Tri-Valley executive director
“Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and becomes judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised those who love Him? But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?” James 2:2-6
Last week Tara and I were visiting family in Wichita and had the opportunity to attend our old church. It is amazing how often the message we hear at church corresponds to a current situation or an issue we are dealing with. They say God works in mysterious ways and I truly believe this. The message we heard was about how Jesus treated the poor and those less fortunate. Growing up in the Catholic Church and then later in life in the Church of the Nazarene, I had a firm understanding about how we should treat others. In fact, all religions have doctrine on how the poor or those less fortunate should be treated. I question whether certain groups in our society have abandoned these messages though?
From my perspective, the answer is yes. We have been told over and over again by certain legislators in Topeka that the poor and less fortunate are a drain on our economy, that they are lazy and good for nothing. These same politicians claim to be pious Christians, but do the opposite of what Jesus preached. They claim the Christian high ground and have a holier than thou attitude about it. They know what’s best for people, not Jesus. We live in a state that is at war with the poor and people with disabilities. Would Jesus have cut or eliminated services or supports for people in need? I don’t think so. He would have given the shirt off of his back to clothe the needy, he would have healed the disabled, he would have fed the hungry; he would not have asked if they are working or for a drug test. While poverty is often associated with joblessness, a significant proportion of the poor are actually employed. According to the US Census Bureau in 2009, 11.1 percent of families lived in poverty and 58.9% of those had at least one adult working in the household. I have employees at Tri-Valley that work two and sometimes three jobs to make ends meet. Some of them still live in poverty.
One of my favorite passages in the New Testament is from the Book of Luke when a certain ruler asked Jesus, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’ 21 “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
From my perspective, I believe some legislators are trying to divert our attention away from how bad the economy is in Kansas and there has to be a scapegoat, whether it is education or the poor. Regardless of their beliefs, it is the states responsibility to support those people who have disabilities according to the Kansas Constitution. They should be supporting and not judgmental. They should be compassionate and not selfish. They should be giving and not greedy. To paraphrase the conclusion of the sermon I heard in Wichita; loving and serving God is and should be synonymous with helping the poor.