Q&A

If you really want to defend the poor from Caesar, shouldn’t we use the political means that exist? It’s easy to make your argument when you are in a position of privilege.

Question: I’ve been reading your blogs for a while. I’ve read multiple texts written by you and it’s difficult to listen much longer as someone in poverty. It’s easy to make your argument when you are in a position of privilege. The Church doesn’t have the power and resources to help the poor everywhere. Christians need to pressure the government to regulate capitalism or else. Our state recently cut funding to the poor. This is hurting my family. You can sit back and not vote and not influence the government, but those who don’t care about the poor will.

Sorry, sir. I know you are incredibly smart and have a deep love for the poor, but unless you are in their situation, it’s hard to speak about these issues. You’re a white male middle-income pastor. If you really want to defend the poor from Caesar, shouldn’t we use the political means that exist? If anyone out there wants to help the poor, I recommend voting. Yes, Obama and Romney aren’t that different. But, I can tell you that without adequate levels of food stamps and other public assistance programs, we’re going to be in big trouble.

Answer: Thanks so much for your honest feedback. I can totally understand where you’re coming from. Still, I hope you’ll listen to some thoughts I have in response.

First, while it’s true that I am not poor, I don’t think this invalidates my position on the all-important distinction between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of the world and the need for followers of Jesus to put all their eggs in the first, not the second, basket. While it’s true that our perception of truth is always influenced by our life situation, it’s not the case that our perception is determined by our life situation. If this were the case, there would be no truth over-and-above our life situation to even talk about. Whether privileged or not, we all have to try to become aware of how our situation might influence our thinking, but we must decide what we believe is true on the merits of the arguments for or against a position.

Second, while it’s true that I am not in poverty, this doesn’t mean I can’t imagine how governmental decisions impact the poor and disadvantaged. As a matter of fact, I make it a point to minister with, minister to, and minister among the poor on a regular basis. Not only that, but I have a son with special needs, and we rely on government for a variety of things on his behalf. Believe me, I know first hand how governmental decisions can positively or negatively impact lives. Which leads to my third point.

Your letter illustrates one of the reasons I am passionate about warning Christians not to think they’re doing kingdom work when they try to get others to rally around the particular version of government they think is best. You are frustrated with me because I don’t encourage Christians to be involved in politics because, you say, “we need to put pressure on government to regulate capitalism or else.” You’re obviously convinced that regulating capitalism would help the poor. But as I’m sure you know, there are plenty of bright people who care about the poor who believe that further regulating capitalism would be, over the long haul, the worst possible thing you could do to the poor.

What if I happened to believe along these lines and yet was to take your message to heart? So, now that I’m convinced I need to encourage folks to get involved in politics, I stand in my pulpit this next Sunday and tell my congregation to get out there and stop the liberals who are hurting the poor by regulating government. You probably wouldn’t be very pleased with this.

I say this to help you understand that you weren’t merely encouraging me to get Christians active in politics. You were actually encouraging me to get Christians active in supporting your ideas about the right kind of politics. And there are plenty of Christians doing the exact same thing from the other side. The result is that we have Christians on the right and on the left arguing over what Caesar should do about the poor – something Jesus never told us to do — instead of working together to serve the poor on our own – which is the very thing Jesus told us to do. And this leads to my final point.

You say that, “The Church doesn’t have the power and resources to change the lives of all poor people everywhere.” I disagree. If even a small fraction of Christians sacrificed and worked together to help the poor, we could make an incredible difference in poverty in America and beyond, and it would be to the glory of God rather than the glory of some version of government. Of course, it’s true the church is presently not using its power and resources to make a significant impact on poverty. And part of the reason is that we’re too busy fighting over what Caesar should do about poverty. This will only change if we Christians stop thinking it’s our job to tell Caesar what to do and start to do what Jesus called us to do.

Ultimately, hope for the poor, as well as everyone else, doesn’t hang on what party gets power. It hangs on Christians using the power God has given us. And this isn’t a power we release by voting a particular way every four years. It’s a power we release by how we unite together to manifest God’s love in how we live, how we share and how we sacrificially serve the poor.

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