For the Health of the Nation: Justice for the Poor and Vulnerable (Part 6 of 9)
In 2004 the National Association of Evangelicals released the groundbreaking document For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility. This historic document outlines seven different areas of concern for Evangelicals engaged in politics. In an effort to make Christians more aware of this work we are taking nine weeks to highlight the importance of this document. You can read it in its entirety by clicking here.
This week our discussion of For the Health of the Nation (FTHOTN) leads us to what may be one of the most controversial political issues facing the Church today. Taken by itself, care for the poor and vulnerable isn’t all that controversial. Any one who reads their Bible finds it brimming with commands to reach out to the needy. The controversy, however, comes when we start to discuss how we should demonstrate this care. More specifically, the role that government should play in this Christian calling is where tempers boil over and the Church is torn apart. As a representative body of a myriad of perspectives, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) was forced to walk a fine line with their exposition of this topic. Nevertheless, what we find in this section of FTHOTN is generally a very balanced view of both the Church’s role in mitigating poverty and the government’s responsibility as well.
It is important to note, though, that the author’s did a great job of broadening the perspective to include other vulnerable groups beside the poor. This includes, “women, children, the aged, persons with disabilities, immigrants, refugees, minorities, the persecuted, and prisoners.” Too often some of us can fall into the trap of believing that God loves the poor simply because they are poor, while I believe that God loves the poor because of the vulnerable position they are in, a similar position to that of the afore mentioned groups (Read more on this topic here).
This portion of FTHOTN begins by laying a theological foundation for Christians’ concern for the poor and vulnerable. The authors note that valuing the image of God in those who are downtrodden, loving our neighbor, and recognizing how many times the Scriptures call us to care for “the least of these,” all lead the Believer to a special concern for the vulnerable of society; a concern that truly reflects the heart of God, not simply a plank in a political platform.
The remainder of this section is where the NAE forges into the controversy of this issue. Many will not agree with all that is put forth, but in general, the authors did a good job of balancing the varying interests represented by the NAE. For example, after arguing that we should work toward a fair economic system that does not tolerate perpetual poverty, they go on to note that no where does that Bible call for complete economic equality. Rather, God wants us to work for a society where everyone has access to wealth creation and we all can have full participation in the life of the community.
The authors also note that a robust response to this issue will require some government intervention. This is where one’s political philosophy most assuredly colors one’s interpretation of Scripture. The role of government in this issue is far from certainty, but it is important to recognize that one of the main functions of government is to promote the common good, which requires some kind of response to poverty.
As we have noted before, there will always be good Christians on every side of the debate regarding how to best handle the poor. So as you work through these issues remember that no political philosophy can carry the name of Christ. Rather the Church is the vessel through which God has chosen to reveal Himself. Let us therefore do all that we can to show His love to all of society, but especially to the poor and the vulnerable.