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  • Writer's pictureSteven Chapman

Do Christians Share Responsibility For The Dispossessed?

Do we as the people of God have any responsibility to the dispossessed; the poor, the under-served, the oppressed and the powerless?

I ask that because a recent thread lead me to believe that we no longer believe that we share any of that responsibility. More particularly, those of us with less skin pigmentation have no share in the responsibility as it relates to the plight of people of color. More than once statements where made in the thread that suggested black people should just fix themselves. Their own actions got themselves into the morally and socially corrupt culture they have developed for themselves.

Yet, I would seriously challenge the premise in that last statement: in a historical context, consider the following implication from the development of African-American culture. When in slavery, most slave-holders did not allow slaves to marry. Couples, if identified, might be intentionally separated. The slave-holders promoted promiscuity because it would advance the owners wealth by producing saleable offspring. When children were weaned they would often be removed from their parents and sold to other owners. Is it possible that generations of slavery was instrumental in forming this Black culture that is said lacked “character” – particularly promiscuity and fatherlessness?

A ministry acquaintance expressed recently that “we can’t escape two other realities – One, the land was stolen. Two, labor was stolen for approximately 200 years. Those sins create deep systematic and enduring poverty that only can be addressed by deep repentance.”

Following slavery, the conditions of African-Americans only changed marginally. They were no longer slaves held under the whip. Yet, economically the situation did not provide much relief as former slaves found themselves in a new form of slavery as share-croppers under the hands of the landowners.

Is part of our struggle here that we have adopted a minimalist perspective of the Fall (sin is a problem between me and God), rather than seeing the Fall as a ripple effect that affected every corner of human existence and culture?

In the first salvation can also be minimized to a God and me thing. But in the second, redemption also includes seeking correction of the damage done by the ripples.

God summed up, through the words of Micah, his concern for His people to engage in taking responsibility for the poor: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Over and over God expresses his concern for those caught in the clutches of poverty; the fatherless, the widows, and the aliens in the land. Repeatedly he offers words of judgment on those who turn their back on the plight of these cultural groups.

The story of Ruth is the story of a poor foreigner who takes advantage of the God ordained provisions of leaving the edges of the field unharvested, and the spillage untouched, so that the poor and the stranger may be able to provide for themselves out of these.

James comes back to exprSDess similar sentiments in James 1: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

When you can chart an ethnic median wage gap of $20,000 over a 45 year period that has never gotten any better it ought to raise our level of concern, and not just our level of suspicion. How are the under-classed, regardless of color or social position, supposed to deliver themselves from the economic pit they are in? They don’t hold the keys to the businesses. They are unable to give themselves a wage increase, or even give themselves a job.

These are the same groups that tend to be at the poorest schools as well — to which it was suggested that they should start better schools of their own. How are they suppose to do that without financial means?

Shame on us for misusing Jesus’ statement that “you will always have the poor with you” (as I have heard used – I mean misused) as an excuse for not seeking economic justice, of not standing beside those who have been burdened with systemic issues that have exiled them outside of the concern of others.

That doesn’t mean that we have to become the support agent for those on the dole. The answer is not to give more hands outs, but more hand ups. It, also, doesn’t imply approval for the poor choices that the underserved are presently making for themselves.

But it doesn’t have to be one way or the other. Solutions are usually more nuanced than this way or that way.

No, the social gospel does not displace the gospel message. However, to disengage social concern from the gospel that advances “shalom” is to miss a huge piece of the healing peace God desires to see manifested in His Kingdom.

How can we do that? … Do you have any ideas?

–Steven Chapman


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