Poverty and Modern Attitudes
Asheville, North Carolina
Brother Kingry's article, "The Christian and Poverty" (Truth Magazine, Sept. 15, 1977) seems to rely more on modern liberal sociology than on scripture. Let no one misunderstand: Brother Kingry is a faithful gospel preacher and a skillful writer. I bear him no ill will. But he makes a number of statements that should be examined more closely. He makes use of phrases such as "wealth distribution," "cultural effects of poverty," and "eliminating the causes of poverty," which have become cliches in the vocabulary of the modern neomarxist economists and social reformers. This is merely an indication of where he may have derived some of his information. He thinks those of us who speak of "Welfare Cadillacs," the misuse of food stamps, and fighting poverty by working have the wrong attitude toward the poor. I believe it is Brother Kingry who does not understand poverty.
To establish the fact that I do not speak from an ivory tower, let me first point out that I have had the personal experience of (1) living on $20.00 per week, (2) using a path instead of a bath, (3) drawing water from a well with a rope, and (4) cooking and heating with a wood stove. Lest anyone think I am like the lady in the $60,000 house that Brother Kingry mentions, let it be known that I at this time rent a house for $100 per month, heat it with wood, and drive nails to make my living. This is not bragging, it is simply establishing my credentials.
The "Welfare Cadillac" is a symbol of undeserved and misused charity. Working Americans rightly resent welfare chiseling which may involve as high as 50 % of those who receive government aid. The misuse of food stamps is the most notorious example of misdirected benevolence. Those who can afford to buy luxury items simply do not need charity. The only right and scriptural way to fight poverty is to work. Paul said, "For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat" (2 Thess. 3:10). The great majority of Americans agree that the aged and the infirm, who cannot work and who have no other means of support, should be helped by some branch of government. Even the libertarian purists who disagree say that they should be helped voluntarily by churches, private organizations, and individuals. So no one is against helping this class of persons, and I know of no one who ridicules them. The slogans Brother Kingry refers to are intended to ridicule the irresponsible welfare system, not the poor. Those who are able to work and will not do so deserve condemnation. Of course, we should try to save them. But they must repent in order to be saved.
The chief victims of the modern welfare system are not the taxpayers, but the welfare recipients who are robbed of their dignity and whose children are conditioned to think that the world owes them a living. It is absolutely immoral for the government, the church, or the individual to support an able-bodied person in idleness.
When I needed help in my carpenter business, I used to go to the unemployment office where dozens of people sat around waiting for checks. I go there no longer. None of them would accept real work, even at pay far above the minimum wage. Every day I see jobs that go undone merely because people no longer need the work. They suppose, if they are inclined to work at all, that some factory or store must hire them or else they cannot work. Meanwhile the basements go uncleaned, the weeds uncut, the leaves unraked, the barns unpainted, the windows unwashed because no one is interested in providing a job for himself. There is no motivation because there is so little real poverty in America!
Who are the poor? The widow in the Old Testament who was preparing to bake one last corn pone for herself and her son and then to die was poor! Those who were in Judea during the great famine and did not have enough to eat were poor. One who is "naked and destitute of food" (Jas. 2:15) is poor. One who does not have sufficient food to keep himself alive and in reasonable health, who does not have enough clothes to keep warm, or who does not have access to shelter from the elements is poor.
Those who have televisions, good automobiles, stereos, automatic washers and dryers, and unnecessary items of furniture are not poor. They will be poor when they have sold all these things, converted them into necessities, and still are unable to provide food, shelter, and clothing. How many poor persons does that leave us in America?
There are poor people in the world. Most of them live in countries such as Mexico and the Phillipines. Some of them are our brethren and we should be concerned about them. Why waste tears on Americans who refuse to take advantage of what this country offers? I have read sociology books, too. I have seen the pictures of "poverty" and read the descriptions of "poverty." Nine times out of ten when you remove the garbage and the filth, give the people a bath and comb their hair, you will have a normal lower middle class family. My point is that much so-called poverty in America is selfinduced. There are people who are slothful and who have no ambition to be otherwise. Who knows whether it is genetic or acquired? It makes no difference. The last thing in the world that will help these people is to give them money. The threat of starvation used to be sufficient motivation to make them go to work. Now that has been removed. Only the little children, who are not responsible for the sins of the fathers, are worth helping.
In oruer to eliminate the causes of poverty one would have to be able to change human nature. The gospel can do this. But those who reject the teachings of Christ will not be helped by our preaching or our benevolence. What about the poor in the church?
Certainly we should help them if they really need it. But if Brother Kingry had his way, the church would be unnecessarily drained of funds. He says, "There should be no brother who is on welfare. The church cares for its own." All of us who pay taxes know that part of this money goes for welfare; we do not begrudge that portion that goes to the aged and infirm. If one is qualified under the law ro receive welfare, and he really needs it, then he is certainly entitled to it. Since the money has been provided for his use, he is no longer in need. Why should the church help someone who is not in need? Brother Kingry would have the needy refuse the welfare that we have already paid for, and then make us pay for it again through the church.
I deny that the primary use of the weekly collection is to help the poor. That was the primary use of a special collection taken up under the direction of Paul to alleviate an emergency situation in Judea. If the famine had not occured, the indication is that no collection would have been taken for the saints in Judea. We read of churches supporting Paul and other preachers with their' money. The primary work of the church is spiritual-to save souls. I heartily agree with Brother Blackmon who said that benevolence is no more the purpose of the church than having a doctor with a sick baby is the purpose of marriage. The situation in the church at Jerusalem was entirely unique, as Brother Kingry knows. Otherwise it would be authority for religious communism.
I must strongly protest the assertion that several brethren chipping in to meet a need on a one time basis is unscriptural. This is an individual action. Individuals acting alone or in concert have the right to help anyone who is in need at any time. The "gatherings" that Paul spoke of in 1 Cor. 16:1-3 referred to the , special collections for the saints in Judea. Paul was coming by to get the money. He did not have time to go around to every house and collect the money from each individual. So it was to be ready for him in one lump sum when he arrived.
Finally, it is ironic that Brother Kingry worries about racial discrimination causing non-whites to work at lower paying jobs at the very time that the Bakke case is before the Supreme Court. Reverse discrimination is the order of the day. Being white may be an advantage at times. But do not mention it to Allan Bakke.
Truth Magazine XXII: 9, pp. 153-154