"Poverty is the measure by which God judges society"

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Aaron Blumer's picture


Somebody tell me where the gospel is in the idea that "poverty is the measure by which god judges society"

Joel Shaffer's picture

I've read most of Sider's works and I am guessing that not only is he looking at Old Testament passages such as Ezekiel 16:49-50 which states, "49 “‘Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. 50 They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen." as well as the Sheep and the Goats passage in Matthew 25:31-46.

Now I have a problem with his interpretation of Matthew 25, especially because the identity of the "least of these, my brothers" seems to imply how we treated the the poor who are believers, or missionaries, or if you subscribe to a more classical dispensational hermeneutic, the Jewish remnant by the Gentiles during the tribulation. Either way, Sider is quite off on his interpretation because it does not refer to all of the poor in general.

As for the Ezekiel passage, It does serve as an example how an entire city was judged for their lack of helping the poor and needy, but that wasn't the only sin either because they were also haughty and did detestable things. Will God do that again? Who knows? I get a little uncomfortable when evangelicals start making predictions of judgment, linking them to current events. It reminds me of Falwell when he linked judgments of America's demise because of homosexuality and abortion.

But my main problem with Sider is he believes somehow the government's budget becomes the standard for whether our society cares for the poor or not. So was America under more condemnation in the early 1800's because the state budgets and national budget did not account for poverty programs due to the fact that churches, charities, and individuals were the safety net for helping the poor back then (see Marvin Olasky's Tragedy of American Compassion)? What about if bloated government programs for the poor make things worse? Is God more likely to judge us for our country squandering money on great society programs that are ineffective, or does he back off of condemning us because we had good intentions to help the poor and we chose not to make a budget cut on social programs (even though in the long term, many of these programs made things worse for the poor)?

Aaron Blumer's picture


Great points, Joel.
Even if we grant for the sake of argument that what a nation does for its poor is the ultimate standard, would that be what it intends to do for the poor or what it actually does for them? The assumption that we help them best (in the long run) by transferring money directly too them is highly suspect in itself. Even more suspect is the idea that we help them by transferring money from productive people into government programs that are supposed to help. So we have two layers of thinking here that are both pretty iffy... but building a budget on these ideas is supposed to be the Christian thing to do.

Ken Woodard's picture

Beware of ones who hi jack the term "Christianity" to gather support for their cause. They will ignore or twist scripture out of context to enlist the naive ones they deceive.

i.e. Wesboro Baptist must not have John 3:16 or Rom 5:8 in their Bible.

Aaron Blumer's picture


...Sider doesn't hate anybody. I think he's mistaken bout some pretty important things, but I have seen no evidence that he is insincere.
I guess the Westboro folks are "sincere," too, but in a malicious way. Sider is nothing if not compassionate.

DJung's picture

"Blessed are the poor in spirit"

Poverty is humbling. In our families' experience poverty taught invaluable lessons and was a tool by which character was formed. My grandfather always told us how he had to support his family at 12 by dropping out of school and going to work. It changed him for the better. Later he became a self-educated intellectual (political science and economics) who went from poverty to millionaire status (saving and stock market, non-english speaking chinese from the poorest village in china-- wife did real estate) while working in a warehouse (lowly blue collar job). All his children went to college and became successful.

Spiritual poverty was recognized by grandchildren, all these were saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ.

God uses poverty to get our attention so it has a place in this present world.