Social Justice

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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“The meaning of the phrase ‘social justice’ has become opaque over the years as it has become a buzz expression”

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