By Mark A. Taylor
Author David Hilfiker explains that the plight of the poverty stricken in America’s cities is much different than that of poor people in small towns a generation or two ago.
In county seats and rural villages where our parents lived, everybody knew the poor people in town. If life began to fall apart for a family on the edge, townspeople were likely to band together and help.
But in large American cities today, the poor are isolated in neighborhoods middle class residents avoid. Comfortable Americans seldom know anyone who’s truly poor. Poor people and those more well off don’t eat together. They don’t talk with each other. There’s no context allowing them to discover and help each other.
But, intrigued as I am by Hilfiker’s study of poverty and his commitment to the poor people who surround him, that’s not the point of this editorial*.
Instead, let me challenge you to consider another kind of poverty, that which comes to followers of Christ who insist on staying separate from each other. Those rich in the grace and knowledge of Christ make themselves poor when they do not express and experience the unity that Christ desires (John 17:20 23).
Discussions of unity may make us uncomfortable, because, like the poor and the wealthy in America, we fear those from whom we’re separated. We’re pretty sure we don’t agree with them on crucial issues. We don’t trust the motives or the values of those in the “other neighborhood.” But, as Clint Gill points out this week, biblical unity doesn’t begin with resolving all such conflicts.
Perhaps the first step is simply to get acquainted. Hilfiker’s observation about the isolation of America’s poor compares with the way many of us have stayed away from other followers of Christ. Maybe we ought to at least start talking. Maybe we ought to eat together, pray for each other, and discover all the many ways we already agree.
We should pray for wisdom and then proceed boldly. To enjoy such relationships we need not we dare not compromise our commitment to Christ and his Word. We may be surprised, however, to find our faith strengthened by others who share it in ways we didn’t know.
Just as my big toenail may feel it has nothing in common with the lashes on my right eyelid, some members of Christ’s body won’t acknowledge how they could be connected with each other. They trap themselves inside a neighborhood where everyone assumes that everything as it is defines everything as it must be. The limits created by such an outlook produce a poverty more devastating than that experienced in any American ghetto.
*To learn more about Hilfiker and his life among the urban poor, visit speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/programs/seeingpoverty/index.shtml.