The Heritage Foundation has put out a helpful report describing poverty in the United States. The gist is that very few of the 30 million people classified by the Census Bureau as poor really are according to common definitions referring to a lack of food and shelter. Addressing rather than perpetuating poverty anywhere requires great wisdom. When Helping Hurts is a great place to start gathering it.
From a wonderful guestpost over at Reformation 21, Rev. Charlie Abbate discusses the experience of adopting a 16 year old girl from Russia, and the theology behind such an idea:
There was a girl. Fifteen years old. She had been to the U.S. the year before as part of this hosting program. A woman decided to adopt her. To make a long story short, this fifteen year old girl was all packed up and ready to go home to be with her new American mother when she was told the woman wasn’t coming. The “why” doesn’t really matter, does it? This girl was abandoned. Again. Both her parents died a few years earlier and now her new mother wasn’t coming.
But now, she was coming to America. Again. And this time, it was her last chance. She’d be here in June. In September, she’d turn sixteen years old. At sixteen, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) won’t allow a person to be adopted. So what would happen to this girl if she comes here and doesn’t find an adoptive family?
You can look up the statistics for yourself. Even if you don’t, with little effort, your imagination will carry you to the dark and horrific circumstances that are the reality for a sixteen year old girl, with no family and no resources, on the streets of Russia. This is the story that my wife heard from our friend, which she then relayed to me. What could we do? We had to make a decision and we didn’t have the luxury of time. . . .
In my opinion, the doctrine of adoption is sorely under-taught in churches across our country. Reformed congregations usually have a good grasp of justification by faith. We get the Biblical truth that, in spite of our sin and rebellion against the holy and living God, God acted according the counsel of his own perfect will to provide a means by which we are saved through faith alone in the finished work of the Son, applied by the Spirit.
But we are adopted. Adopted by the Father! Adopted. Received into the number of and with a right to all the privileges of the sons of God, as the Confession puts it. We will never be turned away, never be forsaken, and never be abandoned. In other words, because of God’s amazing grace, we will never face the prospect of what our oldest daughter faced and so many like her around the world face daily: abandonment. Orphaned. Left alone.
Rather, loved by God and called as his, we are secure in God’s electing love. What a tremendous truth! What tremendous hope we find in the doctrine of adoption! And what a blessed opportunity, to live that truth and walk in that hope we have, by adopting children into our own families, children who would otherwise never see in real life what God has done for all of us as Christians.
My wife, as she is prone to do, mentioned something helpful to me the other night as we were going to bed. In Psalm 41 mercy and justice kiss, and not in way we often acknowledge. David begins noting God’s blessing upon one who considers the poor:
Blessed is the one who considers the poor! In the day of trouble the LORD delivers him; the LORD protects him and keeps him alive; he is called blessed in the land;you do not give him up to the will of his enemies. The LORD sustains him on his sickbed; in his illness you restore him to full health. (vv1-3)
God protects the one who protects the poor, and it appears that David is in such a state that he needs that protection. Verse 9 is climactic: “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.” We know this was fulfilled as Jesus’ friend Judas betrayed him at the Lord’s Supper (John 13:18). David is one of the great examples in Scripture of men who refused to exact unlawful vengeance or even touch the Lord’s anointed even when it appeared God had delivered him (Saul) into his hand. But here we also see his godly desire to justly repay the wicked at the right time: “But you, O LORD, be gracious to me, and raise me up, that I may repay them! By this I know that you delight in me: my enemy will not shout in triumph over me” (vv10-11). David’s care for the poor ensured God would protect him in the face of his adversaries, and that he would triumph over them. This is not an aberration of justice, but a necessary extension of it. Afterall, what happens to poor whom David protects if God doesn’t defeat his enemies? David isn’t there to sustain them. Combine mercy ministry to the poor with a godly desire to defeat those who would harm such ministries and you have gone biblical. Anything less is less.
One of the central problems with so much of the aid given to the poor today, whether it be that given to third world countries or to individuals, is that it lacks any transformative power. Money given without gospel care is like the old comparison of fish given without teaching anyone how to catch their own. Once the thing is eaten, nothing remains. Give another and another and soon no one will be inclined to ever learn. Aspirin helps remove pain but it does not heal the wound.
Thomas Chalmers was rector of St. John’s Parish in Glasgow in the early 19th century as well as chair of Philosophy at St. Andrews. He fought indiscriminate aid given by the state because it didn’t cure poverty but rather perpetuated it. The solution was not less money necessarily, but given with much more.
First, Chalmers insisted on a distinction between pauperism (a state of unnecessary dependence, characterized by intellectual lassitude and spiritual malaise) and poverty. Second, he argued that legal or statutory relief tended to pauperize because it removed the need for self-help and discipline. Third, he stressed the biblical obligation of the better-off to become personally involved with the poor. Fourth, he argued that those who were poor because of their own failings needed to indicate a willingness to change modes of thinking or acting that were dragging them down; if they did not, those who wished to help were to step away for a time, renew the offer, and be willing to step away again for a time if hearts had not changed.
Chalmers lost the political battle in Glasgow generally but gained permission to try his alternative plan in a specially created ten thousand-person district–an early enterprise zone–officially titled the Parish of St. John. Chalmers said he would meet the expenses of all needed relief in the district, one of the poorest in Glasgow, by asking parishioners for donations. His only stipulation was that state authorities and others who wanted to give indiscriminately agree to stay out. They did, and Chalmers divided his parish into twenty-five districts, putting a deacon in charge of each. When anyone asked for relief, the appropriate deacon investigated in order “to discriminate and beneficially assist the really necessitous and deserving poor. . . .“
The result was extraordinary. Chalmers’ Sunday evening church collections for deaconal purposes increased, for givers were confident that the funds would be used wisely. The cost of relief also dropped as better-off church members used personal counseling and established savings banks and work exchanges to “foster amongst the poor the habits of industry, providence, frugality, saving and honest desire to rise in the world, and simple dependence on their own exertions.” (The Tragedy of American Compassion, Olasky, 24-25)
This sort of poverty relief is as necessary as it is difficult. The deacons over every district in the parish worked closely with the elders in the church, men qualified to be officers, bringing not just aid but there own lives to the deserving and undeserving poor. This approached was described as Christian in its severities and its generosities, liberal to the deserving poor and encouraging to the wasteful, Chalmers claimed his success resulted from God’s blessings and man’s management. He didn’t set out to simply take care of struggling church members but everyone in the districts, the majority of which were not Christians. Only the church could provide such a wholistic solution to the problems of poverty, and the call to minister to the hurting would be felt by every parish member.
The devastating earthquake in Haiti has now killed over 50,000 people. We support the Maison de Lumiere orphanage in Port au Prince where thankfully no one was killed and only one girl broke a leg. MDL staff is engaged helping the overwhelming number of wounded people in their neighborhood with their facility and clinic, and our missionary nurse Brooke James is working there around the clock with little food or sleep. You can see updates at the blog here: http://www.childhope.org/about/earthquake.html, and you can donate through eDivvy where 5% is matched: http://www.edivvy.com/childhope/. They have a goal of $100,000 and thus far have raised over $70,000. We look with confidence to God’s mercy during this situation.
Following Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well (the biblical setting for an engagement scene), John says “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did” (John 4:39).
For those with sentimental views of love and a tighter-than-the-Bible views of the Gospel, Jesus’ confrontation with the woman loses its punch. He didn’t just deliver the bad news “we are all sinners” or talk about her failure to glorify God though both are true. In love, he spoke to her sin while she was trying to hide it from him. He’s talking about living water, and she if she doesn’t directly know Solomon’s comparison of clean water to sexual fidelity and delight (Prov. 5:15-20), she certainly knew the connotation.
Teachers often note the racial lines Jesus crossed talking to the Samaritan woman, and he did cross those lines. But he also crossed the line to point out this woman’s sexual corruption straight up the middle. She had had five husbands and was shacked up with her latest man. Christ’s kind and frank confrontation frees her, and what caused many of her countrymen to believe was this testimony. They did not believe because Jesus was a magic-man who somehow figured out her secret sins. He told her what she had done, and how to be free of it, in all mercy and love. This woman was notoriously immoral like any woman who has had five husbands, and what a testimony–someone who didn’t pridefully or scornfully shame her, but took the time to tell her the truth! All who would turn others away from not just sin, but their sins, must do likewise.
The idea that the federal government can run a public health care system well is laughable. Find someone who would,if they had the choice, choose to “invest” their retirement money in social security, and that person and his two friends ought to be the ones to fund pubic health care for any takers. Obama is culpably foolish when he says that a public option ought to be available to compete with private health care, when anyone who has come within five feet of reading Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson knows that the one thing governments don’t do is compete. If they did, your social security dollars wouldn’t be spent on programs (and therefore non-existent nor recoverable in the foreseeable future), government controlled education wouldn’t cost way more per student with much worse results than private education (though of course anyone schooling their children are paying double, both for the public schools they don’t use and the private ones they do), and the US Postal Service would be more efficient than their “competitors” or have gone out of business.
What do all of these government run “businesses” have in common? They’re not businesses at all or else they would cease to exist because they simply don’t compete but rather are backed with more government allotted greenbacks. I know lots of people who need but can’t afford health care. Instead of making the system worse for everyone, I suggest those who would vote for other people to pay into the public system simply give their money to those who need services. This way money would be allotted, case by case, without the inefficiencies of bureaucracy. All you have to do is find your nearest food bank and I guarantee you’ll into those 30 million uninsured Americans who could genuinely use the care.
This article features a number of insights by Dambisa Moyo on the harm aid given to Africa has caused. It’s refreshing to hear an African call out trendy aid given without accountability: “You get the corruption — historically, leaders have stolen the money without penalty — and you get the dependency, which kills entrepreneurship.”
Aid breeds corruption which breeds dependency which kills entrepreneurship. Why can’t leaders in the United States figure this out? Oh, because they’re the ones getting to dole out the money and collect accolades for doing so. Any business worth saving or starting will do so by legitimately borrowing and repaying a loan. Money given or received otherwise should be seen as money taken from people who would otherwise spend or invest it wisely. Of course, this doesn’t apply to all giving–individuals giving mercifully of their own money, gifts to orphans and widows etc. But it does apply to any governmental “investing” which is not just ineffective but also counterproductive.