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首頁 社會倫理 經濟倫理 Luey Kit Ling, Elaine: "Poverty in the midst of plenty" - Issues related to poverty and a Christian
Luey Kit Ling, Elaine: "Poverty in the midst of plenty" - Issues related to poverty and a Christian PDF 列印 E-mail
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週一, 27 一月 2014 18:38

"Poverty in the midst of plenty" - Issues related to poverty and a Christian response

Referee: Dr. Benedict Kwok
Anthor: Luey Kit Ling, Elaine

1. Introduction

The dilemma is God bless wealth but there is a group of people living in poverty.

Poverty is not just about people living in less fortunate conditions, receiving less. It relates to various other issues such as death. It is estimated that on an average 11 children die from hunger EVERY MINUTE.[1] It relates to suffering in various senses – physical, psychological and dignity.

It also underpins issues such as justice and equality. Wall Street Journal labeled Hog Kong as a more “unequal city” over the past decade. [2]Despite the economic prosperity of Hong Kong, the gap of wealth and poverty widened. In 2011, the Hong Kong’s Census and Statistics Department revealed  the city’s Gini coefficient—rose to 0.537, up from 0.525 in 2001.[3]

In the secular world, there is a lot of care for poverty. However, Christians should take an even more serious and engaging approach.  The objective of the paper is not to look at the poverty data and statistics, but rather to have an overview on issues, ethics relating to poverty from biblical views and areas of Christian response.

2.   A close look at poverty

1.1.Definitions – world view

There is no single agreed definition of poverty in the world. The Hong Kong Government’s first step in tackling poverty is defining the poverty line , the first important task chartered to the Commission on Poverty. [4]However, generally speaking, poverty can be considered those “with insufficient means to meet needs.” In a more huaman view, it is considered a major constraint to any form of development of human beings [5]

Ondari defined poverty from a narrow and boarder sense.

1.1.1. Narrow sense – it refers to  lack of resources of all types to satisfy human needs such as nutrition, rest, warmth and bodily care

1.1.2. Broader sense

Ondari cited the pyramid of poverty concepts originated by Baluch (1996) and reproduced by White and Killick (1996). At the end of the spectrum is the private consumption which is commonly used for international comparison. At the bottom is the community-level measures which expand to the nature of poverty, the assets of the poor, the constraints they face and the influence of household dynamics. [6]

In 2005, German Federal government defined ‘poverty, in the sense of social exclusion with an end to guaranteed participation, exists when the ability of people to act is seriously limited, and they are denied an equal opportunity to take part in the activities and normal living condition of life in society. To the German, poverty is lack of participation. [7]

Byron defined poverty as ‘sustained deprivation – that is deprivation over time of heath, shelter, education , employment and income, sustained by social and economic forces some of which might be unjust. [8]

As we can see, poverty is a multidimensional issue not limited to inadequate basic needs. It goes all the way up to matters relating to freedom and autonomy.

1.2.Biblical definitions

More importantly, we shall evaluate the poverty definitions in the bible.  Who are the poor?

Lim summarized scriptures from Old Testament text and concluded that the poor do not have resources and are often classified in the helpless social group who needs protection, justice, assistance, depending on the public’s almsgiving and mercy.

[9]

Baker looked through the Hebrew Bible and found different names for those facing poverty.  I ranked them according to how frequently were they being used. Aniy, was mostly used, appeared 80 times. It means those who are oppressed ie exploited and crushed by power. (2 Sam 22:29; Job 36:15: Ps 9:18; 12:5; 14:6, Isa 14:32; 26:6).  Ebyown was used 61 times, meaning ‘the needy’ ie those in need and dependent. They lack of their own resources and thus depend on charity and justice of others (Amos 4:1; Isa 14:30l 25:4). The word is often used with dal which is the third most frequently used word referring to ‘poor’, cited 57 times. It often translated as ‘the poor’, they are frail, week and helpless. They need those in power to provide help. (Exod 23:3; Lev 14:21; 1 Sam 2:8; Job 20:19; Isa 26:6; Amos 8:6). Fourthly, chacer was used 36 times to descript those who are lack of e.g. food (Job 30:3; Deut 28:57; Amos 4:6), shelter (Prov 6:32) or wisdom. Finally, ruwsh was mentioned 31 times designated to those who were deprived of such as land, possessions, and dignity. (2 Sam 12:1-4; Prov 18:23; 22:7) [10]

Therefore we can see the poor described in Old Testament were not only those who lack of material, possession.  It covered their state of mind as deprivation of dignity; they were weak, helpless and need to be dependent on others. Two important points were covered, explicitly justice as mostly these poor were oppressed, as Aniy was most frequently cited.

Poor is not only economical. Poverty often associated with those who suffer from oppression are in an even worst state. Barker listed 9 words related to oppression found in the Old Testament mostly related to Hebrews slavery. The words and scenarios described the state of physical abuse, violent sexual exploitation to killing; lack of authority, resources, lack of freedom from injustice, forced labor, exploitation, in ability to defend oneself, isolation. They are defenseless or dependent members of society (based on Deut 14:29)[11]. These were caused by tyranny of the powerful and the poor be treated in in violent and unjust ways.[12]

Let us now turn to the poor in the New Testament. The book of Luke emphases on the poor in social class. Jesus’s emphasized that he is here to bring news to the poor (Luke 4:18). Fitzmyer defined this as the poor in social class as the same in later text (6:20, 7:22; 14;13,21; 16:20,22; 18:22; 19:8; 21:3.[13]

In answering John’s question on whether he is the ‘coming one’, Jesus responded with the ‘divine triumph’ predicted in the Old Testament. Specially, he responded that “the poor the gospel is preached.” (Luke 7:22) which fulfilled the prophecy stated in Isa 61:1. Longenecker explained although some may interpret the poor here referred on a broader sense ie spiritually, however as it is resonating to Isa 61:1, it should be interrupted as economically deprived or even economically oppressed. [14]

The poor started to in the Sermon of the Plain (Luke 6:20) were referring to the disciples of Jesus who are likely to suffer because of their identification with Jesus. [15]

Fitzmyer also believed it is referring to the poor in spirit, not exclusive to the poor in material. Fitzmyer pointed out by comparing to Matthew 5:3.  [16]

While those scriptures studied in Old Testament mostly deal with material poor, in New Testament, we see this has expanded. Lim observed Jesus did not only care, praise the poor in material, he also cared for the poor spiritually (Mat 5:3) or ethically (sinner Mk 2:17 Mat 9:12; Lk 5:31[17]

1.3.Issues relating to poverty

1.3.1. Suffering of the poor

Poverty is a miserable condition to be avoided [18]quoted Proverb 6:11; 24:34; 10:15; 19:4; 15:15. As we looked at the definitions above, poverty is not just a state of lack of material. It is a multidimensional problem, encompassing various aspects of humanity such as social, physical, mental and spiritual dimensions.

People lived in poverty suffer from hunger (Isa 32:67, 58:7, Job 24:4-10)[19] ; it dampers their bodily well-being, social well-being, psychological well-being. It associated with lack of security, freedom of choice and action.  [20]

2.3.2 Causes of poverty

Other than the definition and circumstances of poverty, lets us look at the possible causes as the Bible states “The righteous considereth the cause of the poor: but the wicked regardeth not to know it. “ (Proverbs 29:7)

Proverbs did not distinguish ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor.[21]It can be caused by personal or external factors.  The person’s habit may lead to poverty e.g. refuse to listen, idleness, improvidence, words without action (Proverbs 13:18; 19:15; 20:4; 14:23.).   It can be related to injustice and wickedness. Proverbs frequently notes that a desire for wealth can lead to injustice and oppression. (Proverbs 16:8; 28:16) but there is not a invariable link [22]

Lim pointed out poverty is commonly viewed as a curse or a misfortune when he reviewed the Old Testament scriptures but for those scriptures in New Testament. Lim commented the poor is hardly viewed as a group being cursed or despised by God but instead seen as a group of target of love and of receiving compassion from God.  Because the ‘materially ‘poor will be blessed (Luk 6:20) and they will be free from oppression (Luk 4:16-21) [23]

Therefore, causes of poverty vary. It could be personal and it could even be a blessing (to receive greater love from God based on His providence). However, what Christians need to pay attention are those caused by human factors especially with injustice and exploitation.

2. Bible teaching on ethics on poverty

2.1. Old Testament

From the text, we can see God cares for the poor as a special group.  (Ps 34:6, 68:10; Deut 15:7-8; Jer 22:16;

Deut 10:17- 19 , 14:28-29;24:10-22; Ps 10:17-18; 68:5-6; 76:9; 147:7-10; 146:7-9; Isa 10:2; 58:5-6; 61:9; Jer 7:6; Amos 8:4-6; Mal 3:5) [24]

One shall be fearful (Lev 25:43) to follow God’s command of being kind and to relieve the poor as He have relieved Israelis from slavery bondage.  (Deu 15:11; 24:18)

God remind us there are always poor among us (Deut 15:11) but His blessings is abundant and eventually there shall not be poor among us if we follow His command. (Deut 15:4). Therefore, we shall not harden our heart, shall open our hands to help (Deut 15:7 -8) because the Lord will reward us as He see it as righteousness.  (Prov 19:17); Deut 24:13

Text in Old Testament has given us some specific ways to treat the poor. Baker suggested that Leviticus 19 and Deuteronomy outlined a variety of community laws that on one hand restrain the most powerful and on the other hand protect the weakest in the society .These community laws encouraged each community to proactively remember the poor in daily life (Lev 19:9 -10; Deut 24:19-22), wages for workers to be paid fairly  and on time (Lev 19:13; Deut 24:14-15), justice for each person to be upheld (Lev 119:15; Deut 16:18-20), care and responsibility was taken in the interest of others (Lev 19:16- 18: Deut 25:13- 16) and no one should be cheated. (Lev 19:35 -36; Deut 25:13-16) [25]

Among all the Old Testament scriptures, I want to focus the discussion on Deut 14:22 – 15:23.

From these verses, Christensen listed five measures to relive the suffering of the poor: 1 the annual and the triennial tithes (14:22- 29); 2. The remission of debts every seven years (15:1-6); 3. Exhortation to lend to the poor (15: 7-11); 4, manumission of indentured servants in the seven year (15:12-18) and 5. finally sacrifice of firstborn livestock (15:19-23). Christensen believed the center is the exhortation to lend to the poor (15:7-11). The teaching emphasized on opening our hands to meet the needs of those less fortunate; to lend to the poor sufficient for his need.  Lastly, to observe the year of release by the seventh year. (Christensen P.309- 313).

This scripture showed a few significant teaching

By the order of the five measures, I think taking care of the basic needs – that the poor shall “eat and be satisfied” 14:28 still comes first

Secondly, it is about relieving from bondage.  Both the teaching of remission of debts and servants (15:1-6; 12-18) are about releasing the poor from burden, from bounding, setting them free such as God have redeemed Israelis from Egypt (15:5) and the salvation grant us today , freeing us from sin and power of Satan.  Christensen cited G.E Wright’s view that there was no separation between freedom and welfare. It was grounded on God’s righteousness, His saving and unmerited over shown to weak and enslaved people’. (Christensen P.314)

Thirdly, it teaches us not to squeeze out the last drop of profit and leave the poor to share a part (14:22- 29)

Fourthly, we need to pursue the ideal. Although the scripture told us the poor will never cease out of the land (15:11) but the ideal goal is ‘there shall not be among you any poor’.   As Christensen highlighted we shall pursue heights of the ideal with a specific attitude of unbegrudging charity towards the poor and the act of giving freely. (Christensen P.314)

Fifthly, caring for the poor is so important and an act that pleases God.  As within these verses, God do not only tell us what to do but repeatedly promise these acts be blessed. (Deut 14:29; 15:4, 10, 18)

2.2.New Testament

To start with it is worth to point out the social economic background in New Testament.

There were a large number of poor people in the first century. It is estimated that about 35% of the Roman population are domestic and working slaves recruited by rich upper class.[26]

Despite the circumstances, actually the Greco-Roman world is generally regarded as ‘coldly non-charitable when it comes to helping its poor”. Charitable initiatives are not significant at the time, the concept of the poor to be blessed are not within Greco-Roman world of ideas .Caring for the poor was grounded on Judaism, on a God who cares about the poor. And the Judaism advocated people to be ‘ever ready to show compassion” with charitable initiatives towards those in need i.e. the poor and disadvantaged ones. [27]

Therefore, early Christians attempts to institutionalize charitable work to the poor was very well received in such a society with many in poverty but without a culture to help.  Also , we shall understand the idea of poor being blessed as advocated by Jesus thus was not commonly acceptable. ”  [28]

The condition of the ‘poor will have with you always’ continued in New Testament as Jesus made the statement in (Mark 14:7; Matt 26:11; John 12:8).  Jesus continued to show special concern and place special significance to those materially poor and vulnerable le.  [29]

To relief poverty, similar to Old Testament, Jesus taught us to offer helping hands and care to those in need. Jesus asked to show compassion to the poor (Luke 14:7-24, and to give generously in spite of limited resources. (Mk 12:43-44 – the poor widow for giving.[30]Among the examples, Jesus commanded us to feed the hunger to eat, offer drink to those who are thirsty and give clothing to those who are naked. Matthew 25; :35–40

In addition, there are new dimensions in helping the poor – ie repentance, discipleship and future kingdom

Other than re-iterating the poor will always be among us, Jesus also stressed the jubilee year when he preached in Nazareth, Luke 4:17-19. I believe the focus on spirit of freeing one from bondage continued.  Indeed, that is exactly what Jesus bring us – His incarnation, His salvation is freeing us from the bondage of sin.

This is also supported by John the Baptist’s teaching in Luke 3:7-14. At the first glance, the verse seems to be supportive of ‘distributive justice’ ie give half of what you have.  Fitzmyer pointed out the preceding paragraph (v 7- 9) is about his role of ‘making ready the road for the Lord. It stressed on ‘repentance’ and bearing ‘good fruits”. Thus this section (v 10-14) is about social conduct and the advocacy of ‘selfless concern for others. Specially, v 11 is about sharing the fundamentals of life. He taught the concern for one’s neighbor, sharing the essentials of life, clothing, and food to the less fortunate neighbor.  [31]

So if we look into the flow of these three subsections again – one should repent in preparing to receive Jesus, one shall care for the neighbor, treat others honestly and equally because of the coming wrath of Jesus and his messianic preaching.  I think it does not only support Jesus teaching of loving your neighbor as yourself as the second most important commandment, it highlights a very tangible way to love the neighbor is by caring the needs of the needed and share generously.

Jesus’s teaching on the use of money is very clear to the rich young ruler – to sell the all he had, , give it to the and follow him poor  as a condition for discipleship.  (Mk 10:21)  [32] So, it Is not just about giving, it is the mentality of following him with the right priority and single-minded focus.

In addition, to relieving the poor materially on earth, Jesus brought the message of future kingdom and the inclusion, hope especially to the poor. Luke 14:7-24 14:21   They are ‘high on Jesus’ agenda” in his proclamation of the coming to the ‘empire of God’ Longenecker P,124. Nolland believed the poor is not a privileged group to receive the kingdom exclusively but they should be the happiest about the news as they will gain the most out of the worst situation currently at.  [33]

Moreover, the poor shall receive the Kingdom (Luke 6:20). Not only this, for those reaching to the poor, Lord will see them as righteousness and be inherit the kingdom prepared for them. (Mat 25:34)

Lastly, our Lord is rich but became poor voluntarily, so others becomes rich (2 Cor 8:9) # Paul Cheung P.6; Lim quoted Phil 2:6-10 as the best illustration of this point.[34] Lim further commented the early church followed Jesus “self-sacrificing spirit and self-imposed poverty for the sake of gospel’[35]

3. Ethical issue relating to poverty

3.1.Dignity

Men are made in the image of God (Gen 1:26).  Paul Ramsey defined dignity based on” the intrinsic worth on creation in the image of God in a person-to-person convent relationship with God, independent of human’s rational or other natural capacities”. That is, dignity is the value strictly defined by God not by any other person. [36]

The Hebrew understand poverty not just about “destitution” ie hardship but it is ‘a lack of ability to live as God intends  as men are made in the image of God and it is not the ways God intend for us to live. Instead what God promised us is ‘a land of flowing milk and honey’ which Baker explained symbolized the ‘sustainable and joyful life”.  [37]

Therefore, as Lim pointed out poor in general are referred in the bible as those cannot maintain inherited status due to unforeseen circumstances or personal physical accidents.[38]The reflection Christian should have is we all have an inherited status from the Creator, at His image. We need to help those without the ability to restore the dignity, conditions. As Jesus commanded when we act on the last, weak, the needed, it is done it onto Him. (Mat 25:40).

Gustafson included other aspects of human agency that are crucial to respect for dignity, namely cognitive, affective, and physical capacities.[39] More importantly, Gewirth proposed individual autonomy be considered for dignity. He pinpointed dignity in an understanding of purposive action that all free and rational human agents must acknowledge. I think it is a very key point. [40]Firstly, in the pyramid of poverty, autonomy is the highest factor of measurement (please refer to section 2.1.1) Secondly, as we looked at the bible teaching, the freeing on human from bondage is a very key essence. Thus, when we look at the issue relating to dignity, certainly it shall be grounded on God’s creation of human on the divine image. But equally importantly is the restoration of autonomy.

3.2.Stewardship

To begin with, two important scripture shall shape the understanding of man’s stewardship

Men are created and with a mandate ‘to til and keep ‘the earth (Gen 2:15) [41]“.  The earth is the LORD's, and the fullness thereof” on Psl 24 (Byron P.2a)

Johnson pointed out John Wesley, in the 18th century, is the first one defining ‘stewardship’ as the functional equivalence to money management in church language.  Wesley confirmed that both ‘gift’ such as money is from God and God is the one who have the ownership, not us. Divine providence is critical in the part of wealth creation not just human labor and hard work. He advocated wealth is given by God in order to be given back. Christians shall take care of one’s basic needs and nothing beyond. A faithful ‘steward’ return all they have after taking care of basic need and not to reduce oneself to be dependent. [42]This seems to be aligned with Nolland’s interpretation of John’s preaching of the radical generosity that everything beyond the subsistence necessities shall be contributed to the needy. [43]

According to Johson, stewardship is the idea that ‘goods belongs to God but are given into the management of human beings for use according to God’s will”. It is not referring to the legal property right, rather the spiritual guidance and moral requirement to obey God’s law through the ‘use of property entrusted to the Christian.[44]

While God is the owners, we are the ‘users and managers’ that we, as stewards, shall be responsible , to ‘protect , preserve, and provide further generations sustainable and life-sustaining” environment.

Stewardship does not only ask us to use the resources wisely but also our intellectual resources to meet the challenge of substitution or replacement for nonrenewable natural resources. [45]

Johnson further explained the development with a new twist with modern technology that facilitated the travel around the world.   In 1836, the Pharcellus Church in the Philosophy of Benevolence  advised the ‘right use of riches is ‘the use by which they will be made instruments of the greatest good to their owners and to general society’. More importantly, the social good is referring to use the wealth to alleviate poverty and spread the gospel. Thus, churches shall support domestic ministry as well as sponsor missionary work.[46]Stewardship incorporate an evangelical view.

3.3.Justice

Justice is important as “For I the LORD love judgment, I hate robbery for burnt offering; and I will direct their work in truth, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. (Is 61:8) [47]

Very often, poverty is resulted because of greed and also manipulations of those with power (economically and socially). Justice need to be ensured so that the poor are not being oppressed.  Longenecker offered a good account below

“poverty ………. Was a social condition, with social causes, often the result of greed and manipulation on the parts of others. The poor were vulnerable before those members of society who controlled economic and political power, and who were willing to use the power ruthlessly. Consequently, the poor were also the downtrodden and oppressed, often pushed by circumstances to the margin of society. “[48]

Byron pointed out the justice in ownership relating to stewardship and use of wealth. Although we may own the wealth privately, legally, the use shall be ‘common’. Justice shall address two questions – what is the limit on accumulation and what are guideline for responsible use. [49]

4. Christians response

4.1.Upholding the biblical  economic views

The first step is to put the right frame of mind before we discuss any action. Response to poverty often relates to how we see wealth and the economic activities we are engaged in.  Economic views are often taught in schools with secular view. We shall first seek understanding of what shapes the Christian economic views.

Nowadays, economy’s key objective is to maximize the biggest individual gain which deviated from its original meaning and how God want us to management resources. Economy orginates from oikonomia. Oikos is home and nomos is the rule. The original ideal is to management the resources of the home, God’s home. [50]

EICA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) stated some significant differences between the current world and Christians views on economics. Autonomy and self-sufficiency are highly valued in society, Christians depend on God’s grace through faith and we are interdependent to one another. Market economy emphasizes what we want and the willingness and ability to buy while Christians see the difference of we want is not necessarily what we need.  While basic economic assumption is resources are scare relative to unlimited human wants, Christians look upon God the creator to provide abundance, if only we learn how to use and share. When the market economy assumes people will act to maximize their own interests and seeing economic growth as unconditional good, Christians value the interest in the context of what is good for the neighbor and growth must be evaluated by its direct, indirect, short-term and long-term effects on the welling of all creation especially the poor.  [51]

Christians shall be aware of the differences and form a different view in understanding economics and God’s will behind it.

4.2.Start from a personal perspective

Other than God’s direct command especially in Old Testament to loose our hands (and purse) to help the needed, I think there is also an important theme we shall pay attention to – which is repentance and self-restraints.

Baker analyzed Jesus’ teaching to the rich young ruler. He did not think Jesus commanded us to stumble in the guilt of possessions, but to force us to acknowledge our sin and seek restoration. The goal was to ask the rich young ruler to ‘make poverty and injustice personal”[52] This was also the theme of John the Baptist’s teaching (see section3.2)

Therefore, to look into oneself, repentant for what we have done well as well start with self constraint, pursue being a good steward.

Byron suggested a moral limitation ownership, the important question lies on whether there is a genuine need. That it will be unjust while some waste, trash away, simply piling up things while others are seeking to use those to meet as basic genuine need for simply survival rather than comfort.  The improper accumulation is immoral.  [53]

I was struck by a survey last year. Based on a research on 2,700 families in small, mid-size and large cities in China, the amount of food wasted on these tables could feed 200 million people in a year.  The food wasted in universities canteens can feed another 10 million a year.[54]With all the effort in poverty relief in China, would we not be able to feed more simply by educating those wasting not to waste to begin with? I am a supporter for those entities such as in Singapore, unconsumed food on buffet plates is subject to a charge. But why would responsible consumers need a punishment be a reminder?   I would like to sum up by Lim’s position:  God’s gift is natural abundance, and our response shall be self-restraint. [55]

4.3.Reaching out in action – social responsibilities of Christians

In both Old Testament and New Testament it denoted the poor will never cease (Deut 15:11  and Mark 14:3) so how shall we respond by opening our hands to the poor and the needy neighbor  in our land (Deut 15:11). Therefore, we shall take actions according to the command of the Lord.

Christian social responsibilities are distinguished into two kinds ie "social service" and "social action" as described in the Lausanne Occasional Paper 21 by Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization and the World Evangelical Fellowship [56]

4.3.1. Social services

Social service focus on the ‘felt need’, social needs ranging from physical, psychological to economical. It comprised of relieving human need, philanthropic activity , seeking to minister to individual and families and work of mercy.

Other than contributing monetary, I think an important thought behind social services is to physically  spend time and effort to be with the poor as Jesus incarnated and to be with us.

Many would emphasized on how early Church shared the possession and that they were all together and no one is in need by focusing on Acts 2:44-45)[57]. However, I think we shall also emphasis on the versus before and after. They were happily together not just for the material they had, shared.  It was the fellowship – praying and communion together (Acts 2:42).  They gladness is because that “eat their meat” physically together and spiritually they were “singleness of heart” Acts 2: 26.  They were praising God, and having favor with all the people.  Act 2:27. It is not just giving materially but it is the fellowship with God and together that made them joyful. Thus the reflection today is while it is good to give charity, the true love we can bring to the poor is being ‘there’ with them  , offer our fellowship and bring them to the fellowship with God.

4.3.2. Social actions

Tsui pointed out the escalation of Christians response from social service to social action.[58]

Social actions goes beyond persons to structures. It calls for changes in economic system, political system through political actions. These processes need to be consistent with biblical principles ie the rights of the individual and of minorities, respect for civil authority, the welfare of the whole community , and justice for the oppressed. The emphasized was placed on both justice and peace as they are both essential characteristics of God’s Kingdom. Social actions would be removing the causes of human need, political and economic activity, seeking to transform the structures of society, the quest for justice. [59]

Individuals are encouraged to form or join groups or movements to be more effective. They are also encouraged to participate in the political party of their choice, their labor unions or business associations and similar movements. If all possible, they are suggested to form a Christian group within them. [60]

Church involvement

Although this paper mainly evaluate the issue from a personal level, it is worth to note discussions relating to the church involvement. The LOP committee agreed that church shall be engaged in social services and evangelism in the neighborhood. However, there is no consensus on the position of the church involvement in the social action due to the different ecclesiological understanding of the relationship between church and state, and the two Kingdoms. Churches shall only have a role to ‘encourage’, ie to ‘encourage its members to be conscientious citizens, to inform themselves about political issues, and to advocate or dissent according to their conscience.

To conclude I think further and continuous theological reflections on personal and church involvement on social actions are required. The cases in Hong Kong such as Pastor part taking in election[61] and the occupying Central campaign worth more thoughts. [62]

5.4.Justice

Fighting for justice for the poor can be categorized under social actions. However, it is such an important and complex area that I would like to present a few key points in the following separate section.

Little pointed out, in a broadest sense justice touches every aspect of public life e.g. inequalities, opportunities, democracy , liberty , and individual rights.  In a narrow sense, justice involves the procedural correctness that individuals be treated neutrally and impersonally by the rules, laws and procedures. [63]

5.4.1. Human rights

Today even non Christians care for the needy based on justice and humanity. Many evaluated the issue base on  human right not to  be infringed. Christensen quoted the work of Hamilton that social justice is measured by its treatment of the dependent and human rights. Human rights are ‘a set of obligations that the powerful owe to the powerless’ The foundation Hamilton advocated is based on ‘obligation’. His biblical ground is ‘social justice, right to be human is an obligation which society owes to each of its members.  He further defined the biblical view on human rights as ‘treatment which the dependent has a right to expect of society and that treatment which society owes to the dependent’ [64]

Therefore, even though we may approach for the same issue, Christians have a different ground.

5.4.2. Legal

Even outside the Christian world, ‘justice for the poor’ is a strong focus. World bank established a global analytical and operational program to address the immediate justice-related needs of the poor. They work in social and cultural contexts, recognizes the importance of demand in building equitable justice systems, and understands justice as a cross-sectorial issue. They also recognize that the development of more equitable formal legal systems may be a multi-generational endeavor. [65]

As stated in social action, it is an area Christians shall contribute to help poverty relief because if the policy do not change, it is hard to drive the change in condition. I think the minimum wages legislation in Hong Kong is a good example that Christians can support by improving the conditions of the poor with a change in legislation.

5.4.3. Economic justice

Economic ethics is another huge and complex area. However, we can start with small steps. Hughes advocated Christians being ‘ethical consumers’ to only buy from companies that with high standard to protect workers. For example those MNCs that would did not exploit the people and resources in the host countries. One can also be ‘ethical investors’ to invest directly on commercial entities that have high ethical standards.  Lastly is to support ‘fair trade’ companies that help the local people to make a living rather than relying on charity.[66]

5.4.3.1.            Wealth redistribution

Lim saw Jesus’s theological view of redistribution based on the Old Testament teaching – ie every family shall just gather just enough for their needs (Exo 16:16- 18), he pointed out Ched Myers believed Jesus expects the rich to participate in wealth redistribution to the ‘poor’ as a condition for discipleship . [67]

Bible stresses each person is created as individual, thus we are all different. Christian social ethics does recognize differences between people, including their abilities and achievements.  It is just if the greater abilities within society are used to help poorer and less advantages individuals. [68]

Lim quoted Bruce J Malina’s observation that Jesus’ command to give one’s goods to the poor is about redistribution of wealth according to God-ordained, socially required restitution. He further cited other recent theologians such as Dom Helder Camara and Ched Myers also proposed the teaching is about restoring economic equity from the riches to the poor. [69]

5.4.3.2.            Participation justice

It is argued that by only applying distributive justice, there is a danger of welfare paternalism which strengthens dependencies as the focus was on simply transferring wealth instead of encouraging the recipients to take own responsibility. While distributive justice is seen as the precondition for enabling the vulnerable groups to make the most of their opportunities, the act shall go further to encourage participatory justice. [70]

German Federal government emphasizes the ‘inalienable human dignity’ and gifts of individual granted by God.  Based on 1 Cor 12, it is believed that each individual shall participate and contribute actively in God’s power such as the body of Christ .With the talents, they shall bear fruits in their lives for themselves and their society. [71]Participation justice connects to the concept of self-sufficient an self-reliance

Based on Aristotle’s ideology, Thomas Aquinas proposed happiness is to be complete and self-sufficient.[72]

Hughes pointed out charity organizations, such as OXFAM in 1942,  started to help with emergencies relief  but over time, they realized the long term way to help them escaping from poverty is to “teach them fish rather than give them a fish for one meal”.  Self-reliance must be the goal for the beginning. He pointed out the poor need a ‘hand up’ rather than “hand out’ approach. He cited Lev 19:9-10 that instead of food being sent, the poor would  need to pick up the gleanings. Also in Exodus 23:11, the land was to left fallow for every seventh year so the  poor could  get food, they labored to harvest from the field. Not only did Hugh pointed out teachings in the Old Testament, he suggested even Paul emphasized the emergency relief, he commanded human beings, particularly Christians to work to produce the wealth to support themselves and others. Hughes’s view was based on 1 Thess 3:10; Eph 4:28.  [73]

Lastly, I would like to conclude participative justice is about creating opportunities, providing support to help the individuals to participate, contribute with their own talents for a better future. As we stated in the beginning, poverty is not only about material, it could be the exclusion of opportunities. Especially in Hong Kong, I advocated to support reliving trans generational poverty. As some of the government policies, change in economic and population dynamics truly created poverty cross generation and those younger generation are in more helpless conditions.

5.4.3.3. Business ethics and Fair trade

The biblical principle on trading should be ‘fair’ can be found in Proverbs 11:1; Deut 25:14-15.[74]Wu explained the reason behind is because those we trade with is ‘those made in the image of God’[75]. Therefore, Christians should support fair trade as well as great business ethics which involves dealing with employees, customers, suppliers, government and community.

A general guiding principle that Hughes proposed is a good summary on the biblical teaching -   that is all are to be treated justly and the production of wealth should be accompanied by a love and respect for Jesus. [76]

5.4.3.4. Support relief from exploitation

As mentioned above, poverty is often resulted from exploitation. Therefore, economic justice is about ‘a fair assignment of benefits that result from joint efforts among the agents involved (workers, companies and the government).  The just distribution of benefits resulted from a free and non- coercive bargaining among the factors of production, within fair institutions, subject to fair equality of opportunity and within the context of a just prior distribution of assets.  I think the key we need to pay attention is whether there is an un-coerced agreements mong agents because coercion usually plays a central role in exploitation.[77]

I think this subject especially strike me as we are seeing hundred of the Union of Hong Kong Dockers (UHKD) members striking. They are fighting for the collective bargaining right to negotiate with the management. Amidst the ever increasing inflation, their wages have not risen in the past 15 years. [78]More notably their working conditions of long hours, eating and going to toilet inside the truck is just inhuman.  They have not been treated fairly for the results and benefits. More importantly, I think the tangible support from the public, raising millions of dollars to fund income for the workers is to ensure they have the bargaining power and avoid coercion from one of the biggest and richest commercial entities in Hong Kong.

5.5.Social responsibilities and evangelism

When I first draft the paper, I think as Christians, caring for the poor in responses to the teaching and love of God is the end instead of any means including evangelism. However, I see the point the stated the love of the people also include the care for the lost soul, the salvation of the sinner. Loove for God and love for neighbor belong inextricably together, as Jesus taught (Mk. 12:28-34; cf. 1 John 4:19-21) and Jesus told us to do both, ‘went about… preaching and bringing the Good News”, and ‘went about doing good” Luk 8:1; Acts 10:38)[79]

Hughes reiterated the biblical perspective of God’s ultimate vision for human beings is through redemption they come to know Jesus. Therefore, that Christian work to the poor must be focused on the person of Jesus Christ who transform our life from being self-centered to God-centered.  The vision shall be strongly kept on the ultimate goal for humanity which is the Kingdom of God.[80]

I think the LOP committee summarized the relationship of the three elements very well “If evangelism and social responsibility are twins, their mother is love. For evangelism means words of love and social service/ action means deeds of love, and both should be the natural overflow of a community of love.” [81] The three interlocks.

Thus my view point change slightly. While I still hold helping the poor is simply following  God’s command and it is an expression to follow  Jesus; command of ‘loving our neighbors”. Sometimes, to provide help on their situation is all we can and need to do.   But the true relief is not only monetary, physical, psychological, the most precious is saving of their souls. So, the tangible care may be a first step to get to support them, know them, if opportunities allows, the ultimate goal shall also be evangelical.

6. Conclusions.

The compilation of the paper helped me look into the poverty issue closely, not as a social issue but a biblical point of view. We shall care for the subject with a fearful heart of following God’s command to have mercy and provide support to the poor.  I see other than the material need, the most important spirit is freeing the poor from bondage as God has freed us. In addition , do whatever we can to uphold justice and avoid the poor of suffering from exploitation often resulted from greed. Lastly, have faith with an ecclesiological hope with the abundance God provide, there will not a poor among us. "They will hunger no more, and thirst no more." (Revelation 7:16)[82]

To conclude, let me borrow Rev Kwok’s quote based on Micah 6:8, “we shall stress justice in economics, mercy to the needy and work towards the Shalom of the society. [83]


7. References

Baker, Ash. Make poverty personal: taking the poor as seriously as the Bible does. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, c2009.

Byron, William J.  “God's stewards,” National Catholic Reporter 3/11/2005, Vol. 41 Issue 19, p2a-2a. 3/4p

Cheung, Paul W. “Stark’s Thesis and Christian Charity in the Early Church. A paper presented at the Poverty and Riches: A Biblical Theological Reflection”, Hong Kong :Alliance Bible Seminary Academic Colloquium , March 2013

Christensen, Duane L., Deuteronomy 1:1-21:9. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, c2001.

Fitzmyer, Joseph A., The Gospel according to Luke: introduction, translation, and notes. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1981-1985.

Hughes, Dewi Arwel. God of the poor. Kent: OM Publishing, 1998.

Johnson, Kelly S. The fear of beggars: stewardship and poverty in Christian ethics. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2007.

“Just Participation: Empowerment for Personal Responsibility and Solidarity. A Memorandum of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany on Poverty in Germany, 2006”

Kim, Grace Ji-Sun.  “STEWARDSHIP: Living It Out,” Clergy Journal. Oct2005, Vol. 82 Issue 1, p31-32. 2p.

Kwok, Benedict. 「扶貧」: 的基督教倫理反思A paper presented at the Poverty and Riches : A Biblical Theological Reflection , Hong Kong :Alliance Bible Seminary Academic Colloquium , March 2013

Lim, Jason. Jesus’ Biblical and Theological Understanding of Poverty and Riches in the Gospels. A paper presented at the Poverty and Riches: A Biblical Theological Reflection , Hong Kong : Alliance Bible Seminary Academic Colloquium , March 2013

Little, Daniel. The paradox of wealth and poverty: mapping the ethical dilemmas of global development. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2003.

Longenecker, Bruce W. Remember the poor: Paul, poverty, and the Greco-Roman world. Cambridge, U.K.; Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2010

LOP 21: Evangelism and Social Responsibility: An Evangelical Commitment. Lausanne Occasional Paper 21 for the International Consultation on the Relationship between Evangelism and Social Responsibility, held at Grand Rapids, Michigan, June 19-25, 1982.

Merrill, Eugene H. Deuteronomy. Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman, c1994.

Meilaender, Gilbert & Werpehowski, William. The Oxford handbook of theological ethics. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2007, c2005.

Nolland, John.  Luke 1-9:20. Nashville, TN L: Thomas Nelson, c1989

Ondari, William. Poverty and wealth: A Christian perspective. Prepared for the28th International Faith and Learning Seminar.  Eldoret, Kenya, University of Eastern Africa, Baraton. 2001

Satterthwaite, Philip E. Wealth and Poverty in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. A paper presented at the Poverty and Riches: A Biblical Theological Reflection. Hong Kong :, Alliance Bible Seminary Academic Colloquium , March 2013

A social statement on sufficient, sustainable an livelihood for all “by ELCA http://www.elca.org/What-We-Believe/Social-Issues/Social-Statements/Economic-Life.aspx

胡業民o富與貧-當代禧年教訓的實踐. A paper presented at the Poverty and Riches: A Biblical Theological Reflection.  Hong Kong :Alliance Bible Seminary Academic Colloquium, March 2013

徐濟時o香港福音派主流教會失落的光環一扶貧傳統。A paper presented at the Poverty and Riches: A Biblical Theological Reflection. Hong Kong : Alliance Bible Seminary Academic Colloquium, March 2013



[1] Every day, almost 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes http://www.bread.org/hunger

[2] http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2012/06/19/hong-kongs-wealth-gap-gets-larger/

[3] Ibid

[4] http://www.povertyrelief.gov.hk/

[5] Ondari, William O, Poverty and wealth: A Christian perspective. Prepared for the28th International Faith and Learning Seminar. (Eldoret, Kenya, University of Eastern Africa, Baraton. 2001)

[6] Ditto

[7] “Just Participation: Empowerment for Personal Responsibility and Solidarity. A Memorandum of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany on Poverty in Germany, 2006” (6, 61).

[8] Byron, William J,  “God’s stewards.” National Catholic Reporter ( 3/11/2005, Vol. 41 Issue 19, p2a-2a. 3/4p): 2a

[9] Lim, Jason, “Jesus’ Biblical and Theological Understanding of Poverty and Riches in the Gospels. A paper presented at the Poverty and Riches : A Biblical Theological Reflection” (Hong Kong : Alliance Bible Seminary Academic Colloquium , March 2013), 4

[10] Baker, Ash, Make poverty personal : taking the poor as seriously as the Bible does. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, c2009)  P,123

[11] Merrill , Eugene H,  Deuteronomy. (Nashville, Tenn : Broadman & Holman, c1994), 242.

[12] Baker, Make poverty personal, 33 – 34.

[13] Fitzmyer, Joseph A., The Gospel according to Luke : introduction, translation, and notes. (Garden City, N.Y. : Doubleday, 1981-1985), 532

[14] Longenecker, Bruce W, Remember the poor : Paul, poverty, and the Greco-Roman world. (Cambridge, U.K. ; Grand Rapids, Mich. : W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2010) ,119

[15] Nolland, John, Luke 1-9:20 .  P, 282, Fitzmyer, Joseph A., The Gospel according to Luke: introduction, translation, and notes. (Nashville, TN L: Thomas Nelson, c1989), 632

[16] Fitzmyer,  The Gospel according to Luke , 632

[17] Lim,  “Jesus’ Biblical and Theological Understanding of Poverty and Riches in the Gospels”

[18] Satterthwaite, Philip E,  Wealth and Poverty in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. A paper presented at the Poverty and Riches : A Biblical Theological Reflection ,(Hong Kong : Alliance Bible Seminary Academic Colloquium , March 2013) ,4

[19]. Nolland,  Luke 1-9:20 ,284

[20] Ondari, William , Poverty and wealth: A Christian perspective. Prepared for the28th International Faith and Learning Seminar.

[21] Satterthwaite, “Wealth and Poverty in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes”, 4 &6, 7

[22] Ibid, P.12

[23] Lim, “Jesus’ Biblical and Theological Understanding of Poverty and Riches in the Gospels”

[24] Cheung, Paul W, Stark’s Thesis and Christian Charity in the Early Church. A paper presented at the Poverty and Riches : A Biblical Theological Reflection . (Hong Kong :Alliance Bible Seminary Academic Colloquium , March 2013), 5 &  Nolland,  Luke 1-9:20 , 282

[25] Baker, Make poverty personal , 52.

[26] Lim, “Jesus’ Biblical and Theological Understanding of Poverty and Riches in the Gospels”

[27] Cheung,  “W. Stark’s Thesis and Christian Charity in the Early Church”.& Longenecker,   Remember the poor ,114-5

[28] Cheung, “W. Stark’s Thesis and Christian Charity in the Early Church.”

[29] Longenecker,  Remember the poor ,107, 124

[30] Lim, “Jesus’ Biblical and Theological Understanding of Poverty and Riches in the Gospels , 13

[31] Fitzmyer, The Gospel according to Luke , 464- 465, 469 .

[32] Lim,  “Jesus’ Biblical and Theological Understanding of Poverty and Riches in the Gospels.”,13

[33] Nolland,Luke 1-9:20 , 281, 282

[34] Lim, “Jesus’ Biblical and Theological Understanding of Poverty and Riches in the Gospels “,5.

[35] Ibid , 7

[36] Meilaender, Gilbert & Werpehowski, William, The Oxford handbook of theological ethics. (Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2007, c2005.), 365

[37] Baker,  Make poverty personal ,35

[38] Lim, Jesus’ Biblical and Theological Understanding of Poverty and Riches in the Gospels.   ,3

[39] Meilaender, & Werpehowski, The Oxford handbook of theological ethics. , 365

[40] Ibid, 367

[41] “Just Participation: Empowerment for Personal Responsibility and Solidarity. A Memorandum of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany on Poverty in Germany, 2006” , 69

[42] Johnson, Kelly S , The fear of beggars : stewardship and poverty in Christian ethics. (Grand Rapids, Mich. : William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2007), 84- 92.

[43] Nolland, Luke 1-9:20 , 149

[44] Johnson, The fear of beggars, 71

[45] Byron,  God’s stewards, 2a

[46] Johnson, The fear of beggars , 91- 92

[47] Longenecker,  Remember the poor,121

[48] Ibid P,120

[49] Byron, God’s stewards. ,2a

[50] Kwok, Benedict, 「扶貧」: 的基督教倫理反思。A paper presented at the Poverty and Riches  (Hong Kong : A Biblical Theological Reflection , Alliance Bible Seminary Academic Colloquium , March 2013),9

[51] A social statement on sufficient, sustainable an livelihood for all “ by ELCA http://www.elca.org/What-We-Believe/Social-Issues/Social-Statements/Economic-Life.aspx

[52] Baker, Make poverty personal, 122

[53] Byron, God’s stewards, 2a

[54] http://www.ibtimes.com/chinas-startling-food-waste-what-thrown-out-every-year-could-feed-200-million-people-1063170

[55] Lim,  “Jesus’ Biblical and Theological Understanding of Poverty and Riches in the Gospels.” 12-13

[56] LOP 21: Evangelism and Social Responsibility: An Evangelical Commitment. Lausanne Occasional Paper 21 for the International Consultation on the Relationship between Evangelism and Social Responsibility, held at Grand Rapids, Michigan, June 19-25, 1982.

[57] Baker, Make poverty personal,129

[58]徐濟時o香港福音派主流教會失落的光環一扶貧傳統。A paper presented at the Poverty and Riches : A Biblical Theological Reflection , (Hong Kong : Alliance Bible Seminary Academic Colloquium , March 2013)

[59] LOP 21: Evangelism and Social Responsibility: An Evangelical Commitment

[60]Ibid

 

[61] http://christiantimes.org.hk/Common/Reader/News/ShowNews.jsp?Nid=77693&Pid=6&Version=0&Cid=150&Charset=big5_hkscs

[62] http://christiantimes.org.hk/Common/Reader/News/ShowNews.jsp?Nid=77693&Pid=6&Version=0&Cid=150&Charset=big5_hkscs

[63] Little, Daniel. The paradox of wealth and poverty : mapping the ethical dilemmas of global development. (Boulder, Colo. : Westview Press, 2003),91

[64]Christensen, Duane L., Deuteronomy 1:1-21:9. (Nashville : Thomas Nelson Publishers, c2001),314

[65] (http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/TOPICS/EXTLAWJUSTICE/EXTJUSFORPOOR/0,,contentMDK:21172652~menuPK:3282951~pagePK:210058~piPK:210062~theSitePK:3282787,00.html).

[66] Hughes,  Dewi Arwel,. God of the poor. (Kent : OM Publishing, 1998),165

[67] Lim, “Jesus’ Biblical and Theological Understanding of Poverty and Riches in the Gospels” ,12-13

[68] “Just Participation: Empowerment for Personal Responsibility and Solidarity. A Memorandum of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany on Poverty in Germany, 2006”,7

[69] Lim, “Jesus’ Biblical and Theological Understanding of Poverty and Riches in the Gospels”,12

[70] “Just Participation: Empowerment for Personal Responsibility and Solidarity. A Memorandum of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany on Poverty in Germany, 2006”: (61, 62) “

[71] Ibid P,3

[72] Kwok, 「扶貧」: 的基督教倫理反思

[73] Hughes, God of the poor. 12,13, 157-159

[74]胡業民o富與貧-當代禧年教訓的實踐. ,3

[75] Ibid, P,3

[76] Hughes, God of the poor, 70-171

[77] Little, The paradox of wealth and poverty ,94-99

[78] http://links.org.au/node/3298

[79] LOP 21: Evangelism and Social Responsibility: An Evangelical Commitment .7 Cii & 7 Ciii

[80] Hughes, God of the poor, 42-43

[81] LOP 21: Evangelism and Social Responsibility: An Evangelical Commitment 7C iii )

[82] http://www.bread.org/hunger/

[83] Kwok, 「扶貧」: 的基督教倫理反思

 
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