During this election season, there are many conversations that are going on. They’re all important. For example, the most recent and last of the three presidential debates centered around foreign policy. Clearly, very important in light of the ongoing global tension and relations. But what has been very troubling for me is the the lack of focus and substantive dialogue around domestic poverty in any of the debates is tragic.
Why are poor Americans invisible?
And if and when it’s discussed, mere numbers and statistics are thrown out…and then on to the next question.
When you break down the numbers, this is the reality.
15% of Americans are living at or near the poverty line.
For you Washingtonians, the statistic remains consistent for our state. That’s nearly 1 out of every 6-7 Americans. According to the US Census in 2011, there are about 46 million Americans living in poverty.
1 out of 5 American children face food security issues.
Simple and real talk translation:They are hungry.
For African-Americans and Hispanics, the statistics double. [Let that sink in...]
Let me repeat that: 1 out of 5 American children face food security issues which means they do not always know where they will find their next meal. What does 1 out of 5 mean? It means approximately 16.7 million American children under the age of 18 live in this situation.
16.7 million children.
This, fellow Americans, is not acceptable.
This isn’t to suggest that global issues and children and citizens of the larger world aren’t important or that I’m suggesting that American children are greater than global children. Let’s not go there. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know how important issues of global and extreme poverty is to my heart. It gave birth to an organization called One Day’s Wages.
What I’m suggesting is that if we simply open our eyes – these are our kids. They are in our neighbhorhoods; They are our neighbors; They are in our schools; They are in our churches; They are our friends; They are right here.
How can we seek to love the larger world and ignore our very own neighbors?
When we do speak of the poor, there’s an awkward but at times, subtle judgment about the poor? While we cheer thunderously any time the “military” is mentioned in political speeches and debates, the audience turns quiet when the mention of the “poor” comes up? Whether it is articulated or not, there are judgments made in the larger mainstream discourse and perhaps, we’ve allowed ourselves to believe it.
- “The poor are poor because they deserve it?
- The poor got what they deserved because they are lazy?”
- They are a bunch of folks taking advantage of the welfare system.”
- They are stealing and cheating from this country.”
- We shouldn’t help those who won’t help themselves.”
While there are clearly real stories of real people abusing the welfare system, we are making an egregious mistake when we allow one story or the stories of some to filter all the stories of real people.
Eventually, we start dehumanizing the poor.
And when you start dehumanizing the poor, you have no desire to build relationships with them. You have no interest in their stories. You have no interest in relationships. You believe stereotypes that have been told about them. You believe the lie that they have nothing to teach us and are incapable of contributing to the larger society.
Listen: When we’re not interested in building genuine mutual relationships, you rob people of their dignity and they become projects and not people. They become statistics and not reflections of our selves.
Listen: How can you love and serve the poor if you don’t even know the poor?
This conversation needs to happen especially in the Church.
While these conversations need to happen in many places, they especially need to happen in the Church. How could they not if the Scriptures – that we espouse to love – speak so much about how we are to engage, serve, and love the poor among us?
This is why our church birthed the Bridge Care & Advocacy Center.
And this is why I want to invite you (if you’re anywhere around Seattle) to join me for the The Isaiah 58 Summit for Economic Justice on Nov. 1-2. Quest is hosting the event on Thursday (7-9pm) and Friday’s event will take place at Seattle Pacific University. The event on Thursday is free. For Friday’s event, there’s a small $15 fee. If you’re facing financial challenges, I would be happy to personally pay that for you. Let me know. Here’s more info and how you can RSVP for one or both of these events.
While I’m excited to welcome back my friend, Dr. Soong Chan Rah to Quest and Seattle, I’ll be very honest: I’m more excited about the privilege of introducing you to some friends I’ve had the privilege of meeting in the recent months. They are those that sociologists call the “working poor.” Here’s the full run-down on the conference:
At the Isaiah 58 Summit For Economic Justice, you will meet low-wage workers from the Seattle metropolitan area who are struggling to make ends meet. Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) is partnering with The John Perkins Center for Reconciliation at Seattle Pacific University and other local faith communities to host this two-part event. IWJ is a national organization whose mission is to partner with churches to advocate for low-wage workers in our country. Together with other local Christian leaders, we will have the chance to learn how we can come alongside these workers in service and in prayer.
I want to invite you to join us for this conference – either Thursday night or Friday or both. Whatever works. Just be there. Please.
I’m again challenged and confronted by the words of Scriptures. From Isaiah 58:6
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” Isaiah 58:6
Lastly, watch this documentary:
I want to invite you to watch this documentary called ‘The Line’.
Grab a seat. Get yourself a cup of tea of coffee. Sit. Watch. And let it sink in…
Poverty in America — It’s not what you think
The Line documents the stories of people across the country living at or below the poverty line. They have goals. They have children. They work hard. They are people like you and me.
From Chicago’s suburbs and west side to the Gulf Coast to North Carolina, millions of Americans are struggling every day to make it above The Line.