Frozen Pizzas and the Cycle of Poverty, Part III

Round and round she goes, where she stops, nobody knows! Hard to say how far I could or will take this series of postings, because one could devote an entire blog to the issue of cyclical poverty in inner cities. But there has been some good discussion generated (for a novice blogger such as myself at least!) and I hope to continue posting on this issue in the future, although I may only carry this particular series on to one more installment.

So, what does Wal-Mart have to do with this? Well, let's make it clear that I am NOT saying that Wal-Mart is the answer to revolutionizing the purchasing habits of low-income & low-education inner city dwellers! Although, maybe that's what Sam wanted. Over the past few years, Wal-Mart has been making strides to enter the major American urban markets, a demographic that it had left virtually untouched for many years. Today, New York and Detroit are the only remaining untapped urban markets by the low-priced retailing giant. The main barriers for Wal-Mart entering these markets have been low wages, poor health benefits and its resistance to unions.

So, the resistance by city governments and citizens is understandable, but where do we make the compromise? The tried and true Wal-Mart (and similar corporate chains) will not only offer jobs but because of their lower cost consumer goods (particularly food items), the retailer could extend hope to the single mother of five children who is struggling to feed her growing kids due in part to her lack of shopping options (I recently read Nickel and Dimed, which sheds some light on struggling, low-income Wal-Mart employees). Here, the individual who normally shops at the convenience store has more options for purchasing more nutritional foods, right? So, does the government facilitate such endeavors or undergird the work of small mom and pop businesses? Which breeds more intelligent consumers? (The same questioning could be applied to the Church: megachurches or many, smaller neighborhood churches? I lean towards the latter.) Well, as Chairman pointed out, it is evident that low-income, low-literacy consumers are risk averse and not as likely to change their purchasing habits. But these habits would seem to come from paradigm of living paycheck to paycheck and less inclined towards long-term planning.

So, I imagine it is in the habits of the low-income, low-education individual that we should focus our attention. Do we seek to bring hope through public policy and government structures (big government) or do we leave the responsiblity to the private sector? I believe it is the responsiblity of any government to put into place structures to care for all of its citizens, rich or poor, Hispanic or Asian-American, Christian or Athiest, etc., but the more I think about it, the more I realize I am probably a small government proponent in regards to directly bringing redemption to our inner cities (However, it makes perfect sense in my mind to tax the wealthiest heavier in order to ease the tax burden on the poorest. This may seem to contradict my stance on small government, but if we educate the lower socio-economic demographic, it doesn't doo much good to teach them to fish, if we don't give them bait!).

Why do I take this view? Well, because I am coming from a biblical worldview, I see it as the responsiblity of the Church to care for the poor and needy. And I'm not just talking about giving handouts. This idea really sounds ridiculous to the majority of the world. But, take for example Samaritan's Purse. Look what amazing work they have done to bring hope to the Katrina-ravaged areas down south! The government can keep pouring out money, but if an individual or family has never seen or been taught how to use that money wisely, won't the cycle just continue? I'm in favor of supporting local businesses and all about raising the minimum wage and health benefit standards, but my heart lies more in directly impacting (somehow?!) the lives of inner city, low-income individuals...and not just their purchasing habits, but by bringing hope through Christ's love (it is impossible to ignore Christ's compassion on the poor) AND by doing life mentoring AND meeting tangible needs. So, it follows that I am more in favor of the government supporting and facilitating the private sector's efforts to shine light on the impoverished areas of our inner cities.

As a follower of Christ, I have to remember what James said in his letter, that "faith without works is dead." So, we must not only bring the gospel story through words, but also with our lives! I believe a huge portion of white, Evangelical America has lost this, because we are afraid (yes, afraid!) of those in the inner city who are different than us. If you can help me remember, when did Christ command us to only bring the gospel to the comfortable places of society? But, does this mean that Church can't partner with secular organizations seeking to bring social justice? The answer is no, but if the Church would heed the scriptures more pro-actively in regards to helping the poor, I don't believe we would have to.

When I think of some examples of this happening today, my mind drifts to my brother's church, a large Vineyard Church in Columbus, OH. Just off the top of my head, I know they have begun a large effort to reach out to the community through after-school tutoring and mentoring programs, interview training, free legal counsel, providing business attire to interviewees, and similar initiatives. I just know that a huge portion of this nation is living WELL below the typical means of the American middle and upper class. Around 12% of our country's nearly 300 million citizens live below the poverty line, which amounts to about a total household income of $2oK for a household of four.

As a nation that is viewed as "Christian" by our global neighbors (we may have a leaning towards Judeo-Christian values and lots of churches, but I wouldn't say we are a Christian nation. What would a Christian nation look like? What is the kingdom of God?), how do we reconcile the fact that millions are struggling to feed their families? Yes, on the global poverty stage, Americans do not struggle at the same level (millions living on less than a $1/day), but this does not justify ignoring or setting aside the mandate of scripture to care for the poor and needy (and widows and orphans).

What does God's Word say on this topic? I'll look at that in the finale of this here series.

2 comments:

Colin Lamm said...

The Wal-Marts of this world could potentially have a positive role in bringing relief to the inner cities and low-income households. So may governments. And while we may vote accordingly on issues, we must never lose sight of the fact that Christ came to "Preach the gospel to the poor . . . to proclaim release to the captives . . . to set free those who are downtrodden." It is our personal, strategic, dare I say, missional, responsibility within the church to carry on with this agenda. The governments and the corporations will continue to do what they want to meet their own goals. The Church, however, irrespective of these institutions is called forth to bear eternal fruit.

Thank you for such a well thought-out, articulated and challenging continuation of "Frozen Pizzas . . ."

Anonymous said...

Jonathan, some additional good points in this part. I've been talking to some friends here in Scotland about how our national health service, and the growth of state education, came about because of the decline of the church and the family. So if only we can understand that as a church we are called to help out our communities, to show love in action, we can begin to make a small difference. And I'm sure that's where you are going with your next post - am looking forward to hearing your thoughts.