By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
Pastor Tim Keller, in “Generous Justice,” makes the case that Judeo-Christian scripture gives four basic causes of poverty: oppression, disaster, lack of wisdom and personal moral failures.
Liberal Christians have a natural tendency to focus on oppression: Businesses take advantage of poor people, laws are tilted against the poor, rich people got their wealth at the expense of the poor, etc.
They also tend to give more acknowledgment than conservatives to the role of hurricanes, car accidents and other disasters in perpetuating poverty.
Conservative Christians emphasize personal moral failures – substance abuse, indiscriminate procreation, criminal behavior and laziness among them – as choices that keep people broke.
Conservatives also tout the lack-of-wisdom factor, pointing out voluntary use of payday loans, mindsets that discount opportunity in favor of luck, neglect of education and even choosing inappropriate friends.
Maybe it’s time to switch sides.
Liberal Christians could hammer on moral failures, emphasizing that children raised by a married mother and father are far better off by any measure you can name. They could harp on substance abuse, property crimes and especially violent crimes as handicaps not just to individuals but to families and whole neighborhoods. They could reinforce that productive work is dignifying, not degrading.
Liberals could promote wisdom that many middle-class people take for granted: the dangers of predatory lenders, the illogic of dependence on luck, the value of having even a small financial cushion for emergencies, prioritizing long-term needs over short-term desires and taking care of what one has.
In turn, conservative Christians could scrutinize the law, rooting out poverty perpetuators like weak enforcement against unsafe housing, predatory lending practices, disproportionate sentencing regulations, crimes without criminal intent, or lax law enforcement or public services in poor neighborhoods.
We could acknowledge the whole fallacy of incarceration as “correction” and compel ourselves to create alternative ways to deincentivize actual crime without making offenders worse people than before. (As for those too dangerous ever to be free, prison seems logical.)
Conservatives could spend less time touting far-off examples of schools transformed by discipline and start working to improve specific poor schools nearby.
Instead of just lamenting fatherlessness and lambasting those who perpetuate it, we could make some kids part-time members of our own families (and, in some cases, full-time).
Compassion from conservatives. Responsibility championed by liberals. Maybe it’s just crazy enough to make a difference.
Contact Daily Journal Oxford Bureau reporter Errol Castens at firstname.lastname@example.org.