Bible Studies
Written by Jim Jordal   
Sunday, 17 December 2006


By Jim Jordal

"So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you, yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen Your hands are full of bloodshed. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless; defend the orphan, plead for the widow."

Isaiah 1:15-17 (NASB)

Unfortunately, some of the strongest opposition to anything more than simple charity for the poor arises from evangelical Christians who often seem to believe that "saving souls" is the only Christian activity worthy of attention and effort. And whatever charity they do support must have "gospel" strings attached. It's as if providing charity is worthless unless it directly leads someone to Christ.

I'm sometimes reminded of my junior high years when my mother and an old minister friend used to hold "street meetings" in the long-gone gateway area of downtown Minneapolis. We would set out the Christian and American flags, one on either side, then would sing, testify, preach and do whatever was necessary to persuade the addicts and homeless men gathered around to kneel in the street to accept Christ. To this day I still remember vividly how embarrassed I was to be there, and hoped against hope that no one I knew would see me there.

Some would label my reluctance as being ashamed of Christ and the gospel--and I struggled much over that. But it soon dawned on me even at that young age that there was something missing in our well-meaning but usually fruitless efforts.

I think our error lay in our concern only with their souls, and not the desperate conditions of their existence. If they only accepted Christ, however insincerely, then all their troubles would disappear--addictions would cease, jobs would appear, homes would be found, and meaning would return to their lives.

Another problem was the unintentional, but often-condescending way we treated these people. It's sort of like they were the "untouchables" of society, worthy of only meager charity and little other help. I wonder if our attitude did not permeate and render worthless everything else we did and said.

Sometimes we attended services at several of the "missions" in the area. The services were always the same: halting singing led by an aging piano, testimonies by anyone willing to repeat the same thing they said last week, prayer, and long sermon--always on sin and salvation--followed by an extended altar call. Then, and only then, would appear a meager snack usually composed of skimpy peanut butter sandwiches, weak coffee, and horehound candy. They must have received barrels of horehound candy, which I hated then, and still do.

To their credit, the missions cared when no one else did. Government did little, and most churches nothing, as the suffering men usually were left to fend for themselves, only occasionally receiving board and room at a run-down, mission-owned hotel.

So why am I saying all this? I'm remembering this because it's becoming ever more obvious that mere charity was not enough then, and is not enough now. Charity does not solve problems; it only makes victims more comfortable. Nothing short of powerful, persistent advocacy against exploitative and oppressive political and economic systems intimately involved in tolerating, if not causing this suffering will suffice. Charity is wonderful, loving, and good for the heart; but it usually takes more to make problems disappear.

For example, how much charity will be needed to provide low-income single-parent families with adequate nourishment, health insurance, housing, education, child care, familial safety and whatever else they need for a decent standard of living when practically every social, economic, and political structure in our society mitigates against their success? How can we halt children having children when the media-led common culture exalts relatively value-free sexual expression? How can we maintain the increasing fiction that hard work will solve poverty when many workers hold down two full-time jobs and are still poor?

Well, folks, it's time we awaken to the sobering truth that not all poverty is self-inflicted. Yes, some poverty is attributable to personal and familial dysfunction, and we need to hold such people accountable for their actions. Much as many of us would like to believe it, however, personal pathology is only one cause of poverty.

We like to blame the poor for their problems because it relieves us of responsibility for their suffering.

But at this season of giving, let's keep in mind that sometimes advocacy against the structures of poverty and homelessness is the best gift we can give because it helps everyone, not just those receiving charity.

Last Updated ( Sunday, 17 December 2006 )