Angela Chininin Buele
How Poverty and Entitlement Went From Oil and Vinegar To Peanut Butter and Jelly
Having loved, lived among, and served alongside people in very poor communities, I have seen how little is learned when challenge is removed and standards are lowered. During the time I taught in a very low-income district, I would repeatedly have teens tell me one minute about how proud they were of their latest purchase (electronics, phone, prom rental, etc.) and then say that they didn’t have the required class materials (pencils, pens, paper) with them because they weren’t able to buy enough school supplies.
When there is no dissatisfaction in poverty, there is no drive to get out of it; but when there is incentive in poverty, there is a kind of fondness for it. Let me clarify. What I mean by “incentive” in this case is a need-based benefit that is actually spent on luxuries (entertainment or jewelry) instead of on essentials (food or warm clothing). If families encourage the use of these resources in this way, young people are taught – as I have seen with my own eyes – to devalue education as the source of lasting income. If this takes root, what reason would a young person have to aim high and work hard? They already have a situation that works relatively well for them.
Even more dangerous is the idea I have heard from some of my former students that, if school work is too hard (according to their personal judgment), they are victims of an unjust system. So the free education given in order to educate them “out” of poverty can be identified as a tool of oppression. When that happens, resentment builds against authority, and if education is despised, one is left with one apparently effective and certainly satisfying tool for battle – physical resistance – which leads to increased unrest throughout the communities.
When I was a teenager preparing to move to the inner city determined to see racial reconciliation advanced though the gospel of Jesus Christ, I was told by a family member that I just needed to send money to poor people so they could get better education and get out of poverty. This is the most insulting form of classism there is. When sending a check allows you to avoid having to interact with someone, that shows nothing but apathy, and apathy is hateful. And yet this is exactly what our welfare checks do. And in apathy’s tragic culmination when the cash and new schools don’t entice higher graduation rates, abortion services are featured as a way of blaming unborn children for the cycle of poverty.
Key Question: Is it truly compassionate to give aid to those who are poor without actually helping them to change their situation, to get them out of poverty rather than establishing them further in it?
Unshakable Truth: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” 2 Thessalonians 3:10b
Not to be mistaken for the disabled being incapable of work or the eager unable to find work, this passage addresses the one who engages in unfruitful activity (laziness, meddling, and uninterested in honoring a proper boss). Also, the reader is cautioned to command and encourage the one who is unwilling to work. This is not mean-spirited, insulting or divisive. Giving a friend a warning that they’ve had too much to drink and need to shake the fog with some coffee is just as much for their benefit and protection as it is for the community at large.
Let us not forget that Christ’s teachings tore to heal.
The Real Choice: Are you willing to help guide people out of poverty or do you expect your tax dollars to bring lasting change?