May 31, 2011
Whereelse in the world should we be if not fellowshipping with the poor. I say fellowshipping,and not serving because truly were are served just as much by the interaction Thereare extreme hardships and prejudices working against people of low/no income,it is well within our responsibly as Christians to undo some of that injustice.Â Further, it is important to rememberthat we have the most to gain from a relationship with the poor. This is not acharitableÂ endeavor, but one that itÂ fundamentalÂ for own souls.We need the poor--to understand what it is toÂ dependÂ on God rather than money, to enjoy every day as itcomes, and not to be preoccupied withÂ ratraceÂ that is 'planning forthe future,' to gain pleasure fromÂ relationshipsÂ ratherÂ from stuff, to respectÂ naturalresourcesÂ rather thanÂ domineeringÂ overthem, to trust in the dailyÂ mannaÂ rather thanÂ storingÂ upÂ treasures.Â These are skills that I do notposses in any meaningful way. Â Doyou?Â In a world where some churches haveÂ million dollar mortgages, we have alot toÂ learn.Â As Christians, weÂ should be on theÂ forefrontÂ of inclusively, notlimping along in the rear. What message does it send the world when we willnotÂ uniteÂ togetherÂ toworship our Jesus? What does it mean when someone isÂ more welcome on astreet corner than they are in a church pew? What does it say aboutChrist if drug dealers are more inviting and less discriminating in theiroutreach than are pastors?Â Â AreweÂ ChristiansÂ that love Jesus as long as he sticks to our socialnorms and knows how to put on a good face?Â What about when he smellsfunny, or speaks with a slur? Do we love Him then? Do we love Him when he overeats, or when He needs help understanding busÂ schedule? Do we love Himwhen he is incoherent and confused? Do we love Him when He is rude, or when ourfeelings get hurt?And by 'love,' can we say that we seek out Hiscompany, that we enjoy being with Him?Â Or do we just tolerate Him? Do ourtime with Him so that we can move on with our lives? Loving through grittedteeth, and glances at the watch? BeingÂ charitable with our gratuitouskindness?Â Â Is that what we mean by love?
Nothing really surprising here. American Presbyterians, Episcopalians and Jews at the top of the income scale as they have been for eons. I am really happy to be a part of those who are dead last. There is a special blessing on the poorest in the community.
I too am happy to see that Christians span the spectrum.Â After all, we are all people first and foremost, no matter where we choose to categorize ourselves and others.Â We are a people graciously invited to the table and the kingdom from all walks and backgrounds as people created in His image.Â It is encouraging to see some measure of this all encompassing kingdom already.
In my own experience, at least where I live, it's only the Episcopalians and Presbyterians that do any actual ministering of the poor, however. (And this is coming from someone who's attended a lot of different types of churches.) Perhaps their position at the top of the scale enables them to do more?Â Is it different in your community?
Pardon the long answer. The pentecostal expression of the church was birthed in poverty and has always been a racially mixed movement. The original birthplace of the pentecostal movement in America was a small black evangelical church on Azusa Street in 1906 in the poor district of Los Angeles and the meetings we packed daily with blacks, whites and hispanics fellow-shipping together. During the 20s, Amy Semple McPherson insisted on full integration for her meetings and churches, drawing the ire of the KKK. During the depression the church spread out into the community with soup kitchens and was estimated to have fed over 1.5 million people Keeping the poor of Los Angeles alive. It has always been strongly missional. Matthew Barnett is continuing that Foursquare Church tradition with the conversion of a hospital in 1994 to a massive service center to feed, minister, train and educate the poor. They care for 35,000 people each week and the Church is open 24 hours a day to minister to peopleâ€™s needs. Our pentecostal church (Beaverton Foursquare in Oregon) hosts 60 refugees from Bhutan (they meet together as a church here as well, plus we have a virtual Korean church meeting weekly), we help fund homeless shelters locally, treatment centers for drug addiction and behavorial problems, we still have teams working in Haiti and Mississippi, our sunday schools raised funds for a substantial well digging project in africa and have formed sister church relations with Chinese Churches. We put over 1000 kids through our summer camps, basketball camps and soccer camps. We spend our money on the poor and open the doors to the community and in doing so they become part of the growing family of Jesus. We work in cooperation with the catholic Church next door and many churches of other denominations in our city.
Well, just goes to show you the difference between a pentecostal church on the west coast and one in the southeast US. :\
The great advantage of being a wealthy Christian is you have the means to give back.Â The greatest blessing of being wealthy is the ability to feel (a bit more easily) that you can be a blessing to others.Â Not that wealth is the only or best blessing you can give (or recieve), but as some have remarked, it certainly helps.Â Â However, if we reach the point that we as Christians are building ourselves bigger barns, then I think that we have erred and forgotten what we were striving for.
Bethany,You write, "[i]f our religion stops being good news to the poor, real good news for real people, then weâ€™ll have lost sight of something important."I agree with all but the thought enclosed in the parenthetical commas; those who are not poor are also real people ( :) ).As you write, "[an equal distribution of Christians across all levels of income and education]Â means that the gospel message is real and important to everyone." Â Indeed. Â Just as a prosperity gospel is a distortion of the true gospel, so is a populist one. Â Sadly, I find that, unlike in Jesus' time in which he had to contend mainly with a popular ideology that equated wealth with goodness, we in America now see the candle of civility burned from both ends as popular culture rejects both the poor, for being lazy and deserving what comes to them, and the wealthy, for being elites who, paradoxically, do not deserve what comes to them.js
Jason, I am not sure what you are proposing here. I actually think there is a lot of evidence to suggest that the gospel is inherently populist, though it may not necessarily condemn the wealthy.I did not mean to imply that only poor people are real, though. I should have written that sentence differently.
Doubtless God is especially concerned for the poor. When asked by Johnâ€™s disciples whether Jesus was the Christ, His response was, â€œthe good news is proclaimed to the poor.â€ Jesus voluntarily became poor for our sakes and lived among the poor. Yet He had a family house He could have lived in had He wished. He often stayed at Peterâ€™s larger home with Peterâ€™s extended family. James, John and Peter owned several boats, many servants and had a successful family fishing business that continued while they traveled around the country. Jesus was followed a group of wealthy women (like Herodâ€™s steward) who funded the ministry and there was enough excess that the disciples had a treasurer (who was skimming off the top...times never change) and they felt secure enough to give to the poor from their funds. While they might not have had enough to provide meals to 5000 people, they had enough to buy food for all 12 and rent larger rooms when needed for feasts. One of the first actions of the first century church was to create a social welfare program for single women over 60 and to relieve the painful poverty of poor Christian converts. Frequent offerings were also taken for the poor. There is no class warfare encouraged by the Bible, afterall, we have entered into a new family relationship. In fact Iâ€™ve always considered Deuteronomy (and Proverbs) the Bibleâ€™s â€œprosperity gospelâ€. But the wealthy have an obligation to work to lift up the poor, thatâ€™s what tithing was all about. I am not advocating taxing the rich, only that it is the responsibility of the church (not government) to partner with the poor.
Really? Â Perhaps we understand the meaning of the term "populist" differently. Â Populism positions "the People" in opposition to "the Elite." Â In contrast, in Luke 4 when Jesus quotes Isaiah 61 he is declaring that he will bring justice; there is nothing particularly populist about that. Â If he had instead made some sort of quasi Tea Party statement and said that he wasÂ anointed to give everybody ("the People") what they wanted and destroy the objects of their envy ("the Elites"), well, that would be a populist gospel. Â Again and again Jesus called the wealthy and powerful to uses their wealth and power in ways that were fundamentally just and challenged them not to seek their security in that wealth and power. Â That is not particularly populist. Â In the parable of the laborers in Matthew 20 he tells a story of generous grace to all that is a far cry from the "get what you deserve/earn" bootstrapism of today's American populists. Â A populist rendering of the Gospel is a tempting one, but it is a distortion.js
Rickd:Â check out Krista Tippett's "Being" program (American Public Media, radio and online)---this weekend June 12 is a featured piece on Amy Semple McPherson. Also included is a review of a new biography on ASMcP. Thought you'd like to know if you're not a regular listener/reader of Tippett's site.
We as Christians need to re-focus our public/political spirit on the good of people and not on making people be good. The church either drove or supported many of the humanitarian goals of history, supported civil rights, and lifted people up from Colonial times into the early 1980's. Then a sea change occurred in which it became acceptable to us to deny humanity to people who do not accept our rules for lifestyle choices and to use the government (dominion) to try to impose our behavioral directives. In recent years the church has slipped into a different and more militantly political attitude in which wealth and poverty are in God's dominion, and we are rich or poor based on where God has led us to be born, live, and die. We have ceased to bend the mind of the rich to share responsibility for human good.Â The only way to mitigate poverty and its effects is through the public sphere, politically, by electing leaders who will institute good humanitarian policy. We previously supported this by enlightening congregations on public policy and encouraging good citizenship that recognizes and mitigates poverty and difference among all people. Without the focus of the message of Jesus that "whosoever will may come and drink of the water of life freely," we have lost the good effect of our ethic of tolerance and sharing within the community and within the larger society. In doing so, we have supported the driving down of the poor and middle class and the rise of mega-wealth, a wider division than has ever existed in our nation between the poor, whom Jesus loved and lifted up, and the rich, whom Jesus loved and challenged.
Great response on how Jesus worked with both the rich and the poor. In the society in which Jesus lived (Jewish society under Roman rule) and in the Old Testament, the Temple was the Jewish government. In the Old Testament, tithing was not as the churches now represent it, because it did not apply to worker's wages. It applied instead only to the "increase" in wealth over the year. So the "owners" of the society were charged with sustaining the Temple, and the poor, slaves, and wage workers were charged to give as they could -- make small sacrifices on feast days, etc. The Temple in turn took care of many of the needs of all of the people. (Reading primarily in Leviticus, but also Deuteronomy) The Democratic system of modern government permits the root values of this structure to influence public policy legitimately by teaching the root values to Christians who then vote for people with these values, which is the only way in modern society that we can effectively transmit the values Jesus gave to us. When a person votes, the value system that person holds transmits to the larger society through the choices made in the voting booth. Under the prosperity gospel, we have been deluded into choices that are against the values that sustain all people. I am advocating taxing the rich, which was the point of tithing in the first place in the Old Testament. I am also pointing out that when the poor are cared for and sustained, the rich prosper also. (Reading primarily in American history, 1950's thru the Clinton years.)
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