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Bible Studies
Written by Jim Jordal   
Monday, 25 October 2004

Endemic poverty curses the earth.  Even in prosperous America, perhaps 12 percent of families live below the poverty line.  Various panaceas have dismally failed to solve the problem, so it's time for new thinking about what we must do to bring our nation into conformity with the plan of God--which allows for no involuntary poverty.

“Throughout, I work on an assumption that cannot be proved by government figures or even documented by impressions of the other America.  It is an ethical proposition, and it can be simply stated: In a nation with a technology that could provide every citizen with a decent life, it is an outrage and a scandal that there should be such social misery.  Only if one begins with this assumption is it possible to pierce through the invisibility of 40,000,000 to 50,000,000 human beings and see the other America.  We must perceive passionately, if this blindness is to be lifted from us.  A fact can be rationalized and explained away; an indignity cannot.”
                                                                                                      The Other America, by Michael Harrington

Then I looked again at all the acts of oppression which were being done under the sun.  And behold I saw the tears of the oppressed and that they had no one to comfort them; and on the side of their oppressors was power; but they had no one to comfort them…. If you see oppression of the poor and denial of justice and righteousness in the province, do not be shocked at the sight…
                                                                                                                           Ecclesiastes 4:1, 5:8a (NASB)

For the needy will not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the afflicted perish forever.
                                                                                                                                           Psalm 9:18 (NASB)

      Remember President Lyndon Johnson’s mid-60s War on Poverty?  Remember the grandiose statements and projections about overcoming the crushing effects of poverty on inner city dwellers, isolated rural persons, minorities, women, children, seniors, displaced or unskilled workers, single-parent families, and others unfortunate enough to live below the poverty threshold?  Remember also the attacks against the program beginning several years later when critics revealed that most anti-poverty funds were eaten by a gluttonous anti-poverty bureaucracy, and that if the money gobbled by bureaucrats was merely distributed to the poor, most would be by definition no longer poor?
      Maybe you do remember Lyndon Johnson and his War on Poverty, but I’ll bet you don’t remember what set it off.  It was a little 1962 book by Michael Harrington entitled The Other America, describing in revealing detail the sordid other America: poor, oppressed, powerless, and mostly invisible to the mainstream culture---an America that existed largely outside the purview of governmental, social, economic, and religious institutions. 
      As possibly expected an aroused public pushed President Johnson and Congress to address the issue.  This they did by creating a monster evolving bureaucracy dedicated to solving the problem. Thus began what some call a “culture of poverty,” with its own institutions and values overseen by a bungling bureaucracy feeding off the largesse of the public and the misfortune of the poor.
      But poverty didn’t go away!  It lessened for a while, then faded from public view as Viet Nam captured national attention.  Later, it came sneaking back during the late 70s and early 80s with rapidly rising prices and historically high interest rates aimed at cooling inflation, and has been with us in varying degrees ever since.
      Today, the problem of endemic poverty is no less appalling than the intolerable situation lamented by Harrington over 40 years ago.  If anything, the problem is more intractable today because of causes lying far outside the localities and control of either the poor or their helping charities--in the global marketplace and its impersonal but still oppressive values.
      Poverty today is much more than a problem of insufficient money. It’s more like an octopus, with tentacles stripping life from every facet of existence.  Inadequate housing or even homelessness, poor medical care, lack of transportation, substandard education, joblessness or marginal employment, and even hunger conspire to devour the very lives of the poor.  But it is in the psychological/spiritual realm that its effects are even more damaging, since poverty denies hope, shrivels the spirit and as Isaiah said, “grinds the faces of the poor.”
      Back in the 60s the problem was galloping automation with the attendant job loss and displacement of workers we heard so much about.  Who is not familiar with the plight of coal miners, steel workers, Minnesota iron miners, small farmers and unskilled workers in general?  And society did attempt to aid them through retraining, improved education, direct aid, resettlement grants and a host of other well-meaning programs.  But still, poverty remained.
      Today, the most visible problem is globalism and the actions of multi-national corporate giants in their well-reported worldwide struggles for market dominance.  Maldistribution of income, especially in the United States, has intensified obscenely over the past 20 years, and shows no signs of lessening.  CEOs who a few years ago made perhaps 20 or 30 times the income of average workers now often make hundreds or even thousands of times that amount, due mainly to lax compensation committees, excessive stock options, golden parachutes and other perquisites of the powerful.
      And abroad it’s even worse.  Massive numbers of people in the so-called developing nations have almost nothing of this world’s goods.  And who cares?  Multi-nationals continue exploiting the poor in their sweatshops; native rulers steal most of the country’s wealth; and the West chooses generally to ignore these disasters. 
      May heaven help us, since it seems no one else can or will!

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