Pardon my slight change of the subject of religion to a practical outworking of religion. In two previous posts I began addressing the question of an appropriate response of Christians to the poor, as the political solution has either been to give the poor a handout or expect them to pull themselves out of poverty. Christians need to pray (because prayer leads to caring and recognizes only God changes hearts) for the poor, and need to be present in the community they wish to change. Third, and the focus of this post, is to personalize.
When I was in college, one of my professors, Jana Sundene, used to say “People, not programs.” She was referring to ministry work in churches, but the same applies to working with the poor. The government deals with programs. Are programs bad? Certainly not, but the government, in case no one has noticed, is huge. I’m not making a value judgment on size, simply stating a reality. This means that the huge government is attempting to help individuals that to the government are simply names and numbers. There is no personalization, nor should there be. Government, by nature, needs to be largely objective, otherwise corruption and manipulation come into play. Government, by and large, cannot and probably should not (I let Greg discuss the ‘should’) be making judgment calls as to who deserves assistance and who does not. For one thing, the government is to large to make micro judgment decisions. For another, how would the government determine who is “deserving” assistance? Again, this is simply reality.
But, Christians are individuals who live day to day in the micro rather than the macro. I do not live in California and have no contact with poor Californians. I do, however, have contact on a micro scale with poor Wisconsinites and soon, Virginians. My small church community is also in a community and can make personal, subjective decisions based on scripture (ala, if you don’t work, you don’t eat, etc.) about who ‘deserves’ assistance and who is just lazy. The micro nature of individuals and individual faith communities allows for personalization of the decision, making it most beneficial to those who have needs.
But this micro nature of individuals and churches also recognizes that the people being helped are persons. They are not treated as names and numbers but as human beings who have value and have needs. Not only can the actual assistance of these individuals be personalized, those helping can communicate that the recipient is a person who has been created by God with true, intrinsic value.
There is one draw back of this personalization. It’s difficult. The government can mail out checks and remain emotionally uninvolved. In order for personalization to take place, every Christian must get involved with the poor in their area, being a praying presence. But this also means that it might get messy. These are real people with real problems. They are not just lists of names and the amount of check they receive. Personalization means taking time, learning a person’s story, and doing what is best for that person. It means experiencing the joy of having it ‘work’ and suffering the emotion of disappointment when helping out the less fortunate blows up in our face. Yet, none of this changes the fact that Jesus (who also had it blow up in his face, although that was the plan!) has called personal Christians to be personally involved rather than letting an impersonal government depersonalize the poor.