I think the poverty issues might be the most complex one that Matt brought up in his last post. Living in a free society we must always make room for those who chose to be poor. Either because they are minimalists and value freedom over working, or because they chose not to pursue more in life. And then there are those amongst us who are truly poor, those who Jesus said would always be with us, and James admonished us to care about as a true sign of saving faith. Yet I am not sure if I would agree with Matt in thinking that James would see things so black in our society.
I find it a difficult to so broadly apply James rebuke of the rich to our day and age. Not that James caution to the rich has no place in our culture, but I do not think it does the majority of the time. Truth is “poor” is like the biblical word “slavery” they meant different things to the authors of the Bible then they do to us. When we think of slavery we think of tyrannical oppression and massive abuse of Africans pre-Civil War. Paul would never have thought of slavery in this way, in his context it was more of indentured servant hood, in which many found themselves in because of massive debt or other unfortunate circumstances. Also when Paul or James used the word “poor” they were referring to those who were in such dire straights and circumstances that actual starvation was a real possibility. There was no hope of education, property ownership, and familial security, in fact the poor that James refers to had much more in common with the colonial slaves than the poor of today.
My concern is much more in line with a John Edwards populist type platform which is predominantly concerned about the working class. You know those folks who are having their jobs shipped overseas, working sixty hours a week and still cannot afford to put gas in the tank, food on the table, pay for health insurance, and pay the mortgage because all are rising at absurd rates. I think James would say his concern was not for those who sat around waiting for the rapture and mooching of the labors of others, but for those who are working as hard as they can yet because of sinful systemic structures find themselves coming up short.
Point being that we need to be cautious in formulating a biblical ethic of the poor when it comes to country such as the United States, things are much to complex here to simply think that all who are poor are there for the same cause or reason. Instead we should focus on making sure that those who are working hard and wanting to raise a family and own a home, live in a country that allows them to do so. As it stands now with 1 percent of the USA population getting 22 percent of the income we are actually headed toward a Marxist proletariat and bourgeois.