Social Ethics

Evangelicals Join 'Religious Left' to Defend Poor Against Budget Cuts

“Alongside the Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners, David Beckmann of Bread for the World and the Rev. Peg Chemberlin of the National Council of Churches USA, NAE President Leith Anderson [National Association of Evangelicals ] is among the signatories to the ‘Circle of Protection.’”

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Poverty: Why Should We Care?

Should Christians work to relieve the suffering of poverty? Near the end of the 19th century, proponents of the social gospel proposed a new answer to that question.1 Part of their answer wasn’t new at all—the idea that Christians should help the poor and bring the gospel to them. But the social gospel effectively claimed that relieving suffering in the world is the gospel.

Naturally, Christians who understood their Bibles ran in the opposite direction, aiming to bring the true gospel into sharp contrast with this new distortion. But in the process, many eventually embraced an attitude of total indifference to the poor and, worse, became habitually hostile toward any organized Christian effort to fight poverty.

In recent years things have gotten messier yet. In their haste to reject unbiblical reactions to the social gospel, many evangelicals (and some fundamentalists) seem to be over-correcting (“anti-anti-social-gospelism”?). They are rejecting the central error of the social gospel while accepting other components of the social liberalism that bred it.2

This series aims to help readers recognize and properly reject not only the social gospel but also other errors that have become ubiquitous assumptions of our times.

So far, we’ve briefly considered three questions:

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Thinking Biblically about Poverty, Part 3: Why Shouldn't the Poor Be Poor?

Poverty is a bad thing in the eyes of most people—Christians included. But why do we see poverty that way? How we answer that question influences the kinds of things we do to try to reduce or relieve poverty. The why shapes the where, when and how.

So far in this series, we’ve considered briefly what poverty is (relative vs. absolute) and surveyed the causes of poverty in Scripture. We’ve assumed that poverty is a negative that should be reduced as much as possible wherever it exists.

But not everyone sees it that way. From the days of Benedict of Nursia to today,1 Roman Catholicism has included some who take vows of poverty, and many evangelicals teach that average Christians should increase their relative poverty in order to relieve others’ absolute poverty.2 A few imply that the relatively poor (all of us, compared to those who are richer) should become much more poor so that those who are relatively poorer than we are (“the needy around us”) can become less so.3

But Scripture provides reasons to view poverty as a condition we should avoid in our own lives as well as the lives of others.

A wrong reason

Before we consider some of the best reasons to fight poverty, we need to take one faulty reason off the table. Unfortunately, it may well be the most popular reason in the American mind today. The worst reason to fight poverty is, in a word, inequality.

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