As parents, we want our children to care about people in need. So how can we make that happen? On today’s Home School Heartbeat, Dr. Anne Bradley gives her rules of thumb for practicing compassion to the poor.
Mike Farris: I’m joined today by Dr. Anne Bradley. She’s the vice president of Economic Initiatives at the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics. Anne, welcome to the program!
Anne Bradley: Hi Mike! Thank you so much for having me.
Mike: It is great to have you.
Anne, as parents, we want to teach our children to be compassionate. And an important place to start with this is being compassionate toward the poor. How can we teach our kids about poverty, and what they can do to help?
Anne: This is such an important question for all of us, parents and non-parents alike. Because you’re right—we very much care about the poor. And as Christians we have a call, a duty, to care for them. And so I think that’s really where we have to start. It’s to say, “What does the Scripture teach us about caring for the poor?” And then that enables us to go out and do it effectively.
Because if we do it the wrong way—if we actually hurt the very people we’re trying to help, which we see happen, especially in policy space—then we have to hold ourselves accountable for that. So I think starting with the Scripture is how we do this well.
Mike: Well, Scripture has a lot to say about the need to stand up for the poor and to help the poor. And so there’s an abundance of riches about that subject matter that we can use from Scripture. So I agree—that’s the place to start.
Anne, what are some of the reasons that people become poor?
Anne: Well, in a fallen world, there are a lot of reasons. In some cases we’re poor for no fault of our own—if we’re the victims of hurricane displacement. Things like this can happen to us. But there’s some reasons in a fallen world when we are accountable. If we choose drug addiction, for example. If we have a lack of material resources because of that.
So there’s a lot of reasons that people are poor. And thus there have to be individual prescriptions for helping the poor. So the way that you’re going to help someone who was displaced from Superstorm Sandy, for example, is going to be very different than the way you help someone who’s addicted to heroin.
And I have to go back to my original claim, which is that the Scripture can help us with this. Because really, we can help with material poverty, but spiritual poverty can only be cured through Jesus. And so I think, again, the Bible is very helpful here for us as Christians thinking about how we can be compassionate—how we actually get on the ground, roll up our sleeves, and help people.
Mike: Anne, an individual approach makes a whole lot of sense. What role does the principle of economic freedom have in relationship to how we help the poor?
Anne Bradley: Economic freedom is this idea that we live in a society where people are free to choose what they’re going to do with their lives, what their professions are going to be. And so I like to talk about the market as a process of cooperation. The beauty is that the powerful incentives of the market are that people serve each other. So we have laptops and cell phones and all these things that make our lives better and easier.
Now when we don’t have economic freedom, all those things get stifled. And so people who live in abject poverty (which is less than $1.25 a day), they spend all their time just trying to survive. How do I get water? How do I get shelter? How do I get my next meal? They can’t plan for the future. Because all of their energies, each and every day, are just committed to trying to survive.
And I would add to that that economic freedom has inherent biblical principles behind it. The idea that theft is wrong, that corruption is wrong, that oppression is wrong—these are all tied very much to the Scriptures.
So what I like to say is that Christians have a responsibility to defend economic freedom. This is kind of a macro way or a big way that we can help the poor. We can help them through our churches and through our own philanthropic efforts. But in the policy space, what we really need to be doing is fighting for more economic freedom across the globe. Because then you’re going to see more businesses. You’re going to see more entrepreneurship. That’s stifled when people live in poverty.
Mike: The United States has a basically free market economy. It’s not perfect by any means in that regard, but still, it’s basically free. Yet we still have poor people. Anne, what do we do about that?
Anne: That’s a great question. So you’re kind of saying, “The United States has a lot of freedom, and has a well-functioning market, but we still have people who are poor.” So what do we do about it?
And I think this is where we have to look again at the Scripture. What does it tell us to do? And I think that the model of Christ is to help people in a personal way.
And so I think we have to find ways to identify who’s poor. Remember what we talked about the last time we met, which was that there’s different types of poverty. So the way we help the drug addict is different than the way we help somebody displaced through kind of an emergency situation, like a hurricane. And we have to get into a relationship and help them! And I think there’s power in that. I think we can help people transition out of poverty.
So poverty alleviation is about helping people not be poor anymore. And the federal government has demonstrated that they can’t do that. In fact, in many cases entitlements and dependencies come about. And this is an example of hurting the people we’re trying to help. So I think there’s a way out of it—I just don’t think it’s largely through federal support.
Mike: Anne, can you share some real life stories about people who have taken the initiative and helped the poor?
Anne: Absolutely. And Peter Grier has a great book. He has actually written a chapter in our book, called For the Least of These, and he provides many, many examples. But some of my favorites are people helping with microfinance.
Michael Craven is a micro entrepreneur in Dallas. And what he’s done is he’s said, “I want to help people who are unemployable.” And these tend to be kind of ex-cons, and felons, and things like this.
This is about a kind of whole life transformation. It’s not just about giving them a job. It’s about teaching them about the Scriptures, helping them come to Christ, and really helping restore that dignity that is inherent in all of us, but that has been so stripped of some people because they’ve never experienced the love of Christ. And he’s had remarkable success.
So it’s not just about getting people jobs. It’s about whole life transformation. And you know, these things are expensive, both in terms of resources but our time. And I think that’s what’s hard for people. But as Christians, we know we have the power, we have the Gospel. And we can bring that transformation to people.
So I think there’s a lot of great stories like that, where we’ve helped live directly into someone’s life and stay there for the long haul. That’s very different than giving a check to someone and walking away.
Mike: Anne, that’s a great encouragement. It’s wonderful to hear stories of how people have really reached out and helped the poor. I know that when I was in law school, people reached out to me—I was broke, dead broke—and I know that I have tried to carry that on. Great to have you with us on this program. I’m Mike Farris.