Christians, Poverty, and the Culture Wars

Have you ever, as the old saying goes, been "damned with faint praise"? Well, we Bible-believing Christians just have—by two men who ought to know better.

Eric Metaxas, author of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, speaks after receiving the Canterbury Medal from the Becket Fund on Thursday, May 12, 2011, in Washington, D.C. | (Photo: The Christian Post)

The noted scholar Robert Putnam, in an interview with the Washington Post, said the following: "The obvious fact is that over the last 30 years, most organized religion has focused on issues regarding sexual morality, such as abortion, gay marriage, all of those. I'm not saying if that's good or bad, but that's what they've been using all their resources for. This is the most obvious point in the world. It's been entirely focused on issues of homosexuality and contraception and not at all focused on issues of poverty."

Actually, that's not even faint praise, is it? And it is also not true. As Robert Schwarzwalder and Pat Fagan write in a rejoinder published in Religion News Service, "This is utter nonsense, to the point of absurdity." Indeed it is, and Dr. Putnam's not the only person who's badly misinformed.

Another, alas, is President Obama. At a recent panel at Georgetown University, Mr. Obama, a self-professed Christian, stated: "Despite great caring and concern, when it comes to what are you really going to the mat for, what's the defining issue, when you're talking in your congregations, what's the thing that is really going to capture the essence of who we are as Christians, or as Catholics, or what have you, that [fighting poverty] is often times viewed as a 'nice to have' relative to an issue like abortion."

Now that's damning with faint praise—Mark Hemingway of the Weekly Standard calls it "casual slander"—and it is flat out wrong on a number of levels.

First of all, Christians have every right—indeed, we have a God-given responsibility—to stand up for the dignity of human life, both born and unborn. My wife works hard running a pregnancy care center here in New York that reaches out with the love of Christ to pregnant mothers and their babies every day. And thank God that there are thousands like her, in the trenches, saving lives with compassion and tenacity—black, white, Hispanic, and every race you can think of. When it comes to protecting the most vulnerable among us, we Christians have nothing to apologize for.

But I'm saddened that Mr. Obama seems to have bought into the inaccurate stereotype that our main focus is on the culture wars. Not only do Christians devote more resources on fighting poverty than we do on morality and sanctity of life issues, Christians give far more to fight poverty than anyone else in the country. That's a fact. It is well known, and you can read about it in the great book by Arthur C. Brooks, "Who Really Cares," and, by the way, in a lot of other places.

As Schwarzwalder and Fagan point out, in 2009, American churches gave $13 billion to global relief and development efforts. And as Hemingway notes, "Even the most generous estimates of the resources devoted to pro-life causes and organizations defending traditional marriage are just a few hundred million dollars."

In 2012, World Vision alone spent about $2.8 billion on the poor. And 600 evangelical agencies spent $9.2 billion on orphan care, relief work, and on medical, educational, and other services to the poor. And I won't even mention the evangelical fight against Ebola.

So, can we do more? Of course! But the fact is, Christian commitment to the poor dwarfs our efforts on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage.

So the next time you hear the "Christians focus more on morality than poverty" meme, be ready to politely and lovingly set the record straight.

This article was orignally posted here.

From BreakPoint. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. "BreakPoint®" and "Prison Fellowship Ministries®" are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship

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