potential for the faith to be used toward the negative, but there are many Christians who find strength and resolve with the positive and healthy application of Christian beliefs and actions regarding the poor and what is economically unjust. Christians who may be struggling with meaning or with their own faith may be able to use the issue of poverty and injustice to reconnect and rediscover Christianity in a new and truly productive way.
If you oppress the poor, you insult their Creator (Proverbs 14:31). * We believe that in a country rich in resources, poverty is an injustice that can and must be overcome. * We believe that all people have the right to share in 'life in all its fullness' (John 10:10). We believe that poverty actively prevents this. * We believe in the unique value of each person made in the image and likeness of God, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, ability or wealth. We believe that poverty is a reflection of a society that places a greater value on some than on others. * We believe that people living in poverty are the real poverty experts and have the right to shape the decisions that affect their lives. (Church Action on Poverty, 2012)
Groups such as Church Action on Poverty believe that issues such as poverty are the more accurate reflections of a culture and society. What kind of problems a culture or a country suffers from provides insight as to what is lacking in that culture or country. Christians can heal their communities and rejuvenate their own spirits by providing direct assistance to those in need. To do so is fundamentally Christian. The church has a role and a responsibility to make sincere attempts at assistance as well as sincere attempts to promote awareness regarding significant issues. The Christian church's voice and viewpoints are respected and heard around the world. This is a way that the Christian church can help eliminate poverty. What is most notable about the point-of-view of the Church Action on Poverty group is that they believe that one of the best ways to eliminate poverty is to listen to those who are poor. Thus, even in their methods to fight poverty, they use Christian methods.
There are challenges, within and outside of the Christian community regarding the eradication of poverty, or at least, its significant decrease. Some Christians, like any other average folks, perceive problems like poverty to be so immense that even a small victory is negligible. Sometimes the problems can seem so big and so widespread, that the sheer magnitude of the problem itself discourages people, Christians and non-Christians alike, from moving into action to help in even a small way.
What these latest findings demonstrate is the church's relative ineffectiveness and impotency at helping the poor. Some Christian activists have been trying to motivate us to care for the poor by pointing out how they are neglected by society. The state is a clumsy and arrogant institution, they argue, and not doing its job. So the church must step in to make a difference. That means that (1) churches should create their own anti-poverty initiatives (like microfinance), and (2) churches should lobby governments to do better. (Galli, 2012)
Some Christians feel that current strategies regarding the combating of poverty are simply not working. Some Christians lack motivation in general. Some Christians are suffering from a lack of spirituality and do not see the value in volunteering one's time and efforts for the sake of others. Some are just so defeated by lack of substantial progress that they want to give up. In this case, the church can serve as a support and nurture the inner strength it takes to fight a big problem such as poverty and economic injustice. Another type of role the church can have with respect to poverty is to serve as a strong emotional and spiritual base for those out their fighting the good fight and making attempts to rid the world of rampant social diseases such as poverty. Galli explains the Christian dilemma and asks vital questions:
We can confidently predict that we will never be able to get 200 million Christians to agree on any priority except, perhaps, that Jesus is Lord. But let's take the best-case scenario: If one could get all 200 million believers to make poverty reduction a top priority (trumping abortion, human rights, and a hundred other causes), there are no uniquely Christian solutions to ending poverty that we all would agree on. What separates Christian Democrats and Christian Republicans is not their concern for the poor but rather their strategies for helping the poor...Doing our little part makes very little difference when it comes to large-scale poverty. So if the church in fact cannot defeat poverty, and…