Helping the Poor or Helping Ourselves?

Posted: February 11, 2010 in Uncategorized

Are you old enough to remember this?

Apparently, tomorrow night they are debuting a new version to benefit Haiti.

Great, right? I’m not so sure.

Take a look at this:

Social justice has roared back to the forefront of Christianity, which is great, (in fact, to be a covenant member of Revolution each follower of Jesus must pick such a ministry to be a part of it), but how we structure our social justice projects is almost as important as actually engaging at all. Too often we don’t think these projects through and, as a result, we end making things worse in the long run while making ourselves feel better in the short run.

For example, I was listening to a conference hosted by Mars Hill Bible Church a few years ago and author/theologian Brian Walsh was asked about his efforts to close down foreign sweat shops.  Specifically, a person asked what to do about the fact that when they were successful in closing down a factory that many of the workers turned to prostitution? Walsh had no answer.  He simply dismissed the questioner.

Economist Thomas Sowell has questioned efforts like The Jubilee Project in which social justice advocates like N.T. Wright and Bono were pushing for 3rd world debt forgiveness.  Sowell argues that actually many of these nations have already been the recipients of debt forgiveness in the sense that UN programs loan them money and never ask for it back, in fact, they just loan them more money to pay back the earlier loan with no consequences.  Yet, none of these nations are truly better off. 

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to rain on the parade.  I think that the rise of interest in social justice is a blessing and, like Donald Miller, I worry that it will only become a passing fad instead of an integral part of the faith but shouldn’t we try to do what is best for the other and not just what makes us feel better about ourselves?  If this takes more time and effort because we have to help change whole systems rather than just spend a few hours or dollars here and there, isn’t it worth it? Isn’t the definition of Christian love doing what is best for the least among us?

As one person on the ground in Haiti put it, “It is great to hand someone who is thirsty a bottle of water but a few hours later they will be thirsty again.”

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