The Role of the Acton Institute in Equipping Religious Leaders to Effectively Confront Poverty
Driving through a part of Dallas this past summer my wife and I passed by a man walking down the street dressed in rags and wearing an extremely large backpack. We fell silent for a moment, considering how hard life must be for the homeless man and the terrible fact that many people like him suffer in poverty every day. As we began to talk more about the subject my wife turned to me and asked, “Why are people poor?” As I began to try and explain the reasons why a person might find themselves in poverty I realized I really did not know the answer to the question. My inability to explain why people are poor startled me a little and after further consideration I realized I had never been asked such a question. I had often thought about how we should treat the poor with biblical principles of compassion but I never really tried to analyze the causes of poverty. After all, the causes are fairly obvious, are they not? Drug addiction, laziness, dysfunctional family life, and maybe a few other reasons came to mind. After some serious reflection I knew the causes of poverty were more complex than the bottled responses I had attempted to articulate to my wife, and as a Christian person who is called to “love thy neighbor as they self,” it was shameful that I had no well-thought-out explanations about why people are poor.
Christian people must be concerned about poverty and a Christian person should be able to articulate the causes of poverty in the world. There are a number of reasons why many Christians don’t know the answers to these incredibly complex questions. A large part of the problem is theological. Simply put, many people including myself have neglected to care enough about the causes of poverty. Our ministers and professors should frequently proclaim and practice God’s “preferential option for the poor” as a central piece in a life of Christian faith. However, another more daunting obstacle stands in the way of Christians who want to understand the causes of poverty. Unfortunately, few Christians are able to understand the perplexing relationship between politics, economics and Christian principles. Whether or not someone has enough to eat and a roof over his or her head has much to do with if they have a job and a “living wage.” The answer to the question “Why are people poor?” has as much to do with politics and economics as it does with the self-sacrificing mercy of Christ-like compassion. The Acton Institute’s Toward a Free and Virtuous Society creates an opportunity for religious leaders to gain a greater understanding of the political and economical causes of poverty in our world. This makes Acton’s Toward a Free and Virtuous Society (FAVS) conference a must for religious leaders who have a heart for the least fortunate of our communities.
My experience at the TFAVS conference in Dawsonville, GA, helped me to answer questions I had about the causes of poverty. Through this exceptional conference, Acton has generously equipped me with the principles and tools I will need to challenge our churches to truly live as “salt and light” as they minister to the poor in a dark and decaying world. Participation in a FAVS conference enhances one’s ability to reflect upon the human condition in relationship to the nation-state. For me, this reflection enhanced my understanding of how the state and church can perpetuate, rather than help alleviate poverty. A careful consideration of the nature of the human being, informed by the Holy Scriptures, reveals certain truths about how we should order our neighborhoods and societies as well as how we should go about offering relief to the poor. The degree to which we understand human nature and the moral truths which this nature implies, will determine our ability as ministers of the gospel, to “seek justice, defend the cause of the fatherless and plead the case of the widow.”
I thoroughly enjoyed the TFAVS conference. Scholarly presentations, valuable discussion time, and a growing network of concerned Christians are just a few of the great benefits one can gain from attending a FAVS conference. In addition to the content of the conference, Acton also supplies a generous amount of reading materials, journals and books for each participant, enabling one to continue learning even after the conference.
As Christians we live in a culture that is hostile to the absolute truth claims implied by the Christian way of life. Science and skepticism have a privileged position in our society; all “truth” is subject to automatic deconstruction and all values are declared equally valuable. The prevailing secular orthodoxy makes faith claims that are a direct attack on the reality which God has made plain in his creation of the world and the human being—a reality that serves as the foundation of a free and virtuous society here in America. This reality is often undermined, through subtle language, in the courts, in public policy and other “secular” arenas which have completely succeeded in defining the American citizen as a consumer with “rights” and choices rather than a person with obligations and duties to the common good. These developments directly affect how we order our neighborhoods. The Acton Institute’s FAVS conference is equipping religious leaders with the philosophical and theological tools they need to address the issues of poverty in an overwhelmingly complex world. The truth about human beings—that they are intrinsically valuable, possess inherent dignity, and must conduct their behavior in relationship to a definitive moral structure—is a truth that we cannot neglect in our ministerial efforts to walk alongside the crushed and lonely people of the world and reveal to them their dignity as children of God.