Thursday, January 24, 2008

poverty from the right and left

The issue of poverty reveals something about both political parties. Hard-line democrats believe that they can get votes by proposing government programs for the poor. Christian progressives, like Jim Wallis, lean hard to the left but view their concern for poverty as a spiritual issue. God has called them to advocate for the poor and so, while their heart is God-ward, their politics are "left-ward."

The problem with both kinds of democrats, secular and spiritual, is that the issue of poverty reveals their arrogance. Both kinds of democrats say things like "we are going to end poverty!". They march with their signs and cheer with the pride only an activist can muster up. The problem is that they believe poverty is completely a "social" sin. If poverty is wholly society's problem, then society should be able to fix it. This is where their arrogance blinds them. They think they have "control" over poverty. They assume society is "making poverty happen" so if we just passed the right laws and create the right programs then we could "make poverty not happen."

But poverty is not just social. It is individual. Many people aren't poor because society "oppressed" them. Many aren't poor because they didn't have "opportunity." Many are poor because of individual sin rather than social sin. Many are poor because they are addicts. They are poor because they would rather not work hard. They are poor because they think they are a victim of life and therefore live enslaved by a victim mentality. The reality, instead, is that they made bad choices which led them into tough situations. But instead of owning the responsibility for their life, they place blame on everyone else.

Even if we had perfect programs and compassionate laws, there would still be poverty. Poverty is the result of individual sin as much as it is social sin. Changing "society" isn't enough. To end poverty, the very heart of man needs to be changed. And only Christ can change the heart of man. Saying that you are going to "end poverty" is like saying you are going to "end sin" in the world. Not only is it arrogant, but it is beyond any one's ability to do so. Again, this is something only Christ can do.

The issue of poverty not only brings out the arrogance of democrats but also the indifference of republicans. Poverty is an individual sin issue. And republicans understand this much better than democrats. But where republicans often miss the boat is that they think it is a "purely individual" sin issue. Not so. Poverty is also the result of social sin. Many poor people are "the working poor." Some poor in our country have two and three jobs and still aren't making it. The prophet Amos blasted Israel for their indifference and cruel treatment of the poor. Republicans should take heed of this prophetic voice.

We should be a country where our national budget reflects our values. And one of our values as a nation should be the care of the poor. But unlike the democrats' desire to "serve the poor" through things like shelters and welfare, we should have programs that "fight poverty." The difference is that the former only help the poor as they stay in the same cycle of poverty. While its a good first step, it shouldn't be the end goal.

The end goal should be helping people help themselves out of poverty. It shouldn't be a handout but a hand-up. It should empower people to take responsibility for their lives while giving them the training needed to live a successful life. Republicans are often too uncaring about the plight of the working poor. They need to replace their indifference with the realization that society has impacted some people's lives negatively. In order to counteract society's sins, sometimes a helping hand is necessary.

I am tired of two things. I am tired of indifferent republicans who don't talk about how they will address poverty. I am also tired of listening to arrogant democrats who think their programs, taxes and speeches can end poverty once and for all. Fighting poverty will take transformations not only in our government, but also in the heart of man. Apart from Christ changing people from the inside-out and apart from the Church changing our culture from the inside-out, there will be no success in the fight against poverty.


At 9:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Interesting post. I must say that I agree and disagree with it. First the really easy part is where I agree. When you look at the Bush policies of the last 8 years especially the response to Hurricane Katrina it is easy to see the Republicans indifference to the poor.

Also I do see how the statements from the Democrats can be viewed as arrogant and yes no one person even with the title of president will be able to solve poverty.

However with that said this leads me to why I am supporting Barack Obama for president and why I feel his comments on the subject are not arrogant and can actually begin to lead us to real solutions for problems like poverty, health care, and so on. Sen. Obama understands that while a leader has to do many things he or she has to do two very well. They have to be able to set a vision for the country and then they must be able to get the country to work together to achieve it. Like JFK when he challenged our country to go to the moon or Martin Luther King Jr. when he spoke and challenged our country to bring about true equality these great leaders understood that someone had to set the vision and believe things that seemed impossible at the time could be done. They also understood that to lead with this vision would take a bottom up approach and not a top down one.

To battle these problems and other ones like poverty will take a leader that understands that yes the problem can be fixed and yes it will take everyone. Sen. Obama understands this and has a history of bringing about change this way which is why I feel he is the leader that can help to bring about these necessary changes.

Now I agree that these changes like an end to poverty will only come about through the redeeming power of Jesus Christ but we as Christians need to take the lead in believing these changes can be done and that is why I view someone like Barack Obama as an inspirational leader that can help to lead us to these goals more than I do as an arrogant politician.

Scott J.

At 11:56 AM, Blogger Mark said...

So, you agree more with my criticism of republicans than you do my criticism of the democrats? Big surprise! :) I am sure republicans agree more with my criticism of the democrats than they do my criticism of the republicans.

The church, most of whom are republicans, have done more for the poor than any other institution on the planet. So before we criticize republicans too much, we need to keep that in mind.

As far as the democrats, I agree that we need visionary leaders. MLK is a great example. But casting vision is what MLK did. He said, "I have a dream..." He didn't boast about what he was going to accomplish in terms of civil rights. There is a difference. One is casting a vision that everyone can be a part of; the other is empty arrogance.

I am even ok with language like, "We will vow to fight poverty..." But when you make a claim like, "We will end poverty..." then you make a statement that you don't have much control over.

Again, as a pastor I will call people to live lives free from sin. I will cast vision of a better way of life. I will paint the picture of the perfect Kingdom of God. But I won't say things like, "We will eradicate sin by the year 2040!" For me to say that would be foolish and arrogant.

Sin and poverty are closely related. It's not just social sin which has created poverty, but the sin of the individual. And while I can work toward changing social sin, each individual must deal with their own personal sin. And it's people's personal sin that I have no control over. It's that sin which makes it impossible for me to say, "We will end poverty by...blah, blah, blah."

Activists are notorious for thinking they have more power than they actually do. Give me a vision I can believe in and I am all for it. But we cannot bring about the Kingdom of God on our own as if we are in control of it. Our job is to work toward the Kingdom of God and allow God to bring it.

At 12:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


It is true that the church has done a lot for the poor and for that the world is a better place. I would be careful though saying that the church is mostly republicans as that speaks volumes to what is wrong with the right as they feel they hold a monopoly on values and Christianity which just is not true.

Enough with the politics though as I want to address what I feel is at the heart of this whole debate.

I think this is a difference in two philosophies. I feel one is led by hope and the other by cynicism or realism. I think we need to begin thinking past what we think is possible and trusting God when He says that with Him anything is possible. I feel strongly that with God's help and if it is His will then there is nothing that cannot be attained. I do believe that we can have a day when all the children of our community graduate high school, when the murder rate in Baltimore is 0, and when every person can go to bed at night with adequate food, clothing, and shelter. I don't feel this is a crazy notion. I feel it is ultimately God's plan that His creation will all come back to Him and live as He wants us to.

Obviously there is sin and none of us are perfect and we all fall short of this goal. However that does not mean as the Church and as God's ambassadors on this planet that we should seek anything less than what He is calling us to.

I want my leaders especially my Christian leaders to believe that we can do better and that anything with God's help is possible. It is to easy to look at the world with a cynical view and say that it can't be better and as Christians I feel we are called to a higher calling. It amazes me that the right believes it can create programs to dictate its feelings on issues like abortion and homosexuality but when it comes to the topic Jesus spoke about the most, the plight of the poor, it feels that there is nothing we can do.

Obviously like I said in my first response no one person can solve this problem and yes it might be out of our reach but it does not mean it should not be our goal and who knows maybe with God's help we can see the day when all of us in this world live like the early Christians did in Acts 2.

Scott J.

At 3:57 PM, Blogger Mark said...

Indeed, one day there will be no more tears and no more pain, no more suffering and no more sin. It is a day that the end of Revelation describes. It is the final coming of the Kingdom of God. And we all long for that day.

But that day is called "The day of the Lord" traditionally. It is a day when the Lord sets everything right. It is a day when he redeems all of his creation. It isn't something that we can create. It is something that God creates.

Our job as Christians is to "participate" in the Kingdom of God and see it grow. Scott, having a murder rate of 0 is NOT something you can do. It isn't something a group of people can do. It is only something GOD can do. That is my point. We can pray, hope and dream. We can work toward that end. But we cannot bring it about. Again, only God can bring it about.

My view isn't cynical. I have a lot of hope. But it is about having hope in the right thing. I have hope in Christ and what he can do in and through people. But my hope is not in humanity itself. People's idealism is not enough.

I agree with you that too many people are cynical and that it is easy to be cynical. But I also think too many people have false hope. False hope comes when you place your hope in the wrong things. It is just as easy to have "false hope" as it is to be "cynical." Both are attitudes that we should not have as Christians. Both are attitudes that should especially be avoided by Christian leaders.

As for politics, you know the left is just as guilty as the right in being off of God's priorities. The left is ok with the murder of the unborn. They are ok with lifestyles that are clearly unbiblical. As Christians, we need to be willing to be the prophetic biblical voice in all cases. Not just when it fits with our party politics. This is why Christians need to be more aligned with Christ than with their political party.

I hope, as you do, that Barak can bring the parties together. I hope he can unite this country around God's priorities. I hope McCain can do the same if he gets elected. Other than those two, I am not sure the others will make that happen.

At 5:39 PM, Blogger Mark said...

I went to Obama's website today and found a video of him discussing the same point that I make here on my blog. That is that poverty is not just about social sin, but about individual sin.


The video entitled "Welcome to Faith Forums" about 1 minute and 40 seconds in, he says the same thing that I say here in my blog.

Here is the quote:
"the problems that we face today...are not simply technical problems in search of the perfect 10 point plan. They're rooted in both societal indifference and individual callousness, in the imperfections of man...and solving these problems will require not just a change in government policy but a change of heart..."

At 11:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thank you for your last post. I love it when other people make my points for me. I said from the beginning that Sen. Obama had the ability and the ideas to help lead the fight to bring about this change. I was not the one to imply he was arrogant. I also said that obviously no one person could solve the problems of the world but we still need to believe that they will be solved.

I am glad you like what Sen. Obama has to say and I hope that means you will be supporting his candidacy for president. We need leaders like him that understand that it is only by empowering all people to strive for common goals that we can overcome the challenges that face us. It is this belief in the hope of a better tomorrow that we all should be striving towards.

Scott J.

At 8:47 AM, Blogger Mark said...

Dude, no need to get upset. I never implied or said that Obama was arrogant. I think you must of read that into my original post. But I never once said anything like that.

I think you might have missed the point of this whole thread. This was not an attack on democrats or republicans. This was voicing my frustration with both parties.

I wish republicans would talk more about addressing poverty. And I wish democrats would stop pretending like they have the power to "end poverty" in the world. Barak Obama uses the phrase "blind optimism."

He wants all of us to "hope." And we should all be hopeful. But Obama believes hope is different than "blind optimism". I agree.

Blind optimism says: "We will end poverty by the year 2040."

Hope says: "We can fight for an America where less people go to bed hungry every night."

Obama has the ability to know the difference between blind optimism and hope. Many democrats do not.

I think Obama can see the difference because he acknowledges that our problems are both "social" and "individual."

And this is exactly my point about poverty. It is both a social and an individual sin issue. So it will take more than change in policy (which the democrats think is the issue) and more than just change in heart (which the republicans think is the issue.) It will take both.

Scott, you seem to be getting upset with this post. My hope is that you would understand where I am coming from and know the person who is writing these words. I know you like to fight battles. But you don't have a battle to fight with me. We are on the same side dude.

At 11:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'm not upset as you should know political discussions do not upset me. I am tired though of having this same philosophical difference of opinion and because of that I will drop off this thread as it is your blog and you have a right to voice whatever opinions you want here.

I responded to the original post because I don't feel all democrats are arrogant on these issues and I tried to point that out. I also don't feel it is arrogant to believe that a people led by God can fix any problem in this world. Hope is more than the belief that we can just fight to fix a problem it is the faith to believe that with God's help all things are possible. At least that is what I believe which is why I admire leaders that believe we can get to a point that problems can go away.

Anyway thanks for a good discussion and I'm going to sign off now. Its probably good anyway because I just read your one on race and gender and man could I respond to that. ;)

Scott J.

At 3:16 PM, Blogger Mark said...

One thing that we agree on for sure is that we both "hope" Obama beats Clinton for the Democratic nominee.

One thing I also hope is that McCain beats Romney for the Republican nominee. I would feel good about a McCain vs. Obama race for the White House.

I don't think the country could take another race like Bush and Gore had in 2000. And I think that is what would happen with a Clinton vs. Romney race. Attack ads would flood the media from both sides.

I know you don't like it when I am critical of democrats. But at least I can see holes in both parties. I think it is good for us all to be more critical of our own political party and not just the other side.

I know you see the problems in the democratic party just as I see problems in the republican party. The point is that we all want the same things for our country. In the end, we all have more in common than we have differences.


Post a Comment

<< Home