Category Archives: poverty

Economic justice and the Lord’s Prayer: How they intertwine

The Lord’s Prayer, found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s Gospels, is a central part of every Christian tradition. Its beauty and brevity, breadth and depth, welcomes our humble devotion, bold petition, transformative forgiveness, and alertness to the spiritual battle waging within and around us.

Right after the opening phrases of submission to God’s sovereignty and welcoming his reign in all of life, comes a simple petition: “Give us this day our daily bread…” For first century believers and most people since, this is not a casual phrase, but a real plea for provision for oneself and her or his family. Many people throughout most of history have spent their time laboring for daily bread. This prayer includes pleas for rain in season and a good harvest, wages paid to laborers, and a host of connected circumstances that allow life for another day or year.

In our 21st century globalizing world, this prayer is a cry for economic justice, a plea for all the systems of local and global economies to function so that we can flourish. In the last half century, two to three billion people have come out of abject poverty because of access to global markets and systemic and technological transformations that connect us as never before. In fact, in 2020, the United Nations declared for the first time in human history more people were above the line of abject poverty than below the line.

These heartening developments must not allow us to ignore the pressing needs of so many mired in despair and destitution. Whether it is rural or urban poverty in the West (with so many food deserts just minutes away from abundance), famine and pestilence in global locales, or warfare raging around the world, there is much to do for all concerned with justice.

What this plea implies

When we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we acknowledge the Lord as our source. We are also praying for all the people and systems to function in order to be sustained in our physical and social lives. Bread literally requires a global/local community: farmers, millers, co-operative grain storage and distribution, bakers, distributors, and retailers. Of course, in some locales sources and sales are simplified, but the principle is the same: It truly takes a community for our daily bread.

If we expand “bread” to refer to all the needs that sustain our physical lives (and therefore our social welfare as well), this petition takes on broader implications. We are praying for systemic access, equity, and opportunity for all to flourish. We are praying for those with bread to share it with the hungry (Is 58; 1 John 2-4). We are praying for just conditions for all that are engaged in the exchanges that bring us our products. We are praying for justice. We are not praying for a particular political ideology, but for private and public, personal and social to integrate well according to the precepts and wisdom found in the Scriptures, including gleaning laws and generosity, personal responsibility and community concern for the marginalized.

“Give us this day our daily bread.” We serve a God offering abundance (John 10:10). We serve a God who can meet all our needs and more (Luke 6:38; Eph 3:20-21). We serve a God who answers the needy of others through the sacrificial generosity of others, even folks far away (Acts 15; 2 Cor 8-9). When we voice this prayer, we are committing to action on behalf of the voiceless.

May this prayer continue echoing from prayer rooms and churches, private devotions and public spaces until Jesus returns. And may it stimulate generosity, new relationships, economic and social reforms leading to the table of abundance for all.

A Call for Reformation, Not Anarchy and Totalitarianism

We are watching legitimate outrage and protest being co-opted by groups determined to destroy institutions and replace them with their own forms of oppression. History is replete with positive initial intentions being subverted: The French Revolution started with good intentions and ultimately imploded and yielded Napoleonic power. The Russian Revolution in 1917 began with democratic forces beginning to fashion a new future, and by 1922 Bolshevik Communists led by Lenin inaugurated one of the most repressive regimes in history. Millions were hopeful in 1949 when Mao led a Communist takeover…by 1970, millions of Chinese had perished in the “Cultural Revolution.”

I support millions protesting peacefully.

I support reforms for our criminal justice system.

I support serious changes in fostering access, equity, and opportunity of all, especially the African Americans living under generational oppression and poverty.

I support civil, passionate debate.

But looting and violence – especially destructive to the poor neighborhoods that need the most help – and calls to defund and even eradicate police forces will not yield the sustainable justice all people of conscience desire.

We need reform.

Reform is a powerful term that avoids mere “tweaking” and modification while retaining the goodness of the particular category. In addition to much needed reforms in the criminal justice and police systems, here are some more categories for reform. As I share these, please do not assume that I am implying Left or Right Ideologies for answers. We need wisdom that embraces personal dignity and systemic change, personal responsibility and the common good, and the humility to learn from history and embrace hope.

Here are more candidates for reform: Failed political machines in many cities. Educational systems. Mental health services deserve much more attention and financing. Ending the redlining and unspoken class and race prejudice in economic development. Our welfare systems need overhauling. Our military-industrial complex deserves careful scrutiny. And all religious and non-profit organizations must cease making excuses and papering over serious failures. 

Many more categories of reform are needed, but there is one more that is foundational to all others: The reformation of our own hearts and minds. I am asking God to remove prejudice and pretension and fill me with timeless truth and timely wisdom rooted in love. 

We must ask the hard questions and see how we might reform the very systems that are designed to empower and provide, protect and support our highest ideals. Charisma and competency matter, but character will be the difference between a moment of fame and enduring change.

Inconvenient Insights for a Polarized World

This week after Groundhog’s Day and in remembrance of the Bill Murray comedy of reliving the same day over and over again, it is right to reflect on some enduring challenges:

We have miles to go in our pursuit of justice for women and men of all classes and cultures.
We can celebrate Christian contributions to social progress, and we must deeply lament historic ecclesial complicity with oppression.

We can criticize Israeli policies, but most of the responsibility for lasting peace rests with Arab leaders acknowledging Israel’s right to exist as the national home of the Jewish people. Israel is not a western colonial imposition, but the historic home of an ancient people. The new plan presented by President Trump (and quietly endorsed by some Sunni Arab states in the region) is an opportunity that the current Palestinian Leadership is willfully ignoring.

Billions have been lifted out of poverty in my lifetime due to global trade, with access to new markets. We still have too many food, banking, and job deserts in our own American cities.

Our national debt and deficit spending reveal cowardice and a lack of concern for generations yet unborn. Both parties are guilty, and it will take both parties cooperation to find solutions.

UN officials admit that their proposals for climate change amelioration are of little practical use, except for the transfer of trillions in wealth. Unless China, India, and Russia sign on, little progress can be made. Every proponent of free trade and/or climate change skeptic must also care more deeply for the ecological life of our planet. Good environmental stewardship means a good economy for our grandchildren.

Let’s find a new way to fund education of all kinds without a lifetime of debt on graduates and ever-increasing tuition prices.

A rebirth of civility begins with an affirmation of the dignity and worth of each person we meet. We must end caricature, insults, and stereotyping of those different from us.