By Chuck Bentley
It is hard to believe that it took a humanist composer to point out the weaknesses and flaws in the modern methods typically used to counteract poverty. Peter Buffet created an uproar when he famously coined a term in a New York Times article — “the charitable industrial complex” — and declared, “we need a new approach” to our losing battle against global poverty.
While I disagree with Buffet’s conclusions, it is time to rethink how we seek to help the least of these, now numbering about 2 billion of our neighbors.
Having spent more than twelve years invested in the eradication of poverty, I’ve witnessed many of the solutions that churches, ministries, non-government organizations (NGOs), governments, businesses, and generous individuals have deployed.
From a pair of hip shoes, to water wells, to micro loans, to large-scale business investments, to food programs, to education schemes, to savings programs, to manufacturing plants, to government welfare; you name it, I’ve seen it. Worldwide, a massive, fragmented effort is underway to help the poor.
Collectively, these multi-billion dollar charitable efforts typically fall into one of two categories—short-term relief or long-term development.
But I believe we may be missing the most obvious solution—God’s plan to escape poverty and thrive in mind, body, and soul, found in His plan for the Jewish exiles in Babylon.
“Build a house and settle down. Plant a garden and eat from your own garden” (Jeremiah 29:5).
The building block of every society is individuals who take responsibility to establish a dwelling. Without this, we see only wandering tribesmen, marauding looters, refugee camps, or migrant workers moving from job to job. Lives are built upon stable foundations, and housing is foundational. Also crucial is close proximity to a personal food supply. Notice God did not first call for a chartable feeding program.
Eating from the fruits of your labor ranks high in priority. This clear directive has many social and cultural benefits, and in modern terms equates to establishing a consistent source of income.
“Marry and have sons and daughters. Seek husbands and wives for your sons and daughters. Increase, do not decrease!” (Jeremiah 29:6).
This may likely be the most controversial step in God’s plan for poverty eradication in contemporary thought, and one that we have been blinded to, but families have been and will remain the essential part of God’s design to bring prosperity to our lives.
The dominant false philosophy of the day proposes that there are too many people on planet Earth and too few resources to go around. In fact, people are good for an economy.
This calloused disregard for our most precious assets, children, is evidenced by the growing practice of abortion, delayed or forgone marriages, and a preference toward fewer and fewer children in the developed world.
Birth rates are falling in China, Japan, the United States, Germany, Italy, and nearly all other European countries. Yet, these are the richest nations in the world.
Economists are worried not just because growth is stalling in working-age populations, but their numbers as a share of the total population in many countries is also falling. Economists like to see this share of total population rise, because it means more people are earning money, expanding the tax base, and paying for schools for the young and pensions and health care for the old.
“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:7).
The Lord gives an astounding principle here: Christians must embrace God’s plan to bless the world because our personal prosperity is dependent upon the peace and prosperity of our community (our local economy). In other words, we are God’s instruments to spread His goodness to the world around us by living and serving others in our community.
Economies are a collective of the contributions by the members of that home, community, state, or nation. We are independent in one sense because of private home ownership and responsibility for our personal food supply, but we are totally inter-dependent when it comes to a flourishing economy.
We are to build enterprises that will assist others in the achievement of their goals and objectives. This is the best marketplace strategy of all time.
Greed, coveting, survival of the fittest tactics, corruption, and low efficiencies will plague any company, economy, or nation that is devoid of entrepreneurs and workers who value peace and prosperity for all. This model cannot be legislated, as it does not occur via law. It comes via a transformation of the human heart.
“Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you … They are prophesying lies to you in my name,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 29:8-9).
A great failure of poverty eradication programs and economic development initiatives is refusing to acknowledge that the spiritual condition of people impacts everything. What one believes about God impacts his or her view of marriage, children, finances, art, business, government, education, and religion.
Our mission should not be to build an enterprise with marketplace value just to lead people out of economic poverty but to use all that God has given us to nurture a transformation of the hearts and minds of those who are alienated from God and His truth.
Christians are to serve the needs of others through peaceful means—not through domination, manipulation, coercion, or force. We are also to seek to help others prosper as our primary economic goal. But our ultimate aim is to be focused on making disciples, whether they are employees, refugees, or our next-door neighbors.
This is counter-intuitive and turns modern capitalistic greed and aggression upside down. Our heart attitude must be to seek a win/win for those we are serving, putting others before ourselves, just as Jesus did.
Originally posted 8/2/2014 on Real Clear Religion.
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