Culture At Large

The encouraging poverty of a recent Pew study

Bethany Keeley-Jonker

The New York Times recently published a story on a Pew Forum study that shows where various religious groups in the United States fall in terms of education and income. You’ll find by looking at the full chart that Christian denominations appear across the spectrum, though for the most part education and income coincide with each other (this is no big surprise).

Looking at the results, I wondered if it would be better if more Christians appeared toward the top right of the chart (more wealthy, more educated) or at the bottom left (less income and less education). Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that the presence of Christians across the range of incomes and education is more encouraging to me than any other kind of data point would be. It means that the gospel message is real and important to everyone.

In fact, it would be most discouraging to find that all Christians were comfortably affluent. In Luke 4, Jesus says among other things that he has come to preach good news to the poor. So I’m glad that Christians aren’t at the top of this chart. If our religion stops being good news to the poor, real good news for real people, then we’ll have lost sight of something important.

And that’s where this chart hits a fundamental conflict of logic for me. Sure, for journalists, the distribution of wealth, education and therefore influence among religious people in our country is worth paying attention to. But that data seems almost irrelevant to the way I practice my faith. Economic differences matter insofar as the Bible is full of directions for how we are to treat poor people. We ignore them at our peril. If our denomination or congregation is light on the less affluent, we might start asking if we’re doing something wrong.

What do you make of this information? Do you think we have a responsibility to help poorer people (Christian and not) get access to education and higher-income jobs? Should we be serving the poor in some other way? Is there a point at which Christians should stop pursuing higher incomes altogether?

(Image taken from New York Times graphic. Full chart is here.)

Topics: Culture At Large, Business & Economics, Money, Economics, Theology & The Church, Faith, Evangelism, News & Politics, Social Trends, Justice, North America