Even in economically difficult times, most of us in the West know little of the pain of poverty. Do not misunderstand, I am not saying that poverty is absent in our communities. In my own state statistics indicate that one of every ten children will experience hunger. Globally poverty is multiplied exponentially compared to that experienced in North America. One out of five people on earth exists on less than one dollar per day, and nearly half of the world’s population exists on less than two dollars per day. Ninety-five percent of the “poorest of the poor” live outside the North American context.
The fundamental cause of hunger is poverty. God is very clear; hunger cannot be attributed to inadequate supply, but to lack of compassionate justice in distribution. Abundant food is in the fallow ground of the poor; but it is swept away by injustice (Proverbs 13:23).
Consider the following thoughts on poverty from The Needs: Hunger in the World: “Virtually every country in the world has the potential of growing sufficient food for the indigenous population on a sustainable basis. This basic capability is too often undermined by a variety of factors, some related to technology and material resources (soil degradation, water shortages and pollution, inappropriate or destructive agricultural practices) and others related to human frailty (war, ethnic rivalry, corruption, greed, political oppression).
More than 16,000 children die every day in the developing world from preventable and treatable diseases. Worldwide, one-half of deaths for children under five years of age are caused by malnutrition. Seventy percent of all childhood deaths are associated with malnutrition and preventable diseases.”
These facts are a dart that should pierce the heart of the American church. Too often we have become creatures of comfort rather than compassionate Christians. I recently drove past a number of large ranches, each of which had intricate gated entrances identifying the owners with their proudly emblazoned surnames. Driving past I was reminded of these words from Psalm 49:
Why should I fear in days of adversity, when the iniquity of my foes surrounds me, Even those who trust in their wealth, and boast in the abundance of their riches?
Their inner thought is, that their houses are forever, and their dwelling places to all generations; They have called their lands after their own names. But man in his pomp will not endure; he is like the beasts that perish.
Do not be afraid when a man becomes rich, when the glory of his house is increased; For when he dies he will carry nothing away; his glory will not descend after him.
Though while he lives he congratulates himself – And though men praise you when you do well for yourself – He shall go to the generation of his fathers.
It is not my intent to demean or judge those ranchers, they may in fact be caring and compassionate sharers of the resources they possess. I do not know. But I do know that too often Christians in the West fall victim to an abusive “wealth and prosperity” Gospel that focuses on our own consumption rather than on sharing resources as agents of Godly compassion among those living in poverty.
The feature article of a recent issue of The Atlantic magazine was titled, Did Christianity Cause the Crash? The article investigates links between churches proclaiming a wealth and prosperity gospel and the church’s role in guiding parishioners toward assuming high risk sub-prime loans. These together with other factors are identified as primary contributors to the economic crash.
The article merits our attention. As the missional people of God, we must seek answers to poverty and injustice. Where our consumption contributes to these conditions, then repentance is mandated. We must remember that repentance is not just expressing sorrow for that which we have done wrong, but actively pursuing that which is right.
When I read the Atlantic article I immediately thought of the ongoing question of the appropriate engagement of Christians in and with culture. What is our appropriate role? That question has been the ongoing topic of reflection by gifted writers such as Richard Niebhur in his book Christ and Culture or contemporary theologian James Westgate, professor at Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary in Fresno, California in Spiritual Edgewalkers. Missional thinker Alan Roxburgh responded to The Atlantic article with his typically adept reasoning and insight.
All of us who follow Christ bear responsibility for confronting ideologies and systems that perpetuate poverty and hunger. We must adhere to the Good News that resonates with the ancient voice of our Master; the message of a Kingdom whose foundations are righteousness and justice (Psalm 97:2). We reject all false gospels. As those who have the mind of Christ, we must find a different way to complete the familiar commercial: There are some things money can’t buy, for everything else there’s…