Many people, especially in the church, labor under the false assumption that all of the issues associated with poverty could be solved if those of us with money were more charitable and if those without money exercised more personal responsibility.
This notion is rooted in a worldview that unduly elevates the importance of individualism while under-valuing the role of collective or community solutions and responsibility. Further, this perspective underestimates the power of systemic forces undergirding and guaranteeing poverty's perpetuation.
Most of the root causes of poverty cannot be overcome by well-intentioned, charitable people.
For example, the housing policy of the federal government affects millions of people. If funding is eliminated, curtailed or frozen for, say, the Section 8 voucher program, the sheer scale of the result would overwhelm any charitable response.
Issues of this magnitude require sound, fair and just public policy responses.
In the case of the Section 8 housing program, cutbacks actually affect affordable housing developers, as well as tenants. If development is not incentivised by initiatives like Section 8, market forces tend to take over, driving developers out of the business of creating this much needed housing stock.
It is curious to watch church folk organize, rally and lobby for pro-life issues related to abortion. It is clear pro-life advocates want a systemic, public solution to protect unborn children.
Many of these same people are quick to criticize government intervention to assure legal and systemic protection from the devastation of extreme poverty for the poor and their children who survive birth.
The problems associated with poverty and inner city communities cannot be adequately addressed without public sector involvement. Charity does not establish justice. Often charity turns out to be a rather sophisticated way for people with most of the power to maintain it while being congratulated for their community service.
Sorry to be so harsh, but I've been watching this awhile now.
At best charity provides a short-term, temporary response to the wounds of injustice.
Church people would do well to read again the book of Nehemiah in the Hebrew Bible. Here we observe a classic public, private partnership resulting in the renewal of an entire city.
Charity, no matter how well-intentioned, is never enough.
The Messiness of Ministry
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