PHILADELPHIA – The first step to addressing poverty, Dr. John Perkins, who is considered a father of the Justice Movement, said during the last panel at The Justice Conference, is recognizing the dignity of every human being.
Citing Genesis, Perkins said, "All mankind was created in the image of God. People don't have to do nothin' to have dignity." It is important for the Church, therefore, to "affirm the dignity of the poor."
Perkins was active in the Civil Rights Movement. Now in his 80s, he has founded many ministries and authored many books over his lifetime.
The panel was moderated by Lynn Hybels, who co-founded Willow Creek Community Church with her husband, Bill Hybels. The other panelists were Stephen Bauman, president and CEO of World Relief, and Lisa Sharon Harper, director of mobilizing for Sojourners.
Hybels noted that she went to college to be a social worker because she wanted to help the poor. After she married Bill, they decided that their vision for the Church would include both evangelism and social justice, and Perkins was among those who helped mentor them.
"That issue of poverty is close to my heart, it has been all my life," Hybels explained.
Harper agreed with Perkins that understanding human dignity is key to fighting poverty.
"We have, right now, an ethos in this country that demonizes the poor. It actually dehumanizes the poor," she said.
Perkins described his "3 R's of community development": relocation, reconciliation, redistribution.
When he talks about redistribution, Perkins said, "People go almost to stupidity. They're so tied up in deifying money, they begin to act stupid."
"If we take all the money from the rich and give it to the poor, and leave the poor in the state they're in, the rich would have it back tomorrow night," he added as the audience laughed. "The poor need something more than materialism. The poor need the motivation, the incentives, the skills, the education so they can help themselves."
Harper explained that she loves the direction of current discussions about how to deal with poverty, because, "we're no longer just talking about welfare to work, having that argument, we're not just talking about big government versus small government.
"What we're talking about now is creating more opportunities for people who are poor to climb out of poverty through investing in early childhood education ... more training for jobs, because the best way to get someone out of poverty is a good paying job."
"If we work on" strengthening the workforce, education and healthcare," Harper said, "we really could cut poverty and really end it within two generations."