It’s Independence Week here as we celebrate July 4th. I’ll be celebrating with my family at a local parade and a possible visit to Old Sturbridge Visit (the kids aren’t quite old enough yet to deal with the Boston Pops).
I hear all the time that we are a Christian nation, or that America’s framers were all Christians. I’m not going to argue with either of these, but I want to spend this week thinking about what America would look like if we truly were a Christian nation. And it’s not what you think. Neither political party has the market cornered on this.
If we were truly a Christian nation, there would be very few poor people in America.
The disparity between the rich and the poor in this country is unbelievable. It’s the largest in the world, actually. The median US wage was $26,364 (in 2010). The average couple spends $26,984 on their wedding (also 2010). You can do that comparison.
And this disparity also impacts education. The gap in education is growing, and education was seen as the great equalizer. Students from poor communities—regardless of ethnicity—are generally doing poorly in school. Parents from wealthier families are investing more in special programs for their kids. Poorer parents—often single parent homes—struggle to make ends meet, so special opportunities are rare.
Now you may be quick to say, “Yes. But people can choose to spend their money wherever they want, and that’s why we should have better education standards since teachers aren’t doing their jobs.” And I would say that we have misplaced values.
The poverty line in the US sits at $23,050 for a family of four. We had more than 15% of Americans living below the poverty line in 2010.
If we were truly a Christian nation we’d be doing something about this. First by saying that it’s criminal to claim that the poverty line is at $23k for a family of four. Second, by recognizing that most people don’t want to be in this position, and want to work hard. I’m personally surprised by the number of folks who say it’s due to lazy folks looking for a handout from the government. Yet minimum wage jobs nets you only $15K a year or so. If you work fulltime. If not, well, then you won’t get any benefits and will make less than that $15K.
We don’t stand up for the poor because we don’t really care. We think they got themselves into this problem and we shouldn’t have to get them out. Besides God helps those who help themselves. (Which isn’t in the Bible, by the way. Ben Franklin said it. In Poor Richard’s Almanac).
But God says something very different.
Deut. 15:7-8. If there is a poor man among you, one of your brothers, in any of the towns of the land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand to your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.
Ps. 140:12. I know that the Lord maintains the cause of the needy, and executes justice for the poor.
Is 41:17. The afflicted and needy are seeking water, but there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst. I, the LORD, will answer them Myself, as the God of Israel I will not forsake them.
Luke 3:11. And [John the Baptist] would answer and say to them, “Let the man with two tunics share with him who has none, and let him who has food do likewise.”
Mt. 5:42. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.
There are hundreds more. Literally. God cares more about the poor than we think. I’ll gladly list more verses to prove this point. Hebrew Scriptures or New Testament. It’s all over the place.
And we ignore it because we choose not to care. If we were a Christian nation, we’d be doing more. Instead we want to spend more and more (and rack up debt) for ourselves without considering those in any kind of need. And we do this because we are selfish.
I’m not holier than any of you. I have struggles here too. My kids go to great schools because of where I live, and I am glad for that. I make a terrific wage. I give away a portion of my income to charities. And I could certainly be doing more.
This is a real passion for God, but it gets lost in the politics of the day. Churches would rather build bigger buildings and have more programs than give away more of their money to the needy. I think churches should work at giving away at least 10% of their pledge income to organizations that reach out to those in need.
We need to fix this. Either that or stop saying we are a Christian nation. And we need to help those who aren’t Christians too. I don’t think Jesus ever once asked to see someone’s attendance record for the local synagogue before he healed them. He just did.
Photo credit: Stock Exchange (MeiTang).
The book, “Nickeled and Dimed” is a great account of someone who attempted to survive on minimum wage jobs.