Three Theses on Poverty

With so much talk these days about social ministry, my thoughts turned there again after reading chapter seven in Theology and Practice in Mission entitled “The Gospel and Social Responsibility” by Sean Cordell. I walked away from the book with at least three conclusions about poverty.

1. Christians should know that the causes of poverty are vast and often moral.

Many who speak of poverty issues today are only concerned that someone is poor, rarely wondering why they are that way. At least Cordell tries on page 95, but he could have given more. He lists natural disasters, laziness, and oppression as causes but understates how much Scripture talks about sin as the source of poverty. Does this chapter and other popular evangelical books like When Helping Hurts just not know about these other passages? Are they naïve to the world’s depravity? Or are they unknowingly parroting today’s party line that poverty is always the result of something outside of us and not from within?

This grieves me because after living within a poor rural African village for eight years my conclusion is that most of the poverty stems from an unbiblical worldview. If my subjective conclusion did not jive with objective Scripture, I would reconsider. Such is not the case. Cordell briefly mentions laziness as a cause of poverty but includes no Scripture references. But the sheer number of passages warning us that laziness is the cause of poverty (Pr. 10:4; 20:4, 13; 24:30-34; Ecc. 4:5), hunger (Prov. 13:4; 19:15; 20:4; 21:25; 2 Thess. 3:10), ruin (Ecc. 10:18), and misery (Ecc. 4:5) should help us conclude that this is a major cause of poverty, not just one of several. Cordell implies this by listing laziness alongside crop failure, a cause of which Scripture rarely speaks.

Scripture in fact tells us that it is a sin to feed the lazy (2 Thess. 3:10). “But what if they starve?” Scripture has already thought of that and warns us not to be duped. “A worker’s appetite works for him; his mouth urges him on” (Pr. 16:26). Today’s corrupt government systems (and dare I say corrupt church practices) want to rescue lazy people from their poverty by giving them foreign aid, child grants, and handouts and by doing this they dull the pain that God uses to motivate them toward escape. Scripture says the shiftless man goes hungry (Pr. 19:15). The West says the shiftless man goes on welfare.

But laziness is just one of many poverty inducing sins; there is much that could be said of stubborn (Ps. 106:13-15) and prideful hearts (Pr. 13:18). How shocked would you be if an evangelical book said that many people are poor because of self-indulgence? “Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man” (Pr. 21:17).

2. Be careful not to define the poor to broadly.

Cordell may have done this in Matthew 25. He overreached when he says “Jesus made it clear that those who are followers of Christ must preach the good news and meet the needs of the poor as well.” (97) His first proof text is Matthew 25, where those who feed and clothe the poor actually do this to Christ (vv. 35-40) and those who neglect this neglect Christ (vv. 41-42). But are the poor in this passage the world’s poor or poor Christians?

The context points to the latter; Jesus speaks of his “brothers” (v.40). This fits in nicely with Galatians 6:10 where we learn that our first priority is toward other believes.

3. It is not unchristian for believing donors to vet those in need of donations.

While wealthy Christians today are made to feel cold and harsh if they set up criteria for those receiving aid, this is exactly what Paul told the early church to do. Needy widows did not get financial help carte blanche. According to 1 Timothy 5, a widow had to be a believer, a church member, and at least sixty years of age.

Martin Meredith in The Fate of Africa entitled one of his chapters “The Lost Decade” because of Africa’s steep economic decline in the 1980’s. In fact, in the 80’s and 90’s alone, Africa received more than $200 billion in foreign aid but was none the richer in the end. Part of the reason was due to corruption, as foreign money slid easily from the rich West into the coffers of unvetted, unrighteous scoundrels. The level of corruption was so noticeable, one Kenyan observed:

We hoped [corruption] would not be rammed in our faces. But it has: evidently the practitioners now in government have the arrogance, greed and perhaps a sense of panic to lead them to eat like gluttons. They may expect we shall not see, or will forgive them, a bit of gluttony because they profess to like Oxfam lunches. But they can hardly expect us not to care when their glutton causes them to vomit all over our shoes.

 

If a secular author like Meredith can see this, why not the Christians? Why is so little said about the unrighteous causes of poverty and the steps Christians must take in finding the root of physical paucity?

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Some Fatherly Thoughts on Disney’s Frozen

I watched Disney’s Frozen with the kids the other day. Since Scripture commands fathers to teach their children even when sitting down (Deut. 6:7), there were several worldview points for the taking.

The movie started out well enough. Half way through, after the queen’s magic was discovered, forcing her to flee the castle, in came the song “Let It Go.” Alone and misunderstood, she bellowed her newfound goal:

To test the limits and break through. No right, no wrong, no rules for me.
 I’m free!

Following the ultimate “you go girl” song, I was fully expecting the next scene to show the previously composed queen marching in slow motion, Metallica playing, hair flowing, miniskirt and barbed wire inked to her bicep. “I’ve been held back long enough,” the thought would go. “Time to embrace who I really am”—whatever the gender or lifestyle may be.

Disney could have gone that route. But since common grace is still a guest at some Hollywood events, Disney declined and the movie progressed nicely. No innuendo or bathroom humor. The guy gets the girl, of course. There are a couple of lessons worth pointing out to children.

The first is that women aren’t stronger than men. Just because, say, someone in the girl’s sorority can beat a guy in arm wrestling over at Beta Phi doesn’t overhaul this point any more than Tom Thumb overhauls the point that men are taller than women. Its just the way it is. First Peter 3:7 tells us that husbands should honor their wives as the weaker vessel, the latter phrase meaning that women are physically and emotionally weaker than men, not that men are better than women. A sledgehammer is not more valuable than a teacup, just of better use breaking concrete and of no use at showing hospitality.

Frozen didn’t overdo this like most women superhero flicks these days, but there was still enough to make the eyes roll. The 105-pound princess pulls her hulk boyfriend up a mountain. She lands a haymaker on the bad guy. When the driver tries to protect her from ravenous wolves, she gets angry and ends up saving his life. This only happens in cartoons, kids.

Men should be chivalrous toward women. She’s a vase; he’s a chainsaw. When breaking down a door, don’t ask her to tinker away. Pull out her chair, roll up your sleeves and start the engine. Honor her. Open her door. Give your life for her—every time. Don’t expect her to ask (Jn. 10:18). Jesus gave his life and we’re told to love our bride as he did (Eph. 5:25).

Second, Disney is correct that only an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart. Jesus is the ultimate example. Just as the queen inflicted her kin with an icy heart, so Adam our father (Rom. 5:12) passed down to us a heart that is dead set against God (1 Cor. 2:14). We need new hearts (Ez. 36:26) and Jesus accomplished this by the greatest act of true love—his death on the cross for sinners (Rom. 5:8).

Sam I’m Not: How Fathers Should FEEL About Homosexuality

With the media aglow about the first open homosexual being drafted into the NFL, how should Christians feel? The powers that be haven’t hidden their giddiness. Good luck trying to Google “Michael Sam” and finding anything in opposition. President Obama called it “an important step forward.” And woe to anyway who dares protest. After Sam kissed his boyfriend on national TV, a Dolphins player was immediately slapped with a fine after he tweeted “OMG” and “horrible”. In the US media, all intolerance of homosexuality is now verboten. 

Homosexuality is called an “abomination” in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 and any Hebrew dictionary will tell us that the basic meaning of this word is an “abominable, detestable, offensive thing.” In fact, Leviticus 18 lists a number of sins (e.g. incest, adultery, child sacrifice, bestiality) but “abomination” is mentioned only in reference to homosexual intercourse. This no doubt points to the revulsion associated with homosexuality. Plainly then, not all sins are created equal.

As gay activists Kirk and Madsen have said, “almost any behavior begins to look normal if you are exposed to enough of it.” Indifference is the first step. Opposing homosexuality with our personal choices (“I personally would never do that”) but not our emotions (“Hey, everyone can do their own thing”) is the one thing we must not do. When homosexuality is paraded on TV and celebrated in textbooks, our children should see anger on our faces, tears in our eyes, and fear for our country. But when Dad “ho-hum” flips the channel, shall we really expect our families to conclude: that was a detestable thing in God’s sight!”

The first question is not: is it hate speech to oppose homosexuality? Rather, the question is: are the words we say true? Because lesbians effectively argue that a father is irrelevant, and because gay men likewise argue that a mother is unnecessary, and because homosexuality is destructive to the home and society, our urgent resistance is far from hateful. It is loving.

Of course we are to love homosexuals, interact with them, and seek their conversion. “God Hates Fags” is not the way to win them. But just as loving the zoo should never lessen our repugnance of man with beast sex, so should loving our neighbor not weaken our abhorrence of man with man sex either.