I was speaking to a group earlier this year, and a woman came over, introduced herself, and let me know that she regularly reads my blog and wondered why I haven’t addressed “the judgmental tendencies some Christians have with the poor”. Ouch. “Probably because I don’t want to touch that,” I thought.
But her question has stayed with me, and I understand what she’s saying. There is a view out there that says the poor have done something wrong and kind of deserve the situation they’re in.
I’m not a researcher so I have no intention of writing a blog noting the latest research and statistics on the poor. Instead, I’d like to share what I’ve seen firsthand in 20+ years of running this ministry as well as what the Christian faith says to us about the poor.
I believe the poor are like any other group of people in that some are Type A while others are laid back; some are optimistic while others are pessimistic; some have an exceptional work ethic, often holding two or more jobs, while others will do the bare minimum to get by. Get any group of people together and there will be different traits, behaviors, and outlooks; we are all unique. So I don’t believe the poor are any more likely to take advantage of others or any less likely to work hard.
In sitting across from hundreds of clients over the years, I’ve seen everything one can imagine. I’ve seen clients cry at their life circumstances while others had a more stoic view. I’ve seen people accepting of their situation because they’re working to make things better for their children, and I’ve seen people who can’t think beyond tomorrow because the crises they’ve endured have shut down their long-term planning abilities. I’ve seen great faith in God’s love and care as well as anger at God. I’ve seen hunger, despair, gratitude and hope.
Over time, I’ve learned to resist the natural human instinct to judge, even those who are unpleasant, because I don’t know how I would react to the situations others experience. None of us know exactly what it’s like to live another person’s experience, whether that experience is positive or negative.
But more than that, I try really hard to apply the lessons of the gospel: forgiving others, giving generously without expectation of reciprocity, and not judging others, even people who are unfair to me. Let me be clear: these teachings of Jesus are difficult, and I fail much more often than I succeed, but it’s a rudder for who to be and how to be in this world. So the Gospel holds me accountable for my own behavior.
Regarding the Christian scriptures, I’m not a biblical scholar, so I reached out to some local clergy to hear their perspectives on the poor.
Reverend Clint Reiff, Senior Pastor of Rice Temple Baptist Church, says to ignore or deal unjustly with the poor is a sin. Reverend Reiff states, “It is not an option or an addition to our faith, but a command from God: it is part of His nature to love and defend the poor. When Jesus fed the five thousand, he did not question them to see if they would be his disciples, donate to the cause, or even ask the cause for their hunger. He simple extended grace in the form of food. I don’t think we should search for a reason not to help the poor, but should simply err on the side of grace.”
Reverend Reiff refers us to the following verses of scripture:
“There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.” – Deuteronomy 15:11
“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? "- 1 John 3:17
"The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.” - Proverbs 29:7
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” - Proverbs 31:8-9
Catholic social teaching is clear that followers of Jesus are to care for the needy and those forgotten by the world. Father Phil Lloyd from St. Theresa Catholic Church also reminds us of how important it is to care for the poor. He lifted up this verse of scripture for reflection:”Your abundance at the present time should supply their needs. So that their abundance may also supply your needs, that there may be equality.” 2 Corinthians 8:14.