the 41.3 million
Who should take care of the poor in America? When I say "poor" I mean people that can't afford food, clothing, healthcare, and/or basic necessities. This number is about 43.1 million in the United States.
It's a very simple, and illuminating question that will tell you a lot about a person, including their theological and political views.
Below are the answers I hear most often, in some form or another.
1. No one. The poor should take care of themselves. (This often comes from someone who was once poor themselves and then got lucky - a.k.a worked hard - and is now wealthy.)
2. The government. (Not many Republicans and/or Conservatives will say this, or run on it.)
3. The rich. (This always sounds good but is basically impossible without #2. Yes, that gives away quite a bit about my opinion but I think Jesus often said the same thing when he talked about money.)
4. The church. (This also sounds good but it too is basically impossible since the church is mostly #3. America is the world's most "Christian" country, the most wealthy country and the country with the greatest inequality of any country in the world.)
5. Non-profits. (This also sounds good but, unfortunately, the majority of non-profit budgets are funded by #3 and well... we've been down that road.)
Now, some push-back.
A. When we're talking about the poor in America, we're talking about a pretty well-off poor. Probably true to a degree. But if you wouldn't trade places with them tomorrow, I wouldn't use that excuse very often.
B. Some will say that the reasons we have poor in America is because we let in too many illegal immigrants. That definitely plays a role. Of course, we could move the question beyond America and ask who is supposed to take care of them wherever they are.
C. The church and non-profits, funded by the rich, have done an amazing job - billions of dollars in charity - don't throw them under the bus. I completely agree. And the government has as well. Unfortunately, we're still talking about 43.1 million people in the U.S. So, the question is still there.
D.. Jesus said the poor would always be with us. That is true. Maybe he was saying that in response to #1. He could have also said the rich will always be with you - which means there will always be poor.
D2. Where did Jesus say the rich wouldn't give their money away without government? Jesus warned of the pitfalls of being rich and pursuing wealth over and over and over, and one of the main pitfalls was the decline of generosity - which also bears out in numerous studies.
E. Paul said if you give away all you have to the poor and don't have love it's worthless. I agree. But if you have love, you'll give away everything you have for the people who have nothing. Giving away all we have to the poor is an indicator of love, not something that does anything on its own, although Jesus said when we help the poor we help him... so.... it's an important indicator and it seems to decline with wealth.
Let's throw all that aside though and come back to the original question.
Who is responsible for the poor? In the world?
It will at least make for an interesting conversation. And I believe, the conversation will need to move beyond words in the upcoming years. We're living in a country that is going to use #2 much less which means that #3 and #4 and #5 are going to need to step up - and history and research and Jesus say that's not usually what happens.
Maybe the best answer is simply "me".