Preferential Option for the Poor— Part II

27 Jun

 

Last month, I reflected on the millennia-long persistence of poverty. I asked for responses, and three profound reflections arrived—I am including them here as they came to me.

Kurt Hendel reflects from his position as a Church historian and a Christian theologian. He sees the poverty’s roots, not first of all in economic systems or politics, but rather. in our sin and self-centeredness. Here is his statement:

“Other than the ecological crisis, which, of course, also affects the poor in the most direct and detrimental ways, I consider poverty and hunger (the two are, of course, intimately related) to be the most tragic realities that have affected humanity persistently throughout recorded history. While the church and other agencies have often responded to the needs of the poor, our Christian tradition has also idealized poverty in the past, and the poor were considered to be necessities so that those with economic means could do good works that were meritorious in God’s sight. Thus the rich ultimately benefited from the existence of the poor, not only economically but also spiritually. Scripture surely gives us a different understanding of the poor and of poverty, especially as the Bible highlights the radical generosity of God.

“It seems to me that the persistence of poverty and the suffering of the poor, which is so intimately and directly related to our human tendency to be incurvatus in se (curved in upon ourselves, hubris), is ultimately a striking indicator of the reality and power of sin. Of course, that human reality does not excuse us human beings, especially people of faith, from our inclination to continue the patterns of oppression, hording, and inequality that those of us in power and with economic means have fostered. Jesus is not only the ultimate example for Christians of what it means to have true empathy for and to walk with the poor. He is also God’s radical good news that we have been rescued from the power of sin and are, therefore, free to serve God and God’s people. That promise provides us with hope that we can change our patterns of behavior and manifest our faith in love. After all, we also have the promise that the Holy Spirit is present within and among us because of Christ’s redemptive work and the divine gift of faith, and, as Luther reminds us persistently, the Holy Spirit and faith do it all! So, hope for change persists.”

Esther Shir brings a Jewish perspective to bear on the issue of poverty, as well as her work with asylum seekers. Justice is a central value. She writes:

“Oh my! What a timely and very prophetic blog you’ve written this time around!!! As you may know, here in New Mexico and in Albuquerque in particular, assistance for asylum seekers is the top agenda for the synagogues and most of the churches with which I’m familiar.  Our Sisterhood has been focusing all year on projects and… programs to get congregants more involved and informed about the plight of the migrants, especially in our own state.  The quotes you have stated already are a powerful indictment and an equally powerful call to action (along with all the other commandments about treating the stranger in your midst fairly, and leaving the corners of the field for the poor).  But the  phrases that have been running through my head since January of 2017 from Deuteronomy 16: “Justice, justice shall you pursue” and Micah 6: “and what does Adonai require of you? Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”  And in Hebrew the word tzedakah which is usually translated as charity also means justice.  It has felt to me like justice in the sense of our legal system and in the sense of doing the right thing has been lost and almost forgotten in the past couple of years.  By corrupting our legal system, ignoring the rule of law, and the disregarding any sense at all for “the common good”,  the basic ethos of the nation is being destroyed!  For me, the only reason our nation is exceptional are these basic values (however imperfectly they are applied): equal justice, compassion for the stranger, etc and, of course, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”  Without justice, there is no hope for the poor among us (or anyone else).”

Nancy Goede, pastor of Augustana Lutheran Church in Chicago, brings in a perspective from spirituality and a way of living that identifies with the poor.

“My greatest concern is that we as Lutherans don’t hear much about how we benefit spiritually from resisting affluence. I always did like that term “affluenza,” which implies that affluence can lead to spiritual sickness. If sickness seems too harsh, maybe spiritually flabby would be fitting. Affluence is a temptation that can draw us away from self-sacrificing concern for the poor. If we truly can live in the middle with enough, then we are in a much better position to really befriend poor people. I very much admire some members of Augustana for living lives that exemplify their Christian values of community, solidarity and witness.”

All of these statements bring religious insight to bear upon poverty and the poor. They wish for the end of poverty and work toward that goal, to be sure, but insist that the rest of us, who do not live in poverty, must undergo change. This change  require a transformation of our spirituality, our moral outlook, and our behavior. 

Nancy Goede speaks of “community, solidarity, and witness”—what does that mean for us? If you have further thinking about these matters, please write.

Phil Hefner—June 26, 2019

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