Public Square

What Does Christianity Have to Offer the Poor?

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Christians can agree that God has called us to care for the poor, but many disagree on the best way to do that.

If we are called to unity in the body of Christ, it’s encouraging to see a panel of Christians from differing perspectives come together to discuss care for the poor, and to do so in a thoughtful and respectful manner.

On Thursday, June 22 2017, the Acton Institute assembled a panel of Christian thought leaders who discussed the question, “What Does Christianity Have to Offer the Poor?” The four-person panel represented a wide spectrum of Christian viewpoints on the best means to care for the poor, with participants from both Protestant and Catholic backgrounds.

Over the course of 90 minutes, the panel discussed philosophical, political, and theological topics related to the primary question of poverty, including property rights, the knowledge problem, the subsidiary principle, the dignity of human beings, and the role of government. They also touched on various public policies aimed at addressing poverty, from free-market ideas to other initiatives aimed at redistributing wealth.

Panelists included Anne Rathbone Bradley, IFWE’s vice president of economic initiatives; Michael Wear, founder of Public Square Strategies LLC; Elizabeth Bruenig, Assistant Editor of the Outlook section at the Washington Post; and Acton Institute founder and president, Rev. Robert A. Sirico. The panel took place at Acton Institute’s annual “Acton University” conference.

Since Anne Bradley is part of the IFWE team and a frequent contributor to this blog, we’d like to first draw your attention to her introductory statement, which starts at 16 minutes into the video. Anne goes back to discuss Genesis to explain God’s purpose in Creation and his call to us that we contribute to biblical flourishing through our work. Anne advocates for a market-based approach to promote biblical flourishing and poverty alleviation. She says that though the free-market system is imperfect, it’s the best system that allows people, made in God’s image with gifts and dignity, to be free to live into their design.

When you have time, we encourage you to watch the entire panel discussion and to do so with a group of thoughtful friends or family and discuss your reactions.

But if you don’t have time to watch the video, here is an excerpt from Anne Bradley’s closing remarks:

There is great reason to be optimistic…because of what we see in front of us. As a Christian who cares about the poor, which describes all of us [in this room], we have to start with scripture. We have to know what it tells us about the here and now, and what we’re supposed to do, and that we have deep responsibilities to each other and to God’s creation.

I think that that coincides with the principles of property rights that are laid out in the scriptures. Market systems—agreed—are not perfect. We have to ask ourselves, what are the alternatives? And the alternatives are demonstrably worse, and they oppress and alienate and exploit people.

So, living at this time in human history is amazing. If you look at the numbers, extreme poverty will be a thing of the past very soon. The question is how do we continue…we don’t stop, we don’t rest, we fight. We fight by liberating people to live into who they are and who God created them to be, not as people who need to be fixed by someone else.

So, Anne says, scripture must always be our starting place. God has given us a beautiful depiction of what he intended in creation, and what he plans to restore upon Christ’s return. Our goal is not to look for the perfect way to address poverty, but to look for the best. In her remarks, Anne Bradley argues that markets and trade have done more to lift people out of poverty around the world than has aid, and while we must always live generously, we must continue to advocate that all people have this type of freedom to live into all God created them to be.

Please let us know what you think of the discussion.

Photo credit: Acton Institute


Editor’s Note: Read more sound biblical and economic principles for poverty alleviation in For the Least of These: A Biblical Response to Poverty.

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