The War on Poverty

The war on poverty should be our
war.

I’m home. It’s midnight. I can’t sleep because my body has adjusted to times zones almost the reverse of this one. So, I’m roasting coffee beans and reflecting on the people I’ve met and the stories I’ve heard the past few days.

I am humbled by the Christians in the Philippines who are living out faith by calling for fair treatment for all. This puts them in the cross-hairs of the guns wielded by those who are afraid of just treatment of the poor.

Justice costs so little, yet it is everything. To treat people fairly and to ensure equitable participation in a society does not use up the resources of the wealthy and powerful. In fact, it probably encourages stability and economic growth. But it does mean the powerful must consider more than their own personal aggrandizement, and apparently that’s a difficult thing for some to do.

I continue to be haunted by the killing of the best, those who understand that it’s our responsibility to help those who are forgotten, or don’t matter, to find their voice and exercise their rights as citizens. This is not mere political activism. It’s self-actualizing growth and it’s rooted in Christian faith. If we believe we are created by a loving God who calls us to live our lives in faithful obedience; and if we believe we find our purpose in life through service to others; and if we believe the earth is the Lord’s and we are called tend to the earth with kindness and to preserve life by caring for all of God’s creation, then the struggle in which the Christians in the Philippines are engaged is the struggle to live out their understanding of Christian faith.

And, tragically, as they call for Life, they face death. I will be writing more on this in the future in Perspectives.

As I’ve said in an earlier posting, the words of Samuel Suuti of Uganda haunt me. “We are dying because of poverty.” And then he outlined his understanding of the faith of United Methodist Christians as holistic, bringing together spiritual growth with social concern. Ugandan United Methodists are expressive and exuberant. They speak freely and sincerely of faith. The Ugandans with whom I met have no hesitation about combining evangelism with social outreach, and they see no distinction between a spiritual gospel and a social gospel.

To be sure, there are profound differences between the Filipino context and the Ugandan. Yet, the struggle is remarkably similar. It’s a struggle to free people from the bondage of poverty, to empower them with information so they can have a voice in the decisions and policies that affect them, and to remember those who are forgotten: women, children, persons with handicapping conditions and the poor.

I don’t like using military words to characterize the struggle for justice but in this case it seems descriptive. They are at war with poverty. Their war should be our war.

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