The other day, Rod and I were discussing who should speak up for the poor. Today, Rod has posted a response to one of my comments.
I want to address two comments Rod makes.
However, do we live in a society where those who are destitute have no voice? Secondly, what constitutes speaking? We don’t live in an Ancient Near Eastern monarchy (or city-state for that matter). While originally, only propertied white males were allowed to vote, today, all citizens of all races, classes, and genders can (ideally).
Now, I don’t know what it’s like in Texas, but in Washington, our ballots (for the most part) are mailed to us. While ideally everyone over the age of 18 can vote, the reality is some poor don’t have a mailing address. Even in states where ballots aren’t mailed, there are issues to be considered. Do the poor have proper ID to register to vote? Do they have a vehicle to get to the polls?
Sometimes even the most well-intentioned forms of charity can do more harm than good; for example, is a charitable act just if the recipient of such charity must convert to white, evangelical Christianity or is forced into accepting adoption as we saw in Haiti? Supposedly, these good-hearted Christians called themselves speaking for the poor.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I would also argue that what Rod describes above is not biblical charity, but rather one twisted and distorted by sin. Biblical charity does not demand compensation. It comes with no strings attached. It gives freely.
If someone takes your coat, don’t withhold your shirt either. Give to everyone who asks and don’t demand your things back from those who take them. (Luke 6:29b-30)
And from the Didache:
If someone takes your cloak, give him also your coat. If someone takes from you what is yours, ask it not back, for indeed you are not able. Give to every one who asks you, and ask it not back; for the Father wills that to all should be given of our own blessings (free gifts). (Didache, Chapter 1)
There is an institutional injustice with the way the poor are treated. Too often, society’s response is to just ignore them. And it’s very easy to ignore those who do not have a voice. The ideal and reality conflict. We don’t live in an ideal world. The world is not as God intended it. Should the poor need to have someone speak for them? The answer is, of course, no, they should not. They should not need someone like Cornel West to speak for them. Do the poor need someone to speak for them? Because of our sinful nature and the inherent injustice of the system, the unfortunate answer is yes.