Poverty and Inequality Are Everybody’s Problem
by Rev. Paul J. Bern
As I was watching the GOP presidential debates this past week, I was struck by the fact that several key issues were completely ignored. One was the urgent need for development of clean energy and a green economy. Another big one that got brushed aside was climate change and what we can do about it, not to mention what I view as the urgency of that situation. But the biggest issue by far that got ignored was economic inequality, the fact that 99% of America’s wealth is in the hands of 1% of the population. This situation is much the same throughout the world. It is not something that is peculiar to America at all – far from it! My further observation of both of the presidential debates was that most, if not all, of the candidates running for the top office in the land are these same 1%-‘ers who crave the Oval Office and the power that accompanies it. It seems that the same people who are part of the problem are putting themselves forth as being the engineers of the solution. Donald Trump is, without question, the best example of this so far. The fact that he’s another billionaire from New York underscores the rampant and often extreme economic inequality that exists in America today.
According to statistics published by the Economic Policy Institute, and backed up by US government data, one in every seven persons currently living in the USA lives at or below the poverty line. One in seven sometimes goes hungry, especially children. For over one forth of America’s school children, lunch at school is their only meal of the day. One in seven pregnant women don’t get enough food for themselves and their unborn child. One person in every seven lives in a household with a gross income of under $14,000.00 per year for a single person, allowing only slightly more for children. Poverty devalues the individual in such a way that it can damage the mind or crush the spirit of anyone in its path. The hunger pangs are only what’s on the surface. Poverty is everyone’s problem because when one person is marginalized, then society as a whole becomes marginalized, and this is compounded the more that person becomes devalued. I submit to you that we are all made in the image and likeness of the same Almighty God who made us all (see Genesis chapter 1).
It is our capitalist economic system that is broken, and we are all feeling the effects of it. More and more people are being thrown out of work, often losing their homes, their transportation and their dignity as corporate America continues to re-size downward. The more that American business downsizes, the more people will be affected. Life can sometimes be like a game of musical chairs, and people are starting to notice that the music has stopped playing and there are no chairs left. For one thing, jobs are disappearing. Many of these jobs were out-sourced overseas, and many more that still remain will be replaced with robots and artificial intelligence within 10 or 15 more years. The US economy, plus the job market or what’s left of it, is in much worse shape than we’re being told (surprise, surprise). People are banding together by family or by neighborhood to ensure one another’s well-being. In Detroit, in particular, people are beginning to say the only way to survive is by taking care of one another, by recreating our relationships to one another, that we have created a society, over the last period, in particular, where each of us is pursuing self-interest. We have devolved as human beings.
We have been focused on taking care of ourselves for so long that we have forgotten how to take care of each other. Now that hard economic times have hit us right between the eyes, we need to do more to take care of each other. Get plugged into a volunteer program in your community. That would be one good place to start. Do this knowing that by helping to pick others up, you ultimately pick yourself up with it. And do it all knowing that God is watching over you as you go about your business. So, do not put God out of your life but rather keep Him within your heart and allow Him to dwell there. That is when you will know for sure that you are on the right track. Jesus summed this up perfectly when He defined the two greatest commandments, “…Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22, verses 37-40, NIV) The apostle James similarly wrote, “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James chapter 1, verses 26-27, NIV)
That’s not all the apostle James had to say about the loving the world as opposed to loving God. He connected it with the same mass inequality that we see today when he wrote, “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men who were not opposing you.” (James chapter 5, verses 1-6 NIV) Your wealth has lost its value!! Your investments have divested themselves of their own worth!! Not just their net worth either. Not only have you lost all your interest, you have lost the principal as well! Your entire portfolio is forfeit! Total disaster will overtake all of you who put yourselves into your careers and climb the corporate ladder to the exclusion of everything and everyone else! In so doing, you have fallen into idolatry!! Idolatry, you ask? But how? By prioritizing your careers over your worship, and by valuing your material goods over the supreme sacrifice Christ made for you on the cross. Make no mistake about it, the shed blood of Jesus Christ is more valuable than anything else on the planet – period! The biggest mansion, the most expensive yacht, the fastest car or truck and the trendiest clothes and night clubs are rubbish when compared to the purity of Christ. Besides Him stands no other! Jesus stands alone, heads above the rest!
Speaking of Jesus, He had lots to say about rich people. But, one of His most famous comments comes from the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew chapter 6, verses 19-21 NIV) The more attached we become to our material stuff, the farther away we get from God. But it’s more than just stuff. We can become more attached to our spouse or significant other, to our children, to our careers, and even to recreational activities like water skiing, snow boarding, our boats and motorcycles, or fitness training. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of the above. But we must always put our personal relationship with Christ first because it’s invariably the most important! I cannot overemphasize this one main point!
In closing, the fact that Donald Trump is still considered the GOP front-runner in the early part of the presidential race to the White House says a lot about the state of our country. The most eligible candidate, if the Republicans get their way, is the Donald, the one with the most money. The most eligible Democratic candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has reported earnings together with former president Clinton at $140 million over the last seven years. That’s a cool 20 mill per year, there are a lot of professional sports players who don’t make that much. So, the bottom line here is that the two front runners in the 2016 election are both 1%-ers who profess to have the solutions to the plight of the remaining 99% of us, when it’s already an established fact that no matter who wins, the winner is beholden to the mega rich who bought the election in the first place. Capitalism – and the materialistic consumer lifestyle that goes along with it – has conquered the world without firing a single shot. In so doing, the top 1% are in charge of, and in many cases own, just about everything, right down to the land every building is built upon. But when Jesus returns, all power and authority will be given to Him on earth as it is in heaven, and the rich will be destitute.