This week the Census Bureau released statistics that showed the poverty rate climbed to 13.2 percent in 2008, up from 12.5 percent in 2007. The poverty rate is the highest it’s been since 1997. The Census Bureau said that 39.8 million people lived below the poverty line last year which is defined as income of $22,025 for a family of four.
One question that I always ask is “how are we doing?” In my mind our country is doing poor when we have so many people living as poor. I have no problem putting it as simply as the following: The United States had a bad year in 2008 because the poverty rate grew so high.
The church has to take some responsibility for this. If there ever was an issue that could unite conservative Christians, moderate Christians, and liberal Christians, I believe the issue is reducing poverty. One theme that is consistent in the Scriptures is the call to help the poor. I don’t believe the only purpose of the church is to be a social welfare institution, but we in the church are called to place social welfare high on our list of priorities. So how is the church doing? Because of the increase in the poverty rate we in the church haven’t done enough.
I shared in an earlier blog that the existence of poverty challenges the heart and compassion of wealthy folks—really the character of our faith. Jesus was very clear in his teaching that when we help those who are hungry, thirsty and without clothes we do it to him. Our willingness to help is a reflection of our own service to Jesus.
A key point—which is often missed in discussions about poverty—is those of us who are wealthy help and serve not only for the benefit of the poor, but for our own benefit. Our willingness to serve is a direct reflection of the compassion and mercy of our own hearts. We who have means help so that we develop a direct relationship with people who are poor. We take steps towards becoming complete Christians through our service.
Question—how many people in poverty do you know?
Question—how willing is your congregation to encourage folks to develop a relationship with people who are poor?
I hope these poverty statistics don’t become just another blip of statistical information that is ignored. I hope that that this information pricks our hearts. I hope that we might say, “enough is enough; we have to do better.”
I liked what Rachel Black wrote in a blog earlier this week at: http://blog.sojo.net/2009/09/10/new-poverty-numbers-old-poverty-definitions/
“To end poverty, we must come up with a comprehensive and holistic set of solutions that contributes to stability and mobility. Such a set of solutions might include access to health care; access to services such as transportation and child care that facilitate work; access to affordable and nutritious food; access to an education that provides both the academic and social foundations for success; and access to financial services that facilitate saving and protect against predatory products and practices. We must develop measurable targets for achieving each goal, and most importantly, we must make a national commitment that holds us all accountable for making progress toward the targets.”
I’m willing to be accountable for making progress at reducint poverty; I hope that the church is willing to be accountable too.