Interview: Christians, Money, and Poverty

Samantha from Home Realm has interviewed Sparrow from Intent and myself about our views on Christians, money, and poverty. She is going to post both interviews on her blog and I encourage you to visit her and read Sparrow's interview. (Note: I had trouble trying to post this last week, but I think I've resolved the problem and formatted it to make it easier to read.)

Samantha: In an email to me, one of you mentioned that many highly conservative people you know demonstrate an attitude of arrogance towards those who are in a bad condition. Could you elaborate on what you mean by this?

Hannah: My comment was directed at those in the US who are looking at others in the US. There is an attitude that “I have worked so hard to get what I have, other people should pull themselves up by the bootstraps too or suffer the consequences.” Specifically, I often sense contempt towards criminals, welfare mothers, the homeless and others whose poor choices have resulted in their economic condition. Now, I don’t believe that choices should have no consequences; they should. But those who have not made such poor choices have no right to approach their fellow humans with an arrogant attitude, as if they avoided ended up in a bad circumstance by their own wisdom and goodness. Especially as Christian, we should show mercy to all, even to “sinners.”

Samantha: Do you think there are "deserving" poor, or do you think that Christian charity necessitates economic help to all who are in need, despite the circumstances of their situation?

Hannah: People need more than just money; they need to be helped to a responsible lifestyle. That includes mentoring, training, counseling, listening, and praying. If they refuse to embrace responsibility for their actions, there is a point at which their relationship with the giver will have to change. Recognizing this, I still don’t want to place the bar too high. There is room for grace. For the Christian, it’s not one strike and you’re out, or even three strikes and you’re out.

Samantha: In other words, is God "On the side of the poor" in a way He is NOT for the rich?

Hannah: I’ve read this question in other places on the web and find that it provokes strong emotional reactions. Thus, I’m going to skip it. Sorry!

Samantha: Also, does Christian charity also necessitate sharing the Gospel with those being helped?

Hannah: I would say, absolutely the gospel should be shared with those being helped—although there are exceptions. One exception might be a situation where large numbers of people are in grave danger of dying, such as after the tsunami or the earthquakes in Iran. Aid needs to be given quickly to large numbers of people or they will die. They may be no time or opportunity to share the gospel with every person in such circumstances. Further, as each Christian ministers to those in need, she needs to rely on the Holy Spirit to lead her to share the gospel at the right time. I don’t want to set up rules for other people. And I don’t see a lot of Christians faithfully serving the poor without sharing the gospel. I heard this question debated in seminary a lot, but I wonder how relevant it is. Most of those whom I know who are serving the poor are also sharing the gospel, while those who are not serving the poor are often not sharing the gospel with them either.

Samantha: Should we focus most of our efforts on fellow believers who are being persecuted or are living in poverty?

Hannah: We should focus a lot of effort on helping our fellow believers. But the church has been given enough to do something for their Christian brothers and also for non-Christians. God may call some people to focus more on one or the other but I’m not going to dictate what the church or an individual should do. The bigger problem I see is that many Christians are not really helping anyone.

Samantha: What level of economic prosperity is acceptable in the lives of Christians?

Hannah: The amount of economic prosperity is a matter between each Christian and God. The question is not what you have but how you use it.

Samantha: Do you think that a person's spiritual state can be legitimately judged by their material possessions?

Hannah: Not at all. Only God can judge a person’s spiritual state. But I do think the collective actions of a large group of people, such as North American Christians, does say something about their spiritual state. When I read polls that show that most church attending Christians give only 2% of their income, I can help but wonder if something is wrong.

Samantha: In an email, it was also stated that there is a lot of ignorance about the lives of people outside the western world. Please elaborate on this.

Hannah: I will on my blog, but I’m running out of brain space here and my comment didn’t directly relate to giving anyway.

Samantha: What do you believe causes the extreme poverty we see outside the western world?

Hannah: Everything that causes poverty in the Western world—such as drugs, alcoholism, unwed pregnancy—plus a host of other factors. Among them are wars, natural disasters, famines, diseases, exploitation by other nations, lack of resources, waste of resources, disastrous government policies (Zimbabwe, North Korea), internal exploitation of one group by another (such as the treatment of Untouchables in India). Economist P.J. Hill in a recent interview wrote, “The biggest barrier to economic growth in developing countries is corrupt governments where the politicians use the power of the state to feather their own nest.” I agree.

Samantha: Do you have a standard of giving in your family that surpasses the tithe? What percentage of your giving goes to your local church, and what percentage goes to other causes?

Hannah: I have never allotted a specific percentage of money, mainly because my income was extremely variable before I got married. I did give a fixed amount of money, which was above the 10% level of my highest income point. I also try to use my money for good no matter what I am spending it on. I try not to divide “giving” from “non-giving.” Everything I spend my money on should be for the glory of God and the benefit of mankind. For example, yesterday I bought my red pepper power (a very important ingredient in Korean cooking) from an elderly woman selling it on the street instead of from my local supermarket. That women is clearly poor and has a genuine need for the money. I can get better quality pepper if I buy it at the supermarket, but I want to help that woman. There are plently of people begging here in Korea, but that woman was not. She was attempting to earn her living by selling something that she had. I want to support that.

Currently, we also often give 10% of our income to my husband’s parents. This is a common part of Asian culture, at least for sons, and my husband has been doing so for many years.

Samantha: Are State funds (Foreign aid, etc.) or private charities a more effective way to help those in need?

Hannah: Both government and private involvement are needed, but their roles are different. A government needs to provide an environment conduce to economic growth and fair transactions between citizens. My personal opinion is that private charities are generally the most effective way to help those in need. Of course, some private charities don’t do a good job either. Discernment is always needed. Certain widespread disasters, such as last year’s tsunami, require government oversight and coordination. Obviously, only governments can carry out peacekeeping interventions in war torn regions, whether in Yugoslavia or potentially in Darfur.

Samantha: Are monetary donations most effective, or rather attempts to help root causes of poverty (i.e. agricultural development, etc.)?

Hannah: Monetary donations are good and necessary, but alongside those we should help to uproot the causes of poverty.

Samantha: Where is the Church failing as an institution as far as helping those who are suffering in poverty?

Hannah: I wish I had an answer. If anyone knows, email me.

Samantha: What are the causes that are closest to your heart right now?

Hannah: The cause that has been for several years, is now, and probably will continue to be dearest to my heart is world missions. Virtually 100% of my monetary giving, at least before I got married, was to missionaries who were involved directly in evangelization through preaching of the gospel among groups in Asia who have no Christian witness or Bible translation.

Following that, I am deeply burdened for
(1) People, both Christian and non-Christian, in North Korea as well as North Korean refugees in China.
(2) Persecuted tribes, such as the Karen, Katchin, and Chin, in Myanmar.
(3) The situation in Southern Sudan and Darfur.

Background: This topic started with me in Note from an Angry Blogger and in More Blessed to Give than Receive?! Then it spread to Sparrow at Intent with "What is it with Christians and Money?" and For those who disagree, and to Samantha at Home Realm in Another Entry My More Liberal/Progressive Readers Might Not Like and Monday's Monetary Musing (But Very Brief).

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