Universalism, Darwinism and Calvinism: Methods of Poverty Alleviation
Our country is currently in an intense dialogue about the most appropriate ways to address the growing population of men, women and children who are being identified as living in poverty.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports 46.2 million persons are in poverty.
The employment rate is over 8%
The number of persons participating in receiving Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) is 46.6 million.
The question that is commonly asked is “How can such a country of affluence and opportunity have so many in such a condition?” Now to be clear and provide some perspective, those who are in poverty, in America, are substantially in a better situation than those who are poor in other countries that are characterized as “under developed,” “third world” or “developing.” We have a stronger infrastructure, more opportunities and freedoms for private organizations to meet needs and over 70 government programs that the situations of those who are poor in America. Those living on one dollar a day in other nations would embrace the situation of the poor in America.
What we cannot ignore though is the fact that the numbers of persons are increasing in America and as this situation increases, men and women choose roads in creating solutions that will address the numbers that I have mentioned above.
These pathways have become have come into sharper clarity in light of the current political situation before us. If you have not been living in a hole, then you know that this year we have the opportunity to re-elect politicians or elect new politicians. These men and women are running in a context when more Americans are falling below the poverty threshold and are unable to find quality work. People today are looking to hear what policies elected officials will seek to implement in order to address poverty.
While I would contend that your Christian worldview should shape your view of politics, I understand as well, that there are those who hold no Christian worldview but act in accordance to some type of worldview. Our thoughts, words, recommendations, and executions have a starting point and the destination of that road is just as critical.
What are those roads? I want to credit Dr. Marvin Olasky who helped me think through this and I hope that this will help you as well.
There is the road of universalism. Now in theological terms, “universalism” is the basic idea that all people will enter “heaven.” All people regardless of their life situation, religious creed or object of faith will all experience heaven in the afterlife. How can we apply that to addressing poverty? Some in America have chosen this line and believe all persons should possess the same. There is an unspoken belief among some in America that it is unjust to have rich, middle class and poor. How is this universalism or utopia of equal possession of goods sought? In America we see an increase in government involvement by creating programs, seeking revenue and then redistributing that revenue.
There is the road of Darwinism. Charles Darwin advanced his theory of evolution, believing that different species evolved through natural selection. It is commonly understood as the “strong survive.” How does this impact how one addresses poverty? It is the response of the “NIMBY’S” and the cynics, to see the problem of poverty and simply believe that if a person makes it, they make it. If that person or family never rises out of the difficulties of poverty, then they were not strong enough to adapt to their context and the result is just what it is.
Now let me say, that of the three, this second line is the most destructive and unloving act an individual can take in response to the situation of another human being. When one human sees another human being in adversity, acknowledges that adversity and then does nothing; they are the Levite and Priest of the Good Samaritan parable. They have demonstrated that the weak is not to be loved but disposed of.
The final road is that of Calvinism. If you are not familiar with “Calvinism,” it is commonly attributed to the system of Reformed thought in Christianity. Calvinism places a very high premium on the sovereignty of God while maintaining that humanity is held responsible for its actions in the presence of the living God. Additionally, it understands what David said at the end of his reign, that God gives riches, honor and greatness to all. How does this play out in addressing poverty?
If you approach poverty alleviation from this vantage point, then you understand from Scripture that material inequality will exist. Consider in the land allocation to each tribe in Israel, there was no equal distribution of land (Joshua 14-19). God gave these instructions. At the same time, you will find in Scripture God mandating that 1) the poor are not to be forgotten (Ps 74:19; Pro 31:9) and 2) if one does not work they will not eat (2 Thess 3:10). God distributes in his sovereignty and men are responsible for their conduct.
Our current political winds are blowing to reveal what roads we travel on regarding our methods of poverty alleviation.
I propose that the reason there will be material inequality among us, is rooted in truth of the Gospel. Paul says in 2 Cor 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” This simple truth impacts every economic class in America. In this truth is rooted the free act of giving and joy of receiving. Every person, at every economic level needs to be provided the opportunity to give and receive. In the immediate context, it was the poor who gave and Paul is using their example to encourage those with more to give, ultimately using the atoning work of Christ as the root for action.
Poverty alleviation requires us to critically examine ourselves and what we envision as the end state in regards to poverty. We must ask ourselves if the methods we desire to implement will reflect God’s Gospel, will bring about situations in which persons are helped and communities are improved. When we begin our walk from the starting point of grace, endeavoring to address poverty at all levels of human society-the peace of God will be the destination.
That is a road that we should all pursue.