I am troubled by the way that everything has been monetized e.g., not serving gays is bad for business instead of being just plain morally wrong, wrong, wrong! And I am troubled that the church seems to have fallen into the same trap. We don’t have a distinct voice in economic — or moral — debates e.g., we discuss how life might be terminated when the Texas Legislature says it can with no reflection on when a Christian says that it might be appropriate. That’s a bit of a chicken and egg problem. We don’t talk about “our” answers to problems so we don’t have any answers to offer so we don’t talk about the problem on our terms because we have nothing to add.
All that brings me around to the point that we have tend to define poverty as a lack of money — the way that secular economists and secular newspapers do. What I want to suggest is that people are poor when they are unable to enjoy the good things in life. And I want to suggest that even some very rich people are in reality poor. And as a corollary, that getting people out of poverty is not (just) a matter of giving them more money, but of helping them live a richer, more fulfilling life, the kind of life that I believe God would have them live.
The list of things that make life worthwhile is debatable but I would put three things on that list. People need to live in hope — in hope of a better life not necessarily a life with more money. I know parents who struggle to ensure that the kids can go to college and who would say that their lives were made very worthwhile when they saw their child graduate. That’s a life lived well — amidst financial poverty. People need to live in love — loved by friends, surrounded by family, with a support group to which they can turn when life has its inevitable downs. Many well-to-do businessmen have midlife crises when they discover that their single-minded pursuit of money has led them to a cold, friendless existence. And people need to live in faith — in a belief that God loves them, that the universe is on their side, not against them at all turns.
There is more that I could add to that list but that will do for starters. So the question of how the church can help lift people out of poverty is not so much about how it can force the government to transfer more money to the “poor” but how we can help those in need find hope, enjoy our love and care, and live in faith. As Michelle Daniel Chadwick put it in the Dallas Morning News recently church should be almost like the bar in Cheers, where “everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came.” You really don’t need much money when you live in that kind of warmth.