By Jeffery Kingry
Anyone who writes or teaches publicly can expect to be reviewed publicly, and cannot be too sensitive about it. Any public teacher must be “patient” or forbearing of other’s failings to meet the Holy Spirit’s requirements in 1 Tim. 2:22-25. The man of God is to follow righteousness, faith, love, and peace in fellowship with all those who approach God sincerely with a pure heart. He is to decline foolish and ill-informed discussions because God declares that they only lead to more and more quarreling. Rather, the preacher is to be courteous and kind towards all, willing to endure malice and overlook grievances. By his admonitions, the preacher must guide in a gentle way those who oppose him and the truth he teaches in the hope that God may give them a change of heart that will lead them to forsake their error and acknowledge the truth.
The Lord gave all preachers this charge because He knew that we should all some day have to deal with and teach the Dan Waiters’ of this world. Some people, like myself, need the Lord’s admonitions to be gentle, because our first response is not one to be gentle. If, in the course of this article I am as abusive and judgmental as Brother Dan Waiters was in his article Poverty and Modern Attitudes of March 2, 1978, I beg your indulgence and accommodation.
Unfortunately, having just moved to Akron, I do not have a copy of the article he reviewed. Actually, I believe reviews of reviews, ad infinitum a very tiresome business. Most intelligent readers are capable of choosing the good from the bad, the judgmental from the accurate, the chaff from the Word. But, the whole thrust of Brother Waiters’ article was so misplaced as to lead me to wonder if I had been as accurate as I should have been. It seemed to me that Brother Waiters was responding to this nation’s abuse of our government’s welfare program. I did not write on the nation’s welfare system. Frankly, I agree with Brother Waiters more than he may know about the national “dole” and the vast self-serving bureaucracy that maintains it. But that was not in the scope of that article or this one. I do not recall any attempt on my part to justify any sloth, or the support of any man who will not work. I do recall writing an article on “The Christian and Poverty.” The Bible does have a great deal to say, if anyone is interested in reading it, on the Christian’s relationship to the poor.
“I Fight Poverty-I Work For A Living”
The above slogan is a case in point. Our attitude towards the poor about us is indeed a topic proper for consideration, in print and in the pulpit. The attitude expressed in the bumper-sticker quote above denies the causes and reality of poverty. It infers that those who are poor are moral and social failures who just will not work for a living. Or, as Brother Waiters puts it, “Much so-called poverty in America is self-induced. There are people who are slothful and who have no ambition to be otherwise.” I have no doubt that there are such people in this world. I have met a few of them, cared for a few of them, and ultimately quit caring for them because they showed by their fruits that they were that way. But, I did not judge them the first time I saw them in need, that just because they were in need they were slothful and without ambition.
Actually, according to the 1960 census, 80.4 percent of the individuals in America who live on an income of $2,000.00 a year or less work full time. 71 percent of the families who make below $4,500.00 a year also work to sustain themselves full-time (“Current Population Reports,” Bureau of the Census, 1956 series, pp. 60-67). So, these people “work for a living” too, but do not make one. The reasons are varied, but are all linked to race, education, health, age, sex, and experience. They do the best they are able, and still live well below poverty level.
It is not my responsibility to reform the welfare mess in Washington. But, it is my responsibility to teach the truth to Christians as to our attitudes towards poverty. Brother Waiters can launch a “strife of words” about the “Modern Welfare System” if he chooses. I will not discuss it with him in print. But, when his right-wing views, and the fascist terminology which he has picked up somewhere affects his attitudes towards people, to count the poor as “common and unclean,” then he has “walked not uprightly according to the truth of the Gospel” (Gal. 2:9-14).
Who Are The Poor?
Brother Waiters denies that there is any real poverty in America. He then goes on to define poverty as “naked and destitute of food.” Anything more than this is not poverty. One must be down to his last corn pone, as he humorously put it, before he is “poverty stricken.”
Well, Brother Waiters, I have performed stoop labor ‘with the broserros in the bean fields of California for $5.00 a day, used a privy, washed in a zinc tub and in rivers, and supported myself and my family working in a steel mill as a ladle man’s helper (and only those in the steel industry know what kind of work that is). But, I am still unprepared to judge my brother or my neighbor who makes $60 to $70 a week working full time as “slothful and who have no ambition to be otherwise.”
From the data reported to the Bureau of the Census in March, 1964, it can be inferred that one in seven of all families of two or more, and almost half of all persons living alone or with non-relatives had incomes too low in 1963 to eat even a minimal diet that could be expected to provide adequate nutrition and still have enough left over to pay for all other living essentials. Such a judgment was predicated by the government on this standard: That an average family of four can achieve an adequate diet on 70 cents a day per person, and an additional $1.40 for all other items-from housing and medical care to clothing and car fare. For those dependent on a regular paycheck, such a budget could mean, for the family of four, total family earnings of $60.00 a week.
If you increase your daily allotment to 90 cents a day, or $77.00 a week for a family of four, you would add another 8.8 million adults and 6.8 million children to the list. In America there are 50 million people, of whom 25 million are young children, who live “naked and destitute of food” or at least hover around its edge.
What is “destitute of food”? Well, again the government assumes the house maker in poverty is a good manager and has time and the skill to shop wisely. She must prepare nutritious, palatable meals on a budget that for herself, a husband, and two small children-an average family would come to about 70 cents a day per person.
For a meal that all four of them ate together, she could spend on an average only 95 cents, and to stay within her budget she must allow no more than a pound of meat, poultry, or fish altogether, barely enough for one serving for each member of the family, at one of three meals. Eggs could fill out her family fare only to a limited degree because the plan allows less than 2 dozen eggs a week for all uses in cooking and at the table, not even one to a person per day. And any food extras such as milk for the kids at school, coffee for the husband at work, or any eating out, have to come out of the same food money or compete with the limited funds available for rent, clothing, medical care, and all other expenses. Studies indicate that, on the average, family members eating out, away from home spend twice as much as the homemaker would spend for preparing the same meal at home. The 20 to 25 cents allowed for a meal at home in the economy plan would not buy much even in the way of supplementation.
Most of the poor receive no assistance from public programs, and then only temporarily. Others remain poor because they have no resources but the limited payments and supplements provided under existing programs. And public programs to help the poor in the main are geared to serve those who cannot work at all or who are temporarily out of work. The man who works for a living, but is not making one, will normally find no avenue of aid.
When Should The Church Help?
Brother Walters recommends that no brother be helped benevolently until the brother has sold all his possessions, converted them to food and clothing, and then runs out of those. He cites Mexico and the Philippines as places that know “true poverty.” Indeed they do. Malnutrition, ignorance, and lack of hygiene or medical care (all products of poverty) lower the life expectancy in those areas to fifty, child mortality before five to one in three, and a quality of living to the survival level. I thank my God in heaven that He does not deal with me in the same way that Brother Walters recommends. The Lord’s view of need does not require that men be humiliated, ground down, broken, and bereft before he reaches out to help. “For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the Lord; I will set him in safety from him that puffeth at him” (Psa. 12:5).
Brother Walters sniffs at the “cliches of modern neomarxist economists and social reformers.” He objects to the use of such expressions as “culture of poverty,” “wealth distribution,” and “eliminating the causes of poverty.” I have not read any of these new marxist socialists that Brother Walters obviously is so well acquainted with. He seemingly has read more on the subject than I have. But, if those people are using my vocabulary it must be because we are talking about the same thing, or have observed the same conditions.
But, let us make it scriptural. There is such a thing as a culture of poverty-social conditions which continue to promote and prolong poverty, so that once one is poverty stricken it is difficult to break out of that bracket. It is not necessary to prove that in this article. The scriptures refer to it: “The Lord heareth the poor, and despiseth not his (poverty’s) prisoners” (Psa. 69:33). The Lord gave special laws to the Jewish nation to break the back of this “poverty culture” and to give a man a chance to break out of such a “prison.” In Lev. 25:25-43, God required that a man who was poverty stricken not to be required or allowed to sell off all of his possessions in order to meet the necessities of life. He was, instead, to be helped by his brethren. Any loans made to the poor were to be made without interest, and never for food. Food was to be given to those who needed it. All loans were to be forgotten during and after the Jubilee, which came around every fifty years. The poor was not to have his abilities sold as a bond-servant (today we might call it a garnishee). He was to be allowed to work out his debt without interest, and all of his labor was to go to the principal sum. This, along with many other things, was God’s social law to combat developing a people ground down and kept down by poverty.
Wealth distribution? Brother Walters believes the expression smacks of communism. Well, try God’s statement on the subject, and choose your own phrase. “For I mean not that others be eased, and ye be burdened, but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply to your want: that there be an equality: As it is written, he that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack” (2 Cor. 8:11-15). As Brother Blackmon once said, “Do not come to me with your complaint. Take it to the Lord.”
And Brother Walters “meets himself coming back” if he objects to eliminating the cause of poverty. The cause of poverty is varied, but the basis of it is that people cannot work and make a decent living, and as Christians we can do what we can individually to correct this.
The Collection Is Not Primarily For Benevolence
As for Brother Walter’s contention above, I can only reply, “Who says?” I would petition Brother Walters to show all those who had to suffer through his article one passage of scripture that speaks of a church collection for any purpose other than benevolence for needy saints. We infer (and rightfully so) that preachers may be paid from the church treasury, class materials purchased, elders supported, buildings erected, T.V., radio, and print evangelism paid for, but we are commanded in every instance to lay by in store collectively for the needs of the saints (1 Cor. 16:1-2). “The poor we have with us always” and their needs are continual-not `special’ as Brother Walters teaches.
Jesus taught that the quality of those who would enter into the Kingdom of God would have to be “. . . give to him that asketh thee, and him that would borrow from thee turn not away” (Matt. 5:42). The criteria for judgment, salvation or damnation, is whether we have fed the hungry, given water to those who thirst, lodged strangers, clothed the shabby, helped the sick, visited those in prison (Matt. 25:35). The saints first chose servants in the church to “serve tables” (Acts 6:1-4). The only transfer of funds we read about in the Bible between churches, and the only collection made is for benevolence (Acts 11:29, 30; Rom. 15:25-27; 1 Cor. 16:lff; 2 Cor. 8:115; 9:1-15). Paul told the brethren that the only thing the Jerusalem apostles ever asked of him in his ministry to the Gentiles would be “That we should remember the poor, the same which I was also forward to do” (Gal. 2:10). Paul’s teaching on giving was directed towards “supplying the wants of the saints” (2 Cor. 9:12).
Brother Walters says the only “mission of the church is spiritual-to save souls.” He attempts to sever benevolence to saints from the `spiritual’ work of the church. What? Have ye not read, “Whiles by the experiment of this ministration they glorify God for your professed subjection unto the gospel of Christ . . . and by their prayer for you, which long after you for the exceeding grace of God in you”(2 Cor. 9:13, 14).
My patience is gone. Exhausted by the mountain of ignorance and prejudice portrayed by Dan Walters’ writing. I could not begin to answer all of it. I will not attempt flattery in my estimation of Brother Walters’ attitude. Dan, you are not only wrong, you need to repent of your hardness of heart and public foolishness. “Ye have despised the poor . . . Are ye not then partial in yourself, and are become judges of evil thoughts? . . . If any man among you seem to be religious and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widow in their affliction…” (Jas. 2:6, 4; 1:26, 27).
Truth Magazine XXII: 25, pp. 410-412
June 22, 1978