November 27, 2013

Is the American church broken?

My disillusion with the church began with my old denomination's stance on women, and went into hyperdrive when that same denomination supported torture.  My head just about exploded at that.  And much of my criticism has been aimed at the conservative church for these kinds of actions.

But reading this story about what food stamps are doing to real Americans makes me wonder if the sickness isn't broader.  Who, outside the people who do nothing other than work on hunger issues, is talking about hunger?  Are churches, of any denomination or framework up in arms because of these tremendous and cruel cuts to the neediest?  I am not seeing it.  Hell, while Republicans seem to cheer it, my own party seems to really not care that much that more and more Americans are falling behind.

If our moral tradition cares little about it, what hope is there?  The Wapo ran a story the other day about how many food stamps it would take for one average American thanksgiving meal.  Ours will not be decadent by American standards, but is well beyond the hopes of the poor.

I am bothered, of course, at the lack of caring.  But story after story highlight the negative impact poverty has on people.
Lower-income kids enter kindergarten with poorer language skills than kids from middle- and upper-income homes.

Also, studies show that in some cases, kids living in poverty are more than two years behind their privileged counterparts. They're more likely to have fewer books in the home, have more health problems and miss more school days. Many kids come to school hungry, and then they can't focus and learn.

"They can't concentrate as well, and children who are food insecure don't perform as well on math and language arts tests. They don't do as well in school," says Mariana Chilton, director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities at Drexel University's School of Public Health.
Poor people fall farther and farther behind those who have.  And our moral voices are silent.  And our political choices are clear.  Meanwhile, I heard an ad (on our local public radio no less) for a sale this coming Friday that used the phrase "to celebrate Black Friday."  What in the what?

There is no doubt in my mind that the Southern Baptists have become far more conservative than Christian.  That is clear in my mind and was crystallized when they supported torture, and now cheer the failure of healthcare.  But I have my doubts about any of our faith traditions.  I am sure that many churches do what they can to feed poor in their area.  I wonder how many have put out a call of urgency because of the pressing need?  I hope they are there.

Because if those who claim to follow Jesus can't care about the poor, I hate to break it to them, but their faith isn't Christian.


steves said...

While I certainly wouldn't argue that the poor be ignored, one has to wonder what will help. Social welfare programs have been around since the 1960s and there seems to be little effort to tie funding to the ones that work.

Head Start, which has been shown to be very effective seems to always be on the chopping block, but useless stuff like D.A.R.E. is just as popular as ever. I know that second program isn't really a welfare program, but it is still publicly funded.

While I am frustrated by how some church members ignore the poor, I am also frustrated on how some public officials throw money at stupid shit.

Streak said...

That assumes, Steve, that those social programs have continued in their original intent and with the same degree of support. That is completely false, and I am kind of surprised that you lump together the current safety net with that from the past. You have to know that we have cut many safety net programs.

In fact, I read recently that the number of food pantries has exploded in this country since Reagan started the welfare cuts. In the 70s, those served as rainy day backups for people who occasionally didn't have enough to get through the month. Now, there are thousands more food kitchens and pantries and their use is now every day for many, or certainly for most weeks.

I grew up with the mantra that LBJ taught us that throwing money at a problem doesn't make it go away. A basic truism, I am sure, but in the case of anti-hunger, our social programs did a lot to alleviate hunger prior to the 1980s. That doesn't mean that we had eliminated poverty, because hunger is only one component. But we had reduced hunger tremendously. Since then, we have an explosion of food kitchens because the need has grown nearly exponentially.

The problem I have with the church is that they seem, like everyone else, to have simply given up on the issue. They hear that hunger is increasing and that we are cutting food stamps, and they just shrug.