September 2, 2014

Anger At The Poor

So many people these days seem to be angry at poor people.  I hear comments by journalists, by so-called pundits, by television and radio talk-show hosts, and by the people who call in on those shows.  The poor, according to these professionally angry people, are getting a “free ride;” they’re part of an “all-out war on the productive class of our society for the benefit of the moocher class.”  The world has “makers” and “takers,” and the poor are the takers.  They’re “parasites;” like “raccoons, they do the easy way [sic].”  In fact, the welfare culture has turned them into “utterly irresponsible animals.”  These are all actual quotations, and some were said by people who would identify themselves as Christians.

I’m not making a political point.  I’m really not.  I don’t want to talk about the efficacy or morality of government programs.  I want to ask two questions.  First, why are so many people so angry – furiously, tremblingly angry – at poor people whom they probably don’t know and would rarely see in the course of their daily lives?  And second, what is the proper Christian attitude toward the poor in today’s complicated economic and political climate?

Why Are They Angry?

First, maybe they’re angry because American poor people don’t fit American notions of what poverty really is.  Many Americans considered poor in the census data own televisions and refrigerators; they buy soda and cigarettes ahead of us in the grocery store.  They’re more likely to be overweight than underweight.  Heck, some of them are even employed!  If they looked like Somali famine victims, or even like the ragged foreign children in advertisements for charities, people might feel more sympathetic.  But is someone sympathetic to the foreign poor because she sees them as genuinely needy or because she doesn’t have to stand behind them in grocery store lines?  Would she grow angry with Somali famine victims if they were on the sidewalk outside her house?

Second, many Americans have the understanding that the poor are exploitative.  We see claims in the media that they abuse food stamps, welfare benefits, and unemployment insurance.  Some people hold that even the lawful and correct use of these benefits is exploitative.  Of course this thinking relies on careless generalization and stereotyping:  ALL of the people defined as poor are “the moocher class,” “parasites,” and “utterly irresponsible animals.”  Really?

Third, some angry people justify their wrath by pointing out that in a land of opportunity like America, poverty is the result of poor personal choices.  Better thinkers than I have tackled the question of whether poverty is personal or systemic, but let me just say this.  Why is it excusable to feel rage toward people who are victims of their own bad choices?  Are there grounds for compassion toward the victims of society but none at all toward the messed-up people who are floundering around in a disaster of their own making?

Fourth, many of these ranters have a materialist, zero-sum view of the universe.  Unlike the strong in faith, who know that there is enough good to go around, they feel that humankind is competing over scarce resources.  They are sure that every benefit enjoyed by someone else represents a loss in their own potential for happiness.  Every day I hear people who struggle and work hard for something rage when someone else gets that thing “for free” from the government or a charity.  These people identify with the workers in the parable who were hired early in the day, and they resent the free-loaders who came later.

Fifth, perhaps people are angry because they’re frustrated.  The poor are a seemingly insoluble problem.  We keep trying, in this rich and blessed country of ours, to wipe out problems like poverty.  And yet no matter what we do or how rich we become, some people stubbornly stay poor.  Their existence is almost an insult to all our best efforts.  More than an insult – an indictment:  of our world, of our country, of me.  Who likes a reminder like that?

Sixth, perhaps people cultivate anger at the poor because it enables them to feel better about themselves in contrast.  Ninety years ago Virginia Woolf asked herself a similar question to the one I’m asking:  Why are men angry at women?  This was at a time when women, like the poor, had few rights or powers, and Woolf was as baffled then as I am now.  “It seemed absurd, I thought, turning over the evening paper, that a man with all this power should be angry.  Or is anger, I wondered, somehow, the familiar, the attendant sprite on power?  Rich people, for example, are often angry because they suspect that the poor want to seize their wealth. . . .  Possibly when the professor insisted a little too emphatically upon the inferiority of women, he was concerned not with their inferiority, but with his own superiority.”

Finally I would suggest that the prevalence of anger arises from a misunderstanding of what anger is.  There are people who approve of anger, who think that it is the appropriate response to exploitation, unfairness, or wrongdoing.  Anger, they think, is proof that you care; proof that you discern wrong from right, evil from good.  In addition, anger toward evil proves that the angry person is not himself guilty of the evil – it distances him from it.

This misunderstanding leads me to consider my second question.

What is the proper Christian attitude toward the poor in today’s complicated economic and political climate?

Short answer?  Same as it ever was.

Today’s complicated economic and political climate doesn’t change a thing.  Everybody who ever existed lived in a complicated political and economic climate.  The universal understandings expressed in the Bible are still true.

“The poor you will always have with you,” according to Jesus in Matthew 26:11.  That there are poor should not be shocking to us; that they exist is no excuse for anger.  The commands to help the poor and the examples of charity offered throughout both testaments make it clear that anger is not the biblical response toward poverty.

“Do not go over your vineyards a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen.  Leave them for the poor and the alien.  I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:10)  Now try replacing “poor and alien” with “moocher class” and “takers” to see how anger sounds in contrast to the Bible.

“Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the oppressed.”  (Psalm 82:3)  Again, try switching “weak and fatherless” or “oppressed” with “utterly irresponsible animals.”

“The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, and the good news is preached to the poor.  Blessed is the man who does not fall away from me.”  (Matthew 11:5 and 6)  This verse is one to remember when looking at a long line of “parasites” at WalMart.

You know these verses.  You can find them and many more by looking up “poor” in your concordance.  You can read the Church Fathers, like St John Chrystostom:  “If you see anyone in affliction, do not be curious to enquire further . . . [the needy person] is God’s, whether he is a heathen or a Jew; even if he is an unbeliever, still he needs help.”  Or read Martin Luther, who called the poor “living images of God.”

What you won’t find anywhere is a mandate to be angry at the poor or to consider them as less than human.  Never mind mandate – you won’t even find an excuse to do so.  Believe me.  I’ve spent decades wrestling with this issue, and if there were an excuse to find, I’d have found it.    I’ve lived and worked with the ragged-children poor on two foreign continents and the Cheetos-and-cigarettes poor here in America, and I keep wanting to say to the Bible, the Fathers, and the other Christian writers, “Yeah, BUT . . .” But a lot of poor people are exploitative and self-destructive; but a lot of charity is useless or worse; but throwing money at a problem doesn’t help; but I’ve been ripped off and abused by poor people I’ve tried to help.

And Jesus responds, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.  He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:44-48)

I can’t find any room for anger there.  Only compassion:  toward the poor, and even toward those angry at the poor.  Toward all.

 

 

Comments

  1. Luke Bradley says:

    By throwing money at welfare recipients, we guarantee that there will be even more of them in the future. The welfare mommas have more babies, without bothering to marry any of the daddies, because they know the money will keep coming in. Or they don’t bother getting a job (except drug dealing) because, well, why should they? So the population of parasites goes up, up, up…our schools and streets start to look like Africa…and it’s all thanks to money taken out of our pockets. We could have spent that money on all kinds of useful, positive things…but instead we get gang-bangers.

    So yes, hate is an entirely appropriate emotion, but we should also be ashamed–for letting our civilization degenerate into what it has. We need to rise up and reclaim this country for the people who built it, not the good-for-nothings who sponge off us. Poor? Then join the army–that’s all the welfare we need.

    • Luke, maybe you should invite a homeless man or woman to live in your house for awhile. You may find Christ. After all, the hope of the whole world rests on his shoulders–the shoulders of a homeless man.

    • Quixotequest says:

      Wow. Maybe I’m feeding a troll here but a couple thoughts:

      1. In Florida the welfare drug testing policy was passed without research – more or less based on prejudice that welfare recipients are getting help so they can buy drugs. So far the data show they abuse drugs less than the general population and it doesn’t appear the new testing program will fund itself as it’s based on an assumption of wide drug abuse. http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2011/09/welfare-and-drug-testing

      2. Jesus claimed in Luke 4:17-30 the marching orders, the King’s agenda, of the gospel, the announcement that a new king is on the throne of a new heavenly kingdom as:
      A. Proclaim good news to the poor.
      B. Freedom to prisoners.
      C. Sight to the blind.
      D. Release the oppressed.
      E. Proclaim jubilee year ( year of the lord’s favor or the year that debtors were forgiven their debts)

      Given that Jesus’s ministry was very tangible as well as spiritual, that the Kingdom is here but not fully realized, it would not be wise to define this kingdom agenda as only pertaining to the spiritually poor, captive, blind, etc. Jesus served materially and spiritually these needs. Is anger a righteous response on our part when it we see our King’s heart for serving all such physically- and spiritually-deficient needs among us?

    • “Poor? Then join the army–that’s all the welfare we need.”

      Like the Steve Earle song, Copperhead Road?

      “I volunteered for the Army on my birthday
      They draft the white trash first,’round here anyway”

      But sometimes the army is not recruiting, because of defense cutbacks. Then what do we do with the underclass? The British Army will take them when they’re sixteen. Is that early enough for you, Luke?

      I don’t know about America, but it wasn’t welfare mothers and teenage gangsters who ran the economy into the ground over here. It was bank directors treating the bank as their own private piggybank, taking out massive loans to invest in property development. And when the bubble burst, we all have to tighten our belts, while one of those directors skipped off to his $4 million holiday home in Cape Cod.

      • Very well said Martha! U agree with you 100%. It seems Luke is a very angry person who needs our compassion just as much as the poor. The poor didn’t do anything to the economy here in the States either. The greedy giant corps. an Wall Street execs did. And our government let it happen. The poor had nothing to do with it whatsoever.

        • Our government FACILITATED the, so-called ” greedy giant corps”. in the name of making housing more affordable. Which just points out that good intentions do not excuse a poor concept.

          • Not really.

            The government program that helped low income people get loans to buy homes so they can grab the first rung of the economic ladder since 1978 was not the cause of the melt down. The program was praised for its success by every president from Jimmy Carter to George Bush. If all those loans went bad at once it would only be a small percentage of the housing market.

            Many low income working poor homeowners were building equity and were exploited by mortgage hustlers like Countrywide and have lost everything.

            Collateral Debt Obligations and Mortgage Backed Securities and Credit Default Swaps were the brain children of the Masters of the Universe who sit in the towers of gold on Wall Street. The people who worship at the altar of Ayn Rand. They took the entire US housing stock and turned it into a crap game. Now, the government facilitated that, certainly, by deregulating the financial sector in the late 90′s and early ’00′s.

            On Wall St. greed is good. Especially when you can privatize your profits and socialize your loses.

          • “On Wall St. greed is good. Especially when you can privatize your profits and socialize your loses.”
            Well said!

    • “Our schools and streets start to look like Africa”

      African nations do not have welfare systems. It is rich countries that have welfare systems, and those that do look absolutely nothing like Africa.

      I live in a country with a much more generous welfare system than the US. We have universal health care, pensions for the disabled and aged and open-ended benefits for the unemployed. We are not impoverished by this system, but enriched. As a Christian I praise God for our welfare system.

      • Here! Here! As fellow citizen I second your comments and add that we are about to extend significantly the support for the disabled and I have not yet heard anyone disagree with this.

    • Damaris didn’t need to write a thing; Luke Bradley said it all:

      “Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.

      “Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

      “And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”

      “They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”

      “The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.

      “Both very busy, sir.”

      “Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”

      “Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”

      “Nothing!” Scrooge replied.

      “You wish to be anonymous?”

      “I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned — they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.”

      “Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”

      “If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides — excuse me — I don’t know that.”

      —Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

      • Indeed. And people cheered at the Republican debate for the idea that the 30 year old who had made a poor choice about health insurance should get on about the business of dying.

        • I saw that. A good illustration of what Damaris is talking about.

          • Dan Crawford says:

            This is precisely what the Bachmanns, Pauls, Palins, Perrys, Santorums and the whole gruesome cast of Tea Party characters are all about. What bothers me is the stunning silence from some quarters that used to speak out forcefully against such nonsense, most particularly the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops whose embrace of the “pro-life” social darwinists of the Republic Party makes a mockery of the teaching of the Catholic Church on social justice.

      • At least Scrooge believed in an infrastructure to make sure that the poor didn’t die in the streets! Not so with the Tea Party. They really should stop reading the Fountainhead and start reading the New Testament.

        • +1

          Ironic that people claming to be Christian live and die by the words of an anti-Christian like Ayn Rand.

    • Luke, I suppose I should thank you for writing what you did, because you immediately illustrated that my article was legitimate. But please stop and think why and when hate is an appropriate reaction.

    • OH MY! First of all lets make sure we are educated before we speak. @Luke yes there is a percentage of young able ppl who abuse the system, and that would mean we need someone come in a revamp the system to assure this stops. However, this is not the majority. @ One Sailent Oversight, this would be a good solution for us, however we have Repulicans running it over here, so that is not likely an option.And to the “CHRISTIANS” Well the problem is, It is a personal relationship with GOD that prooves a true Christian attitude. If they are judging, hating, then that relationship with God doesn’t exist. WE do not always choose our circumstance, nor do we always cause it. I worked from age 14 to age 38, I was a nurse. I was abruptly hit with a rare neurological disease which took me out of work force completely. That is a short version. But new job, so not eligable for healthcare at the time, and my savings for a rainy day. Well that was gone in one yr, raising and supporting my daughter and myself. Oh and I just remembered, WHY would anyone in their right mind who could be making $50 per hour (me as a nurse) choose to live on $1200 a month social securtiy with medicare that covers up to 80 percent of medical bills and has test which my cost is $500. You all really need to Educate yourselfs.

    • David Cornwell says:

      Luke’s response left me speechless– almost. Some of the charges against the poor may be true at times. Some have made poor choices. However I also believe that a huge amount of American poverty is systemic. It’s partly the result of unregulated wild riding capitalism that runs over everything in its path. Ayn Rand is the new normal, the standard, the bible of those who exemplify American values. Some people just do not have the strength to endure or compete in such a system. We do not all have this mentality that seems to hate evolution, but enshrines Darwinian principles of survival of the fittest.

      It’s just not fair for the poor to get a droplet when they don’t deserve it. It’s just not fair for them to be brought to the front of the line ahead of the paying customers. In our study of Sunday’s lection from Mathew 20:1-16 last evening we had a somewhat wild discussion about the meaning of the parable. It’s not even fair if someone decides to get right with God on the last few moments of his/her death bed. After all some of us were baptized as infants just to be safe side, spent all our life trying to please God, worked hard, found success. Then this poser who spent his life in the sewer wants to be saved five minutes before he dies. Simply not fair, yet he might even be moved to the front of St Peter’s line at the Pearly Gate. After all, he went to bed with everyone, had children in 4 states, and left his last sex mate in a dirty room shooting up. Then St Peter puts his arm around him and gives him this huge hug and doesn’t even look at his record. Unfair.

      The Kingdom that Jesus goes around announcing is an up-side-down thing that upsets our apple carts, scares the bankers and bookkeepers, transforms everything, and has a paradoxical radicality of that defines it. Be careful when you pray “Thy Kingdom come on earth…”. The King is coming.

      • Quixotequest says:

        And, the King is here: “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matt 25:40)

      • Paragraph one is marinated in economic ignorance, David. Edwin Wilson pointed out that, to avoid poverty, all you need to do is finish high school, wait till you’re 21 to have kids, and get married before you reproduce. If you do that, your chances of being poor are tiny. What does any of that have to do with “unregulated wild riding capitalism”? And who on this planet believes capitalism in this country is unregulated?

        • I don’t know who Edwin Wilson is, but I know half a dozen unemployed PhDs who followed those instructions to the letter and would be laughing in his face right now. After they punched him.

      • Randy Thompson says:

        Thank you for the Ayn Rand reference. If an ideology can be the Anti-Christ, this is it.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Then how did Rand (a rabid anti-theist on the order of Marilyn Murray O’Hare) get to be the de facto Fourth Person of the Trinity for a LOT of Christians?

          • Lust.

          • Among the anti-Christian things that Rand said, one of them was that original sin does not exist, and the idea that humans are born selfish and greedy is not true.

            And many Christians, particularly conservative Christians, are Pelagian: They likewise believe original sin does not exist, and that humans aren’t born selfish and greedy. They believe they achieved their own righteousness by their act of accepting Jesus as their Lord and Savior. (They may say they believe it’s all through God’s grace, but they give themselves more than a little credit for being bright enough to accept His grace.)

            This being the case, they can think of themselves as inherently good and right, instead of (like everyone) inherently wrong. They can point to their orthodox beliefs, good works, and economic comfortability as evidence. They can point to the poor’s heterodox beliefs, lack of works (’cause if they worked, they wouldn’t be poor!), and poverty as evidence of the poor’s unworthiness. And in so doing, they’re exactly the sort of people whom Rand would resonate with, atheist or not. They can forgive the atheism as an aberration; otherwise, to them she’s a brilliant woman. A prophet even.

          • That’s a question for the ages – or a profound one for our era – my combination of whys?

            1. ignorance
            2. rejection of Jesus’ way (orthopraxis) and overemphasis on more abstract faith concepts (salvation as ticket to heaven, His substitutionary sacrifices, etc orthodoxy)
            3. arrogance flowing out of post-WWII american exceptionalism

      • More and more middle class folks are finding themselves becoming poor as their jobs slowly disappear overseas. And rural people have been experiencing social decay and breakdown for about 60 years.

        Some economic landscapes are doing well, but most are (now) not doing so well. That’s because the peculiar form of capitalism we have here is loyal to nothing but profits–not to God, not to family, not to country.

        Reinstate the tariff!

      • jill orlove says:

        OMG! @ David Cromwell! I don’t quite get your point. What is missing in all these comments is the intellectual level of all people. Or considers there physical health. Most people raised in poverty die an early death. Yet, some rich and prosperous people die early, due to indulging themselves. People in poverty turn to drugs to NUMB themselves, because people’s lack of respect for them hurts, demeans, berates, and traps them into a life of non-being.

        Yes, there are people who take advantage of the system. But hey, they are not taking in billions of dollars like an upstanding, banker or investor. Guess if somebody is well dressed, they are viewed as successful, instead of deceitful.

        Somebody should do a study of what disability and unemployment insurance amounts to, compared to all the money given to the banks and investors who scammed people and the US.

        I was homeless for a period of time, and your opinion is moot, until you are on the streets, and people like you, treat you with disdain and disrespect. Until you befall the state of the economy or and illness without insurance, then shut your pie hole…!!

      • Hey, everybody. Put quotation marks around David Cornwell’s middle paragraph, then understand that he is expressing the complaints of people he has heard but does agree with.

    • “[W]elfare mommas,” “…our schools and streets start to look like Africa,” “gang-bangers.” Gotcha, Luke. You don’t even try to hide it.

      Funny the words we use. Aid to the poor is described as “throwing money at them,” like slop to pigs. Yet aid to the rich is called “breaks” or “incentives” or “credits,” or some such. America might be a more humane country if its Luke Bradleys were as passionate against corporate welfare.

    • Luke, I’m not sure where you live, but down here in Georgia, ain’t no mamas getting rich off of having babies. Listen, I work in human services and child welfare, and the “welfare Cadillac” is a myth. Also note that studies in almost every state in the union show clearly that caucasion people (AKA “folks who don’t make our streets look like Africa”) are the primary recipients of public assistance.

      Stop believing all the hype you hear on television, and do some investigation for yourself before you start throwing these particular stones around.

    • Matt Purdum says:

      Luke, people like you scare me to death.

    • Those of you who haven’t worked in public welfare offices should listen to those who have. I’ve worked in more than one state in public welfare and I’ve seen the truly needy as well as the “moochers” and the “takers.” I’ve done intake with mothers who couldn’t name all the fathers of their numerous children. So I’ve seen both sides. I’ve also watched how the “Great Society” has contributed to the disintegration of the poor American family, mostly black families. My first reaction was to agree with Luke because I’ve seen the abuse of the “system” and worked in it. It’s like education, in that throwing money at the problem hasn’t made people any smarter or SAT scores higher. I’ve also seen truly needy people who could not have survived without assistance, so I must straddle the fence on this issue.

      • Thank you….as someone else who has worked daily with the needy (instead of just reading about like so many here present seem to have..) I share your frustration and pain. It really does seem that those who try the hardest to “play by the rules” and better them get the short end of the stick, while the liars and abusers get the lion’s share of the goodies.

        Any re-vamping of our programs that gives first priority to the ill, the elderly, and children, while decreasing support to healthy adults, would go a long way toward promoting a healthier society.

        And young women need to learn that their value is NOT in being willing bed partners to any male who looks their way. As I have stated elsewhere, single motherhood is the root of 75% or more of the social ills and poverty in this country……and it is NOT limited to any race or ethnic group. Sadly, “everybody is doing it!”.

    • Did you not read the post? No matter how the person ended up in their current situation gives us the right to judge – Jesus didn’t tell us to “interview and determine if help is worthy” We are commanded to take care of God’s people – regardless of their background…

      • If you are working in a public welfare office where taxpayer money is being distributed, then you must “interview and determine if help is worthy,” or if help is “legal.” A private organization assisting the needy would set their own standards on “need.” I don’t personally know any Christians who have sold or given away all they have to the poor.
        But I’ve heard of rich people who have helped many people…Bill Gates comes to mind.

    • @Luke Bradley….you TOTALLY missed the point of this entire article. Ears to hear and eyes to see but totally deaf and blind.

    • When I was involved in chruch I used to work with members of the homeless in Washington, D.C. Some are people down on their luck. Others deal with mental illness (ie schizophrenia victim of some traumatic event, etc..). Others are alcholics and others are combat veterans. The United Staes is goign to see a wave of homeless people who saw action in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s just a metter of time…..

  2. I haven’t noticed too much of that. I have noticed a fair bit of anger at illegal immigrants and the rich.

    Panhandlers often draw people’s ire.

    I do think people are on edge, and feeling a lot of pressure. There’s probably a lot more anger floating around in general.

    I dunno.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      I suspect that the post was inspired at least in part by Rick Warren’s loathsome tweet from about two months back:

      “HALF of America pays NO taxes. Zero. So they’re happy for tax rates to be raised on the other half that DOES pay any taxes.”

      When Rick Warren is bearing false witness against the poor, I think we can safely say that something is going on here.

      • Quixotequest says:

        That something – just my guess based on the volume of links I see my fellow Evangelicals sharing with me on Facebook – is the Fox News machine-for-selling-corporatocracy-as-the-True-Democracy. The root problem I think is the American belief that God anointed the USA for His truest purposes, and wherever she goes so goes God. Love for country and its noblest ideals is fine, but it doesn’t belong at all married to the Christian witness.

        FoxNews is just the avatar for the problem, though. For a start, it’d be nice if the backdraft re: the truth of the Murdoch Empire’s loathsome media strategies would jump the Atlantic firewall and ignite over here. But the truth is our Pride of the Republic is probably gonna have to dramatically break and fail before the American Church is willing to have God refresh our priorities. It seems that systemically broken to me.

    • I think it depends where you live…..when I lived in California I heard people rail against illegal immigrants. I don’t hear that so much in DC.

  3. Many of the characterizations of poor people are inaccurate generalizations and tell me that the people making those characterizations don’t know many (or any) poor people personally. Yes, Jesus does say that the poor will always be with us, and He has a lot to say about how we should treat poor people. It’s really easy to come up with excuses as to why we’re not doing what Jesus clearly says to do. If we do follow Jesus, who should we listen to – Jesus or political/cultural/religious figures who often have something to gain from what they’re saying?

    • Exactly!

      With so many Christians in the world, there should not be one homeless or hungry person.

      • Thank you for this excellent nugget of wisdom :)

      • Even Jesus didn’t buy that; “the poor will always be with you”

        • Really? Why can’t we read His words to mean: “There will be always be someone you can help,” rather than, “Don’t bother”?

          • Quixotequest says:

            Agreed, Jonathan, especially when it seems a very close allusion to Deut 15:11.

            And the context was anointing our Lord vs. Judas’ oblique motives for why he said the expensive oil shouldn’t be used – so that it could be sold to feed the poor but he really wanted to keep the money himself. Maybe a better context is that we shouldn’t use service for the poor as a cover for our mixed motives and guilty consciences. If we “anoint” Jesus first He will give us the righteous motive for serving the “least of these” among us – to do the good works He’s intended in advance for us to do. (Eph 2:10)

        • Cunnudda, Jesus was speaking there as a realist. But that does not mean that we shouldn’t strive for better anyway. After all, the same Bible that condemns us as sinners also tells us to live blameless like Christ. Jesus never said ‘There’s always going to be poor, so chill, go have a pizza, there’s nothing you can do.’ Nope. But he did say this in Matthew 25:

          34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

          37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

          40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

          No cop out there.Yes, there should not be one hungry or homeless. There will, but there should not.

        • Cunnudda, did Jesus say that before or after he fed the poor, healed the sick, gave sight to the blind?

  4. All of my clients are indigent. Many are in really unstable living situation or are outright homeless. What I’ve noticed is that people who are better off than my clients include welfare or aid or service providers wan/t my clients to deserve what they get. They want to help, but only the “good” people who you read about in fairy tales. The person who is in a muddle caused mostly by poor choices, is undesirable, doesn’t deserve help, and should be left to rot. This is something that seems to permeate the systems designed to help and the attitudes of people on the outside looking in. I personally believe, based on years of work with low income people that the causes of poverty are both systemic and personal. People that grow up poor tend to stay poor. Poor sections of the country, tend to continue to have problems with poverty. The whole of the bible calls us not just to assist the poor, but to defend the poor. I get frustrated by my clients and their bad choices at times. It helps to think of them as my brethren and not as “them.” What if I were the widow or the orphan? I fail often, but this keeps me going.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I personally believe, based on years of work with low income people that the causes of poverty are both systemic and personal.

      Yet you have one faction believing and acting out that the cause is Systemis and ONLY Systemic (i.e. Society’s/Capitalism’s fault) and the other believing and acting out that the cause is Personal and ONLY Personal (i.e. shiftless mooches). And both denouncing the other as Heretics and Infidels and The Enemy.

      • This post was excellent and convicting for me. I also think Americans today would much rather spend time pointing the finger and accusing their political opponents of a lack of compassion rather than rolling up their sleeves and actually working with the poor. And I agree with Headless Unicorn Guy (never thought I’d say that!) in that we need to find the balance in asking for responsibility while giving freely without expectation.

        There is much in the Bible about helping the poor. And yet Paul admonishes in 2 Thes. 3 about idleness and charity not given to those who refuse available work.

        Jesus viewed our physical poverty as far less important than our spiritual poverty. When he met those who were spiritually impoverished, he healed them, forgave them and told them to go and sin no more. He helped them and then told them He wanted more for them, to move beyond their past life. I think some of our systems do the poor a disservice by treating them like little children who are trapped and incapable of anything better.

        I speak from personal knowledge growing up in Appalachia. Someone once perfectly captured my family when they described them as the only church members afraid to pray for healing because they might lose their disability check. I wish someone had expected more of my father. Our lives would have been far better.

  5. I almost forgot the point of the above. I see a lot of expectations that people who need help should behave a certain way and be grateful. I find it particularly bothersome where Christians are offering services. For instance, I particularly object to people waiting for a meal or groceries being forced to listen to the sermon du jour. It seems to ruin the whole notion of grace.

    • +!

    • The world needs more people like you, Nadine.
      Peace and strength to you.

    • Yes, Nadine – how dare we expect anything from recipients of charity!!

      • Exactly, Cunnudda. When corporate CEOS and boards of directors are forced to take drug tests for their company’s tax breaks and subsidies, then I’ll support the same for those less well off.

      • Because, after all, the good Samaritan drug tested the injured man.
        And remember what Jesus said, “if somebody asks you for your cloak, make sure that he really deserves it and won’t just use it for some frivolous function. Then drug test him and make him Listen to you preach for a couple of hours and make sure he does not make your society look like Africa and then, after all that, explain that giving him the cloak would constitute a moral hazard and walk away”

    • Quixotequest says:

      I think those we serve do need the “sermon du jour” I just think we don’t trust God in accomplishing the sermon that matters.

      Needy people aren’t stupid; If they know we’re Christians, they know – generally – who we worship. But they will know Him better by the love we reverence for our Creator and the love that shows in our words and actions. Sermonizing words are often given at the wrong time because of our mistrust in God. We desire the validation of preaching to a group of the downtrodden and having someone respond to an altar call.

      Perhaps frustratingly to our quick-fix hopes people in dire physical needs don’t value or need information at first; they need a sense of trust in the constancy of that light that glints in the darkness. It means they will frequently turn away back to the darkness, even expect, demand or exploit goodness, just to see whether the light is real and will be there when they turn back, maybe even shine through after they kicked some dirt on it — or whether it is a figment of their imagination.

      • So we mistreat them because we don’t trust our prayers to be efficacious? Or perhaps we don’t trust God to do what we want Him to do, eh?

        The way I see it, we are to serve- to do what Jesus told us to do. Period. End of statement. No qualifiers. Once we have done that, the it is His job to sort out the rest- not ours.

        • Well said Liutgard!!!

        • Quixotequest says:

          I think you misunderstood what I was saying. I was saying I think they the downtrodden often need a little less sermonizing of the words and more sermonizing of the spirit – which seems to be better accomplished through God-driven (Eph 2:10) good deeds ACTION. He’ll make the time for us to preach the Good News. It seems like mandated sermonizing is focused on us making the time for evangelization and not trusting Him enough to be in charge of the “preaching”.

          • Preach the Gospel. Use words if necessary.

          • Why do Christans that are giving out charity always assume we need to be preached to? The poor must have some moral failings to address? I noticed in the food line yesterday that this was the assumption because the guy passing out food was once in our position because he was a drug addict who lost his kids and house etc before he got “saved”. Well I am in that position because I was born mentally disabled. I am saved already. Give me food.

    • Some years ago a fellow I knew was the “pastor” of an inner-city “mission”. He was paid by a church denomination to do the job.

      Several times I played the piano for the “service” the men were required to attend before being given their supper and a bed for the night. I asked the pastor how many men had decided to follow Jesus in his twenty plus years at the mission. His answer: One.

      He saw the mission as a way to love and serve those men. The denomination required a “service” each evening, so he “preached” a short “sermon” (actually more of a talk telling them Jesus loved them), and when he had someone who could do music the service was mostly music, which the men liked.

      The mission was in all actuality a place to give those men a warm meal and a dry bed for the night and a message that the pastor and Jesus loved them.

    • Nadine I saw that also when I worked wih the homeless in DC. Some alcoholics can be fucntioning others can not. Personally I don’t think many evangelicals like the poor or the homeless. It’s too messy…especially given their neat order. It’s easier to evangelize becuase you are in and out of a person’s life. Many fundys don’t evne do discipleship…. Working with the poor can be a form of discipleship. You can show love when others won’t. But for many Christians love is conditional and has strings attached. That alcoholic who hangs around Union Station in downtown Washington, D.C. needs to be immediatly sober. That Vietnam vet that lives on the street grate on McPherson Square needs to resolve all his mental health issues at once.

      • Eagle, evangelicals’ problem with the poor is that they don’t tithe. That’s also why they don’t open churches in nursing homes.

  6. This was a good article. Compassion toward poor people is something I admit I have not always had, having the tendency to think that folks standing on the side of the road asking for money were just panhandlers. But then I realized God is a “means justify the ends” person: how we react and what we do in these situations is much more important than whether the poor person is being honest or not. God wants us to be generous, and the motivations of the person receiving that generosity are God’s domain, not ours.

    “This was at a time when women, like the poor, had few rights or powers…”

    An oft-repeated myth many take for fact without examining. Women had plenty of rights and did plenty of amazing things before hee-hawing feminists tried (and succeeded) in upending American society.

    http://www.the-spearhead.com/2011/05/25/its-time-to-acknowledge-notable-women-in-american-history/

    • If you like, Kyle, read Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” to see the specific rights she was referring to. She was British, not American, and came from a slightly different situation.

    • …and that post was written by a man. Son, when women are earning more than 70 cents for every dollar a man does, you might get my attention. (And no, it’s not all about money. But a very high portion of it *requires* money!)

  7. Thank you.

    One think I think people don’t consider is the extent that wealth will cover up a multitude of bad choices. It’s not that poor people have made more bad choices, it’s that they have nothing to fall back on and nothing to cover up with.

    • Wow. Good point.

    • Actually, that’s wrong.

    • +1

    • David Cornwell says:

      And the rich are “too big to fail.” They always get bail-outs. And have their bonuses back next year.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        The only problem is voting themselves only a six- or seven-figure bonus instead of an eight- or nine-figure one (couldn’t downsize enough to free up the money).

        • Yup even while the rest of the government has to forgo pay, Congress still will be paid. I wonder if the Tea Party had their pay restricted to govenrment that is functioning would teh government shut down? Nope….

    • When I was in college I wrote a paper on the causes of homelessness and I read a lot of books about it. I ended up concluding that the cause of homelessness was not mental illness or drug addiction, it was lack of family to help you back up again when you fell.

  8. The book of Proverbs makes it clear that there are two different types of poor people – the “evil” poor, who suffer the consequences of their own actions, and the “good” poor, who suffer at the hands of the rich.

    Proverbs also describes two sorts of rich people – the “evil” rich who use their power and wealth for their own ends and who use and abuse people for gain, and the “good” rich who are talented and who work hard and who enjoy their fruits of their work.

    Unfortunately too many Christians have been reading Atlas Shrugged instead of the bible, and assume that Ayn Rand’s binary depiction of people as “productive” and “moochers” is a Christian ideal when it is not.

    Ayn Rand’s position is “Blessed are the rich, for their enlightened self interest is what makes our world great”. Certainly not Jesus’ position.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Rand fled Lenin, and flipped one-eighty into a Pure Ideology of Utter Selfishness, becoming a funhouse-mirror reflection of Comrades Lenin & Stalin. If she had been given absolute power over a country, I have no doubt her Objectivist regime would have been just as bloody as Stalin’s Communist regime.

      Communism begets Objectivism.

    • Great points.

    • Forgive me if I’m a little skeptical of the richest man in the world’s assessment of poor people…

  9. I would suggest one additional impetus behind the anger that I think you missed. We’ve had, at best, wage stagnation for the past thirty years during which the middle class in general and certainly those at the median income point have been increasingly squeezed. During that same period, both income and wealth have concentrated in the top 10%, and particularly the top 1% at levels we’ve not seen since the period preceding the great depression. Over the past thirty years, we’ve continued to see gains in productivity, but unlike the preceding forty years, the rewards for those gains have not benefited our entire society, but have instead further enriched the wealthiest and the largest corporations.

    In that environment, it would be logical to expect anger at the tremendous inequality, one that is structurally supported by the changes made in our tax code and the vast deregulation that has been undoing much of the post-depression era reforms. It really is ridiculous that Warren Buffet pays a lower overall tax rate than his secretary. The concentration of wealth at the top that has occurred over the past thirty years is no accident. It’s the result of concerted and sustained systemic effort.

    While there is some anger at the inequality, I would suggest that the wave of anger toward the poor is a deliberate propaganda effort to create a scapegoat to divert that anger. It’s an effort to set the middle class against the poor, the unionized workers against non-union workers, natives against immigrants, and foment anger against public employees. (When did schoolteacher, firefighter, and police become the enemy?) It’s a multi-pronged effort and directing anger at the poor is just one piece of it. We’ve seen the scapegoat approach used again and again not only in our history, but in the history of many countries. It’s not hard to think of examples. It’s used repeatedly because it works — at least for a while.

    You see that effort at work in ridiculous (if you stop to think for even half a moment) pronouncement like “half the people in America pay no taxes” designed to make you think of them as freeloaders. It is true that a large percentage of our country pays relatively little or no federal income tax. A lot of that is the direct result of the concentration of wealth at the top. But pay no taxes? Really? They pay payroll taxes (social security and medicare) from which most of the income of the wealthiest is shielded. They pay sales tax. They pay property tax. They pay gas taxes. And the overall tax they pay is a much larger percentage of their resources than it is for the wealthier Americans. I’m shocked that more people can’t see such things for what they are — blatant propaganda.

    I’ve been poor. (Heck, I was a teen parent twice over sometimes living without running water, electricity, or other such niceties struggling for food and traveling anywhere I could to work.) And I’ve been more comfortable. When you aren’t right on the edge, you have more room to make mistakes and recover from them. I also tend to resist efforts to provoke anger in me at whatever group because I know how corrosive and destructive anger is — especially when you let it fester and nurture it.

    As far as what a “Christian” attitude should be, you are of course correct. That’s one of the simplest parts of our Holy Scriptures to understand. There’s nothing subtle or confusing about it. We are to love and to actively care for others. Period. Not because they deserve it. Not based on whether they’ve made good choices or poor choices. But because they are the beloved of our Lord. But our failure to do that is not a new problem. St. Basil the Great was compelled to write his treatise, “On Social Justice”, because he saw the failure to obey those commands in his own society. I would suggest that would be better Christian reading than Ayn Rand.

    • Very insightful, Scott. Thank you.

    • Scott, you’re right about this:

      “While there is some anger at the inequality [in the concentration of wealth at the top], I would suggest that the wave of anger toward the poor is a deliberate propaganda effort to create a scapegoat to divert that anger. It’s an effort to set the middle class against the poor, the unionized workers against non-union workers, natives against immigrants, and foment anger against public employees. “

      I think a lot of it is deliberate propaganda. The Tea Party doesn’t seem to be losing momentum as the Republican primaries get under way, and seems to be a willing dupe of the Right. It’s more accurate to call the Tea Party an “astro-turf” movement rather than grass-roots because it’s not genuinely from the bottom up but manipulated from the top, as far as it’s useful.

      But that usefulness may end. When the real Republican nominee emerges (and I doubt that he or she is in the current pack, or they’re in trouble) I think the Republicans will distance themselves from that movement pronto. It’s all about votes.

      There will always be some anger at the poor, just as “the poor you will always have with you”, but with more and more of them (us?) I think the anger may turn around. The Tea Party likens itself to the rebels in Boston, but it’s far from that. A true rebellion may one day resemble the French Revolution if they’re not careful, something the current Tea Party would not enjoy at all.

  10. Here’s the passage from Deuteronomy 15 that lies behind what Jesus said about there always being poor people:

    There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.

    Seems to imply that there will always be poor people and that the people of God are always to respond in the same openhanded manner.

    You know what makes me angry? Paying almost 4 dollars a gallon for gas and paying taxes to support 2 wars that I don’t believe in so that the people who make weapons of violence can get rich at the expense of innocent human lives.

    Paint me Red and call me a pinko but I think the real social problem lies at the complete opposite end of the social ladder.

    • $4 Gas? I just filled up in Canada for $4.92 for a U.S. gallon. Regular Unleaded.

      But we are taxed higher to support a broader social network. Part of being generous towards them is being willing to pay higher taxes.

  11. Dan Crawford says:

    We have gotten to the point where politicians of one of the two political political “parties” in this country bask in the applause they receive when they proclaim how many people have been executed during their terms as governor, and when they make clear they have no problem with people who have no health insurance dying because they have have no access to health care. We have heard such sentiments before in a “civilized” Western nation less than a hundred years ago. What is particularly horrifying these days is the social darwinism embraced by “Christian” politicians and their preacher allies whose “pro-life” agenda is the survival of the richest and fittest at the expense of the poorest. Thanks for writing what needed to be written, Damaris. Don’t be surprised at the responses you have received and will receive. Nietschze’s philosophy of the superman had it all wrong: the poor don’t resent the rich and use Judaism and Christianity as weapons against the rich. It is, as we see today, precisely the opposite: the rich resent the poor and drag Christians and their own perverted view of the Gospel in as weapons against the poor.

    • Get your glasses checked. I’m afraid that your vision has been blurred by your view of the world around you.

      • Randy Thompson says:

        Huh????

      • No Oscar, I think he has a point. The rich hate the poor. Because the poor make them feel guilty. Because the poor don’t always look pretty and smell nice, and they don’t all drive nice cars. And of course there’s more poor people, so the rich feel (or pretend to) persecuted. Remember the ‘Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful’ ad campaign? (Pantene hair care) The rich might as well trot out and simper ‘Don’t hate me because I’m rich!’ No baby, when someone says something like that, they’re covering up for what is flowing the other direction.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      That is one of the slickest dances around Godwin’s Law I have ever read.

  12. Demaris…first, thank you for a timely and insightful look around America today. I will limit ALL of my observations and comments to America, simply because it is all I really KNOW, but also because I strongly believe that the American mindset is significantly different than that of similar western nations, such as the UK, Australia, and western european nations.

    Also, I think we have a pretty good idea about the Christian response to poverty…although I would say that some would draw a line between the “deserving poor” and others. But I would prefer to set this notion aside, as well.

    I am writing for the sole reason that I think I have something to say about current attitudes about poverty, due to my role as a hospice, home health, and public health nurse over the last twenty years. I have worked with the poorest of the poor as well as those who are very “comfortable”. I hear what people say in their homes and see how they live. I am also a “cradle Catholic” from a middle class background, and our family has climbed the socio-economic ladder over the last five generations from dockhands and maids to white-collar professions with college degrees. Each generation has been expected to do “better” than the ones before. Just a little truth in advertising…

    I think that Demaris hit the nail on the head for many of the reasons for anger toward the poor. BUT….and this is large one….it seems that the truth behind some of the frustration has been discounted several points. For example , it IS true that many people who have lived in third world countries or gone on mission trips to them have a hard time connecting “poor” in the US to “poor” in Somalia, Port-a-Prince, or rural Mexico. Anyone with eyes can discern the difference. Perhaps if we had different terms to distinguish “dying in the street with flies on you” from “cruddy apartment and uncertain health” it might help us all speak the same language.

    Additonally, it IS very frustrating for those who work with the poor to see the same bad choices past down from generation to generation. There is a big reason that nurses, teachers, and social workers leave the field, and it is called “compassion fatigue”. Those of us in these helping professions spend four years in college to go make peanuts because we really WANT to make lives better. Generally speaking, most of us not only give our time and effort on the job, but spend time and money to help those “falling thorugh the cracks”. We tutor, teach parenting classes, provide care at the free clinic…and most of time we find out, sadly, that it just DOESN’T MATTER. except to the Lord. And it hurts to see the poverty and pain go on and on and on….

    And finally, there is a small but obvious minority withing the ranks of poverty who are not only content to stay where they are, they are convinced that they DESERVE that not only their needs but their wants be fulfilled, and are vocal about it. Priority is given to appearance and “toys” (not to mention addictions) while children go without medicine, books, and encouragement in school. THAT is what drives much of the frustration, even in the general public….the neglect of children, the absence of fathers (since the government has taken over that role) and odds of breaking this cycle being so slim, no matteer what resources are provided. [ I have heard more than one nursing assistant, making eight dollars an hour, FURIOUS that she was working 60 hours a week and "doing without" while another mother exactly like her had expensive beauty treatments, jewlry, cell phones, and clothes.]

    So, I realize I will like get called hard-hearted or worse, but what i have shared does not come from “hate” in any way, shape or form. They are things that I (and my husband, who teaches in an at-risk urban school) have observed. When charity work is taken AWAY from the government, who can make NO value judgements of any kind, and returned to the CHURCHES, where a willingless to participate in one’s own life can be a requirement), we will see attitudes change. The “War on Poverty” as conceived in the 1960′s has turned out, in practice, to be a war on the poor themselves.

    • I’d be hard-pressed to call you hard-hearted. Your opinion comes from decades of experience, which certainly makes you more qualified to speak on it than me. There’s far too much “I read a book/I saw something on TV and now I know who to blame for society’s ills” going on today, and I appreciate the perspective of someone whose opinion comes from real life.

    • Unfortunately, many churches simply do not have the resources to help the poor, which is why the government has stepped in. A former co-worker of mine lived in and attended a church in the inner city. She told me they were reaching out to the neighboring community, helping people, showing Christ’s compassion on a daily basis. But, they were out of money. New members came in, but they were poor. There is a Christian Foundation in town which has millions, but they will only support programs for a few years and then expect them to become self-supporting. How can a program to help the poor, run by the poor, in a poor area ever hope to become self supporting? The reality is that most of the rich suburban churches are willing to hand over a few bucks, and maybe send in a painting crew for a day or something, but be willing to participate in the wreckage of many of these people’s lives? I doubt it.

      • Suzanne, how much more income would you and I have to share voluntarily if we didn’t lose 10-35% of it to the government? That is the problem…the burden has shifted from churches to government programs, and which one do you think does a better job of actually HELPING the poor?

        • In my opinion the government stepped into this role because the church failed at it. It would certainly be better if the church did this, but we didn’t, and the most important thing is that the poor be taken care of, so I am glad that the government does this while also be ashamed that the church has failed at it.

          • I think it should be “both/and”.

          • Quixotequest says:

            I don’t think the existence of need is remotely indicative of the failure of the church. We can’t as believers possibly cure the world of its ills. But our Lord can.

            Where we have failed, I think, is that we have a few dominant divided cultures – one of a social-services oriented outreach, another of churchianity, and another of world-warringness; the world looking in at us doesn’t perceive a unified message between these. It knows us more by what we’re against than who we are for. In other words many could know Christ better because of the services we provide, but many could know Christ better because of the way we “do church” and interrelate among the Body. We are often failing at non-believers knowing Him better because of the love we show (or don’t show) each other.

            Our King is being glorified more by those in the Church doing social and missional outreach than the witness of the institutionalised, consumer-culture-ized, culture-warring American Church. But we could certainly do better all around lessening our change-things-from-the-outside-in emphasis and magnifying His worship and glory among the nations by doing better at demonstrating a witness of unity-in-diversity and love in action. That helps brings individuals into relationship where God can change things from the inside-out.

          • In a complex, interconnected industrialized capitalist society like the kind we have, if somebody falls through the cracks (loses a job, becomes disabled, gets old, etc) it is simply impossible for individuals and churches to cover all of the needs that will arise. If wealth and property were more evenly distributed, it would be easier for individuals to help one another. If communities were reasonably self sufficient, it would also be easier to help others yourself or with your church.

            But that’s not the world we live in. Wealth and power are concentrated because that’s the way industrialism works. And not too many of us have the know-how or ability to become agrarians tomorrow. So we have to have government assistance in order to have a reasonably functional and compassionate society.

            I think it would be a good idea if communities became self-sufficient and property was more evenly distributed, so that we wouldn’t need big government to help us out so much. Trouble is, if you start to mention land redistribution, people get angry and accuse you of being a communist. Such is the world we live in.

          • When I feed the hungry, they call me a saint. When I ask why people are hungry, they call me a Communist.
            -Archbishop Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara

        • I don’t know how much more income I would have if I gave less to the government, but I realize that my tax money is used for me to have decent roads, fire and police protection, clean water, etc. The threat of terrorism alone has necessitated the government spending more and more to keep us safe (or at least think we are). I live in an area hard hit by the recession and can tell you that many of the “poor” were middle class just a few years ago. I can also tell you that many of the church goers I know would not give up more of their income to the poor if taxes were lower but would keep it for themselves. If the answer is for churches to give more to the poor and get more involved in their lives, what is stopping them? I don’t think Jesus told us to have compassion for others as long as it didn’t cut into our bottom line or comfort zone. Churches saying they can’t really help the poverty problem because the government is in their way is a straw dog argument.

        • There are those that won’t help regardless, but I know my giving is lower now since my job is not the same — I just can’t give like I was before. I have hope that changes. Individual giving and working with a poor person is a lot more effective as well. Government will take back an “overpayment’ to a poor person as well — that’s the compassion government gives. Real love and compassion that fuels real giving is such a better way.

        • Which one does a better job? Well, we can see that by looking at history. In Victorian England most welfare was left to the church. How great was it to be poor then?
          Look at the rate of elder poverty before and after various government welfare schemes were introduced in various countries.
          Look at the health of the poor in places before and after they introduced universal healthcare…

          The fact of the matter is, government is better at this job than churches.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            My local newspaper describes themselves as “Free Market Economy Libertarian”. Besides praising Ayn Rand as a deity, they keep citing Victorian England as their example of The Free Market Economy.

          • +1

      • David Cornwell says:

        Returning the money to churches would solve nothing. Except maybe build them a new building on a larger campus.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          And give their CELEBRITY preacher/founder a new bigger mansion and Learjet.

        • Gentlemen,

          I take issue with you lumping all churches together like that. I attend a large (3000+) evangelical church that because of this recession had to cut salaries and lay off 4 staff members to make budget. But they still gave away nearly 25% of the church income to missions and aid to the poor. I know it is tempting to be cynical but there is a lot of good being done out there by the church.

          • David Cornwell says:

            The 600 member church I attend cut back also. But attendance is better than before actually.

            I’m sure churches do some good works. But they will never fix systemic problems. That was my main point. Neither will the Democratic Party or the Republican Party (aka Tea Party). About the best we can do is soothe our conscience a little. I’m a little skeptical of solutions. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. In Fort Wayne this week there is the “Forgotten People Conference” which has been organized by a number of organizations. Conservative and more mainstream (liberal?) churches are joining together to bring people like Lynne Hybels, Mitri Rabeb, Princess Zulu, and David Beckman. And I really do think we could make a big impact in certain areas. But eliminating poverty? I doubt it But we do need to forget about blaming the victims.

            And there is hope. Look up…

    • Thank you, thank you THANK YOU!!! Pattie, your comments and observations are spot on regarding serving the poor. Noble intentions and vocational callings will NEVER eliminate the foibles of fallen humanity.

      No government can eliminate the basic cause of poverty even though it may trumpet its own “compassion” while, at the same time, building its power base amongst those who feel compassion.

      No church has the funds, nor often times the WILL, to make a significant dent in the issue of poverty, and they should NEVER go on the belief that applying a little “Jesus” to a poor person’s life will eliminate the reasons that person is poor in the first place.

      No individual, believer or not, will EVER see a significant change in the effects of poverty as a result of their own efforts. If they are fortunate they MAY see an individual life changed by the power of God, but their efforts alone will not be the cause of THAT miracle.

      Why all of these seemingly negative statements? Because Jesus said that the poor will ALWAYS be with us. Yet, as Christians we are enjoined to help relieve their physical and emotional suffering. Forget the “causes” of poverty because it will never, EVER, be eliminated. EVER! It is just a result of Adam’s fall and only God Himself can solve the problem.

      But what WE are called to do is to relieve the suffering, save those who are capable of being saved, and uplift those who have the will and ability to lift themselves up with assistance. This is done on an individual basis. No blanket government program can do it, THAT will only cause more abuse in itself. No pledge of donations, nor the occasional project weekend will solve it, the problem will wash over those feeble efforts the second the funds and projects cease.

      And the notion that our individual efforts will make us “feel better” about ourselves for having helped are nothing but further “works of man” that are unworthy of what God has commanded us to do. Grace is the unmerited favor given by those who are able to give, with NO expectation of return.

      In short, stop expecting a return, stop expecting results, stop believing that we can eliminate the results of sin by our efforts! Let God do THAT work. Just do what He has commanded: show mercy on those who need mercy and compassion on those who require compassion. PERIOD!

      • no church will respond?

        nuns came to this country and set out west to found hospitals . . . they had no money . . . they begged and worked and sacrificed to raise funds to care for the indigent . . .
        when insurance was founded, it helped them . . . they were able to care for the insured and build up their facilities but never abandoned their mission of providing for the indigent of the community

        my question is WHERE IS THE RESPONSE OF THE EVANGELICAL CHURCH TO WHAT HAPPENED AT THE TEA PARTY DEBATE when the crowd cheered ‘let him die?’

        I can’t understand how any group of people say that they believe in ‘right to life’ for the unborn, and yet some would scream ‘yeah’ to the question ‘as a society, should we let an uninsured man die’

        I’m reeling from this . . . I need to see evangelicals respond clearly and loudly to that event . . .if anyone has seen a response, please let us know !!!! I’m horrified.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          my question is WHERE IS THE RESPONSE OF THE EVANGELICAL CHURCH TO WHAT HAPPENED AT THE TEA PARTY DEBATE when the crowd cheered ‘let him die?’

          Either cheering along with Ayn Rand or clutching their Rapture Fire Escape ticket with their eyes turned Upward. (“I hope I’m on a skyscraper when It happens so I won’t have as far to rise to Heaven…”) When the world ends tomorrow and it’s all gonna burn, So What? And since everything HAS to get worse and worse until the Rapture, why resist evil? It’s All Prophesied!

          My writing partner (the burned-out preacher) credits John Nelson Darby and Hal Lindsay with destroying Evangelical Protestant Christianity in America, and these attitudes are some of the reasons why.

          • Indeed why give a rat’s ass about the poor if you are going to be raptured? I wonder if the negelct of the poor by evangelicals can be traced to embracing End Times theology…after all that’s a new belief system. It’s only been around what 150 years maybe…?

        • One more Mike says:

          That WAS the response of the evangelical church you heard.

          • I don’t believe that was their response.. But the silence troubles me . . .somehow the silence is worse. .

      • Randy Thompson says:

        You’re right about there always being poor people. However, that Biblical insight can quickly degenerate into cynicism.

        That there will always be poor people is an unfortunate fact. But, God looks at us in relation to that fact. Are we making the lives of others better or worse?

        The words of Isaiah speak loudly and powerfully here: “‘What do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding the face of the poor?’ Declares the Lord God of hosts.” (Isaiah 3:15)

        Interesting. God refers to the poor here as “my people.”

        Even more interesting: Earlier in the passage (Isaiah 3), God calls out those who “devoured the vineyard” and who have “the spoil of the poor” in their houses. (Isaiah 3:14). The “Ayn Randies” may be on the ascent in this country now (both outside and within the church), but if we take God’s message in Isaiah 3 (and elsewhere) seriously, their long-term future doesn’t look too good.

        May God find me, when he comes looking, somehow blessing the poor.

        • Quixotequest says:

          I agree: The “poor will always be with you” scriptures are often quoted apart from the context in which Jesus used it: We have mixed motives when we claim to serve the poor, but He must be worshipped first to orient our motives correctly. Apart from that context, serving is all about us, and easy to be cynical about why those we serve sometimes resent our motives.

          • no, we cannot leave someone ‘at the side of the road’ and go from there to worship . . .

            Our Lord taught us differently

            Christian people can NEVER walk past suffering without responding . . .
            and if you look at the ‘poor’, many are children and the aged . . . people who are vulnerable and in need of the mercy of others
            Does God want us to ‘walk by them’ and go on to pray to HIM ?
            Or to have mercy on the ones who are suffering ?

            What sacrifice does He ask of us? These haunting words of Isaiah resound down the millenia to the people who would neglect the poor and walk past them:

            “Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose:
            releasing those bound unjustly,
            untying the thongs of the yoke;
            Setting free the oppressed,
            breaking off every yoke?d

            7 Is it not sharing your bread with the hungry,
            bringing the afflicted and the homeless into your house;
            Clothing the naked when you see them,
            and not turning your back on your own flesh?

            8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
            and your wound shall quickly be healed;
            Your vindication shall go before you,
            and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.

            9Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer,
            you shall cry for help, and he will say: “Here I am!”

            If you remove the yoke from among you,
            the accusing finger, and malicious speech;f

            10 If you lavish your food on the hungry
            and satisfy the afflicted;
            Then your light shall rise in the darkness,
            and your gloom shall become like midday;

            11 Then the LORD will guide you always
            and satisfy your thirst in parched places,
            will give strength to your bones
            And you shall be like a watered garden,
            like a flowing spring whose waters never fail.g

            12Your people shall rebuild the ancient ruins;
            the foundations from ages past you shall raise up;
            “Repairer of the breach,” they shall call you,
            “Restorer of ruined dwellings.” (Isaiah 58)

          • Christiane,
            Thank you for the Isaiah passage. I’ve always loved that, and it’s especially pertinent here.

    • No, this is not compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue is a real phenomenon but not here. The cure for compassion fatigue is finding greater resouces within ourselves, our communities and our faith and not quitting helping those who are needy. When people quit, it often is because they feel the social contract between themselves and the person they are helping has been violated. The social contract goes this way: We help people in need, they express gratitude to us, we feel good about ourselves and congratulate ourselves for being such good Christians. They get something and we get something. When they don’t fulfill their end of the bargain, when they aren’t grateful or make poor choices, we get angry at them and go off and quit. It is conditional love-I’ll love you if you give me something back. Agape love-grace is giving, not because of who they are but because of who I am. It’s the way of Jesus and the way of his followers as well. And when this kind of compassion gets tired, it is not someone else’s fault (the poor’s, for example) but is a spiritual sign that I need to give attention to myself spiritually to find those greater resouces within. If I get my sense of value and worth as a Chistian on the basis of how someone else responds to instead of my own inner resources, I am setting myself up for spiritual disappointment.

      • Quixotequest says:

        Well said. Don’t forget the deflating, “I know who Jesus is. I’m not really interested. Are you still gonna give me something?”

        If we’re there with agape love, we can better accept that the World will always hate Him, and will hate those who love Him. The World exists among the needy and downtrodden too, just as it does among the propserous. And in His grace he defeated the World and preached the good news to the dead that they are dead without Him. And as Evil lashes out in rage at this gracious injustice His glory is magnified. Like you said, we give because of who He is not who the receiver is.

        And there are those we serve who just mistrust the light He brings. They need to turn back to the darkness and see if the light is still there when they turn back, or after they’ve kicked some dirt on it. He is faithful; He’ll be there when they are prepared to be drawn. Meanwhile we serve in hope that all are drawn, because it keeps our eye in understanding that it’s His deal and His glory.

        • JShurty…I do not think you have the authority to judge whether or not another human has reached the stage, as an individual, of compassion fatigue.

          And, my friend, how many hours of your lifetime have you spent directly with the poor?

          • compassion fatigue . . .

            the Cross ? He has asked us to take it up and to bear one another’s burdens

            if we follow Him, it won’t be to sit in the audience of a tea party debate yelling and cheering ‘let him die’

          • I wonder . . .

            are the poor allowed to get ‘poor fatigue’ ?

            or does that anger the far-right too ?

          • I’m not sure what how many hours I have spend with the poor have to do with it, but since you asked-I have been in ministry 36 years, 20 as parish pastor and 16 as a prison staff chaplain in a medium security prison and as a hospital chaplain in an inner city hospital. My experience has enabled me to be aware of my own tendency to want a pay-back from the people I work with and to eventually come around to the understanding that is not what it is all about.

    • As a non-American Catholic living in a welfare state it is interesting to me to see just how different the American mindset is. For example, I don’t quite get the argument that the government should not be involved in “charity”. “Charity” can seem such a condescending and Victorian concept. With tax-funded welfare for the old, sick, disadvantaged and unlucky, it’s not charity, but more like a redistribution of wealth for a more equal society. It’s a concept of a communal society where we all look out for each other. And I think we do, here in my imperfect welfare state! And I think it might give people more dignity than being a “recipient of charity.”

    • Pattie is absolutely correct! Every word. This is not hard hearted, this is the real world.
      It’s nauseating to read all the bleeding heart comments on here from rich people. Yes, if you’re on a computer, tablet, or smart phone reading these comments, then you would be considered rich compared to the rest of the world. So why don’t you go out today and give your computer away to a poor person? What better way to show your compassion? Let’s see the excuses on that suggestion! And by the way, if you are reading this at work, you are stealing from your employer. Shame!

      • D. Wood — In many cases we don’t even know the real names of the people here. How do you know who is rich or not? If your definition of rich is the ability to post comments online — not an unreasonable one from a global point of view — then you obviously fit squarely in that category. Do you want Pattie to give her computer away to the poor — would that help your nausea at all? I hope she doesn’t, because I like her comments a lot.

        • Of course I don’t want Pattie to give her computer away. My point was that all Americans are richer than those that live in other parts of the world. I’ve been to Africa and I’ve seen real poverty. I was simply wanting to expose the hypocrisy of those that talk a good game about helping the poor but would never “put their money where their mouth is” by giving away their precious computer or selling it and giving the proceeds to the poor. It’s easy to talk about “sacrifice” and taking up the cross. It’s another thing to actually do it. I could tell you my life’s story, but I won’t. I’ve been poor — eligible for food stamps — and I’ve been “comfortable.” It was only through extremely hard work that I became “comfortable.,” I understand that some folks are not capable of pulling themselves out of poverty, and they deserve a helping hand. My problem is with the those that “preach” about helping the poor but would never really sacrifice their own possessions to do so.

  13. Lu jasperson says:

    The definition of ‘poor’. I too have a problem with women constantly having children and getting welfare. I have a problem with someone who gets foodstamps and uses their EBT cards at casinos and on garbage instead iof real food. I have a problem with someone whining they don’t have health insurance while they gamble and drive $40,000 trucks. Its the waste and fraud that I have a problem with. I do not have a problem with helping those who really need the help. Better yet take some big benefits from the corporate CEO’s and share the wealth.

    • I have a problem with all those things, too, Lu and Pattie. But I do think that my proper Christian response is not anger but compassion, even if that makes me feel like a patsy.

      • You missed one of my points, then. One cannot experience “compassion fatigue” unless one had a boatload of compassion in the first place…

  14. Being Angry is A Sin.

    • No, it is not…..Jesus and the Moneychangers ring a bell?

      How about “be angry, but in your anger do not sin”.

  15. Thanks, Damaris, for a well-thought out, insightful piece.

    Many have already mentioned the Biblical attitude we should have toward the poor. I work in human services, in addition to being a pastor. Everyday, I see people who are on the welfare rolls, some making poor choices, some trapped in a cycle of poverty; some abuse their children in horrific ways, some do the best they can to make a better life for their kids…sometimes this involves prostitution, drugs, and living in horrid conditions. I met with a family just yesterday that had roaches crawling on literally every surface of the home, including inside their refrigerator, covered in bites they receive at night (The home was relatively clean; landlord, who owns around 40 rental properties in a rural county, refuses to do pest control); They are working poor. I placed two teenagers into foster care late last night, kids who have been in the system for years, because mom is mentally ill, and dad is an addict. I met with a family of illegal aliens, mom, dad, and three babies, living in a two room home, proudly showing me a large stack of neatly folded, obviously used clothing that they were packing to send to “poor cousins” in Mexico.

    I went home last night, and held my own little girl for the longest time. Over the past four years, I left a nice, stable career to do ministry full-time; got some terrible financial advice from a fellow pastor; wound up losing my home. Fortunately, for me, I had family to pick me up when I was down. Life continues to be a financial struggle. All I can say when I look at the population I work with is, “But for grace of God, there I go….”

    I had a discussion about the poor with a very wise man once, and I was telling him that I no longer gave money to the homeless who begged in Athens, GA, where I live, but that I would buy them food instead. I did this, because I felt they would use the money to buy alcohol or drugs. His response was, “If they use the dollar you hand them to buy drugs, that is between them and God; however, your attitude toward the poor is business you must settle with God personally. If the homeless man you judge is Jesus in a distressing disguise, and you have judgement in your heart when you give him a gift, then your action isn’t performed in love. The ultimate question is, ‘Does it really matter what he’s going to do with this dollar?’, not ‘Can I trust him to use this dollar responsibly?’

    The conversation broke my heart. I repent daily for my attitude.

    I love Damaris’ description of “professionally angry” people. We, as human beings, have an innate desire to be passionate about something….anything! We will latch onto the most fiery cause we can find, the most popular commentator of the day, the pop culture controversy that makes us feel alive, because frankly, we’ve forgotten the things that give us true life: Loving God, loving our neighbor (without narrowly defining who our neighbors are). Heck, we don’t even know who our next door neighbors are. Why would care about the nameless people on the welfare rolls?

    By the way, just to respond to some comments ( Luke Bradley)…I work daily with welfare recipients, and ain’t nobody getting rich off of making babies down here in Georgia. Don’t even go there.

    • Have to totally disagree with the concept of giving money for an addiction. It is enabling, not compassion.

      The “what if it was Jesus” begs the point, as He would NOT be using the dollar to harm Himself or sin. We’ll have to agree to remain 180 degrees apart on this point.

      • Quixotequest says:

        I’ve always liked these quotes,

        “It is more difficult to give money away intelligently than to earn it in the first place.” (Andrew Carnegie)

        “To give away money is an easy matter in any man’s power. But to decide to whom to give it, and how large and when, and for what purpose and how, is neither in every man’s power nor an easy matter.” (Aristotle)

        I think it takes discipline to make the germ of those ideas be magnified in a God-centered way, but I also think intentionality to spend our service time/money wisely and meaningfully can be done in a God-honoring way.

        As much as I admire my pastors and church, I refuse to trust any one place as a worthy avenue for “giving it all to God”. I know, giving is about me and my submission to God, not how the money is used, per se, but it is also seems lazy and dishonoring to the way God indwells us to not take some intentional mindful ownership. I never want my giving to become a tax, a law, a rote habit, or a “I give at the office and trust it will be spent well” part of my life.

        To spend the extra effort to give/serve so that the effort is more helpful rather than “enabling” seems wise but I also struggle with it because it easily becomes a means for me not to give/serve in a very immediate one-on-one personal way (the “I gave at the office” thing) or to fuel my cynicism and pride of judging who is worthy.

    • Lee, good words. I especially loved your second to last paragraph. I agree we are created to be passionate, and passionate hate is the expected perversion of passionate love.

      I would disagree, though, about giving cash to someone if I thought it likely they would use it to further self-destructive habits. Love for that person desires their best, and often love will choose to say “no” when “yes” might seem easier.

      • Pattie and Daniel…The thoughts are appreciated!

        It’s difficult for me to look at Matthew 25 without acknowledging that not everyone who is a prisoner or sick or hungry or naked is a total innocent. I don’t have any illusions that any of the aforementioned is as sin-free as the infant baby Jesus with his golden fleece diapers (to paraphrase Ricky Bobby), nor that they have the best of intentions with whatever form of giving I provide to them.

        The mandate isn’t to determine whether they are going to use my dollar I hand them in the service of the kingdom, or even to meet their obvious needs. The instruction I see in scripture is to dispense mercy, because I have received much mercy. My own personal opinion is that much of American Christianity is influenced by the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” attitude we all have…including myself…and we believe that most people are where they are because they are just plain sorry.

        Listen, I mentioned all of the horror stories from my work day yesterday…This morning, a client I work with called me a little rich kid (funny to me at 44 years old) who had every opportunity in the world, and never had to work for anything. I didn’t read her my resume of growing up in a lower economic class in the rural South, son of a plumber, grandson of sharecroppers, etc. I listened to her, allowed her vent, and when she was finished, we moved on. I prayed for her after I left her home. And I asked forgiveness for being angry at her for things she said. She has no intention of attempting to better her circumstances, but I don’t feel this makes her any less worthy of my prayers, compassion, and service.

        There are moments when I choose to buy a homeless person food instead of giving them cash, especially when they ask for it. If other folks would do food or clothing or shelter instead of cash, I don’t think God will throw lightning at you. I do think we all need to do a heart check when we consider the poor, though.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          I didn’t read her my resume of growing up in a lower economic class in the rural South, son of a plumber, grandson of sharecroppers, etc.

          On the surface, I’m your typical suburban Baby Boomer. My father was an architect (never formally certified because his degree was interrupted by World War 2). His father was in some sort of agricultural business. My mother’s father was most likely an immigrant construction laborer.

        • I am a former addict. I don’t care what they do with their money. If they buy drugs. Drugs are a need to addicts. They might go nuts if they didn’t have their drugs at a time before they are strong enough to deal with their addiction. You think if you enable them they won’t quit. But I can’t get mad at the food buyers. You actually give more

          There is a population of the homeless you never run into because they are too busy dealing drugs and stealing to panhandle from you.

    • There is a story of a Bishop (from the first millenium) who was accosted on the street by a beggar. He instructed the priest with him to give him alms. The priest tried to object, but the bishop cut him off and repeated his instruction. Afterwards the priest explained to the bishop that he knew the man and he was a wastrel and would spend the alms in wicked ways. The bishop told his priest that what the man did with his gift was between him and God, but if he had refused his request, the sin would have been his instead.

      It’s something to consider.

    • I don’t care what he/she does with the money I give. It is none of my business. It even says somewhere in the bible that wine comforts and eases pain and it’s good. It’s a kind of mental drug. Helps you sleep.

  16. I would imagine most people living in our country are only several checks away from being poor themselves. I have often wondered if the ones who are angry now would change their persepective if it were their job that went away due to corporate greed and they found themselves without income. We’ve seen a little of this when people loose their jobs, can’t pay their mortgage, but still live in the house until they’re finally evicted a year later. I’m sure they didn’t think they were abusing the system then.

    • Noble Experiments says:

      It’s a toxic combination of fear and magical thinking. “If I don’t make HiS mistake, then THAT terrible thing won’t happen to me.” Combine that with the class warfare that’s being waged against the not-wealthy (“There is class warfare… And my side is winning,” to paraphrase Warren Buffett), and you see rage against a target that can’t fight back.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Plus there’s a feeling of struggling to keep your head above water and a fear that the others who’ve gone under will pull you down to drown with them.

    • I think anyone can become poor. It can be a combination of things. Losing your job, inability to pay the mortgage or rent, losing health care, etc… it can be the result of a snowballing effect. What about a person who develops cancer and the bills overwhlem her? A family member who develops schizophrnia?

      Anyone can become poor if the circumsatnces are right. I remind myself when I see poor people that could one day be me. Many people get stuck up and say, “oh that won’t happen to me…”

      Just like the guy who has AIDS never thought it would happen to him
      Just like the teenagers who are pregnant never thought it would happen to them
      Just like the person who develops ALS never believes it would happen to them

      Life is tough….it could happen to anyone.

  17. This ties in with the psychological idea of “cognitive dissonance” – when we mistreat someone, even through indifference or because we’re too busy to care, we often then unconsciously come up with a reason for disliking that person so that what we feel toward them justifies how we have behaved.

    Also, I think many of us (myself included) do try to help and end up burned out. I used to serve meals to the homeless out on the street in my neighborhood every week, and after a year and a half it got really hard to keep seeing the same people and no real improvement. I provided a home for six months for a refugee who would otherwise have been homeless, and it turned out he didn’t know even the basics of how to cook for himself or keep a house clean, or even how to keep his clothes clean (and not smelly). I still stop and chat with homeless people and sometimes buy them meals, and I’m sure my guest room will continue to get used, but it’s _hard_, and not always rewarding, and I don’t always have the energy to help.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Also, I think many of us (myself included) do try to help and end up burned out.

      Especially after seeing what was poetically described by Rudyard Kipling in “Bonfires on the Ice”:

      “The dog returns to his vomit,
      The sow returns to her mire,
      And the burnt fool’s bandaged finger
      Wobbles back into the fire…”

      Over and over and over and over again.

      Plus the possibility of being pegged as an “Easy Mark”, where paying the Danegeld not only means you’re never rid of the Dane, but you get introduced to ALL his friends and relatives from Denmark the hard way. And it just snowballs and never ends until you commit suicide, go crazy, let yourself be mooched into the poorhouse yourself (with everybody YOU gave money to now turning their backs on you), or start quoting Ayn Rand chapter and verse while singing Glenn Frye:

      “I Got Mine,
      I Got Mine,
      I Don’t Want a Thing to Change
      Now that I Got Mine…”

  18. We used to get 30 people per week coming to our church looking for money to buy food for themselves or thrir children. The police chief came to visit us and asked that if we wanted to give money that we should have them come by the station and he would distribute the food vouchers. We were having a huge increase in crime and drugs in our area. The end result was that only 2 people out of thirty went to get the vouchers for food.As christians we should always be helping those who have less with a cheerfull heart.
    Is it only me that looks at the picture that Mike provided and see the cigarette hanging out of his mouth ?

  19. I think prosperity theology is another powerful and utterly vile force involved in anger toward the poor. Since God blesses good people with wealth the poor are clearly not good people and in fact God is obviously angry at them, so we have to be angry at them just like God.

  20. Unfortunately so many of the responses have been political in nature, blaming one particular side of the political spectrum. This is disappointing to me because it misses the point of the article.

    • +1

    • Thank you – I was wondering if it was only me.

      • Many of the lunatic fringe on both sides of the fence are not reading, especially not the comments. They are looking for a launching pad for their side THE CORRECT SIDE’ to get out the usual talking points and fire mud at the other guys.

        Meanwhile, many of us are independent voters due to beliefs that do not fit completely into anybody’s play book.

  21. Great article, Damaris. And so true! I wish my church would hear it. They’ve gone so far as to ‘rewrite’ the Bible where it speaks of caring for the poor, they insert the word ‘worthy’ and then try to find out who is the ‘worthy poor,’ and not look at those who are not ‘worthy’ of their help.

    What would they do if God waited until we were ‘worthy’ before showing mercy to us???

  22. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    The poor, according to these professionally angry people, are getting a “free ride;” they’re part of an “all-out war on the productive class of our society for the benefit of the moocher class.”

    DAMARIS — THIS IS DIRECTLY OUT OF AYN RAND/ATLAS SHRUGGED (which according to my writing partner was flying off the shelves of bookstores after the 2008 elections). The giveaway is the use of “moocher” instead of “mooch” and “productive/producer” instead of “sucker”. As Ayn Rand is now the Fourth Person of the Trinity, I am not surprised her Scriptures (i.e. Atlas Shrugged) is being quoted chapter-and-verse by self-indentified Christians.

    Second, many Americans have the understanding that the poor are exploitative. We see claims in the media that they abuse food stamps, welfare benefits, and unemployment insurance.

    In my case, I spent many years as one of the “men of means” (at least relatively speaking) in the fandom. I was constantly hit up for money, to the point that I changed my phone number when I moved to get the parade to stop. And I DID get hit up by professional mooch-boyz. All the time. Including Internet taunts by a professional welfare bum and proud of it who always ragged on “You Stupid Suckers Who Actually Work –Pay Your Taxes, Suckers! That’s More Gummint Gravy for Me! I get it all for FREEEE!” After a couple years of such arrogance, you start thinking about whatever is German for “Useless Eaters” and Zyklon B.

    Fourth, many of these ranters have a materialist, zero-sum view of the universe. Unlike the strong in faith, who know that there is enough good to go around, they feel that humankind is competing over scarce resources.

    Zero-Sum Game: There is only so much to go around, and when there is only so much to go around, the only way to get more for myself is to take it away from you — by force if necessary.

    I suspect this is partly side effect/fallout from all that Environmentally Conscious/Club of Rome/Spaceship Earth stuff that you saw a lot in media and education years ago. “We are all passengers on One Small Spaceship Earth” with only so much resources and wealth to go around. Unwittingly cue zero-sum game while singing Kumbayah…

    Screwtape once commented about the difference between Charity and Unselfishness, and a lot of our culture and educational system since the Sixties (TM) has been in a fad of Forced Unselfishness for The Common Good. We may be seeing a “Communism begets Objectivism” aftereffect of this.

    There is also an essay somewhere on the Web called “World’s Most Toxic Value System” — blood-feud vengeance and extreme nepotism/tribalism(his type example is Arab nomadic tribal culture in the zero-sum environment of the Empty Quarter) — comes out of and is optimized for a zero-sum environment.

    • “Zero-Sum Game: There is only so much to go around, and when there is only so much to go around, the only way to get more for myself is to take it away from you — by force if necessary.

      HUG, you’ve probably heard the joke going around about the CEO, the Tea Party Member and the Union Worker. They had sat down with a dozen cookies, and the CEO grabs eleven of them. Before anyone can protest he says to the Tea Partier, “You’d better watch out for that Union guy. He wants a piece of your cookie.”

      I ordered Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged this morning to see what it’s all about. Used, of course; I wouldn’t want anyone making money publishing this stuff.

  23. I’m reminded of the letter to Laodicea in Revelation 3:

    15-17″I know you inside and out, and find little to my liking. You’re not cold, you’re not hot—far better to be either cold or hot! You’re stale. You’re stagnant. You make me want to vomit. You brag, ‘I’m rich, I’ve got it made, I need nothing from anyone,’ oblivious that in fact you’re a pitiful, blind beggar, threadbare and homeless.

    18″Here’s what I want you to do: Buy your gold from me, gold that’s been through the refiner’s fire. Then you’ll be rich. Buy your clothes from me, clothes designed in Heaven. You’ve gone around half-naked long enough. And buy medicine for your eyes from me so you can see, really see.

    • My point being: those who think they are rich from material wealth are the poor. This is a common NT theme which is conveniently ignored today.

  24. My newly-wed StepDaughter is about to buy a house in an urban oasis. It’s a lovely house; built in 1925 and completely modernised, with new systems, concrete, siding, roof, appliances…the whole nine yards. In the last several months, the neighbourhood, as well as surrounding neighbourhoods, have been free of property crimes as well as assaults and things like that. A safe older neighbourhood; stable; charming. And the folk who live there work together to keep it that way.

    But there’s no real infrastructure. No grocery stores. My Daughter lives in a similar neighbourhood, also in an older home, in another part of the City. She willingly drives to the ‘burbs for food, Drs, recreation, clothes, everything a Family of five needs because of the historicity of the house and the area. Maybe the reason Poor People eat Cheetos and other crappy food is because that’s all the local corner markets, which tend to flourish in these sorts of urban neighbourhoods, has to offer. Maybe they have to buy what they can at the local 7/11 or the local Gas Station because that’s all they have within walking distance or off the local bus lines.

    Have you ever tried to carry groceries on a bus? I did when I lived in England 20 years ago. I couldn’t carry much even when my dairy goods were delivered, three times a week. In pints (20 oz).

    Fresh produce is virtually nonexistent and most Farmer’s Markets don’t take food stamps. But, if you’re savvy, you can barter. Sometimes. Meat is exorbitant because if you find any, it’s pre-packaged. Wal-Marts have grocery departments. But those Wal-Marts are on the fringes of communities where one can buy huge chunks of land…not in urban centers. Again, transportation becomes and issue and price-per-unit goes up as portable sizes go down.

    Seriously. Drive through some “bad neighbourhoods” and look for Kroger’s. Safeways. Cub Foods. Jewel. [Chain of Your Choice]. They are usually the first to leave an area when a neighbourhood begins to “turn” and only those with reliable transportation has the means to “travel afar to provide food for her Family”.

    So if we want to help, why don’t we build sustainable food outlets where the Urban Poor, at least, can eat healthy? Then, at least, we can stop judging them for only smoking cigarettes (which at least makes you feel better but has no nutritional quality) and looking obese from their diet of junk food. They can then look like wealthier suburbanites who only eat raw foods and fish and organic. Maybe they’ll look like they deserve the help they need.

    Of course, that leaves out the Rural Poor. But don’t get me started…

    • In my town, the discount grocery stores are in the poorer parts of town. I sometimes drive into those areas to do my shopping because the food is much cheaper there!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Probably varies from city to city.

        As for “Organic” foods, normally the only difference is the price tag. There is no hard-and-fast definition of what makes a food “Organic”, and you get a lot of rebranding/retitling as Organic (TM) to increase the price.

        It’s one of those “People with too much money” situations.

      • It definitely varies. In our town the majority of grocery stores, discount or otherwise, are in the suburbs, in places difficult or impossible to get to on public transport. The poorest neighborhoods have corner markets/liquor stores/gas stations.

        • I’m sure it does vary. I’ve not quite lived everywhere. Only 23 different places in 35 years… So, definitely, your mileage may vary. ;D

      • Search on google maps for grocery stores in Austin, TX. The poor, minority section is largely east of I-35. I think the distribution of stores is obvious. Personally? I have multiple nearby grocery stores (with great options for this celiac family) in close proximity. If I lived in the poorer areas? not so much.

    • My parents had a liquor store for years. It was patronised by many of the local homeless folks as it was easier to get to and they felt more comfortable going there than the large supermarket which would have been a lengthy walk.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I would like to point out that when one of the major problems of a country’s poor is Obesity, that tells you that the country is prosperous enough that famine is not a problem — “Even their Poor are fat!”

      (And as for Famine, the Horseman of the Apocalypse, Slacktivist has pointed out that when Revelation was written, Asia Minor was suffering under a colonial cash-crop economy, where so much land was planted for Wine and Olive Oil enriching absentee landlords in Rome that there was barely enough of non-cash crops for the actual people to eat. “But don’t touch the Olive Oil and the Wine!” was a direct swipe at an injustice caused by greed of the rich.)

      • FYI: quote ~ “Women who are better educated and live in households that are middle-income or above are less likely to be obese than women who are less educated and live in the lowest income households, new government research shows

        “Among men, there is not a statistically significant difference in obesity based on income and very little difference based on education, the data show.” ~ Cynthia Ogden, an epidemiologist with the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

        Those pesky facts.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Of course, when the definition of “Obese” is becoming “anyone with more weight-per-height than a 6’3″, 100 lb supermodel”…

    • I love my town. We are cramed with cheap stores. We also have a famers market every Wed. Proper middle class persons don’t want to move here. They don’t think we are a “nice” neighborhood. I don’t think rich expensive areas are “nice” because the persons are cruel and judgmental. I think my neighborhood is nice. It is. Everyone is poor and knows that being poor doesn’t make you less human. Anyway it has alot of cool poor persons stores.

  25. I’m just really disappointed by this whole piece. It is vital for Christians to talk about their approach to the poor. But Damaris purposely framed it from a liberal perspective: “anger” at the poor, which, I submit, is as common as KKK membership these days. Just reading the title I could foresee a political discussion – or rather battle. And of course I could foresee the liberals who declare that Christ was a liberal and conservatism is cruel and lacking in compassion. Between this and the 9/11 series, I just don’t care for the politicized approach you guys have taken lately. It’s divisive and counterproductive.

    • Amen, Cannudda.

      I haven’t even bothered to read all of the above replies. I sampled them and they were the standard “Rebulicans want to starve people” claims. I sort of fall all over the place on this issue. The chuch should do more, but I”m not convicned the Govt. jumped in b/c the church wasn’t doing it, i think the govt jumped in b/c more govt programs mean more govt employees (of which I am one at the state level) and more power for the govt.

      I think some programs are great (even though there is going to be waste in any program administered by a large entitiy like the federal govt) As a school teacher I see the benefits of the school lunch program, and as a child when we were poor I got free and reduced lunches. I do know the school meal our kids get is the best meal they eat all day. The summer programs where they are fed thru other groups is a good thing.

      But I don’t think you have to be anti-govt or a radical “tea-party” guy booo! to see that the War on Poverty was a disaster and that it had a lot to do with the illigitimatcy rate going thru the roof

      you don’t have to be cold hearted to insist that the best proven way to avoid poverty is to finish high school and delay child bearing until you marry

      • All of which is why God didn’t attach His commands to any political agenda. He said if we see someone who is hungry, feed him; if we see someone naked or destitute, clothe him. Period.

        • So… with all of the poor in this country and the world, if any of you have any extra money in the bank that you haven’t given away to help the poor, then you are a hypocrite, right?

      • Do not see that there is any social problem that is not made WORSE by unmarried women, of any age or economic status, have children out of wedlock.

        Married families are not the cure-all to poverty and disease, and those being abused by spouses need to RUN….but seriously……children raised by two married parents are so much less likely to be poor (or feral).

        It seems to me that the Lord had some VERY good reasons for making sexual love acceptable and Holy only in the Bonds of Matrimony. The government makes a lousy father.

      • ITA!

      • There are a lot of persons wilh borderline mental disabilites who really don’t have a huge shot at crawling out of poverty. There is also not a surplus of jobs for these persons.

    • If you dont like alternative view points and discussion you may be on the wrong site my friend. I’m certain Chaplain Mike will entertain a counter piece if you wish to take the time to submit one. If we can read, listen and learn from Eagle, we can do the same with you. I look forward to the potential submission.

      • I believe, if one looks at the point of view of the majority on this particular posting that he is giving an alternative view point.

        • Fully agree. I dont know the length of time he’s been a viewer. I just felt compelled to warn him that much of the content on this site leans away from “standard” fundamentalist/evangelical opinions.

          Further, I wished to invite him to bring a fuller piece to the admin of this site. I’d welcome an alternative stance presented fully rather than him feeling the need to “battle” his fellow Christians within the comments.

    • Just for the record, I’m not a liberal. I’m not a conservative. In the area of politics I am a weak Christian, as Paul describes them, and find it difficult or impossible to vote without violating my conscience. I think this weakness is a fault in me, and I hope I can learn to live a Christian life within a political context. At this point, though, I can only cling to the Gospel.

      • Damaris,

        I agree with your ultimate premise, that we must have compassion. I also believe that the reasons one might be poor are many and complex, and there is no one solution that fixes all the facets. In some ways government has helped, in others made matters worse or made people in this predicament more dependent.

        I am not sure if there are a lot of people angry at the poor. Conservative talk radio would have you believe otherwise but that is not the voice for all conservatives just like the “haves and have-nots mentality isn’t the mantra for all liberals.

        I know in my life I’ve had situations when I have been able to help, and situations where I have been taken advantage of, but this is at an indiviidualistic level.

        So in the end it is compassion, on an individual level, where we can be most human. Compassion does not mean you throw money at the problem, or try to solve it, or blame a particular group for not doing enough, but when an opportunity arises you go a little further, you do a little more than normal.

        My hats off to those of you that do this for a living.

      • I am a conservative. There is plenty of blame to go around on both sides. There are a number of government programs that are ill-considered and administered so as to cause the most cost with the least benefit (or so I have observed.) Welfare laws are often unequally applied and burned out social workers or aid workers are some of the most unpleasant people I’ve ever run across. I know a lot of really conservative folks, including tea party members, who assist the poor often through churches and fundraisers or volunteering time or whatever. My issue here is what I’ve seen from Christians that does not reflect the grace of God. Government does what it does. The gospel gives a different standard.

        • Radagast….Thank you on behalf of those still toiling in the fields. Not only was my own contribution meager, but I am no longer a practicing nurse (well, I AM, but it is as a professor of nursing. NOT compassion fatigue, btw, but an aging body that can no longer take 13 hours on my flat feet!)

    • You know, I just didn’t get the vibe that Damaris was writing from a politically liberal perspective at all. In fact, I think she was writing from a theologically conservative perspective, encouraging us to examine our hearts when considering the poor.

      Bottom line…too many of us confuse our politics and our religion…and the media knows it, and fuels the fire. Glenn Beck, Keith Olbermann, whomever you prefer…they frankly don’t give a rat’s behind about the issues that they rile us all up over. They’re self-promoters, hawking everything from books to coffee mugs. If they aren’t in the headlines, they’ll be sure to say something to infuriate one side of the aisle or the other. I just wish we all could see through the rhetoric.

      I am a political conservative, but generally try to avoid mixing politics and religion in a discussion. It’s like putting salt in your morning coffee…It’ll wake you up, but it tastes like pure hell.

      Personally, I don’t think Jesus wants anything to do with the mess we’ve made of American politics.

  26. CM,

    I have personally experienced much more anger OF the poor than anger AT the poor. But the anger of the poor is pretty easy to understand (they feel they get the short end of the stick) so we will go with your harder questions. I agree with your thoughts that if people feel anger at the poor it must be in response to some sort of perceived threat or perhaps their feelings are being manipulated by someone else for some sort of gain (political?). After all, class warfare has been a tried and true tool used by both sides of the political spectrum for centuries.

    As far as a solution; I like God’s principle of leaving for gleaning. It fights stinginess in the heart of the “haves” since they don’t squeeze every last drop of profit out of a resource and it isn’t a hand-out since the gleaner actually has to work to benefit from it. I think if we as Christians, business owners, leaders, etc. would work on developing areas to implement this principle it would help.

  27. As anyone looked at the fact that their could not be any wealth unless someone else goes without? We have an X amount of dollars and money doesn’t grow on trees. If you have more than me, then I have less. Our system is set up with trapping the poor that want out because you need us to have all your power.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      That is called The Zero-Sum Game. And we’ve all gotten a big dose of that since the “Limits of Growth” pop-ecology fad in the Seventies encouraged even more Zero-Sum thinking.

    • But there really isn’t just a limited amount of wealth in the world in any real sense. Yes, there’s a limit to the actual amount of resources we have on the planet, but that’s something that’s kind of tangential here. Wealth is created by economies – it’s not simply a matter of a finite amount trading hands. If you look at just the amount of stuff that everyone has, we are all wealthier than previous generations.

      • The fundamentals of the economy are: people, food, and energy. All have been growing exponentially for the last ~400 years. The economy as a whole has grown about ~4%/year, while population grows ~2%.

        That means every generation is ~2x richer – obviously it will be unequally apportioned, but you can see how we got where we are (there is also inflation in there, but it gets complicated).

        Unfortunately, population growth is leveling off. We might have one more doubling, but probably only ~50%.

        Energy growth has stopped. Food production has kept up well, but without higher population, it can remain stable (there is plenty of food, but distribution is poor).

        Overall the economy has maybe another 1-3 doublings, then things go static – at which point it is zero sum. Not to mention our mental models are not at all adapted to a static situation.

    • Not exactly true.
      Who did without when Steve Jobs invented Apple? My entire industry was spawned because people who were creative thought out of the box and created things.

      The genius of western civilization has been the creation of wealth. My ancestors were shipped out of Britain in the 1830′s because the wisdom of the time said Britain could not support the population. It has twice the number of people now.
      The upper class in Britain never figured out that if they allowed a middle class to form a lot more people could enjoy life.

      This is not a universal, all encompassing rule, but often the case is if you diligently apply yourself, work hard and make wise choices you can live comfortably, maybe even end up rich [I am speaking of Canada and the US here]. That is not to say that you can’t loose it for health reasons.

      I have a relative who is poor. He is healthier than I am (good physical shape). He has no extenuating issues. I think he hopes to get rich quick, and is in his 40s. He has never been willing to go and train for something that will get him a good job. So he floats around working once in a while at minium wage jobs. He has chosen his lifestyle. We do not feel sorry for him, he has made choices.

      Yes, there are down and out people who are poor. I have friends who are slightly mentally handicapped. He has worked minimum wage and probably can’t do more. He has lived in subsidized housing which I think is great, I am glad that we help people like him. He does his best, but it is not enough. I have no problem with welfare for him and his family.

      The first one would likely think it his right to be helped, the second one no.

      • Ken, I just noticed your comment, and it illustrated the point I have tried to make myself…..that the sick (of body or mind) , children, and the aged show have priority in the allotment of resources. Adults with none of these issues should have very limited resources for a short period of time. Single parents should have support structured so that the assistance MUST be used for the benefit of the children. And for all, job training and/or education should be mandatory for benefits, as well as the absence of drug use.

        I know that this is an outline, not a response to loving the poor per se, but I really believe that programs like I suggest would bring down the animosity many feel toward those who seem to be “gaming” the system.

    • There is some wealth that is the result of exploitation and depravation of others, but the notion that this is what is required to create wealth is not true. There is in fact enough for abundance for all. Parker Palmer has some interesting discussion of this in his writing about what he calls the scarcity assumption.

      • You are right John, I never mentioned that there is wealth created by expoiting others. But as you have said, not all wealth is created that way.

    • PegasusAnn, I don’t think there’s any need for people to go without. The way I see it (and I’m not an economist) all wealth comes from God. He has created enough resources to go around—in fact plenty of it—and much of it is renewable as long as the sun keeps shining. He has also given us reason, and various talents to grow more of it, to increase the value of it for our use, figuring out how to improve it, store it, distribute it, etc. It’s a good system as long as we don’t get greedy.

  28. I think part of the reason behind the anger is simply guilt.

    I cannot speak for anyone else, but when I see the poor and needy, I feel like I should do something. They are Lazarus at the gate. I should give them money. I should help them.

    When i choose not to help them, my rational mind gets to work, and thinks of all the reasons why I should not help them. I delegitimize them by thinking of reasons why they are not worthy of my assistance.

    Being angry at them gives us a moral “out.” I see a lot of homeless and poor people begging. Everytime I see them, I struggle with how to respond. In the face of this, my callousness can be a coping mechanism. It’s easier to paint people with a broad brush as deadbeats, drug addicts, or mentally ill and avoid any kind of personal responsibility whatsoever. I confess that my own callousness concerns me and I genuinely wrestle with this, but have not come to any conclusions as to how I can best respond, given the breadth of the problem.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Especially when every week you see more homeless on the streets and more cardboard signs being held up beside the freeway offramp. As it just keeps snowballing, you either shut down or become overwhelmed.

  29. Poison goes where poison’s welcome, and evil starts when you start turning people into things. It’s easy to be angry at “moochers”, “parasites”, and “irresponsible animals.” In a perfect world, everyone would be fortunate and we’d be drinking Bubble Up and eating Rainbow Stew. Yes, in any system, there will be those who will work it to its limit. From the other side, if the only option you have is the system, you will definitely want to work it to your advantage.

    Anger at the poor is not surprising after hearing the cheering of Ron Paul’s suggestion that we let those without health insurance just die.

    You can do the best you can, and still fail.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Ron Paul? In the 2008 election cycle, I remember all the “I TOLD YOU SO!s” from gloating Ron Paulistas after the general election. All of them were named John Galt.

      (“Who is John Galt?” All I know is since that election the guy’s got more Celebrity Impersonators than Elvis.)

      “Eating Rainbow Stew?” You don’t want to know what image that phrase brought to mind.

    • But I don’t think Ron Paul said that. I think the topic got hijacked and he got caught in the middle. Then there was the cheering from the audience. As a physician, he talked about not turning away any patients in his practice, but through various means, not just government.

      I’m not a supporter of his, btw, but I don’t want him to get painted with a brush that others deserve.

  30. Patrick Kyle says:

    I am not angry at the poor. However, I have seen numerous times people using food stamps/ EBT while talking on their iPhone and sporting a purse from Coach or Louis Vuitton. In my regular job I see this sometimes almost weekly, and several times a month without fail.

    One of my customers was a High School Principal in a VERY wealthy suburb of LA. She used food stamps on at least one occasion I personally witnessed. ( School Principal is a six figure income in this part of the country.)

    In what other country do the poor have televisions, cable TV, DVD players, and cell phones? I do not begrudge these people whatever appliances, electronic devices, or cell phones they wish to have.

    I do resent funding these purchases with my tax dollars though.

    I think the welfare system in the US is broken and needs to be rethought and revamped. Also the unholy union between Wall Street, big banks, and the US Government is straight fro the pit of hell, and is responsible for the ruined economy and the exponential growth in poverty and joblessness.

    When the powerful and the elite trample the law with impunity is it really a shock that those fighting for survival do thew same thing?

    • Quixotequest says:

      A thought to consider: Start seeing yourself as a creator not a consumer.

      If name brand clothes and bags and toys and etc., represent a more beautiful, functional aesthetic in our society, and poor people now find that more attainable, then kudos that such things increase! If they just represent stuff by which we judge each other our worth then who cares if a poor person has an iPhone or not?

      Am I not able to have beautiful and functional aspects of my life even if not all my wants in comparison to others? Am I not able to have some time to pursue the things I love, like writing, art, food, travel, stress-reducing leisure? Am not I able to pay my bills and have the discipline to live within my means? Am I not able to eat nutritionally and keep my family housed and have opportunities? Am I in fear for my life or those whom I love? Am I robbed of my ability to create – to create beauty in life, in things, in relationships? Am I robbed of my worship?

      When I am truly robbed of these things because of poor, immigrant, and working-poor people I will struggle more with feeling an injustice is beset by the government and society upon me. But — and it is probably reflective of the people I know and the socio-economic privileges I have – what I see, when issues of the poor and immigrants come up, are blessed people who feel these people have made things unjust for us all.

      If such an “unjust” welfare recipient can see a doctor easier than me, eat some prettily-boxed nutritionally deficient food, wear some brand of clothes that I could go buy at an Outlet store if it really mattered, or click away a text to say hi to a friend, while they often struggle, as an average rule, with lower health, reduced life expectancy, with poorer family stability, with less clean and less-functional living quarters, with greater life-impacting crime, with lower opportunity to create and advance by virtue of that creativity, with prejudice, with greater emotional and physical abuse, with more psychological issues, and etc., what REALLY do I have to be angry at?

      These usual recipients of welfare are people like me with happiness and gripes. They are people who are welcome to worship and eat with me. And they are people who are shut off, or significantly reduced in access, to the things that really matter for leading to greater happiness and prosperity.

      I regret, except by God’s grace, that there isn’t a reality that gives more of us all more time to prosper in healthy, creative, positively-challenging, relationally-rich, emotionally-uplifting, intellectually-stimulating, culturally-broadening, and spiritually-meanigful ways. And above I regret that more of us just don’t have – or make – more time to live.

      But the poor are not, in any statistically significant way, what is causing me, a white, middle-class male, to have a less-opportune America to pass on to my kids.

      • Quixotequest says:

        Patrick, sorry that came off as more ungraciously pointed at you. I intentioned it more broadly.

        • Yes, let’s get upset when a person on food stamps has a TV, a cell phone, or a designer bag. Those things aren’t denied to anyone. But health insurance is. Lots of poverty is caused by crushing medical bills because people with pre-existing conditions, for example, can’t get health insurance. And if such folk get help in the ER, they still can’t afford the medications, including basic antibiotics, that would keep them alive. Why the hell doesn’t that make more us angry?

    • “I do resent funding these purchases with my tax dollars though.”

      There is a perception that those who are poor get appliances from their welfare checks. While in some cases that may be true, it may be hard to determine exactly where those items came from. Sometimes appliances and such can be gifts, are owned by the recipient prior to their going on welfare. It’s easy to judge, but unless you know for sure where the items come from, you might want to withhold judgement.

    • Do you know how they got their iPhone? How do you know it was not a gift from a friend who had upgraded? As for the designer gear, it is almost certainly fake. Most designer goods in the world are fake.

      And as for your comment about cellphones, do you have any suggestions about how you get a job these days without a phone?

  31. Aidan Clevinger says:

    If I could make the proposal, I think that the modern wellfare system is one of the chief reasons that people are “angry” at the poor. When people who had no desire in teh first place to help those who are less fortunate, then of course they’re upset when they see their money being put to uses they didn’t intend or want. Of course, I’m not justifying this attitude. But I think it does highlight one of the flaws in Christianity’s attempt to make charity (and other functions of the Church) political – any attempt at forced compassion will inevitably produce this kind of hatred. Shouldn’t giving be done by those who *want* to do it? Furthermore, I think we also need to have a modicum of understanding for the angry people themselves. Who wants to see their money being taken from them and used in ways that *seem* nonsensical or abusive? Again, I’m not justifying their attitude, but perhaps we should show some grace to the oppressors as well as the victims.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      But I think it does highlight one of the flaws in Christianity’s attempt to make charity (and other functions of the Church) political – any attempt at forced compassion will inevitably produce this kind of hatred.

      1) Any decision or policy has side effects. “What could possibly go wrong?” is all too often eventually followed by “But how were we to know?”

      2) Any affirmative-action style program favoring one group/tribe will have a side effect of sparking resentment in the other groups who were left out. Especially when the default attitude is Zero-Sum.

      3) Making something Political leads to redefining it in terms of Power, which in turn leads to Power Struggle. (Look at the Civil Rights movement in the time of MLK — defined as a matter of Justice — compared to the Affirmative Action bickering and “You Owe Us!” of today — redefined as a Power game.) And in a Power Struggle, there are only two possible end states: My boot stamping on your face or your boot stamping on mine. And the only way to avoid the second is to make sure of the first, because The Other will do the same.

  32. I’ll probably offend everyone with this, but I’m ready for my beatings.

    For those of us (myself included) who don’t like welfare recipients buying junk with assistance money, do we ever think of what we spend on junk that we could be better stewards of? Is that worse than what they do?

    On the flip side, the Bible has plenty to say about sluggards. two verses:

    2 Thessalonians 3:10 ESV
    For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.

    1 Timothy 5:8 ESV
    But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

    are pretty harsh. I can only speak for myself, but I think there are the poor who try but are not able to overcome their situations and then there are the lazy. I know people I think are in each group. I think we should help those we know are in the first group as best we can. I don’t think we should help the second. If we don’t know which they are I think we should err on the side of grace. This third option I think agrees with a previous post that said if they misuse the charity given to them that is between them and God.

    The above reasons are why I agree with another post above that the church is the best place for charity to go out. The local community knows far better than any agency who is being lazy and who is down on their luck.

    I think we Christians have a hard time finding the balance in many things. We either tend to be hard hearted to hurting people or go hypergrace and excuse sin.

    Let the beatings begin, but I recognize my own leanings and shortcomings on this subject. The conversation has opened my eyes to where I need to look at myself.

    • No ‘beatings’ here. I have NEVER known anyone who was angry with the poor. I have known those who are angry with those who are ‘know and use the system’ take the funds, energy and focus that is intented for those who can’t help themselves.

      Can those of you who are preaching about grace and generosity and sacrifice understand that many of us are simply angry at those who STEAL from the poor as they disguise themselves and pretend to be them?

      It would have been nice to have had this conversation wiithout the political sniping – it just blocks communicaiton, definitely doesn’t enhance it.

  33. Matt Purdum says:

    It’s been clear to me for a long time that the real welfare bums in this country are the Wall Street bankers and CEO’s who take BILLIONS of dollars in “stimulus” money and government subsidies. The huge agricultural combines that we pay yo NOT grow crops. The airlines that receive millions for flights that are empty. The right-wing Ayn Randers need to GET REAL! When is the last time these criminals produced anything but paperwork and hot air? Everyone here needs to read their Bibles and get the words of Jesus REAL CLEAR in your heads. I’d say more but I’m becoming too angry to remain civil. But I want to make it clear that the only “God” Palin, Perry, and Bachmann worship is MONEY & POWER!

    • Matt, I would like to remind you that only God Himself knows what is in any person’s heart and soul…even those in politics.

      And I’m pretty sure that the Bible doesn’t direct anyone to political parties, so don’t confuse you politics with your faith. If they are one and the same, you are doing them BOTH a disservice….

  34. You keep talking about them…and they. You’re talking about me.  I’m typing from my iPhone. I receive food stamps. I am on Medicaid. I am a single mom of three boys under the age of six after a divorce last year from their dad, who chose alcohol, adultery, and abuse over healing.  I work part time as an EMT at a hospital. I don’t have enough seniority to bid into a position with benefits so I’ve been working as many hours as I can work without losing the ability to receive Medicaid (my food stamps allotment fluctuates constantly). 

    We live with my parents. I pay rent. I pay all my own bills. I used my tax return to pay cash on a dependable 10 yr old car.  I don’t watch TV.  Instead, I spend about two hours a night reading the Word, praying, or painting.  I’m not a moocher. I eat healthy food. I work hard while still staying home with my kids as much as possible. I homeschool.  

    After paying my bills, my leftover money and my tithe go to people I know that are struggling. Sometimes in the form of gift cards. Sometimes cash.

    Where’d I get the iPhone?  It’s a $50 refurbished phone and it’s my one luxury for the month.  One luxury. Besides this, I spend less than $20 a month on myself. I make      $1400/month. 

    I want very much to get off the system. But I need medical coverage.  I pray for God’s will to be done and at this point, He has not brought me into a place where I can get off the system safely.  Knowing that I’m given the opportunity to bless people even from where I’m at is such an amazing thing. 

    • No, I don’t think so. You sound like you’re working hard. Nothing in that post sounded lazy to me. Just spending a weekend alone with my 3 kids gives me a great deal of respect for what you are doing.

      • Thanks Cam. I Avoided the political discussions so wasn’t sure where my post would fit in. I know a lot of people in my shoes and it is SO frustrating to be here. We can’t have a savings because then we ‘have money’
        And shouldn’t have any money on welfare. But what about digging ourselves out and providing a safety net?

        Fortunately that very aspect I mentioned above is what has helped me find the freedom to spend the excess on others.

        I am also on WIC and you don’t want to be behind me at a grocery store as I line up all my purchases with the little checks. I get glares from other shoppers for clogging up the checkout lines. I apologize and then explain that getting help from WIC has been such a blessing. They soften up a bit usually.

  35. I must say that I do differentiate amongst the poor. When some dude is looking for beer money outside the arena after the game I ignore him 95% of the time but I am 100% willing to help Catholic Charities and others by donating time, goods and cash. I have seen the people they are helping and the helping hand betters their lives as opposed to retrenching them in addiction.

  36. Ironically, I’m no longer a Republican; however, I don’t believe Johnson’s great society solved anything. I don’t believe that $400B government projects will create any more jobs than the $700B+ spent before that. I’m also not a Calvinist.

    But I think the answer is possibly in the philosophy of Calvin, that it is the duty of entrepreneurs to build successful businesses and reinvest their profits to grow their business in order to build and benefit society. Taxing industry takes incentive away from this vision. Unfortunately, taking profits that could be used to reinvest in business and instead paying them out in billion dollar bonuses to executive is also contrary to this vision. Because we live in a fallen world, I believe there is a need for government regulations over industry, but I also know that government can’t legislate business ethics anymore than it can legislate morality. We need changed lives and changed hearts leading our industry, who believe that investing in business to create jobs, goods, and communities is more profitable than exploiting nature, people, and pocketing profits. Ultimately, this would be more helpful for the poor than charitable gifts. It is also what Luther taught on vocation – being the face of God to our neighbor through our trade and business.

  37. Most people i know don’t really hate “the poor” so much as they hate policies they believe favor the poor, which is not the same thing at all. I’m not saying there aren’t people who hate “the poor,” but I know many conservatives (who this seems to be mainly slanted toward) and although I find many of them anti-illegal (and sometimes) legal immigrant and anti-Muslim, I can’t say as I have found most anti-poor.

    You assert that “people identify with the workers in the parable who were hired early in the day, and they resent the free-loaders who came later.” Most conservatives I know would answer that what they object to isn’t the same thing at all. The employer in this story was using his own money to pay them and could disburse it anyway he chose whereas (the conservative today would say) that the government doesn’t have any money of its own and is using the tax-payers’ (therefore, the taxpayer should have a say). Scripture does indeed talk about caring for the poor but it also says neither the rich or the poor should be favored in a matter.

    I agree with you that at the root of much of the feeling is frustration and an emotional (though not always consciously reasoned) idea that resources are limited and someone is going to lose out. I agree that as Christians we have a special responsibility toward the poor. I just think your characterizations are not completely in keeping with the reality. It’s much more complicated than, “Some people hate the poor.”

    • Well said, Janie. In fact, most of the people I know are angry that the system abusers are taking resources away from the truly needy and ill.

      Bottom line…most Americans WANT to help those who CAN NOT help themselves.

      ….and few want to assist those who COULD but chose NOT TO!

      • You write as if there are jobs just waiting for people that pay enough for a person to actually receive enough money to take care of their children when they are not around. As if people want to exist on handouts and never be sure just how much money they’ll have next week.

        I could understand this attitude during perhaps, WWII, when the entire country was mobilizing. But the number of jobs has been dropping or at best not increasing. Yet, as the number of jobs declines, people’s hearts harden further and they insist that if the poor simply tried harder, jobs would magically materialize for them to take.

        This does not even begin to address the working poor, who are working as many hours a day as they can, but still need help to get by. Those programs that assist the working poor are targeted just as much by those who seek to get rid of “welfare queens.” It sends a message that people do not wish to help them improve their lot in life. That people do not want to help them in the areas they cannot help themselves. (Headstart, School Lunches, College Scholarships, Food Stamps, Earned Income Tax Credit, Cuts in the Payroll Tax, etc.)

        If that isn’t hating the poor, I don’t know what is. Well, I suppose rounding them up for slaughter would be hating them even more, but they only seem to do that in Texas.

        • Most people here act like there is only one type of poor: either lazy people who want to live off others or people that want to work but don’t have the opportunity. As with many things the truth is in the middle. There are those that try and should be helped and those that don’t want to try and should not be encouraged.

  38. This type of article makes me miss Michael Spencer’s writing so much.

  39. There seems to be this attitude that I’ve been seeing that if someone is poor, they do not have a right to be happy. That the poor people cannot spend the little surplus they have from their jobs on things that most of us take for granted- beer, a movie, toys for his/her children, etc. That for some reason if one doesn’t have enough money, they must be miserable, as if happiness was a zero-sum game. That without the poor being miserable, we cannot be happy. The rhetoric seems to me to dictate that the money that poor people receive in assistance should not go towards making them psychologically healthy, just physically healthy. People are angry that the poor own tvs. Because, rather than being a means by which most people in America are able to unwind and take their mind off their day, a tv is a luxury to be only held by the worthy.

    This seems to be tied to the idea that the poor wish to be poor. That even if they were given the opportunity to step out of their lives, they would reject it (reject it, not fail at it, which unfortunately happens without specific skill sets) out of hand to continue living on a day-to-day basis.

    John Scalzi wrote a fantastic piece about being poor back in 2005. It’s worth a read, if only for the little glimpses of understanding that accompany it.

    • Jason, thank you for your thoughtful comments and for introducing me to Scalzi’s article, which has some heartbreaking comments itself.

  40. Jason, the Scalzi post you linked above was quite thought provoking…the original essay and the hundreds of comments (yes, I read them all~I am avoiding a term paper!)

    Two ideas stood out:

    1) there is a difference between “poor” and “broke”. Many of the “starving college kid” commenters at Scalzi’s blog illustrate the latter, a temporary condition en route to a better life. ” Poor” seems to include many thought processes and world views that are only tangentily, if at all, related to money.

    2) a woman who states that she grew up in poverty left a comment that included (and I paraphrase) “My family never learned about delayed gratification….if not for my husband, my choices would have led us to bankruptcy”.

    While we treat the less fortunate with dignity, perhaps we also need to find out how some people make it OUT of poverty….and put effort towards those skills, whatever they may be?

  41. There is definitely anger at the poor, and plenty of prejudice to go with it. Our society is highly stratified along socioeceonomic lines. And the myths about the poor, poverty and its causes have affected belivers and churches.

    I remember the last church I went to had a stewardship sunday at which one of the leaders showed a video from a conservative/christian “institute” that tied the breakdown of the family and attendant social ills directly and solely to the advent of welfare. It was a simplistic approach and deeply flawed, including committing the ad hoc ergo proctor hoc fallacy, but people fell for it hook, line and sinker. I was pretty surprised and discouraged at that.

    One form of anger at the poor is the anger not just at the flaws in or the compulsory nature of the admittedly imperfect government programs and institutions that try to help them, but anger at the very existence of such programs. The notion that somehow churches or believers should replace these large programs and do better at them stems in part from this.

    This to me is very strange because scripture nowhere says working through a government to help the poor is wrong; in fact, it does the opposite where it establishes for Israel laws and rules (compulsory in nature!) to protect and care for the poor.

  42. I’m late to this discussion…

    I think the anger at the poor here in the US recently is rooted in the economic downturn and credit crisis. I think some people are angry over theri aconomic situation and naturally need a person to blame. Its no different than in the way some pointed the finger at blacks, people living “immorally”, gays, immigrants, etc.. It’s the “in” thing to do. I think many people act is if the poor are responsinel for the economic problems and the assistance by government. I’m not a bug fan of the health care reform and how that was handled, but I know we need to have health care reform done; but I think anger at that is also what has driven some of this.

    I agree with Demaris. We have political movements and oragnziations alive and kicking today that remind me of some of the partisan organizations that popped up in the 1930′s. If we go into a double dip recession where will that go. But it bothes me becuase I am reaidng articles in newspapers that I can’t imagine we are seeing in this coutnry.

    1.The Los Angeles Times had an article about how 44% of the children of California now live below the poverty line.
    2. ABC News had a story about how doctors in Boston are seeing signs of malnutrition and starvation for the first time since the 1930′s.

  43. Henri Nouwen co-wrote a wonderful book about compassion which contains a thought that goes something like this: “If your reason for showing compassion, for feeding the hungry, visiting prisoners….is to see change take place in their lives, you will quickly burn out. Our reason for showing compassion must be a response to the love God has shown us.”

    A good book to read to help people understand those living in generational poverty is “Bridges Out of Poverty”. Especially helpful to me was the section on hidden rules of the various classes in our culture. It opened my eyes to why people may do what they do, what is going on underneath it all.

    But most helpful of all was getting to be friends with people who are experiencing poverty, sitting down and listening and talking together, crying together,laughing together. I have seen Jesus in the eyes of people. And I thank God for those opportunities, for they have changed my life.

  44. I find it rather discouraging (but unfortunately not all that surprising) that this post turned out to be so controversial

  45. My point in writing was that we Christian should be angry at fewer things. I supposed my point has been substantiated! But really, most of the comments were thoughtful and based on people’s experience; only a few moved into the realm of stereotype and divisive name-calling.

  46. Luke is the problem. Here’s what I know about poor people: My Mom raised 4 kids, and several fosters. My parents were divorced because my dad drank. After the divorce, he got a job at the Post Office, worked steady, ended with a good pension. She worked as a teacher, married again, he left her for a younger woman, mom was always poor. We supported her but $3000 for hearing aids wasn’t doable. She worked until she was 78 as a tutor for the educationally handicapped and only quit when she was dying of cancer. She was always poor. My brother-in-law developed schizoprenia at 27, couldn’t work, had no insurance, ended up on the streets, eventual suicide. He was always poor. My sister married three times looking for a stable home, ended up with a drug addict, a bookie and a drunk. They all looked like great guys for the first 5 years. She always worked and was always poor. My cousin worked as a truck driver, joined the national guard for the $37 a month it paid. got sent to Iraq, is now disabled and is poor. My son has a masters degree and nearly a PhD but has had trouble finding decent work and is still poor. This Luke guy is a schmuck and deserves the disdain of every one of the thinking universe. I hope he doesn’t have the gall to call himself a Christian. It is those nasty people that give the group such a bad name I refuse be associated with them.