January 27, 2021

Let’s Discuss: Church and Social Justice Ministries


I encourage you to go and read Ed Stetzer’s piece at CT, “New Research: Protestants Increase Involvement in Social Justice.” Stetzer cites recent research that indicates that Protestant churches in the U.S. are having a growing awareness of and involvement in social justice ministries “aimed at caring for the forgotten, disenfranchised, and oppressed.”

I’d like to know what you think of his findings.

I’d also like to know if you have found this true in your experience with churches recently. Is there more of an emphasis on caring for the poor and marginalized? If so, how does this manifest itself? What do you see churches and Christian people actually doing in service to their needy neighbors?

Stetzer offers this theological conclusion to his piece, which I think is pretty good:

Jesus defined his ministry as being focused on the poor, the captive, the blind, the oppressed (see Luke 4:18). So we join him on mission not only when we proclaim the gospel but also when we confront injustice, touch human need, and seek to bring about changes that make at least one part of the world more like God intends it to be.

Because Christ’s reign has already been inaugurated though not completed, the church has a meaningful role within the “already, but not yet” time we call the present. More than just “having a role,” we sense inside us a God-given desire to serve the hurting, to restore the broken, and to minister to the marginalized with the tools and opportunities God has placed at our disposal.

Christians have always believed that they can’t preach Jesus and not care about justice or, conversely, that they can’t have true justice without pointing people toward Jesus the Just. The numbers seem to show that more churches are catching that mission.

Words are good, but what are you seeing on the ground?


  1. This resonates with me. In November 2009, the church I attend was doing very little to outreach. Thanksgiving baskets and Angel Tree kinds of things for about 20-30 needy families, but that was about it. We were pretty much a country club. Our church was also dying. Several of us formed a prayer group that began praying for our church, that the Lord would make us what He wanted us to be and help us be a beacon of light to the community.

    Soon thereafter, several of us felt led to start a coffee house ministry, a twice-a-week food pantry and a clothing exchange for elementary kids and teens. These still exist. Also, in the past year our youth group has had outings to the streets to provide sandwiches to the homeless.

    So if you’d asked me in November 2009 if my church was mobilized to help the poor in our community, I would’ve said No. If you asked me today, I’d say Yes.

    Interestingly, our church no longer feels like it’s dying.

  2. There’s a great school in my town, a private Christian school, that is focused on the underpriveliged, particularly the African-american community. The targeted families (who are largely unseen in city life) are charged a tuition based on a sliding scale, depending on family income. The rest of the costs are met through fundraising.

    The stat that got the attention of the school’s founder was that 40% of African-american kids weren’t passing their end of grade tests. By comparison, 9% of white kids were failing.

    No one else in the city really picked up on this fact before this school was founded. Since then, they have really gotten the word out that something is wrong, although the numbers haven’t really changed yet. It’s a very small school at the moment, but is doing a lot of good, both in the kids’ lives, and by making others aware of the race gap in test scores.

    It’s not specifically affiliated with a church, but several churches are quite involved in supporting it, including mine.

  3. As usual, what I see is cultural Marxism. We have — actually, we HAD — a beautiful park downtown, Friday night concerts for teens, Sunday afternoon concerts for the elderly, a great spot for downtown workers to enjoy a lunch. The homeless took over this park about 25 years ago. I’ve talked to many. Some are not even really homeless, they collect disability, live in the downtown flophouses, blow their monthly check the first week, then hang in the park, beg, and pretend to be homeless. Does anyone care that someone just walking downtown has to be assaulted by people who won’t bathe or work, who lie to the government, and who throw obscenities at any young woman who walks by, or at anyone who won’t submit to the blackmail?

    Nope. The churches trip over themselves “mobilizing” to help “the poor.” No real missionaries doing any real missions. Just giving to help a bunch of bums — who’s ambition is nothing beyond getting high or drunk today — destroy our once-wonderful downtown. They are the most well-fed, over-evangelized bunch of not-so-homeless people in America. They must be.

    • Vega Magnus says

      So because there are some con artist “homeless” people in the world we should not help the poor?

      • I think–I hope–what he is saying is that the help must be more thoughtful. Throwing sandwiches at people sometimes it not as helpful as it may feel. There may be more constructive ways to help, especially if the primary problem is substance abuse or behavioral problems rather than a lack of resources to pay rent.

      • Vega Magnus says

        And if you aren’t comfortable with potentially getting scammed, there are plenty of other ways to help the poor besides giving an alleged homeless man a burger or something. I’m concerned by some of the reactions I’ve seen here. Yes, of course there are people out there who are just trying to con you out of our money, but that is where discretion and wisdom comes in. It shouldn’t mean that we completely disregard the poor altogether because some might be trying to trick us.

    • Do you by any chance live in Portland? Heh.

      I am the first to defend the poor but there are quite a few here who are not poor, but lifestyle vagrants. I say this not as a stereotype but as a matter of well-known research. For instance, kids from middle class homes who follow the “Rainbow Family” and are voluntarily homeless. Their life, their choice, except when people from those groups do drugs and beat up old men on the street, which has been a problem lately.

      It’s not compassionate to enable people to live in their own filth. If we are going to help them, yes, let’s HELP them–starting with an intervention and rehab for many.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Run into enough “lifestyle vagrants” (in SF fandom we call them “Those who float with no visible means of support”) and you start worshipping Ayn Rand as your Personal LORD and Savior.

        • God forbid, HUG!

          The key is to be able to recognize that not everyone sitting on the streetcorner has the same story, and use some prudence, without becoming cold-hearted. It’s admittedly easier said than done, but it’s necesssary.

          Another heartbreaking local story–a cautionary tale, if you will–involved a serial rapist who was homeless and hanging out at a church’s overnight program. No one knew who he was. A young woman was suckered in by his story and let him stay in her home–against policy, of course. Well, he raped and murdered her. There has to be some good sense at work, some willingness to admit that many homeless are not innocent victims but profoundly screwed up men who can’t find someone to put up with their crap for a very, very good reason.

          We have to find a sensible middle way, neither trusting too much nor shutting everyone out.

          • I once met an ex-homeless man who said that anyone who was homeless was homeless because they wanted to be homeless. Admittedly this was in France where there is a substantial social ‘safety net’.

            Even in Lausanne (Switzerland) there was an ‘old’ lady who died of cold sleeping in a public toilet. She had been offered (and had refused) a place to stay. Which doesn’t mean she wasn’t screwed up or worthy of compassion, but just shows that sometimes (often) it is more complicated than ‘nobody caring’.

    • Clark, do you or anyone else in the Christian community have any ideas about how to address this? “Helping the poor” does not just mean giving handouts, and “social justice” means just dealings with everyone in our community. I don’t see that an effort to reclaim the park while helping those who are now “taking it over” to find other, more productive things to do goes against social justice but rather would promote it. Perhaps you or someone else needs to challenge the church to a bigger vision of social justice that would serve the common good of all.

    • I’m wondering if this happens in part because we who are not destitute often don’t have relationships with those who either are or pretend to be – we don’t know who we are trying to help so it ends up being a mixed bag in the end. ?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        The litmus test I had to use was “If they have never hit me up for money, then I’m willing to support them in hard times.”

        I’m currently helping out one to three friends who have fallen on hard times.

        (And in Fandom, you get a lot of Big Name Fans who “float with no visible means of support”. They’re also usually the biggest Net Presences. I think The Onion had a recent spoof interview with one they called “a Free Spirit who is Financially Dependent on others”.)

      • Yes, this is it I believe. The first step is not finding ways to meet needs, but going among them. Discovering their stories, building trust, finding ways to involve them in the community and build relationships. Once this starts to happen, it becomes apparent what the true needs are, and they become more likely to be connected in a life-sustaining way.

    • Christiane says

      Hi CLARK,

      perhaps the solution to your concern is for people trying to help the (?) homeless to actually befriend them, and get to know them?

      I agree with others that ‘throwing sandwiches’ at the poor and helping them ‘from a distance’ is not productive. But for the timid, the squeamish, the fearful . . . it may be the only way they can reach out to modern lepers and untouchables.

      Christianity is not a religion for the faint of heart. In order to be effective, people DO have to leave their comfort zones and ‘go forth’ into the world, with all that implies, and reach out to the marginalized. I remember spending the night in the emergency room of our main hospital where my father was waiting to be admitted, and seeing a minister with a Scottish accent spend time listening to a man that the police had brought in who was obviously mentally disturbed . . .

      the minister was PRESENT to that poor man with such compassion and patience . . . he spent several hours with the man who was strapped to a gurney in the overcrowded hallway of the ER, standing there at a late hour of the night just being present to the man, and did not leave him until some medications that had been given for sedation took effect, and the poor man finally slept.

      I don’t know WHAT denomination that minister belonged to, because in those circumstances, it didn’t matter.
      What mattered was that for a time, someone came along side one of the more fragile people in our city and was kind to him.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > As usual, what I see is cultural Marxism.

      I suggest you go back and re-read Marx & Engels. Nothing you talk about here appears to have anything to do with Marxism. I is just a poorly managed space and misguided charity; it has nothing to do with Marxism. There is nothing like hand-out ‘charity’ in Marx.

      >The churches trip over themselves “mobilizing” to help “the poor.”

      The people you describe are also not a fair depiction of the “the poor”. Most of the poor have homes [perhaps dreadful ones], and most of the poor have jobs. “the poor” are not sleeping on park benches. That is the signature of a society that does not want to deal with issues of mental illness and addiction.

      • For the past two-and-a-half years I have done carpentry repairs for a property management company whose tenants are largely “the poor”: modest income, low income or no income (except of course for subsidies, etc.). And what you’re describing is “not a fair depiction of the poor,” either, if my experience means anything.

        I am exposed eight hours a day, five days a week to their lifestyles, living conditions, their attitudes. You could say I have (almost literally) had my nose rubbed in it. Unless I am faced with a significant statistical anomaly–and I doubt that because we maintain several hundred properties–your statement “most of the poor have jobs” is incredibly inaccurate.

        Among our tenants, not only do most of the poor not have jobs, they have little to no interest in obtaining one. There is a large food processing plant probably two minutes’ walk from our shop/warehouse, right in the middle of many of our properties, that has a 4′ x 8′ plywood sign beside its entrance soliciting employment applications.

        Yet I see the same persons every day walking up and down the street staring at their smartphones, cadging rides or cigarettes or sitting on porches nursing tall boys from brown paper bags. I don’t have links handy, but you can Google “making $15/hour on welfare” and discover that in 13 states an enterprising poor person–there’s a loaded phrase for you–can acquire a portfolio of benefits and subsidies equivalent to that hourly wage.

        Is this a “social justice” issue? Sure. It affects all of us (society, hence “social”) and it’s certainly unjust that any working person is forced to support someone who will not lift a finger to take care of themselves. People sometimes talk about “afflicting the comfortable,” by which they usually mean rich businessmen, but I think it’s reasonable to say that someone who makes $15/hour doing nothing could get pretty comfortable with that arrangement (especially when it’s double the minimum wage).

        How many ministries do you know who would “afflict” this segment of society by “preaching prophetically” that it is basically stealing and therefore a sin to live this way? Not bloody likely. Not when we have atrocious misnomers like “social justice,” which has to be among one of the most pretentious, self-congratulatory phrases ever to issue from the mind (or keyboard) of man.

        It’s not my intention to offend anyone, but for many of the commenters on this post “the poor” are obviously an abstraction, not something they have much experience with. I’m not condemning anyone for that, just pointing out that you can tell by the way people talk whether or not they are truly familiar with their subject.

        There needs to be a discussion of ministering to “the poor” examining all aspects, not just the negatives I’ve highlighted. But it’s becoming harder because “the poor” are a touchy subject for tender religious consciences and therefore the discussion tends toward pious platitudes, cant, and persons saying what’s expected of them (i.e., “to be seen of men” in biblical terms) rather than examine the issues honestly and candidly. One of my pet peeves is seeing bloggers play “‘the poor’ card” the way “the race card” has been played, thereby preempting real debate and discussion.

        As for “cultural Marxism,” which was obviously shorthand for wealth redistribution, this is a pointless and pedantic distinction. Stalinist states like the former Soviet Union or North Korea weren’t predicted in Marx, either, but they are a practical outgrowth of his philosophy.

        • Dave, what are the churches in that area doing to address the concerns you raise? Are there Christian ministries that are engaged with these people? Are there Christian neighbors who live among the people you describe? Do they have any Christian influences around them? Is anyone encouraging them to take personal responsibility? Have you yourself talked with any of these people on this level?

          My understanding of social justice is that it means just living and dealing among all people. The reason discussions about it are so often slanted toward “the rich” is that they are the ones who have the power and they set up and maintain the structures in which we all live. But I agree with you that justice for all also mean just dealings by all.

          This is a complex matter. Thanks for contributing another angle on the discussion. But I’d be careful about dissing good phrases like social justice or accusing others of not knowing what they are talking about. That doesn’t get us anywhere.

          • I’d be careful of accusing someone of saying others don’t know what they’re talking about, which is not what I said.

            In fact, your questions about what churches are doing, etc. just serve to illustrate how persons talk about subjects like “the poor” from a distance. It’s a basic rule of writing to write about what we know (i.e., firsthand experience), not what we think we know or recycling conventional wisdom.

            As for “social justice,” it’s a sloppy, imprecise, catchall phrase that doesn’t get us anywhere, either.

            • Actually, “social justice” is a clarification of what the Bible says hundreds of times when it speaks of “righteousness.” The word “social” was added to specify that righteousness is not just a matter of personal integrity but of just dealings with others in our communities and society. Micah 6:8 makes clear that it is part of what the Lord requires of his people. The prophets, in particular, list a multitude of specific examples of what it looks like. I don’t find it unclear or unhelpful at all.

    • Didn’t some guy from Bethlehem say something about how people shouldn’t feed the poor because of Marxism?

  4. The trend I am seeing in my area is that Catholics and some of the larger Evangelical groups do a lot of caring for the poor. St. Vincent de Paul society, etc, soup kitchens, aid to poor pregnant women, outreach to human trafficking victims…very hands on and dealing with people in immediate, severe need.

    There’s some help for the poor from mainline/liberal Protestants, but they have been tending to re-define “social justice” in terms that are more palatable for their socially elite membership base. So, tending a community garden and donating the meager produce to a home for the elderly, for instance, as one of the more hands-on examples. But more often, completely cutting the poor and needy out of the picture and focusing on global warming/environmental crusades, and gay marriage. A TON of capital and time is getting poured into those two things in particular.

    The church I go to has baskets up front to collect food for the food bank. They are always empty or nearly empty, except a week or two in Advent. Always. But we think ourselves social justice champions because people sign petitions in favor of gay marriage, and they are debating how to be more “green” and wringing their hands a lot about global warming. I say wringing their hands because that’s all it is–feeling bad, not even doing anything. Not even buying a recycling bin.

    This is what I see a lot in the liberal Protestant churches. Social justice has been redefined to talk about things of interest to the upper middle class–sexual liberation, the environment, voting a certain way in elections, disapproving of the right positions and politicians. The poor have been forgotten because the poor are messy and hard to deal with. They don’t fit with the vision that the leaders have for their congregations, they don’t “contribute,” and they can be uncomfortably “conservative” or traditionalist at times. Helping pregnant women smacks of disapproving of abortion. Helping trafficking victims implies a disapproval of sexual liberation. Helping families has been considered “uninclusive” by some in my church because it makes gays feel self-conscious or something. (?? I don’t get it, that’s just what they say.) There’s an excuse for everything except activities that are comfortable for the upper middle class lefties.

    It’s a social club. I can’t take it anymore.

    • You’ve well-described one of the bypaths that progressive Christianity can take. The poor theological understanding that undergirds it includes a lack of real understanding of the difference between law and gospel and the utter practicality and down-to-earth nature of the command to “love your neighbor.”

      Even if those macro-issues are important, and in some cases I think they are, we would do much more good focusing on the way they might be actually addressed in our own communities rather than as “causes.”

      • Exactly, thank you. It seems like they won’t address any problem except as a third-degree abstraction. And even questioning “ok, I get that this is a big picture problem but can we talk for a minute about what we can do on our local, parish level about it?” is ironically seen as being “unsupportive” of the great moral crusade at hand.

        And I have a real problem with the fact that for instance, me being pro-life is something I have to carefully hide because even the remotest suggestion of support for women with unexpected pregnancies is now seen as an abstract statement or stance rather than practical being a “little Christ” to my neighbor. I wanted to have our Sunday school kids help collect supplies for poor pregnant women this year at Advent, remembering the Virgin afraid in the cold, and it was seen as some kind of embarrassing faux pas. Diapers, apparently, are an “anti-choice” political statement. When everything is filtered through this abstract politics like that, this is the kind of cold absurdities that result.

        Meanwhile, I just remember being a poor mother of a newborn and getting help from Catholic Charities, and I wanted to give back…sheesh.

        • This all makes me very sad that we would sacrifice existing, living children and mothers in the name of not seeming ‘pro-life’.
          I used to think I was more pro-choice, then I had a baby.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          When everything is filtered through this abstract politics like that, this is the kind of cold absurdities that result.

          Just look at the history of the Soviet Union and its imitators. (Preferably not a history written by a Soviet System fanboy.)

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I say wringing their hands because that’s all it is–feeling bad, not even doing anything. Not even buying a recycling bin.

      I call that “Marinating (and/or another M-ing) in Oh-So-Delicious Angst Angst Angst.”

      Encountering it makes me think I’m living in a South Park episode.

      • HUG you would enjoy the show Portlandia. As a native, I have to say it’s less parody and more a funny yet accurate documentary.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          More likely after watching it I’d just have to choke the stupid out of somebody. Anybody.

          I’m the guy who was watching Babylon-5 while everyone else at work were swooning and gushing over Seinfeld. If I want to encounter selfish stupidity, I can find it easy enough IRL; why would I want to watch a show all about it?

    • Richard Hershberger says

      I live in a semi-exurban semi-rural county. There is a very good local charity that provides basics like foodstuffs, clothing, and school supplies. A while back there was an article about it in the local paper, which included where its financial and volunteer support comes from: the Catholics and the mainline Protestants. There was no sign of the rather substantial Evangelical Protestant community. It is possible that they are doing other charity works, but if so they have escaped my attention the past ten years living here.

      My own church is your classic old urban mainline Protestant church, next door to city hall in a major city. We pass out sack lunches every weekday, entirely with volunteer labor and financial donations, most of it internal, from which we subtract zero overhead. This ministry began much smaller, then some years ago a businessman was visiting the church and saw lunches being passed out. He immediately offered a substantial monthly donation to expand the ministry. He was trying to buy our parking lot. In the end we decided not to sell. We wondered if the donations would disappear at that point, but they continued on for several years. The guy is a mensch. He had to stop when the economy went south, and he was very apologetic about it. We worried whether we would be able to continue, but the money has always appeared from somewhere or other.

      “This is what I see a lot in the liberal Protestant churches. Social justice has been redefined to talk about things of interest to the upper middle class–sexual liberation, the environment, voting a certain way in elections, disapproving of the right positions and politicians.”

      And this is different from Evangelical Protestants and Catholics how? For that matter, I have spent nearly my entire life in what an Evangelical Protestant would consider a liberal church. I have never once had anyone tell me how to vote. It is rare to hear even an oblique reference to current politics from the pulpit.

      “The poor have been forgotten because the poor are messy and hard to deal with. They don’t fit with the vision that the leaders have for their congregations, they don’t “contribute,” and they can be uncomfortably “conservative” or traditionalist at times. Helping pregnant women smacks of disapproving of abortion. Helping trafficking victims implies a disapproval of sexual liberation.”

      What you describe here is entirely foreign to my experience.

      The critique I have is that as a mostly white, mostly middle class church in an urban area we tend to view the surrounding population as others needing help. We also run a German language school, and have for about a century now. Most of the people who attend are not church members, but they are definitely seen as a pool of potential members. The people lining up for sack lunches? Not so much. The members drawn from that group is not zero, but it isn’t much higher than zero. This is a problem, and I don’t know the solution. Even with the best of intentions, the cultural barriers are high. Sitting through an annual congregational meeting where a little old German lady challenges the budget line item by line item takes a lot of fortitude even for those of us acculturated to the ritual.

  5. Only have time for a quick post, but my recent (18 month old) experience at my current parish echoes this post: there are over a dozen initiatives to the inner city (and I mean the some of toughest parts of KC Ks. and KC Mo.) with more planned. Some of these are “staff” run and equipped, but many of the largest ones are NOT. hmmmmmm I’m gearing up to help paint at a women’s shelter this month at the request of a retired navy IT guy who has urban ministry in his DNA. My point: many of the most successful and/or flourishing initiatives are partnerships with existing mininstries, and seem to be very grass roots driven. My retired navy friend did not need, or ask for, special dispensation to pour himself into this opportunity. He (and his wife) just jumped in. Or so it seems to me.

    A sidenote: It’s interesting to me that even though we do use dollars to keep up our current building, and do some upgrades (cosmetically), we do NOT have a building expansion plan that I know of, and would rather see the money go toward these kinds of initiatives, among others. There is not a “grow this building first” kind of mind set. I’m thrilled with those kinds of values, I’ve lived thru something else and don’t care for it.

  6. I recently joined a ministry working particularly with the poor, migrant workers, inmates, and people in recovery in the area, so my church has definitely being doing this for years as a focus. I guess it is already a social-justice ministry, with a community and recovery focus.

    But I do think a lot more evangelical churches are seeing the need to reach out to the poor in their area, or the nearest major city. Also, a lot of poverty is moving to the suburbs, closer to where a lot of the churches are.

    My concern remains that doing anything, and responding out of only a felt need, can sometimes be worse than doing nothing. I still see little done among ministries in my area to really get to the roots of poverty, either on an individual or systematic level. Food banks, soup kitchens and clothing closets do little more than reinforce poverty by and large. I run into this tension all the time, between doing for, doing with and empowering a community and individuals to work for solutions together. (Yeah, I’m a fan of When Helping Hurts and Lupton’s Toxic Charity).

  7. David Cornwell says

    First, yes some of the the “poor” we can see cheat, lie, steal, and get drunk. But our corporate leaders and bankers do the same stuff. And the boozers we have in congress, both parties it seems.

    Anyway, the church I attend:

    First, the church of which I’m a member is located in the central city area of a medium size mid-western US city with a population of 255,000. Even when Marge and I moved to a rural area a few years ago, this is one of the reasons we decided to keep our membership and attendance at this church. I like the central city and believe that the church abandonment of this area has been a huge problem. Now this area of our city is making a big comeback, with much new building and development, and we are right in the middle of it.

    So being where we are located, we (the church) have attempted to reach out to the poor and disadvantaged of our city. First we are next door to a service located in an older type downtown home. I think the building is owned by our church, but this may be wrong. We do not operate it, but contribute in many ways to its operation. It is a service with a mission to homeless middle aged, mentally ill women. Each resident volunteers at least three days a week as a means of giving back to the community that supports their program. Some attend our worship services and other functions. We make every attempt to relate to them personally.

    Next we are one of the main city contributors to the Interfaith Hospitality Network. This ministry provides temporary shelter to homeless families. For several years the church had beds in an area of the building, and families would be housed and fed in our facility for 30 days. We were responsible for evening meals. Now the organization has moved to a new center and can provide services to 40 clients without moving them each month. We are still responsible for evening meals, fellowship, and maybe some programming. A fairly long list of churches assist in this one way or another. These supporting churches range from conservative to liberal, with many shades of doctrine represented.

    We also support and are actively involved in a central city mission, that began as a summer outreach to youth back in 1968. Lutheran and Presbyterian downtown churches were the founders of this ministry. Our church joined it later. It has expanded through the years to include many services, beyond youth, and year round, including a food bank.

    We are very active partners with a rural church in assisting the Food Resource Bank. This is a program that we end each year when the rural church invites us to a harvest celebration, and to join them in worship and day of picnic and fun.

    There is more, such as support for the Matthew 25 clinic downtown. This is a full time clinic offering almost free services to those who are without insurance and cannot receive medicaid or medicare. Some are homeless. All are low income, but most have jobs. It is open 50 hours per week, and sees 115 patients per day. The core staff is paid, but without volunteers it could not operate. A Catholic priest involved in a group studying the book of Matthew started to see the need. The church he served led the way. Here is a quote from the web site: “A small prayer group that had been studying the Matthew scriptures in the summer of 1975 felt a need to live the Word and find some way to apply those words to our lives… The Holy Spirit directed us.” One of my closest friends was medical director of this service for several years. The priest said nothing about Marx, but who knows?

    Something I’ve noticed about this kind of service and work. Get to know these people and in the process you get less judgemental. And realize just how easily it could be ME. In fact it is us. We are derelict, lost in our sins, without hope, without merit. It is only grace of Christ that comes to our rescue. I really don’t see this as conservative, liberal, or progressive. It’s just carrying out the commandment of Christ.

    • David Cornwell says

      Quick amendment:

      The reason programs like this are successful, is that they are “programs.” They have been defined over time, with a reason for being, defined purpose, and procedures that give them a chance of working. They are directed to a portion of those with need, such as medical, mental health, hunger, homelessness, etc. Procedures keep them on track and help them work. Of course to say that everything always works out the way we would like, or the way that God would like would be false. But most of these programs have stood the test of time, have broad church support, and many times have support beyond the church, out into the community. Terms like “liberal” and “conservative” or political considerations rarely come into play. Sometimes they do, of course especially criticism from the far right.

    • First, yes some of the the “poor” we can see cheat, lie, steal, and get drunk. But our corporate leaders and bankers do the same stuff. And the boozers we have in congress, both parties it seems.
      But it seems, historically, as if the general American concern is not so much your sins as it is your ability to support them. Sure, the financially stable and wealthy have all the same sins as the poor, but they can afford to do so. I don’t think this is a very healthy perspective, but it does seem to be normative.

      • David Cornwell says

        You have a point. And the money buys a kind of salvation along with it. The sins of the wealthy are more or less excused, because they can make to the front page of the WSJ and be celebrated. And maybe a sidebar about how they have been under investigation for securities fraud for 3 years, but so far nothing has happened.

        All the while the other guy is panhandling in the parking lot and maybe gets hauled in by the police. And his occupation is fairly straightforward and honest in comparison. I mean we all know they just made up a whopper of a lie, but he is very annoying.

  8. My comments are somewhat related to the original post, but veer off on another matter a bit.

    Obviously, there are biblical passages asking believers to care for the poor, orphans, and widows. So Christians sometimes help the poor, orphans, and widows. That’s all good.

    Some Christians are really great at helping their pet, niche groups, such as homeless crack addicts, or sex workers, or orphans, but they are awful at helping fellow Christians who are hurting.

    It seems rather hypocritical to me for Christians to work up tears of pity, or funding, for orphans and such when in my experience, they tend to brush off a fellow brother or sister in Christ who is undergoing a health problem, recent divorce, depression, death in the family, unemployment, or whatever.

    If you are a homeless crack addict, most Christians will give you a blanket or a sandwich, which is great, but that same Christian will give another Christian merely a platitude or a “dressing down” if he or she is going through a tough time and comes to them for any kind of help or support.

    I went to one church (Southern Baptist) where the entire church was behind a local food bank and a homeless shelter. Even when the economy went south the preacher said the church’s giving to the local food bank etc would not go down. They also gave away clothing at the food bank (it was a mix of a food place plus clothing and other items people might need).

    One of the senior ladies in my class at that church seemed quite proud of herself for her once a month volunteer stint at a local woman’s shelter (for homeless/abused women). She would literally shed a tear when talking to us in class about those women and how hard they had life (I volunteered there a few times myself).

    However, this same lady would either offer me shallow, flippant religious platitudes in a chipper voice when I told her of my recent loss (death in the family), or, after getting to know me better, she began ripping on me, telling me that the abused women in the shelter have life much worse than me.

    This is one thing of a few that has caused me to really question the Christian faith. I’m seeing Christians who are very selective in when and to whom they exercise care and compassion.

    If you are a crack addicted prostitute, my goodness, Christians will shower love and compassion all over you and pay your rent and buy you food and so on.

    But goodness help you if you are an every day, middle class, Christian ‘Jane Doe’ whose going through a rough patch in life, you will get nothing but condemnation, unwanted advice, or cliches from 95% of Christians.

    Christians are supposed to help other Christians first (Galatians 6:10) but they frequently overlook or shun other Christians in need to go ministering to the un-saved, or the favored niche groups (sex workers, orphans, etc).

    • I wonder if the “crack addicted prostitutes” experience the attention they receive as being showered with love and compassion, generally speaking.

      I am sure some do experience it that way. I am also sure that many do not.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      This is one thing of a few that has caused me to really question the Christian faith. I’m seeing Christians who are very selective in when and to whom they exercise care and compassion.

      If you are a crack addicted prostitute, my goodness, Christians will shower love and compassion all over you and pay your rent and buy you food and so on.

      But goodness help you if you are an every day, middle class, Christian ‘Jane Doe’ whose going through a rough patch in life, you will get nothing but condemnation, unwanted advice, or cliches from 95% of Christians.

      That’s another thing that can get you chanting a mantra of “A equals A!” and “Who Is John Galt?”

    • “Some Christians are really great at helping their pet, niche groups, such as homeless crack addicts, or sex workers, or orphans, but they are awful at helping fellow Christians who are hurting.”

      I agree with your sentiment, but these shouldn’t be two different groups of people. The down and outers you mention ought to BE the “fellow Christians” who are hurting. Or at least one example of them. There shouldn’t be a choice here- “help your church-going friends or help the poor.” There ought to be quite a bit of overlap there.

  9. One of the vital ministries of the downtown churches in Orlando, Florida, is helping the homeless and others obtain personal identification. This program is called IDignity (idignity.org) and was started by a member of one of the downtown churches.
    In response to a previous post , I am an “every day, middle class, Christian” who has been helped in multiple ways by multiple Christian brothers and sisters in my life.

  10. The problem with “mobilizing” our churches for acts of charity is that all too frequently the “mobilization” serves more as a vehicle to enhance our own reputations and make ourselves look good in the eyes of others. The tools of mobilization are too often guilt and shame and coercive peer pressure. We help “those who are less fortunate” (i.e., people not like us), without ever seeing that the difference between the dirtiest, smelliest homeless con man crack addict and ourselves is only outward and cosmetic: our hearts are the same — corrupt, fallen, human. This, I think, is part of what Daisy was trying to get at above: the poor and broken-hearted are all around us, sometimes sitting next to us in the pew, not only sleeping in parks and homeless shelters. Both are our neighbors, and both need love.

    The answer to the question “is your church doing enough for the poor?” Is always “no” — no church, no human agency can. We respond as true neighbors as God gives us the gift to do so: sometimes as a leader of some large, well organized ministry of outreach, sometimes simply as one who gives a man on the street corner a dollar.

    • Spot on, John G..

      And quite often these concerns become the ultimate concern and overshadow the real ultimate purpose of the church and Christians..that being to speak the gospel to the world.

      Caring for the poor is great. And of course we ought do it. But it is, should be, the concern of ALL people…not just Christians.

    • While I agree with all of what you said, John G., our motives are never totally pure (at least I know mine aren’t , or even within shouting distance of that). We are insecure and vain and want to be seen in the best light…. I say just admit that and go ahead and mobilize knowing that. Learn to laugh at ourselves and how pompous we can be, but roll up our sleeves, mixed motives and all, and freaking do something.

      From what I’ve seen, the urban ministries are very grateful, and need the help, even if the clientel may, or may not, say THANKS. It’s still work that needs to be done, by broken vessels like ourselves.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Some Spiritual Abuse blogs have pointed out that “Are your motives Totally Pure? Are my motives Totally Pure?” are at the very least a Christianese form of Analysis Paralysis.

        At worst, “Are YOUR motives…?” can be and have been used as another weapon in the Spiritual Abuser’s arsenal, a form of gaslighting blame shift from the Spiritual Abuser onto the abusee. (Both Wartburg Watch and Spiritual Sounding Board have described the latter in use to silence whistleblowers in recent Evangelical pedophilia coverup scandals.)

  11. “Can we fix you?”

    That’s the crux of the problem, and I think it relates equally well to the ‘poor’ and to the ‘overlooked’ (that Daisy mentions).

    I don’t think it’s a specifically Christian thing, probably more our Western mentality. But generally, if you have a short-term, ‘fixable’ problem, you will have people flocking around to help fix you. If you have a long-term, apparently un-fixable problem, you’ll find a lot of that support dropping away, losing interest, and probably accusing you have not having enough faith.

    Thinks: can this be fixed? 🙂

    • Spot on. The fix-it emphasis really devalues the quality of just “being near” someone, unless there’s a visible, practical support effort. I’m convinced this issue primarily demands going among the poor more than helping their practical needs. Creating a culture where it is expected that they will actually BE there, and the middle/upper class will be allowed to see them, and not merely treat them as a project.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Especially when the problem is ALWAYS fixed by the end of the 30-minute episode (22 minutes w/o commercials).

        And for “treating them like a project”, check out the classic South Park episode “Conjoined Fetus Lady”, where the school nurse’s congenital deformity (a form of incomplete twinning) becomes the latest project for the town’s Concerned and Compassionate Activist. Says it all.

  12. Anonymously Yours says

    My mother snookered me into helping her out at the food bank. She wanted me to “see what they do there” when, really, she just wanted me to drive the car and help deliver bags of food to a public school. I never would have gotten involved, except she “volunteered” me. I never have met any of the children who receive the food. I probably never will.

    “For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward” (Mark 9:41).

    Please. If I ever offered a public schoolchild food from the local food bank and said to that child, “I offer you this food in the name of Jesus Christ” or “I offer you this food because you belong to Christ”, I would be told, both by the food bank and the school, that my services no longer would be needed.

    Therein lies the problem. The Gospel is not presented to the children. For all they know, Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny is leaving bags of food for them.

    • Anonymously Yours says

      I point this scenario out because plenty of Christians in my area volunteer at this food bank out of a sense of Christian service.

    • “I never have met any of the children who receive the food. I probably never will.”

      This is a much greater problem than the absence of a spoken Gospel in the act of giving out the food. The goal ought to be a well-rounded support of poor children, which ultimately would mean the church becoming a part of their community. Not merely the people who man the donation booths.

      At that point, and it may take considerable time to build an integrated culture between church and poor, THEN you can see how there will be more and greater opportunities to make the Christ story known. But there doesn’t need to be this frantic complaint you often hear from over-evangelistic types “Well we’re meet their PHYSICAL needs but what about their SPIRITUAL needs?!”

      The material support of those who show up is a spiritual discipline. It leads to a spiritual support network. It IS spritual. But that can never happen if the church “organs” that supply manpower to the justice effort are simply cogs in a machine, never being expected to meet, let alone deeply know, those in need of justice.

    • Indeed, Jesus didn’t seem to come to solve the poverty problem; he came to proclaim good news to the poor. (Check that: he came to solve a DIFFERENT kind of poverty problem…LOL.)

      Luke 4:18 – “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor…”

      Luke 7:22 – “…Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight…and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Therein lies the problem. The Gospel is not presented to the children. For all they know, Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny is leaving bags of food for them.

      So you flip one-eighty and hand out Gospel tracts instead of food? (You know someone’s going to react that way; Communism begets Objectivism.)

  13. Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

    I’m a volunteer priest at an Anglican church in a relatively affluent city that’s between San Antonio and Austin. I also often help out at a smaller parish that’s in a relatively poor part of San Antonio. Both are involved with helping the poor in different ways, based on their respective situations.

    My own parish was the lead church in bring the “Family Promise” ministry to our town, and is the primary host church for the ministry. I’m not personally that involved with this ministry, but its purpose is summed up in its mission statement: “To mobilize the faith community to help low-income families achieve and sustain independence.” One of the things that was controversial when it first was being proposed was that it doesn’t do a “theology check” or whatever on churches that volunteer facilities and staff. For example, we’ve got Mormons involved locally. At first, many of the Evangelicals were very apprehensive about joining up with folks who are not within historic Christian orthodoxy for this, but our Rector made the case that helping the poor was a Gospel mandate, and that this was a good hands-on way for that to happen, regardless of whether we agree with the other folks involved. When we came on board, a lot of the other Evangelical churches did as well, because they trust Fr. Chuck and they trust us.

    We’ve got a few other local things we’re involved in, but we’re probably a lot more involved internationally, through some stuff that our bishop does. He’s got some really neat ideas about not making a sacred/secular dichotomy with the Church’s mission. To that end, we’ve been helping him build wells all over Kenya, and helping him empower Kenyan churches to empower their villagers economically. We also send out a lot of missionaries who do more than just preach. One guy mostly goes around using his decades and decades of mechanical experience to fix up busted equipment (farm stuff, trucks, cars, etc) and teach locals to do the same. Another guy is in the really, really dangerous parts of Islamic-controlled North Africa bringing the Gospel, but also building schools, orphanages, and whatnot, and equipping the local Christians to run them.

    The other parish that I mentioned does several things as well, but the one that’s most visible is the weekly food pantry ministry that is open all day Saturdays and helps a lot of down-and-out families in the area. They’re finding that in recent months there’s been more and more demand for their services as things have gotten rougher in that part of town. They’ve been teaching their parishioners how to think and shop with this service in mind. E.g. if the local grocery store offers a buy-X-get-Y-and-Z deal go for it, even if you only want one of the three things in the deal, and give the other two to the food pantry. Or which foods are cheap and keep so that you can get extras for the food pantry.

    Maybe this comes from our Mainline and Historic heritages, but I’ve never seen a parish in my denomination that wasn’t trying to do SOMETHING for the poor.

  14. @Isaac: Is that “Fr. Chuck” one Chuck Collins ?? have a friend in the San Antonio area who knows an anglican Fr.Chuck Collins….. just wondering

  15. Christiane says

    just a thought . . . we thank God for the food we eat and we say ‘grace’ . . . so we acknowledge the source of all that we have is God

    should be a little easier for us to share what He gave us with those He places in front of us who are in need, you would think (?)

    politics is at the heart of the ‘gospel of greed’ these days, not the Word of the Lord

  16. Final Anonymous says

    Here was the approach of a mainline but evangelical wanna-be megachurch of which I am acquainted.

    99% of “service” involved signing up for in-church activities, then being vetted by ministry leaders for acceptance or not (fraternity rush, anyone? I digress).

    Admittedly, some small groups and the youth group serve regularly in various off-site ministries, in an off-the-record sort of way, and a few are commendably committed to them.

    But their big social justice work involves a Service Weekend or Service Sunday, in which church members sign up for 1 or more hours work with various community ministries. Everyone gets a special Service Sunday t-shirt. Service Sunday leaders get a special, _different color_ Service Sunday t-shirt. Newspaper ads are bought, signs are posted, the community (and press) are well-warned by the big day. Lots of pictures are (posed) taken and the local news is invited to film the cutest kids and popular ministry leaders painting houses and playing with inner-city kids in their Service Sunday t-shirts. Afterwards, everyone heads back to church for a big celebration and news by-the-number of how much serving they did that day.

    And for the rest of the year, those pictures and ministries are featured on the website and in all the promotional materials of the church as examples of their commitment to social justice and service.

    I really hope that’s not the approach of the churches who answered “yes” in the survey.

  17. Anonymously Yours says

    If anyone is still reading these comments, I suppose my religio-political objections can be stated like this:

    If we accept by faith that Jesus said the poor will always be with us, and that this means no amount of our efforts will eliminate poverty, then do we want an earthly government dictating to us to whom our money should be given (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, WIC, temporary assistance to needy families, public schooling, the national lunch program, and any other manner of welfare program)?

    I say, No, the government should not tell us to whom our charity should be directed.

    • Jesus’ saying does not mean “no amount of our efforts will eliminate poverty.” That is a poor reading of the text.

      His point in context is that his disciples will have other occasions to serve the poor, but on this occasion — right before the unique event of his death and resurrection — it was appropriate for the woman to anoint him for burial. In no way does that verse envision helping the poor as a hopeless task.

      I also think you have the whole idea of government wrong. The “government” is not an entity separate from the American people. The government is the way we order our common life — of the people, by the people, for the people. The government does not dictate to whom our money should be given. We elect representatives that we believe will represent the proper priorities. That’s what elections are for. If you don’t want your tax money spent on welfare programs, get involved and change things. As for me, I would rather have my tax money go for helping people rather than building bombs.

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