Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Undeserving Poor?

I have been struggling lately with the notion that I hear from some Christians that there is a group of people who could be categorized as "the undeserving poor". Who are they? The able bodied who don't work? What if they want to work and can't find a job? What if the manufacturing jobs have been replaced by white collar jobs that necessitate a good education in a community where schools are failing? Are they the "undeserving poor"?

Of course there are people who don't take advantage of opportunity, but in our community it seems it is more the opportunities that are missing. Many, after being rejected again and again, just give up, assuming the notion that they will never be able to draw a legitimate income. I don't think I have ever met one of those "undeserving poor" and I know a lot of very poor people.

Here's a link to a New York Times article in which Jonathan Kozul is quoted as saying,
"The ultimate question is a theological one: What does any human being deserve? The Bible tells us that a person's humanity is enough for our compassion."
Amen Jonathan!


shastac said...

I love that quote by Kozol. Very interesting and thought-provoking post!

hammerdad said...


In some ways the tougher question is: who are the deserving poor? Those that always take advantage of their opportunity? Those unaffected by addiction? Those who always "try"? If we put ourselves in this series of questions we find quickly that none of us can measure up to the status of "deserving" . . .

but that's the nature and beauty of God's grace, its undeserved.

There is an entire book I read a few years ago called the undeserving poor. . .. very interesting history of welfare and how our country's understanding of someone who receives or needs help as a shameful state.

KG said...

This is an excellent question and one that is often over simplified by people who have distant contact with the poor if even that. But I do think that the question has valididy.

I do agree with Kozul that we should be compassionate to people regardless. That being said sometimes compassion begins with demanding responsibility. Paul did that in II Thessalonians 3 when he was warning people not to be idle. He told people to work if they wanted to eat.

The fact that he warned against idleness tells us that people were (are) prone to it and should be challenged towards being useful.

Compassion can and should be practiced at all levels. But I believe that compassion is always most useful to people in the context of relationship. In relationship, we can extend grace but also encourage people towards usefulness. If someone over time only wants hand outs without responsibility then at some point we do them a disservice to continue to meet their needs. Sometimes we love people enough to allow them to reap the natural consequences of their actions. This is how God often deals with us. But this can only be done in the context of a relationship.

Arloa Sutter said...

You are right on target, Kevin and Joel. Great thoughts. And thanks Shasta. I too thought it was an interesting quote from Kozol, especially since he is reading Scripture from a Jewish heritage!

Tom Neumann said...
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Tom Neumann said...

I have come to this Blog and read it over and over and even had posted my thoughts. Yet none of them had what was in my heart as it came from my mind. What I sense and have thought about is are the poor in general here in America truly poor in the depths of the real poor of the world.

My mom lives on SSI with my sister as well and they have Cable and three TVs and a computer as well as an iPod and a small video and camera combo. They also have a phone, lights, a shower and even a toilet. What I am saying is that they have more than some people in this world would dream of to have and they just go about day not thinking and thanking that what they have is incredible.

I was in the Philippines and I went to the out back regions one weekend and what I saw still makes me think and thank and feel I have it better and I should help those around us you don't. There was lights yet few and the houses were not lit and the person I came to visit was proud to show me their apartment. It was a room with a bed "A BED" that's all there was and this made them happy as this person slept on a mat for years and now to have a bed was all they wanted. A Bed to lay ones head that made me think really hard that night. Oh the showers well that was a 50 gallon drum filled with rainwater and you would use a coffee can to scoop out the water and wash off. I could go on and yet the most telling of all stories that I knew of was a fellow Marine that was behind the lines for almost a year and did not have a toilet I am sorry that I am being graphic. However there is a point when he returned he sat in front of that toilet and kept flushing it for hours they left him alone as he was getting back to the world that he forgotten about he marveled at the fact he could use a toilet and the others thought he was crazy. We knew he wasn't you see he was a good man and he knew what it was like to have not and to have it again.

I am sorry that I went on there it's just the little things that I marvel about these days and am very thankful for as I know now more than ever how blessed I have it to the many others that don't and I thank the Lord for that always.


I did not comment as to the posting I am sorry my convictions are that there are deserving poor and I believe that they need help. The question is the help from the Government, Churches or Individuals or all of the above. I feel that when an individual helps out both parties have gained the when receiving help gets the help and the one giving gets blessed. I do hope that I am not babbling......