just an apprentice

the Word became flesh and dwelt among us...

Monday, March 28, 2005

Poverty is a religious issue

I have been doing a lot of thinking about how Christianity addresses sin a both a personal and structural level. I have read some astounding statistics lately:

1. The three richest people in the world control more wealth than all 600 million in the world's poorest countries.

2. Nearly half the world's population (2.8 billion people) lives on less than US$2 per day.

3. During the summer of 2003, low-income working families were excluded from the child tax credit. This summer saw a $350 billion tax cut passed by Congress. Estimates were that each millionaire would receive $93,000. Yet 1 percent of the total tax cut--$3.5 billion--could not be found for families who struggle mightily just to get by. Part of the bill was a child tax credit accelerated for middle- and upper-income families, and checks of $400 were to be sent out. The Senate added an amendment to ensure the refundability of the child credit, so that working families who earn between $10,500 and $26,625 would also benefit.

But, the New York Times reported, House and Senate Republicans removed the child tax credit from most families who make under $26,625 in a last-minute revision of the tax cut bill that President Bush signed into law. That effectively prevented almost twelve million children, one in every six in America, from receiving any tax benefit at all. Middle- and upper-middle-income families would see an increase in their child tax credits from $600 to $1,000, but low-income families and their children would be systemically excluded. The inclusion of these families in child tax credit benefits was in the original Senate package but was stripped out in a late-night conference committee, reportedly to make room for more dividend and capital gains tax cuts for wealthier Americans. (David Firestone, "Tax Law Omits Child Credit in Low-Income Brackets," New York Times, May 29, 2003)

The deed was revealed and an attempt was made to tack the low-income family child tax credit onto another tax cut for wealthier families. The issue then deadlocked and as checks went in the mail for middle-class families, low-income working parents wondered why they got left out in the cold.

4. Over the nine years from 1992 to 2000, the average annual income of the top four hundred increased to $174 million, while the average income for the bottom 90 percent was $27,000, according to the New York Times. Even the Wall Street Journal, called it "so much money in so few hands...a startling accumulation of wealth at the very top of the income pyramid." The "income gap," wrote the Journal, is becoming a "vast chasm." For many religious people across the theological spectrum, that inequality is also becoming a moral issue.

From The Message:

"People hate this kind of talk. Raw truth is never popular." Amos 5:10

"Doom to you who legislate evil, who make laws that make victims--laws that make misery for the poor, that rob my distitute people of dignity, exploiting defenseless widows, taking advantage of homeless children." Isaiah 10:1-2

God have mercy on us, where we have made the Gospel a message that only deals with personal transformation and ignores the structural dimensions of human sin. Open our eyes, Lord! And give us the will to act!