A Poor Man’s Wish for His Christian Friends

By Anonymous

It is normal to desire health and blessings for our friends and loved ones. Especially in these hard economic times, it is natural to wish prosperity for one another. But I can no longer bring myself to wish for that.

In defiance of the Old Testament prophets and Jesus himself, our culture has equated financial prosperity with God’s favor. And, as the Pharisees before us, we seem to have similarly concluded that poverty is the mark of unworthiness. The poor do not deserve our help.

Recently I have been assaulted one too many times by condescending e-mails, forwarded by well-meaning friends, dead certain that political or religious attempts at social justice are pure “socialism.” Never mind that the charge of socialism leveled at those calls for justice never has had any merit—it misses the mark badly by any accurate definition of the term. But these friends believe that socialism, however defined, is evil—the mortal enemy of the faith. Of this they are certain, and it is their duty to stamp it out. It is their excuse for not helping the poor.

Getting down to cases, these people I am talking about—good Christians all—are convinced that the poor among us do not deserve better, because their plight is of their own making. Their poverty is their own fault! Everyone knows that hard work is the answer to our country’s economic ills. If the poor really want a better life, let them earn it. Hard work never hurt anyone. End of discussion.

 

Experiencing Poverty Firsthand

Now, I am quite sure that these well-meaning people are themselves hard workers. The ones I am thinking of are like I was—lower middle class, sold on education as the primary means of self-improvement, and committed to hard work. Like me, most of them had a good education, sometimes earning two or three college degrees. And, in most cases, their education has served them well. They are not rich, but they are “making it.” They are not like “those poor people” who always expect a handout, who always want something for nothing.

No, I do not wish prosperity for these people. It would be hypocritical. My wish for them is not prosperity, but empathy. And although they all would claim to hold a Christian attitude toward others, I am convinced the only way most of them will truly change their outlook is if they, like so many thousands of other Americans, experience firsthand the hardship of being poor.

Firsthand experience is something I have gained, I am sorry to say. Yes, I am one of the growing number of “working poor.” I was laid off two years ago when the company I worked for went out of business.

My wife and I are unable to afford rent, groceries, and bare-bones hospitalization insurance in the same month. Even with carpooling, putting gas in the tank to drive to one of our several part-time jobs is a stretch. If we need to see a doctor, we go to the walk-in clinic; no regular practice will take us. Retirement is out of the question.

Yet we are among the fortunate ones. We have a small (though dwindling) savings account. Although the state we now live in considers us homeless, we have a loving family that was willing to take us in so we don’t have to pay rent.

For the last two years I have applied for every full-time job in my field that is even remotely related to my education and experience. Those jobs each have had dozens of qualified applicants—some, as many as a hundred. We are willing to relocate anywhere in North America. In two years I have had three preliminary interviews, but no job offers.

Meanwhile, my wife and I both continue to work as many part-time jobs as we can manage. We work seven days a week. I do not feel sorry for myself. I believe that hard work will pay off and I know my education and experience give me an advantage over many job applicants. God is faithful. But I am still poor by American standards.

 

Hardworking Poor

My Christian friends who are so vehemently opposed to social justice would never think of lumping me in with those poor people whom they demean with their rhetoric. No, they really have in mind those others, those ethnic minorities, those welfare abusers, those people least like themselves. They refuse to admit that such attitudes are racist and perpetuate class stereotypes. It rarely occurs to them that, if they get laid off, most of them will be just like the rest of us working poor.

To my well-meaning Christian friends who refuse on principle to help the poor because it is socialism, consider this: most of the poor are not lazy. Most of them are hard workers who have not had the breaks that you and I have had. Most of them do not have the educational opportunities you and I enjoyed. Many of them are single moms trying to work, go to school, and raise a family all at the same time.

If those people are white, and attend our church, we will probably help them. Otherwise, no. If they are in Haiti or Mexico, we will send used clothing. If they live on the other side of town, probably not. We will travel over land and sea to win a single convert. But God forbid we should help the poor in our own country.

 

The Mind of Christ

I am reminded of a parable of Jesus. In our modern situation, it goes something like this:

A man was going about his business, a good worker for his company and contributor to his community. But his employer’s parent company decided to outsource a few thousand jobs to low-paid workers in a foreign country. The man was laid off, lost his pension, health insurance, and house, and was left to fend for himself.

Now, by chance, a Christian minister was going down that road; and when he saw the unemployed man, he passed by on the other side, wishing to avoid any appearance of socialism. And, likewise, an elder from the local church, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But an agnostic, as he journeyed, came to where the man was, and when he saw him, he had compassion, and went to him and gave him some assistance.

And then comes the question of Jesus: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell on hard times?”

“The one who had mercy on him,” they replied.

And Jesus said, “Go and do likewise” (see Luke 10:36, 37).

To my Christian friends, I wish for you—not prosperity—but the mind of Christ.

 

One of this writer’s several part-time jobs is as an adjunct professor at a Christian college. 

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13 Comments

  1. Administrator Author
    April 4, 2012 at 11:15 am

    This comment was received from a reader via e-mail, and we have chosen to post it here:

    While reading this article it became apparent that this person is really hurting and feeling abandoned by his Christian Friends. His frustration with his immediate community is obvious. This is an extremely hard time for many people and I pray that he will soon find a job that will give him the help he needs. But I also pray that he will find contentment in the life that he now has.

    There is a ministry called Samaritan Ministries which is a health needs sharing ministries. It is over 20,000 Christians who send over $3 million every month to other Christians to help cover their health care needs. We have been a part of it for over 10 years now and have found it to be a very rewarding experience. I had reason to use it last year with a heart scare and ended up owing more than $10,000. What a privilege to be a part of God’s community and experience His love gifted through all the people who sent me checks, along with notes of encouragement and prayers.

    This writer, and your readers can find them at http://www.samaritanministries.org/. The price is far below that of regular insurance. We talk so much about community in our churches today. Samaritan Ministries is seeing God’s community at work.

  2. Matt
    April 4, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    So it seems there is a legitimate call to the church to help the poor. Is there also legitimacy to some of the claims of the author’s well-meaning Christian friends?

  3. April 4, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    We who are Christians are responsible to share God’s blessings with others who have needs. The writer is right that God’s bounty is not to be hoarded. Others are right who insist that those who will not work should not have food provided for them. Lack of jobs is very much the fault of the present administration’s presidential directives which impose heavy burdens on employers. We need to see where the fault lies and do all in our power to make any changes necessary so that “the poor” can have jobs and earn a living. Our votes will make a difference. If jobs were available, those who are willing to work could work. If the right people are elected to public office, things will change for the better.

  4. April 4, 2012 at 1:30 pm

    Granted life’s circumstances create difficult situations for families and individuals. Believe me, I’ve been there. I grew up in a single parent home with little or nothing. My mother, a teacher, made less than $50 a month and even in the 1950s $50 a month was barely subsistence income. I was virtually emancipated at age 17 and lived in a basement with dirt walls dug out beneath my preacher’s home. I worked my way through college often earning less than $40 a week carrying 20 credit hours, playing junior college football, and preaching for a small Iowa church 200 miles from my school. I taught in a struggling Bible college going months with only a partial salary check and, when the college closed, I was owed several months salary. Never once in all those hardships did I see myself as poor; not even when I had no money in the bank, no health insurance, bills to pay, and a family of four to support.

    Unlike the author of the article, I chose to trust God and work hard. I took work where I could find it, I didn’t limit my search only to those job possibilities “in my field.” While others helped me from time to time, I never once asked for help … and I never gave up or complained.

    Oh, I empathize with the author, but I’m tired of listening to the whining of those who expect the taxpayer or others to pay their way. We live in a nation where nearly 50 percent of the population now lives on entitlements — welfare, Social Security, etc. — and the nation is $16 trillion in debt. Most Christians I know will do everything they can for someone who is in legitimate need, so I am offended by the allusion to the story of the Good Samaritan as if Christians will not help.

    Poverty is a state of mind! I’ve been in Burma where the population is, by our standards, in abject poverty but they are largely happy people in spite of living under oppressive regimes. I see very few in the United States who live in that kind of poverty. From the description in the article, the writer has yet to experience genuine poverty. He still has a home, a car, and a dwindling savings account. I’m sorry, he’s not poor!

  5. David Duncan
    April 4, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    Good article. One question: is the Good Samaritan text directed toward individuals, congregations, communities, or governments?

    Is not much of the frustration about ‘helping the poor” because it is not being done at the most efficient, effective and loving levels of individuals, congregations and communities – but is, instead being made institutional at a federal government level?

  6. Tertius
    April 4, 2012 at 6:42 pm

    The above letter unfairly characterizes the article. The anonymous author isn’t only willing to work “in his field.” Rather, he is working any part time job he can get. The author isn’t whining. Rather he says, “I do not feel sorry for myself.” Though he says he is poor “by American standards,” Hines points out that the Burmese are much poorer. I believe the article deserved a more careful read before such strong criticism.

  7. Neal Cornett
    April 5, 2012 at 7:06 am

    Most poor people in the US are white; the suggestion that Christians in the US don’t want to help the poor because of racism is itself a racist stereotype, not to mention a hackneyed trope commonly employed against people who oppose the Affordable Care Act (aka Obama Care) because they think it is bad policy that will not accomplish its putative goals. They may be wrong, but they are entitled to their opinion (and to express it) and cannot fairly be called un-Christian for doing so.

    In the political perversion of Jesus’ parable, the agnostic fulfills the role of good neighbor, but this is contrary to fact, because by any objective measure believers devote more time, labor, and money to the needy than unbelievers.

    Possession of one or more college degrees is not lower middle class in the usual meaning of that expression.

    It was to people far less wealthy than anyone in America that Jesus said, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and yhe body than raiment?

    While it is no doubt true that some of us need to be reminded that we cannot serve God and mammon, it is just as true that others need to be reminded of the tenth commandment: Thou shalt not covet.

    Finally, let us waste no time with wishing, but rather let us pray for one another that we may all grow more near to our Master’s will.

  8. Michael Hines
    April 6, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    I repeat! He is not poor, not even by American standards.

  9. April 7, 2012 at 10:22 am

    Equating social justice to socialism makes about as much sense as equating Acts 2-6 to Communism. Jesus, in his return to Nazareth to speak in the synagogue, opened the Isaiah scrolls to what we mark as the 61st chapter and read a Messianic promise. It is recorded in Luke 4:16ff; it was about the true sign of the work of the Messiah. It was all about preaching to the poor, bringing freedom to those prisoners, healing the blind, and releasing the oppressed. He informed them that this Scripture was being fulfilled in their presence that day; as an honorarium that day, they sought to kill him. We haven’t changed a lot.

    Helping the poor move from sleeping in an old pickup, traveling across the country seeking handouts from church to church, little is accomplished with a meal, a tank of gas, and a prayer, sending them on their way with a pat on the back. Our goal is to take that person/unmarried couple, and show them the way to becoming a part of the kingdom here, establishing legal identity, and helping them to become self-supporting. When we get into what Jesus taught about what our assignments really are, we find he will be far more impressed with how we approach social justice than he will be about our stained-glass window, family centers, or membership in the “country clubs.”

  10. Jim Gray
    April 8, 2012 at 10:21 pm

    Unfortunately, many of these comments reflect our excuses for not wanting to help others. That’s probably why Jesus met with such cold receptions when He asked His would-be followers to share. And it may be why the government has had to step in; because we like the religious people of His day have so many reasons not to fulfill our own good Samaritan roles.

  11. Mike
    April 9, 2012 at 10:44 am

    I think it is very legitimate to not want to waste money helping people who abuse the help or are unwilling to take appropriate steps to remedy the situation. At the same time, generally responsible people may go through very rough times. We have to carefully analyze situations to maximize the use of our limited, God-given resources. There is no justice in fostering dependency, for instance. There is no justice in giving able-bodied folks an excuse for laziness. Neither is it just to assume that because an able-bodied person is going through a rough patch, that it must be because of laziness or a lack a responsibility. Jesus certainly did encourage us to help our neighbor. The examples in Acts of the church community looking after needs are helpful for us. We also see strong cautions as Paul writes to the Thessalonians and to Timothy in regards to helping widows, idle people in the church, and so forth (e.g. 2 Th 3:7-13; 1 Tim 5).
    I think that many churches attempt to do this. They’ll have a food pantry, offer school supply help, support pregnancy centers, or have a benevolence fund to help with bill payments — but, they expect a person to learn to budget, improve their employment, make lifestyle changes, etc. if they are to continue receiving help. The goal of these is to get people through emergencies and help teach them through it. They look at relative need and try to use wisdom to see where there money can go farthest for the kingdom. They may not be perfect at it, but I see that as much more loving that just throwing money at a problem. The old adage has merit “Give a man a fish…”
    It is unfortunate that some churches see helping the needy as primarily an evangelism tool rather than a part of the church community or view it as part of socialism/communism (which would be the case if folks were forced to “give” through coercion, taxes, and the like). Charitable giving, helping the needy (especially among our own brothers and sisters) is very important (Gal 6:9-10).
    I’m sorry the author feels like he has had a bad experience. I don’t know that we should generalize from that, the existence of a major resistance among churches to helping the poor and needy.

  12. JD Straw
    April 9, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    @Michael Hines, who wrote: “Oh, I empathize with the author, but I’m tired of listening to the whining of those who expect the taxpayer or others to pay their way. We live in a nation where nearly 50 percent of the population now lives on entitlements — welfare, Social Security, etc. — and the nation is $16 trillion in debt.”

    I take exception to just one part of your comment. The comment that welfare is an entitlement, especially since this country gives welfare to illegal aliens and to American citizen deadbeats who never worked. How are they entitled to get anything paid for by working people when they never worked and some of them not even American citizens?

    Mr Hines, social security is, indeed, an entitlement; but is not a nasty word when used along with it. Working people are FORCED to pay into the system all their working lives and we do expect the promised return in the form of a social security check at retirement. At the rate it’s being misused and stolen, there won’t be anything left for the people who are currently working whenever they decide to retire. Welfare, on the other hand, is NOT an entitlement. Most people on welfare have never worked a day in their lives. Their “benefits” (“benefits” is being used loosely here) are paid for by the monies collected in the form of taxes paid by people who work!

  13. Tom Dierkes
    April 16, 2012 at 7:53 am

    In the article “A Poor Man’s Wish for His Christian Friends”, Mr Anonymous misunderstands the proper terms in his petition. Mr Anonymous is equating “Social Justice” with compassion and putting this on the same level as Socialism. At the end of his article he gave a parable where he continued to mix terms since his parable was about Compassion and NOT about Socialism nor “Social Justice”.

    Perhaps if we use his same parable with a “Social Justice” ending, instead of his modern Compassion ending, we can clarify this somewhat.

    A man was going about his business, a good worker, for his company and contributor to his community. But his employer’s parent company decided to outsource a few thousand jobs to low paid workers in a foreign country. The man was laid off, lost his pension, health insurance, and house, and was left to fend for himself.

    Now, by chance, a Christian minister was going down that road; and when he saw the unemployed man, he passed by on the other side for whatever reason. And, likewise, an elder from the local church, when he came to the place and saw him, pass by on the other side.

    But an agnostic, as journeyed, came to where the man was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to the Minister’s daughter, knocker her down, and took her money. He then went to the elder’s daughter, knocked her down, and took her money (In the name of “Social Justice”, this generation’s money had already been confiscated against the wishes of many so now, the only people left to rob are future generations). He then returned to the unemployed man and gave him some assistance, pocketed the rest of the money for his troubles, and then held a press conference to let the world know that “Social Justice” had triumphed over the evil Christian minister and the evil elder.

    To confuse compassion with “Social Justice” is an injustice in itself. Compassion is about what each of us does “personally”.

    “Social Justice” is a judge or arbitrator deciding who the winners and losers are, confiscating some of what the winner’s have (and calling them evil), giving some to the losers (and calling them victims), and keeping some for themselves in the process.

    For many people not in a position to be judge or arbitrator, it is a matter of feeling like they are compassionate without having to spend a dime or do any effort except vote for the “Social Justice” person who will do the dirty work for them. Then when the speeches are made where “Social Justice” has triumphed, those who did nothing can share in the accolades.

    I know I am beating a dead horse here, but if I give someone $100, it is compassion. If you knock me down, take my $100, and give it to someone, it is robbery. If you elect someone to knock me down, take my $100, give it to someone, it is “Social Justice”.

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