Magazine article Tikkun

Who Should Take Care of the Poor?

Magazine article Tikkun

Who Should Take Care of the Poor?

Article excerpt

SEVERAL YEARS AGO, RON SIDER, A PROFESSOR AT PALMER THEOLOGICAL Seminary in Philadelphia, created an organization called Evangelicals for Social Action. Sider, author of one of the most important religious books of the last fifty years, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, was out to convince the Evangelical community that caring for the poor was a Biblical imperative. By using Scripture, Sider made many Christians aware that they could not avoid the call of God to live sacrificially and to give what they could to help those millions of persons, both in America and in the Third World, who have been oppressed by poverty.

At first, Sider's critics claimed that what he wrote was nothing more than another version ofthat "Social Gospel" that had become the hallmark of theological liberals. But Ron Sider persisted and was soon joined in his movement by a host of others who wanted to bring social and economic justice to the poor and oppressed of the world.

Today, there are very few Christians who do not readily acknowledge that Christians are responsible for helping the impoverished peoples of the world. Even the most fervent Fundamentalists who adhere to "that old-time religion" now fully subscribe to making help for the poor a requisite for living the Christian life. What is not agreed upon, however, is how to do this.

Many politically conservative Christians agree that reaching out to the poor and providing the help they need is part of declaring the whole Gospel, which they are required to bring to the whole world; but they contend that helping the poor is something that the Church should do, and they find nothing in the Bible that requires that the government should be taxing its hard-working citizens and handing out their money, in one way or another, to help the poor. There are many conservative Christians who claim that it is a form of robbery to take wealth from hard-working Americans and hand it out in welfare checks and "entitlement programs" to the needy, both at home and abroad. They say that benevolent giving to the poor is Biblically required of Christians, but that the redistribution of wealth, facilitated through taxation to provide services and handouts to the poor, is robbery. Ron Sider and his organization, Evangelicals for Social Action, have won the battle over whether or not we should care for the poor. Evangelicals everywhere presently acknowledge that requisite. Now the question, however, is, "How shall we live out this mandate which is prescribed by over 2000 verses of Scripture?"

Recently, a group of Evangelicals calling themselves "Red Letter Christians" (alluding to the words of Jesus which are indicated by red letters in some versions of the Bible) are asserting that charitable work by churches and other faith-based organizations is not enough to even begin to accomplish God's will on behalf of the poor and oppressed. The government, these Red Letter Christians say, must become a partner with the Church by helping the poor in ways that are beyond the means of the sacrificial giving of church goers. They say that raising the minimum wage, making provisions for universal healthcare, taking action for the cancellation ofThird World debt, providing daycare for the children of the working poor, addressing the AIDS crisis among the poor of Africa, and addressing a host of other needs of the poor are beyond the ability of faith-based organizations. …

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