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Written by Jim Jordal   
Sunday, 01 July 2012


By Jim Jordal

We’ve all heard it: "The poor are lazy, unmotivated, without skills, dependent, uneducated, immoral, irresponsible, impossible." And for some, these conditions are no doubt true. However it is facetious and self-serving for conservatives to speak of responsibility, motivation, hard work, and all the other attributes necessary for financial success, while at the same time ignoring the virtual absence of opportunity in many segments of our economy.

It’s the old game of "blame the victim" in operation. When you lose your home to foreclosure, it’s your fault for taking out a loan you couldn’t afford. When you can’t find work, it’s your fault for not trying hard enough. When you get laid off after years of steady employment, it’s your fault because you didn’t see the signs and get retrained. When you file bankruptcy because of excessive credit card debt, it’s your fault for buying things you couldn’t afford. And the one that tops my list: "How can you feel sorry for them (the poor) when they arrive at the food shelves in Cadillacs and return home to lounge around watching thousand-dollar TV sets."

What is it about Americans that prevents them from seeing reality? Why must we continue to demonize various social groups for what we see as their failings? Why can’t we realize that with a few changes we could be poor also?

Once again I’ll try to say it straight: Poverty is not necessary. It is not foreordained by God. It is not his will. It does not just happen. And it is not fit to enter his kingdom. In the Bible there are less than 30 verses that blame the poor for their plight. The remaining thousands trace poverty to social, economic, and political systems created by those wishing to dominate others. Yes, both Moses and Jesus indicated that the poor would always be present. But this does not legitimate poverty, as many believe. It merely recognizes that poverty will remain as long as people in power fail to institute and practice economic justice. Since they will not do this in the present world, poverty remains.

Poverty is caused by unjust institutions, laws, and practices developed by those in power to enhance and perpetuate their favored positions in society. So what’s wrong with the poor is that they are denied the opportunity that most of us take for granted: the right to make of ourselves whatever our abilities will allow.

It’s sad, but too often true, that modern religion does little to help the poor. Yes, we often give sacrificially to help the poor with food, clothing, and housing. But we seldom publicly from the pulpit challenge the unjust financial and legal systems that create and perpetuate poverty.

Too often the organized church serves to legitimize oppressive systems by placing them under the umbrella of God’s will. Romans 13:1-7 comes to mind as one source for such doctrine. In this passage Paul counsels us to be "subject unto the higher powers" because the "powers that be are ordained of God." If we resist these worldly powers we resist the "ordinance of God." The apostle Peter says somewhat the same thing in I Peter 2:13-14: "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or to governors…for so is the will of God."

If you read these passages carefully you’ll find that the "powers" are described as benevolent in their application of justice; using their authority to control evil and promote justice for their people. But what are we to do when they begin to favor systems of oppression rather than the people? What do we do when they fall almost completely under the power of wealth, as has now occurred in the U.S. election process with the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, recently reinforced by the Court?

What we do is recognize that God is still in control and that he has allowed such injustice as a consequence of our national penchant for ignoring God’s word. As Hosea said: "I have written to him the great things of my law, but they were counted as a strange thing." When political authority demands obedience to other gods, whether they are political, financial, or religious, we do as Daniel did when he prayed openly in contradiction to the king’s decree. We do what Proverbs 31:8-9 commands: "Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such who are appointed to destruction. Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy."

What’s wrong with the poor? Nothing that justice, mercy, opportunity, and a little diligence and discipline couldn’t cure. Instead of blaming the poor for being poor, why not accept what Scripture clearly says--- that unjust systems cause poverty except in the few cases when poverty results from personal indolence and bad decision-making. Please don’t use the Bible to defend oppression