Let’s talk about poverty. I don’t want to be cliche in this discussion and simply accept our cultural understandings and biases about what poverty is and isn’t. Rather, I would like to look at some common views and perceptions along with misconceptions. And, I would love to hear your thoughts on these reflections as well – especially your first-hand experiences in working with “the poor.”
Did you catch that last statement?
When we begin to talk about “the poor” we have already placed a label on them that conjures all kinds of images. Not only have we labeled them, but now we have segregated “the poor” into the basic grouping of “them” and “us.” It’s very subtle, but it quickly reminds us that we all have our perspectives and biases when we begin to talk about this topic.
Our understanding of why people are poor and definition of poverty shape how we view and address poverty. When we incorporate relief and development strategies into our missions efforts, how we view “the poor” and poverty ultimately affects the ways we address people and potential solutions.
According to Bryant Myers in “Walking with the Poor”, our understanding of the nature and the causes of poverty tends to be in the eye of the beholder. And that understanding shapes our response. Thus, if we see the cause of poverty as one thing, a natural response might be as follows…
|Cause of Poverty||Proposed Response|
|The poor are sinners||Evangelism and uplift|
|The poor are sinned against||Social action; work for justice|
|The poor lack knowledge||Education|
|The poor lack things||Relief; social welfare|
|The culture of the poor is flawed||Become like us; ours is better|
|The social system is flawed||Change the system|
When we raise our view from physical need and the individual person to the social and cultural systems within which the poor live, we begin to understand that ideas, values, and worldviews also need to change.
I can’t wait to discuss this in the following weeks. How do you see poverty? Does your understanding of poverty affect the way you approach ministry with the poor?
Other posts in this series:
- What causes poverty?
- Why is Carlos Poor?
- We said, He said
- Poverty 360
- Poverty in the Old Testament
- Poverty in the Old Testament: Loss of Things
- Poverty in the Old Testament: Loss of Influence
- Poverty in the Old Testament: Loss of Identity and Hope
- Poverty in the Old Testament: Complete Dependency on God
- Poverty in the Old Testament: Grace Abounds