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Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Conservatives hate the poor - Redux

A frequent visitor to this blog commented last week about an article I wrote concerning how to best care for the poor. Gurufrisbee said:
Doesn't the government have a responsibility to ALL it's people? I think so, and in that sense, I wouldn't say that "opposition to various government programs" is necessarily the equivalent to "apathy towards the poor", but I would say that opposing those programs without promoting alternative programs to aid the poor is apathetic to the poor. It only becomes even worse looking when you tie in strong efforts on other issues - especially ones that help the wealthy become even more wealthy. I don't think most liberals would have problems with conservatives if it was a debate over whose plan to help the poor was better, but it's evolved (or de-evolved) into liberals wanting to give money to the poor and conservatives wanting to give that money to the already wealthy (at least that is how it is being widely percieved).
I never cease to be amazed at this claim that conservatives do not promote alternatives to government programs to aid the poor. This is false and doesn't take much research to see the efforts that non-governmental groups are making to aid the poor.

Habitat for Humanity - I'm sure many of you are familiar with Habitat for Humanity. Habitat's stated goal is to eliminate homelessness and poverty. They help do this by building low cost homes for low-income families. Many people volunteer to help build these homes including the families who eventually buy them at a low price. Habitat for Humanity was founded as a Christian organization that accepts no government funding. They have built over 175,000 homes around the world.

While many of the leaders of Habitat for Humanity would not be characterized as conservatives, conservatives have long promoted Habitat for Humanity and volunteered to work with them. I have never been to a conservative evangelical church that had not done significant work with Habitat for Humanity.

The Bowery Mission - The Bowery Mission in New York City provides food, clothing, medical care, and shelter for the poor. In 2003, The Bowery Mission served over 350,000 meals, provided nightly shelter to over 75,000 , and gave over 80,000 articles of clothing to those in need. The NY Department of Homeless Services has ranked The Bowery Mission as the most effective substance abuse program in the city for over 5 years.

All of this without government funding. The president of The Bowery Mission, Ed Morgan, is an evangelical Christian who is acting out his beliefs. (Disclosure: Ed's son, Ted Morgan, is a very good friend of mine)

I highly recommend reading this article that Mr. Morgan wrote for the New York Times that articulates the place of Christianity in helping the poor. And here is a piece in the WSJ highlighting the work of Mr. Morgan and The Bowery Mission.

I could go on and one with hundreds of examples like these. Traditional non-profits are not the only organizations helping the poor.

This next section I wrote a couple of months ago but feel that it is part of this conversation:

Debunking a myth
There seems to be this myth that few evangelical churches ever talk or do anything about the poor. In my 30-something years in multiple churches, I have found this to not be the case. I did a little research into some of the more prominent evangelical churches to see what they are doing to assist the poor.

Saddleback Church - Rick Warren leads this mega-church in Southern California. Some of the ways that Saddleback reaches out to the poor include serving at the local Union Mission, Habitat for Humanity, and The New Life and Emergency Shelter.

World Changers- This mega-church in Atlanta is led by Creflo Dollar and is primarily attended by African-Americans. World Changers mentors low-income families, assists people in gaining employment, and assists elderly and handicapped people in getting their homes repaired.

Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa- Calvary Chapel is led by Chuck Smith. This church provides meals for the homeless in Southern California and helps with the rehabilitation of people in jail.

Willow Creek- This mega-church in the Chicago suburbs is led by Bill Hybels. Willow Creek has a food pantry for those in need, provides assistance to victims of domestic abuse, and provided direct financial assistance through its benevolence program.

Intown Community Church- This is my home church in Atlanta. Intown has for years manned a local soup kitchen for at least one week a month. Intown has also partnered at times with FCS Urban Ministries to bring about development in declining low-income inner city neighborhoods. Some members of the church have felt strongly enough about assisting low-income families that they have moved into inner city neighborhoods themselves.

I bring up these churches in particular because the members of these churches tend to vote Republican. While I recognize that not all churches have the same level of action to help the poor, I find this group to be a good cross-section.

"The Wealthy get wealthier"
This idea about the wealthy getting wealthier has nothing to do with aiding the poor. If there were a finite amount of wealth, this argument would have some traction. But unlike many resources, wealth can and does grow. So when wealthy people grow wealthier, there is no logical conclusion that it must be at the expense of the poor. This is a fallacy.

And if fact, just the opposite often happens. The wealthier the wealthy become, the more likely they are to provide jobs to the poor. I heard someone once say, "I never had a poor man give me a job".

I'm not sure I understand this argument that conservatives want to give money to the rich. What government programs have conservatives supported that would give money to the rich? Please don't say tax cuts. Tax cuts don't "give" money to anyone. Tax cuts simply keep people from having more of their own money taken from them.

Our income tax system is already steeply progressive; the richest 1% of Americans pay over 33% of all income taxes. It doesn't sound like tax cuts are making the wealthy wealthier.

Update: The Acton Institute's Powerblog has an excellent article on a misguided attempt to alleviate poverty.

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