Part 1 And the Poor Are…

Matt wants to know who I think the poor are, here goes!

Well since I am taking a Latin American theology class right now with a heavy emphasis on Liberation Theology, the question of poverty and the poor is one I have been encountering from a third world perspective. Here is what famous liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierrez says about the poor.

“In the final analysis, poverty means death: lack of food and housing, the inability to attend properly to health and education needs, the exploitation of workers, permanent unemployment, the lack of respect for one’s human dignity, and unjust limitations placed on personal freedom in the areas of self-expression, politics, and religion. Poverty is a situation that destroys peoples, families, and individuals.”

In fact from this definition and other liberation theologians came a term that is quite popular with the emergent/mainline crowd, “institutionalized violence.” The belief that certain powerful structures, be they political, social, economical, cause great oppression to certain people groups.

This definition though by Gutierrez only highlights how difficult it is to define who the poor are in an American context. As you can see bits and pieces of his description fit many different segments of our population. Which is exactly what I was getting at in my last post, it is very gray and blurry for us in America to find who the poor are.

Yet we have a phenomenon that is not found amongst the third world poor and the Biblical poor, and that is a mentality/values crisis. As Bill Cosby has served to highlight over the last few years, there is a problem in many urban communities of a devaluing of education, lack of stable families, and drug abuse that perpetuates poverty. We also see this in other settings were many Americans lack the financial acumen to know what it takes to build and sustain a middle class lifestyle. Put that all together with a entitlement mentality that crosses all economic groups, of instant gratification and you have many people who find themselves getting in their own way of financial peace.

Education can solve some of these problems, but not all. Many are cultural and systemic familial sin patterns. Plus the beauty of America is that while these individuals may be below the poverty line, they may be more than content with their life and circumstance, so I am hesitant to use the poverty line as the end all for defining the poor.

So once again the group I find myself most concerned about are those who are working incredibly hard, and still because of factors outside of their control, come up short in being able to have the basic resources of health care, food, energy, and housing. This group is also known as the working poor and is estimated to number around 30 million Americans, and rapidly growing as the basics become more and more expensive. They often have no health insurance because they cannot afford it, and are one unexpected expense away from being homeless.

And to the last part of your question Matt the Bible constantly speaks to why and how poverty occurred. If a young dude buys rims, plays World of War Craft all day, doesn’t work and racks up massive debt and finds himself poor because of this behavior, Proverbs would tell him to stop being dumb with money, and quit being a lazy sluggard.

There is more that needs to be said here because in America some are poor in education, opportunity, or resources.  I will try and write more about this in the next few days.

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4 Responses

  1. This is a huge issues that I have a big heart for and I hope we can fix some day. I like to have a open mind and think that with everyones help especially the GOVT, we can make a difference. I believe the large number of the poor at least in the US suffers from lack of health health care. Lots of them have major mental issues that have not properly been dealt with. How can they when the average normal person with health care has to spend around $10k for the proper treatment. Then the meds that they prescribed turn out to be $50 – $125 a month.. Crazy!

  2. Another fine post, Ryan. Is health insurance really the biggest issue for the working poor? I mean, it relieves the burden (supposedly, until their wages drop further from higher taxes), but it still doesn’t help them move out of their rut, does it? If I am a waitress trapped at my job that can barely support my family, health care is a convenient bogey, but having it doesn’t change the fact that I have to strap on a Denny’s uniform every day. I still think that a.) businesses should be encouraged to create wealth (as opposed to profit) for their workers, and b.) nothing offers more options than does education.

    Draper, what did you have in mind that the GOVT can do? It certainly can’t physically provide jobs, except by creating very expensive and lumbering programs that will hang around for decades after their usefulness has passed. Are you talking about economic policy, higher taxation, educational subsidies…I am not sure what you are implying.

  3. Adam,
    I think my view is coming from a more homeless side when I speak of the poor. I guess the working poor is a whole different story. I think of the guy that I pass everynight on the way home sitting at the off ramp in the pouring rain when its 32 outside and I am sitting in my leather heated seats. I notice he is talking to himself and that leads me to believe that he needs some type of medical attention that he can’t get cause it cost to much. When I say GOVT I think that they need to invest some $$ into health care to make it better and also start placing programs out there to help the sick & poor weather they are working or not. Did any one ever watch that 30 days show where Morgan Spurlock and his girl tried to live off min wage for a whole month.. they were scraping by until these huge bills came for getting checked out at the doctor.. I don’t rest it all on the GOVT, but they could sure stop spending so much $$ on the damn war and put some back into all the issues we have.

    I do agree with the Education though. That is another area where $$ has been taken from the budgets and never put back.

    It all starts with each of caring and trying to make a difference.

  4. Thanks for the clarification, Draper. I think that these issues are rooted in sin, obviously, but I am doubtful that government can do more than put a bandaid on the problems. You are right that it starts with each of us caring. Unfortunately, most people care, and then hope the GOVT (I love capping that, BTW) cleans it up. I want to be the kind of person, and influence others to be the kind of people, that take on the problems at the personal level.

    I don’t think it is much of a coincidence that the Bible had very little to say about GOVT, and much to say about the heart of the God-follower.

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