Getting at the root of poverty is a key. More webinars are upcoming
July 21, 2023
Why are people poor in your area? How has poverty touched your life? Your community? Your faith community?
More than 150 people joined a recent Matthew 25 webinar on eradicating systemic poverty, which organizers called “Where Does Jesus Stand? Exploring Five Spiritual Practices to End Poverty.” The webinar explored these and more questions and invited participants to mull them further in small groups near the end of their time together.
Laura VanDale, hunger action advocate for the Presbytery of the Western Reserve, led those gathered in saying five assertions about systemic poverty:
We repent that Christians have misunderstood or been misled by biblical passages taken out of context or by theological interests that distort the gospel’s original intention.
We repent that the church has used Scripture to uphold systems that perpetuate oppression and poverty.
We do not believe that “the poor will always be with us” indicates that poverty is inevitable or God’s will.
We do not believe in a prosperity gospel where God blesses faithful people with economic riches or condemns unfaithful people to poverty.
Jesus Christ taught us to care for the vulnerable, to be a good neighbor and to provide food to the hungry.
And, from The Confession of 1967, participants agreed that “poverty is not a personal problem but a corporate sin.”
The Rev. Dr. Alonzo Johnson, coordinator of the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People, helped those in attendance look at the root causes of poverty, including the lack of quality and sustainable employment and affordable housing; health-care availability; access to reputable financial products, including loans and credit; and educational disparities. When Johnson was a prison chaplain, an inmate once told him, “I am in prison because I couldn’t read the confession that I signed.”
When Congress voted to “end welfare as we know it” in the mid-1990s, replacing Aid to Families with Dependent Children with block grants to states under the “welfare to work” reform pushed by then-President Bill Clinton, “it doesn’t mean folks who are poor are receiving the grants in every state,” Johnson said. “If you have spent time trying to get welfare [benefits], you understand it’s not an easy undertaking. Many times, the bureaucracy alone causes people to drop out of the system.”
“Who are the poor among you? Poverty is not about bad choices or bad morality,” Johnson said. “Those are the last things I would say about my mom. I do know she was taking care of a sick husband.”
The Rev. Rebecca Barnes, coordinator of the Presbyterian Hunger Program, helped share three stories. The first was a video from the Poor People’s Campaign, which was co-founded by a Presbyterian pastor, the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis.
A second by mission co-worker Christi Boyd featured the voices of Indigenous Batwa communities in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Living off their ancestral rainforests, the Batwa are forced to the margins by logging companies condoned by their own government. While structural racism from Bantu neighbors aggravates their hardship, the Batwa also fear that logging activities will disrupt the forest’s peatlands which harbor large amounts of greenhouse gases.
“The government knows very well we survive in the forests,” says a Batwa leader. “This is our heritage. This is what God has blessed us with. We don’t deny the state’s powers, but we are the peatland’s guardians.” Through the Batwa’s accounts, the video illustrated the intersections between the Matthew 25 themes of systemic poverty, structural racism and climate crisis. Watch the video here.
Ellen Sherby, an associate director with World Mission, shared the story of her involvement with the immigrant community in Kentucky and her marriage to an immigrant from Honduras. “The roots are deep and complex, and we have a responsibility to keep learning about how those roots are connected,” Sherby said. “We can also look at people with compassion and realize there are complexities immigrants face. They’re not here because they came on a lark. They’re here to survive.”
More workshops on eradicating systemic poverty are scheduled for Aug. 28 and Oct. 30. A webinar on building congregational vitality will be held in mid-August and one on dismantling structural racism is set for early November. The national Matthew 25 summit is slated for Jan. 16–18, 2024, in Atlanta.
Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service
Today’s Focus: Matthew 25 webinar focusing on eradicating systemic poverty
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Ben Hayden, Senior Vice President, Chief Financial Officer, Presbyterian Foundation
Sara Hayden, Associate, Apprenticeships & Residencies, 1001 New Worshiping Communities, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Let us pray
Loving Jesus, lead us to the goodness of ourselves and others that is deeper than any gifts or challenges we embody. Open us to discover our full humanity through mutual dependency and belonging. Amen.