There are those whose Christian conviction somehow excludes the government from any involvement in addressing poverty. That responsibility, they say, rests only with the church.
There is great error in this position. If only because governmental policies often cause poverty, it should be fair to require that governmental policies address the alleviation of poverty.
It was governmental policy that made unpaid slaves out of human beings, making them property instead of allowing them — like everyone else — to participate in owning property. The impoverishing impact of nearly 300 years of this governmental policy has prevailed until the present day.
It is undeniable that African Americans are still among America’s poorest; and it is arguable that when top management — 96.8% of whom are white (CBS News) — earns up to 400 times more than their lowest-paid employee, there remains a practice of slavery in America, propped up by governmental policy.
United States senators, congressmen and congresswomen earn $91 per hour (basic pay, not including benefits). Some of these legislators complain so loudly about their inability to pay rent in the Washington, D.C., area, that they live in their offices and congressional gyms. Yet, some of these same folks balk at any suggestion to do something about the iniquitous basic American pay of $7.25 per hour, behaving as though that is not something for them to address or as though the $7.25 earners should just pull up their bootstraps and survive.
These $91 earners, who can’t afford rent, expect $7.25 earners to make rent anywhere in America, feed themselves and their kids, and pay for their own health care. The $91 salaries and benefits, never forget, are paid for by the taxes exacted from those who earn $7.25 — taxes legislated as policy by the $91 earners!
Steve Mnuchin and Mark Meadows each earns $104 per hour (and Mitch McConnell, $91) — generous benefits not included. These same men are loudly indignant that some persons (so it seems they’ve heard) prefer to earn $15 per hour from the CARES Act than return to work for $7.25 (especially if there is COVID to catch back at work, without the ability to sue their bosses who’d require them to come to work, no matter what — a policy that McConnell, Meadows, Mnuchin and others of their party fully propose). Do not forget that all these men shall, even if they served only one term, earn a pension for the remainder of their lives, equal to their pay — $91 to $104 for life — while the $7.25 earners can “suck salt” (as Jamaicans say) or go to hell (as the rest of the world says).
“These $91 earners, who can’t afford rent, expect $7.25 earners to make rent anywhere in America, feed themselves and their kids, and pay for their own health care.”
The foregoing, dear reader, is a primer in privilege.
It bears the power to inform one about any version of privilege one wishes to consider. In this version, “Low Wage Earners Matter!” It would be certainly ludicrous for Mnuchin, Meadows and McConnell — high earners who are paid by low earners, who make policies that give massively enriching tax breaks to already rich people, while impoverishing the poor more — to shout back, unperturbed by these ugly facts, “All Earners Matter!”
This primer in privilege shows how “All Lives Matter” is abject and hypocritical nonsense, demonstrating the urgent need for the privileged to become unblinded by grace, and their minds disabused of that privilege.
A relevant question arises: What is it that makes a senator, congressman, congresswoman or cabinet secretary’s service so compellingly and crucially more valuable than say, a military servant who has risked limb, mental health and life to serve and protect this country? Why does one see on America’s street corners placard-wielding veterans saying they are homeless, sick and hungry (which we can reasonably assume would not be, if they were paid pensions equal to their pay)?
Aha, I know; someone in government would say, “We can’t afford it! There are too many of them!” Well, perhaps the time has come for us to count how many former senators and congressmen we have in America, and to consider whether we can afford to continue this expensive gift to them, especially if they are numbered among those who have:
- Impoverished Americans with their policies.
- All but eliminated the middle class.
- Impoverished and demolished Black families by inordinately and unjustly imprisoning their mostly male and often female parents.
- Obstructed real progress.
- Hatefully vilified their colleagues who busily sought to do justice and righteousness to and for their constituents while they filibustered and obstructed.
Why should they be rewarded in these ways if, in their tenure, they effectively withheld the wages of their workers — an evil challenged not a few times in Scriptures?
It is no secret that Americans’ habit of tethering their “pro-life” conviction to only “pro-birth” has deep and strong relations to poverty. That limited and parochial interpretation, no matter how valid per se, has proved extremely dangerous to balanced thinking about what makes government good and what makes a vote wise.
“A government genuinely concerned about birth should be as concerned about the entire raft of health care concerns of women who give or shall give birth.”
A government genuinely concerned about birth should be as concerned about the entire raft of health care concerns of women who give or shall give birth; it should be as concerned about the cost of health care for anybody ever born of woman; their fair access to housing; and their ability to make a decent living anywhere in America. Such a government would ensure that one race was not consistently better advantaged than any other race, whether in land ownership, market share, voting rights and ease of voting, police suspicion, police arrests, or in verdicts received in the courts (when compared to folks of a different color for the same or lesser infractions, or no guilt of those accusations at all). All these are, in a vicious cycle, direct and virulent contributors to poverty in America and its results.
Any conscientious, objective and honest examination of Jesus’s theology would find that for him, poverty, with its causative concomitants of greed and injustice (including the callous dishonesty of the state, via its tax-collectors), constituted the largest segment of his concern for life more abundant ± “pro-life,” one might argue. So should ours.
Michael Friday is an American Baptist Churches minister and leadership strategist, with former pastorates in Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica, Connecticut, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and New York, He is author of And Lead Us Not Into Dysfunction: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly of Church Organizations And Their Leaders.