Compassion upon Culture or Consigned to it?

I recently had a conversation about forced compassion with a friend of mine who I view as typical of the political far right. In our discussion, we turned our attention to one of the largest problem areas in the Dairy State: Milwaukee. My friend would like to see the elimination of ‘forced compassion’ in Milwaukee, a proposition I agree with, but I asked him what would fill the gap of needs in the city if government assistance is eliminated? His answer is all too common on the far right: nothing, the poor can simply dig themselves out of poverty through their own personal initiative and hard work. Start a small business, be creative, go to college, pull yourself out.

This is a typical answer, one even candidates on the right have referenced when talking about the costs of college education. Work hard, make sacrifices, give it your all, and you can succeed in achieving the American dream, regardless of the financial level at which you began. Thus, those in inner-city poverty can dig themselves out of poverty if they try hard enough. This is, of course, the exact opposite of what those on the far left would argue that everyone who is poor needs government assistance.

The difference is not so much about strategy but promised results. Those on the left honestly believe that they can help everyone out of poverty through their assistance programs, which is certainly doubtful. But look at those on the right who argue for personal ingenuity on the part of the poor to dig themselves out of poverty. At best, only a small percentage will actual dig themselves out because such a small percentage of human beings are wired in this way. The culture and cycle of poverty has eliminated the drive in many people causing them to become resigned to their place of poverty. Those on the right seem content to consign the poor to their current position and then point to the personal failures of the poor as the reason they remain in poverty.

I’m not a sociologist, but it appears to me that those on the left and the right help roughly the same percentage of people. I’m not going to attempt to explain why, I just know that changing parties in power seems to have little effect on the status of the poor. Those on the left promise a lot and deliver little. Those on the right promise little and deliver about as much. Those on the left want to ‘force compassion’ and attempt to help everyone while those on the right call for ‘free compassion’ and help only those who help themselves. Neither position is helpful. The left seems to eliminate personal responsibility while the right places too much emphasis upon it. What then is the proper response?

What I would propose over the next several posts that I make on this topic is a strategy that ignores both the playbook of the left and the right while taking pieces from each in an attempt to help the poor. The right must be rejected for not helping the helpless. The left must be rejected because one realistically cannot help those who refuse to help themselves. The right should be listened to for emphasizing the value of personal drive. The left should be listened to for emphasizing the need to help those who do not have personal drive. The result of a combined strategy will not be political as much as it will hopefully be Christian and attainable. Milwaukee can be helped, but only if we as individuals separate ourselves from political rhetoric and theory and get involved in the trenches of the cities, fulfilling James 1:27 rather than just talking about it.

3 Thoughts.

  1. Kyle, I am delighted you will be addressing this, and I look forward to your thoughts.

    Perhaps, if it fits into your posts, you can discuss (a) how central to the church’s mission care for the poor ought to be, and (b) how central to the church’s mission care for the poor actually is. If the two do not match, maybe you could share any thoughts you might have on how to synchronize them.

  2. Pingback: Re: Compassion upon Culture or Consigned to it | Hang Together

  3. How do you help those who do not have personal drive? Unless you mean help them to get some personal drive, continued dependence via forced or real compassion is the only “help” there is.

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