To Remedy Poverty, What About the Kingdom of God?

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How does Christianity — the religion whose founder said “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20) — respond to the plight of Americans in poverty? Hardly speaking in a catholic voice, Roman Catholicism is divided along ideological grounds, represented by seemingly polar opposites Rep. Paul Ryan on the right and a fiesty nun on the left. They each got their turn to speak today on the record.

According to an article at Religion News Service, Sister Simone Campbell testified at a U.S. House Budget Committee hearing today:

[Paul] Ryan, himself a Catholic, has been criticized by fellow Catholics and even the hierarchy for his previous budget proposals, though he has defended his views, including during a controversial visit to Georgetown University last year when he was Mitt Romney’s running mate on the Republican presidential ticket.

On Wednesday, Ryan argued that the nation has spent $15 trillion dollars on the “war on poverty” and yet 46 million Americans are currently living in poverty, and 20 million Americans earn an income that is less than half of the poverty level.

Van Hollen, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said that 58 percent of households receiving SNAP have someone who is employed and in 82 percent of households on SNAP one of the family members finds work within a year. He said that shows what a crucial support the program provides to working families.

He called on Campbell to comment about those who need a little help from food nutrition programs “not so they can be in a hammock, but so that they can try to pull themselves and their families out of poverty.”

Campbell responded that for her the issue is wages — that minimum-wage jobs are “insufficient to support a family” and that SNAP is, just as intended, supplemental.

Campbell has been working with the interfaith community in Washington to craft what religious progressives call a “Faithful Budget” that they say advocates “reasonable revenue for responsible programs,” as well as accountability in making sure those programs work.

Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Wis., asked Campbell what the church is doing wrong that it needed to reach out to the government to “do something that is so directly their nature,” adding that Christianity is about serving the poor.

In response, Campbell said that the issues are so big and charitable dollars aren’t sufficient. So there is “a government responsibility to ensure everyone’s capacity to eat,” she said. “We do the charity part.”

The ideological divide will not be bridged until those on the left acknowledge the importance of individual subject motivation and actions and those on the right acknowledge the importance of collective systems and culture to create the chains which bind people in poverty no matter how motivated they are to escape. Are they still talking past each other? According to this report, Ryan merely defended his views that government ought to do less and Campbell saying it ought to do more.

Integral solutions must look beyond the Lower-Right quadrant towards approaches which raise consciousness and coordinate cultural/religious responses and socio-economic structures. Nobody seems to want to talk about the possibility that humankind has the potential to overcome this problem once and for all, but it will take a revolution in consciousness — the fuller coming of the Reign of Heaven of which Jesus preached — to see it happen.


Photo: Religion News Service

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