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God's Politics


Adam Taylor: ‘The Poor Will Always Be Among You…’ Except in Your Political Priorities?

posted by God's Politics

After all of the pundits and commentators were done picking apart President Bush’s State of the Union address, one glaring point had still not been made. In 49 minutes, President Bush barely uttered the words “poverty” or “the poor.” It’s as though our president has taken Jesus’ words in Matthew (“the poor you will always have with you”) to justify making scant mention of their crushing needs in what is arguably the most important political speech of the year. How did this omission sound to the 37 million Americans and counting who are currently living in the quicksand of poverty, or the more-than-a-billion people around the world living on less than $1 a day?

To be fair, the president briefly mentioned global poverty in relation to the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and a $1.2 billion anti-malaria initiative. In relation to domestic poverty, the president mentioned poor children in the context of making modest proposals to expand health care coverage to uninsured Americans. But these policies and reforms lacked specifics, and fall far short of a bold plan that addresses the root causes of poverty. Even newly-elected Senator Jim Webb’s Democratic response fixated almost entirely on the middle class. Senator Webb correctly pointed out that we must measure the health of our economy based on how its benefits are properly shared among all Americans, but then focused exclusively on the middle class as those Americans who “have lost their place at the table.”

Hurricane Katrina pulled back the curtain on poverty in America, putting a human face on the needless deprivation that permeates the wealthiest country in the world. I heard many preachers refer to Katrina as “Povertina” due to the hurricane’s devastating and disproportionate impact on those already living at the margins. Yet too many Americans seem to be suffering from an acute case of amnesia surrounding all that Katrina revealed. How would the prophets Amos, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Micah have responded to last night’s speech? I would imagine with words of righteous indignation and judgment against an administration that prioritizes the needs of the wealthiest over the weakest.

Through Christ’s teachings and ministry we see time and time again a call to treat people’s needs as holy, particularly those among us who are the most left out and left behind. Somehow we have made the needs of the impoverished so synonymous with the interests of the middle class that politicians no longer feel the need to call them out by name. It’s as though the word poverty has become taboo and obsolete in political circles. This trend is in part because people living in poverty are less likely to vote, lack the means to write campaign contributions, and don’t enjoy the benefits of the social networks needed to exert the same influence as the rest of society. Thus by its very nature our political system is antithetical and hostile to the interests of those with the weakest voice. This will remain the case until the church accepts its prophetic vocation to speak truth to power. The church stands at the intersection of power and powerlessness.

Through campaigns like the Covenant for a New America, we can make sure that poverty is no longer relegated to a third-rail issue due to political expediency and neglect. By joining together, and speaking out with a unified voice, we can elevate poverty to the top of the president’s – and our nation’s – political agenda.


Adam Taylor is director of campaigns and organizing for Sojourners/Call to Renewal.



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Mike Hayes

posted January 26, 2007 at 1:01 am


Adam, Great topic! I often wonder about the phrase you quoted (about the poor always being with us and the implication some take from that to the effect that concern for the poor isn’t as important as, say, attending church services or contributing to the upkeep of church buildings) and the message that those who help provide necessities of life for those who are thirsty, hungry, naked and so on will attain salvation, while those who do not help provide those necessities will not be saved. It must all be in how we all interpret the messages we hear, and where our values are. George Lakoff explains it in “Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think” in ways that help me understand how some of us emphasize the one pasage and others emphasize the other. George Lakoff is a liberal, and his thinking aligns with mine on issues like those, and I wish there were another author who specializes in the same field who would present a conservative view. I think that (analysis of how we think) would help a lot in reducing some of the bitter feelings that come out of all of us when we think persons of the opposite view are just ignoring “facts”.>



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Rose Elvern

posted January 26, 2007 at 2:31 pm


RW preachers deliberately distort the passages on helping the poor when they mention them at all. Can’t count the number of people who think they are “real Christians” because they NEVER HELP THE POOR AND NEVER WILL BECAUSE “ONLY CATHOLICS TRY TO BUY THEIR WAY INTO HEAVEN.” The passage, very long and UNMISTAKABLE that those who ignore the needs of the poor will be rejected utterly by Christ in the last Judgment What you did to the least of these my brothers, you did to me.” has never been quoted by TV preachers or any denomination, except for liturgical churches and then it is not commented on in the sermon, and I have been to a lot of churches.>



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kevin s.

posted January 26, 2007 at 4:12 pm


“George Lakoff is a liberal, and his thinking aligns with mine on issues like those, and I wish there were another author who specializes in the same field who would present a conservative view.” Lakoff’s book is indicative of the presumptuous nature of linguistics. Of course, linguistics is all about presumptions and attitudes. I’ve mentioned this before, but the field of linguistics a closed society, pioneered and championed by folks who sit at the far left end of the political spectrum. The result is a field of study wherein an ideological calling card is needed for admittance (or, at least, scholarly acceptance). This is why you won’t likely see a similar book from the right.>



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kevin s.

posted January 26, 2007 at 4:15 pm


Rose, This is fine. It is important to work on behalf of the poor. However, the question that Adam (along with his fellow Sojo bloggers) fails to address is how this translates to what we ask governments to do. This is not a settled question.>



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Mike Hayes

posted January 26, 2007 at 4:40 pm


Kevin, You seem so definite about outcomes of so many things in many of the posts you make. It seems to me that the left does not have a lock on consideration of the way people think. Surely there will be a rightie who will write about that thought process (nurturing vs bootstraps) at some point.>



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kevin s.

posted January 26, 2007 at 5:27 pm


“It seems to me that the left does not have a lock on consideration of the way people think” No. But they do have a lock on the field of lingusitics, which is what you are talking about. There are plenty of books that talk about where conservatives and liberals are coming from, written from a conservative perspective.>



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Ms. Cynthia

posted January 28, 2007 at 10:55 am


When we leave a generation of people out of the echonomic system for what ever reason, be it racism,sexism, nationalism, etc. we actually are holding back our own echonomic growth and success as a nation and a world. The poor are not the adversary of the wealthy. It is not the middle class versus the destitute. Keeping people in poverty is expensive and foolish. It is penny wise and pound foolish. It is a recipe for ecological disaster and global disintigration. Look at what it has done for Bangladesh when one of their national treasures found a way to engage the poorest of the poor in the South Asian economy. Look at how much more well off Americans became during the last century, when they benefited from the dividens created as more people were included in the economy with the strides made by the civil rights movement. Its not only the right thing to do; its the smart thing to do. We need to devote both our intellectual creativity and ethical consciousness to making our economy more inclusive. We need to look at solving poverty not as a proplem but an opportunity for enhancing democracy and the environmental quality of life on the planet. We can not wait for politicians to figure it out. Our president is not in touch with the facts on the ground. It doesn’t matter whether you are on the left or the right if you are not asking the right questions.>



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Anonymous

posted January 28, 2007 at 11:24 am


See Duane’s piece in next blog. Good work Duane. Poverty. Childhood Poverty Is Found to Portend High Adult Costs – “Children who grow up poor cost the economy $500 billion a year because they are less productive, earn less money, commit more crimes and have more health-related expenses.” With Health Care Topic A, Some Sketches for a Solution- “Start with the children and work up from there. For corporate America and Washington policy experts, that seems to be the emerging consensus about how to begin tackling the problem of the 47 million people in this country without health insurance: Start with the more than 8 million uninsured children.” ___ The above is only a sample of facts on the ground. The economy is something you are always planning for the next generation the day they are conceived. What will it be? Shall we keep waiting until they show up in the Truama Unit the week before Christmas at age 14 to worry about the actual cost of a gun fatality. We have all had the privelege of being children, we will all become parents.>



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Elmo

posted January 29, 2007 at 6:03 pm


“The root cause of poverty”? It’s people. No matter what economic system you develop, if it involves more than, say, 10 families, someone will be poor. And as far as the fact that the poor will always be with us, it’s no excuse to not help them. In fact, it means that we should never not be helping poor people. But, if we continue to strive for the end of poverty, people are going to get frustrated by failure and the futility of the struggle, and give up. Then they just start focusing on stuff they can eliminate…like the mold growing in the fellowship hall. Rose- I don’t know where you’re from, but I’ve been in a number of churches from a broad political and theological spectrum, and I’ve heard Matthew 25:31ff many, many times. Of course, I’ve mostly heard it in support of things like congregational benevolence programs, fundraising for food banks, and community service, rather than taxi increases and socialized health-care. It would seem to me that those who do the work themselves and freely give of their resources are fulfilling the spirit of the parable more than those who would take money from others to give away.>



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Elmo

posted January 29, 2007 at 6:17 pm


Cynthia- There’s no “h” in “economic”. There is no “generation” left out of the economic system. The beautiful think about the US is that the poorest of the poor with the motivation to make something of themselves can. My parents are perfect examples. Poor & black before the civil rights movement, they had a tougher situation than many of today’s complainers. They both found a way to pay for college, did well, and both spent decades in the tech industry, helping pioneer personal computers and telecommunication. They lived the American Dream. America’s wealth didn’t come from civil rights. This was a wealthy country before that. We got there because of military spending and innovation. That and the fact that WW2 left Europe in shambles. Our economy is inclusive. There are jobs available that can be done well by the physically and mentally handicapped. If you acquire skills you can support a family with an 8th-grade education. You can learn a new trade and change careers with great success in your 40’s or 50’s. No matter where you start, if you work hard you can achieve. The problem with many who support the movement towards economic socialism is they think that sentence should say, “if you work hard you will achieve.” But the writer of Ecclesiastes would tell you that chance and luck overtake everyone. Does that mean that no one should be allowed to be wealthy? No. But those of us who have, should be ready, willing, and joyful givers to those who don’t have. Taking money from someone who has earned it is not the way to support the poor.>



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Marian Neudel

posted January 29, 2007 at 8:00 pm


I think our economic vocabulary has changed in the last 30 years. We reserve the word “poor” for the undeserving poor, those who could work and choose not to. We now use expressions like “working-class” where we once would have said “deserving poor.” So when a politician laments the fate of the middle class, chances are he is including at least some people who, in a less mealy-mouthed age, would have been called poor.>



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