For the past few years, I have discussed with friends and colleagues what an appropriate response should be from the Church in speaking on behalf of the poor when it comes to issues such as welfare, public policy, social action and simple economic lessons that the poor could benefit from. How can the Church continue to affirm the dignity of individuals and communities while providing a Christ-like response to economic questions? These are the questions that I have wrestled with for years and I have talked with friends on numerous occasions. I never had anyone give me answers to macro and micro economic structures that were theologically motivated.
I have been working in a disadvantaged neighborhood for the past six years, myself having grown up in that neighborhood. My journey has allowed me to see how a lack of financial resources can limit opportunities, but how education can open future opportunities for progress. I have always believed that we were created in the image of God, but I did not know how this sense of dignity impacted our economic thinking. What kind of economic structure best affirms the dignity of the individual and a community? Within the last three years this question has become more of a personal inner turmoil in my life as I researched economic structures that worked and were effective in providing long lasting transformation in the lives of families. As a pastor, I always want my motives to be pure and directed by God, not myself. So I began to dialogue more with one friend who had attended an Acton conference and had started writing articles that were economic in nature. Though at times I found his views different from my own due to a lack of information on my end, I was intrigued by some of the thoughts he proposed and some of the questions he was asking. I then picked up the phone after reading his articles and he directed me to the Acton Institute. Rudy Carrasco encouraged me to attend a student conference which I attended in Lake Bluff, Ill. this past April.
In the days leading up to the conference, I read more of the material that was given to me by Acton. I found myself agreeing with the authors in theory, but I kept asking myself, “What does this look like in a disadvantaged neighborhood? Can I make considerable change in the neighborhood I minister in, or is this just wishful dreaming on my end?” I wanted to help the families I ministered to on a weekly basis begin their own small businesses to help provide for their families. The need for economic development had now become a present reality, as more adults would come to me asking for help. I did not know what to do or how to help them.
The readings and lectures gave me an education that was beyond what I had ever heard. Through the weekend I soaked in much of the information I received. The most intriguing new concept that I learned during the weekend was how we should not turn to government first when we are trying to help a needy family or individual, but instead see if the resources exist within the neighborhood, allowing the community to assist before accessing government institutions. I am ashamed to confess that I had always seen government as responsible for taking care of people and that the impoverished needed to seek help from the government first and not from their own community. The Church can and should step in to help the poor in the community as well before we direct them to government programs. If neighbors and churches could help the poor, then fewer taxes would be paid and, in theory, followers of Jesus Christ could fulfill the Great Commandment to “love our neighbor.” In doing so, would this present an evangelistic opportunity as well?
Helping families get by is simply not enough. We need to move people to a place where they can provide for their families and get ahead so they can also help others. The Church needs to help individuals also think about how they can ethically do business. We must call people to be ethical in their business transactions and not to be motivated by greed, but instead to think of how they can be good stewards of the gifts that God provides. By allowing God to be our compass and not our greedy sinful nature, we can not only provide for our families and communities, but we can also allow our light to shine before men, that others may see our good deeds and praise our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).