One of the things that burdens me as a minister and as a Christian is the disdain that so many believers have about the poor in our world.
There is a pervasive mythology that people are poor because they want to be. They are lazy and listless; they spend their money on drugs and alcohol or the racetrack.
The poverty of the poor is a result of poor decisions and they deserve what they get – or don’t get.
And this is not a new way of thinking. In Jesus’ day, this notion was wrapped in theology. If you are good, God will bless you. If you are not good, God will curse you.
The resulting conclusion, obviously, is that if you are poor or in any other way disadvantaged, it must be because of some underlying sin for which God is punishing you.
Read the first 38 chapters of the book of Job if you would like a critique of this kind of thinking.
And sometimes it’s true. There are those whose poverty is the result of poor choices.
But it is not always true – and it may be that it is not the major cause of poverty. After all, what are the forces in this world that create jobs, that offer opportunities for adequate education or even something as tangentially related to poverty as health care?
Travel the state of Alabama. Take a look around. The schools in Hale County and the schools in Mountain Brook are not equitably funded or resourced. And why not?
This brings me back to my dilemma as a minister and a Christian. What can we do about this?
Obviously, one solution is to become overtly political, maybe even radical. Lobby loud and long for change. Work to bring justice to a state with a long history of injustice – constitutionally mandated injustice.
And there is a place for that. Jesus did that, though not all his followers are willing to acknowledge his radicalness.
Saying “Blessed are the poor” was a pretty radical thought in his day.
But there are more practical, less radical things that can be done.
For some time now, Christian groups in Alabama have involved themselves in something known as the Christian Women’s Job Corps.
Initially, the movement was the dream child of the Women’s Missionary Union of the Southern Baptist Convention in Birmingham, Ala. But in recent years, it has grown into an ecumenical movement involving Christians of nearly every stripe.
And the concept is so simple and so basic. Find women who are unemployed or underemployed and teach them the skills they need to change their circumstances.
This may involve basic computer skills, interpersonal communication or something as simple as how to answer questions during an interview.
Using an array of mentors, women learn how to dress for a job interview, how to prepare a resume or simply how to type.
Of course, underlying all this practicality, as important as these things are in the real world, is a deeper agenda: Giving people who may question their worth a sense of dignity and self-esteem.
We might call it a programmatic implementation of Jesus’ insight that the poor are blessed.
Across our state there have been hundreds who have participated in the Christian Women’s Job Corps program. And there have been mixed results – not all find jobs, not all finish, not all succeed.
But let me tell you what never succeeds. Telling a person that they have no worth, no value because they are poor – and that it is their own fault.
That never works, and never will. And Jesus knew that.