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5 Ways the Church can help the poor, according to the Acton Institute

March 19, 2017

For more than two decades I have been writing about the Grand Rapids-based Acton Institute, an organization that essentially sees christianity and capitalism as compatible.

The DeVos family has been a major donor to the Acton Institute since its founding, along with other members of the Grand Rapids power structure. Several of the DeVos family members have also sat on the board of directors and Betsy DeVos’s mother, Elsa Prince Broekhuizen, is a current member of the board. 

The Acton Institute’s founder, Rev. Robert Sirico, has debated against liberation theology on numerous occasions, sometime debated Bishop Thomas Gumbleton from Detroit. The Grand Rapids organization has even funded Exxon/Mobil to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars to deny climate change

Their positions are often very reactionary and contrary to most justice-based principles, but I found myself particularly disgusted with a recent blog post from the Acton Institute, entitled, 5 Ways the church can help the poor.

I don’t really want to argue theological points or biblical exegesis. There are plenty of people who are more qualified than I who can take on that task. However, what I do think is important to point out in the callousness with which the Acton Institute blogger demonstrates their utter contempt for those who are experiencing poverty.

I want to simply present each of their 5 ways that the church can help the poor and offer up a brief response to each.

The first way the church can help the poor is by teaching “God’s big picture,” which essentially means that the poor should put their faith in the afterlife, since this world is temporal. The Acton writer states, “The poor need to know that poverty is not forever when you’re in Christ.

Wow, this is the exact same argument that the evangelical community in Guatemala (which was influenced by US-based churches) was making in the 1980s during the years when the army was massacring tens of thousands of indigenous people. People were witnessing the murder of their family members along the disappearance and torture of their neighbors. In the midst of these heinous crimes, the evangelical church was telling those most impacted by the violence to not put much faith in this world, but the next.

The second point the Acton writer makes is that the church should teach the poor about the current job market, with an emphasis on vocational job training, since “Not everyone is going to college.” The poor need to learn their place, by taking jobs that are low paying and in the service sector.

The third way that churches can help the poor is by allowing their buildings to be used by the poor. Doesn’t sound like a bad idea in principle, but then the writer clarifies this point by saying so the poor can fill out job applications, a place for students to do homework or for community development groups to hold meetings. Of the 5 ways the church can help the poor, this is probably the least objectionable, but it still is written from an extremely patronizing place.

The fourth way for the church to help to poor, according to the Acton writer, is to partner with other groups to do personal finance training. Ok, so the problem with the poor is not that many of those experiencing poverty have to work two jobs in order to barely make ends meet or to constantly have to decide whether to pay utility bills or buy groceries. The problem with the poor is they just don’t know how to manage money.

Lastly, the fifth way that the church can help the poor is by using financial resources to help them in “times of crisis.” However, the Acton writer makes it clear that this doesn’t mean “we just hand out benevolence.” Instead, the church should employee people on a temporary basis and become their boss. This, of course, is important because people will just end up being dependent on benevolence and not take any initiative to take care of themselves.

Jesus H Christ, what a load of bullshit. I mean, not only are each of these five suggestions demonstrate nothing but contempt for those experiencing poverty, there is no acknowledgement of the wealth gap in the US or the massive subsidies to the rich in tax breaks and corporate welfare. In fact, there is no mention of the structural violence caused by the economic system of capitalism, since it all comes down to individual behavior.

Not that I was expecting anything different from an organization that is essentially apologists for capitalism, but I was somewhat amazed at the lack of compassion or sense of justice that the Acton writer displayed.

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