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COMMENTARY: Making the poor a priority Mike Slaughter, Apr 8, 2010
By Mike Slaughter Special Contributor
Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series.
Our churches reflect the homogeneity of our culture more than they do the priorities of the kingdom.
How many people in your church think like you, vote like you and have been nurtured in a similar economic system? Our churches more frequently resemble exclusive fraternal organizations than they do the body of Christ.
How do we determine and assign human worth? The world determines it based on what people have—education, money, position, influence. In the kingdom of God, people have value because they are children created in God’s image.
Most of the poverty in the world is not the result of a lack of initiative. For two-thirds of the world’s population, poverty is the consequence of geography.
Bono of U2 has said that the determination of whether a person lives or dies should not depend on the accident of latitude and longitude. You are not more valued because you have been born in a first-world economy with all of the luxuries it affords.
Romans 2:11 reminds us that “God does not show favoritism.” Why then does the Bible give such priority to the poor? Jesus affirmed this priority in the parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15-24). Who ultimately becomes God’s guests at the party? “Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.”
There is a growing gap between the rich and the poor. The global economic crisis that began in 2008 has only accelerated the erosion of the middle class. My hometown newspaper reported that Dayton, Ohio, lost 33,000 manufacturing jobs between 2000 and summer 2008. The median income in our area dropped 10.5 percent in one decade. The poverty rate in Dayton for children ages 5 to 17 grew from 24 percent in 2000 to 32.8 percent in 2005.
What an opportunity for the church to rebuild, restore and renew in devastated places! This is a time not for retreat, but for engagement!
Out of the 2.2 billion children in the world, 1 billion are living in poverty. That is nearly half of the world’s children!
This is why Ginghamsburg Church and our partner churches are actively working in Darfur. Since 2005, we have invested more than $4 million in agriculture, child protection and development, and safe-water projects. These funds come primarily from hardworking, blue-collar folks who are living simply and sacrificially in one of America’s fastest-dying cities.
We are restarting inner-city churches that had ceased to be relevant to the needs of their communities. We are seeing vibrant growth in these restarts that are now reaching and serving the working poor and homeless. Our nonprofit ministries are working to engage, encourage and empower for life and employment.
Poverty of the body can be fixed. But a deeper level of poverty has eternal consequences: poverty of the spirit. A medieval sage bluntly stated, “The want of goods is easily repaired, but the poverty of the soul is irreparable” (Montaigne, 1533–1592).
Those of us in the church have been guilty of creating a gospel that is self-serving and other-judging. We spend our resources on building structures and creating programs for ourselves and then call it mission! In the name of Jesus we have idolized earthly valuables over kingdom values. Like the rich man who walked past Lazarus, we have become indifferent and insulated from the needs of our brothers and sisters lying at our doorstep.
Church, we need to lose our sense of self-importance and remember: “Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor. 1:26-27).
We are in challenging times. This is not a time to insulate ourselves from human pain and suffering around us. If the world is ever going to take the good news of the gospel seriously, we must take a serious look at our paradigms for ministry, and then repent and realign our priorities and resources with the message and mission of Jesus.
The Rev. Slaughter is pastor of Ginghamsburg Church, a United Methodist congregation in Tipp City, Ohio. This is an excerpt from his new book, Change the World: Recovering the Message and Mission of Jesus (Abingdon Press).