Acton Institute Powerblog

Christians Need a Holistic Definition of Poverty

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male homeless sleeping in a streetTo adequately address the problems of the lowest economic class, Christians must agree on a holistic definition of poverty that includes relational and spiritual elements.

The best solutions for alleviating poverty, if not eradicating it, will involve collaborations among institutions that can address poverty in many different ways. World Vision president Rich Stearns says that poverty is a “complex puzzle with multiple inter-related causes.” As a result, the best solutions (and indeed, there are many) will “help a community address their challenges on multiple fronts: food, water, health, education, economic development, gender, child development and even leadership and governance.”

Broken relationships lie at the root of all of these things, so solving poverty demands that we meet more than just material needs—and that isn’t easy. Generally Christians today have engaged in one-way giving and service amounting to little more than charity in the end, which is only part of our calling. And the result? Christians and the church have been relatively ineffective at providing lasting opportunities for the poor to overcome their situations.

Read more . . .

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).


  • Curt Day

    What is frustrating to me when conservatives discuss poverty is that the focus for change is solely put on the poor person who is often a victim. It isn’t that many who are poor don’t need to change. It is that many have been made poor by a system where wealth is being consolidated by a small percentage of people and nobody is asking them to change. Then problems begin to snowball. To me, this is evidence of economic classism where the lower classes are being marginalized and pushed to the fringes by the upper classes. And why not, that is according to the conservative interpretation that removes the upper classes of all responsibility for the economic sufferings of others.

    • Marc Vander Maas
      • Curt Day

        Don’t know if you read your stuff Marc, but the idea of owning one’s own land has long been a concern of the kind of agrarian reform that the Left has been pushing for and has been blocked by capitalist countries.

        Should also not with property rights, the implication of those concerned with it is ownership of land, but the real concern is to protect those with wealth from social responsibilities.

        • Marc Vander Maas

          Speaking of property rights and owning one’s land and whatnot…

          Curt, your views of what “conservatives” believe or do not believe are a goofy cartoon.

          • Curt Day


            Fear of agrarian reform was linked to every man having a vote by James Madison in the Constitutional debates and was expressed fear of his. For example, on June 26th, 1787, James Madison said the following,

            In England, at this day, if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of the landed proprietors would be insecure. An agrarian law would soon take place. If these observations be jsut, our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation. Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests, and to balance and check the other. They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.

            The 1954 coup in Guatemala provided an example of this as a democratically elected president promised agrarian reform and was overthrown by an American sponsored coup. At risk were the landholdings of United Fruit. Other coups were sponsored by the American gov’t for the sake of other businesses such as 1953 in Iran for oil and 1973 in Chile whose primary beneficiary was ITT. If you want to go to Bush’s invasion of Iraq, it was Iraq’s new gov’t and civilian activism that successfully resisted the SOFA that sought to legislate favorable treatment of American businesses amongst other conditions.

            Note that conservative foreign policies were in power in each of the aforementioned attempts to override the will and rights of the people for the sake of our capitalism, though not all dealt with agrarian reform. BTW, the democrats also belong in the same category as the Republicans in this matter too.

          • Marc Vander Maas

            There’s part of me that wants to note how you seem to believe that any past injustice that might possibly implicate those on the right side of the political spectrum is totally fair game, but any attempt to link your admittedly socialist philosophy to the very real and overwhelmingly brutal record of socialism in the 20th century is totally unfair.

            But there’s another part of me that just wants to do this:


            Oh what the heck, I’ll just indulge both.

          • Curt Day

            Your response shows a refusal to listen. The problem with many conservatives and liberals is that they are married to the label and thus lose the ability to be self-critical.

            Another problem is that you insist on painting socialism with one broad brush where you imply all socialists are the same. And the only way to come to that conclusion is to learn about socialism by reading its antagonists.

            Finally, what capitalists fail to perceive is this, that much of the bloodshed and violence, which can be spread to socialist and nonsocialist regimes, has something other than economic systems in common. What they have in common is rule by elite-centered gov’ts. Here I want to remind you of George Will’s words during one election when he said that the election was between their (meaning the dems) elites and ours (meaning the Republicans). In addition, once a system has killed millions of people, that it can believe that it is more righteous because its millions is less than someone else’s millions is lunacy.

            The real enemy to freedom is elite-centered power whether that power comes from the private or public sectors. The consolidation of wealth and power is the great threat to liberty whether that was done with Stalin or Mao, or it was done with Franco-Mussolini-Hitler or it was done here. Note that we ethnically cleansed the land of millions of Indians to make the land ours. Then when we conquered the West Coast, we branched out throughout the world. Yes, our leaders were elected, but their us of the military was authoritarian.

            The current discussion on poverty is about whether we put all of the impetus of change and those in need while never challenging those who use wealth to build their elite-centered political-economic system to consolidate wealth and power to change

          • Marc Vander Maas

            Socialism’s biggest antagonist is history.

            Curt, your biggest problem here at the PowerBlog is that you assume that if I or anyone else disagrees with you, we must not be understanding you. Please understand: I read your comments. I get where you’re coming from. And in the end, I simply disagree with you. Disagreement is not the same thing as failure to listen/understand.

          • Curt Day

            First you have to know what socialism is before you can say whether history is its antagonist. So instead of oversimplified statements like the one you just wrote, why not list the socialists you have read that have formed your definition of socialism

          • Marc Vander Maas

            I guess all that stuff I watched on TV in the late 80s and early 90s probably wasn’t the collapse of the socialist model, then? Do I need to write a 500 word essay on Das Kapital before I’m allowed to believe the completely obvious? Do I also have to go back and study the works of medievel barber-surgeons before I dismiss bloodletting as a legitimate medical technique?

          • Curt Day


            if you read a blog post that was posted later,, you will find the writer saying how we cannot paint any group homogeneously. So all that stuff we watched in the 80s and 90s does not all of socialism. In fact, the most prevalent factor existing in the old Soviet Union was elite-centered gov’t rather than socialism. And note, that what you call socialism in Russia has been replaced by neoliberal capitalism, the elite-centered gov’t has remained the same and is just as repressive as the old Soviet Union gov’t.

          • Marc Vander Maas

            You’re referring to the post where you just said this:

            Things are complex and don’t move smoothly along a straight line. But general tendencies can sometimes be observed.

            Let’s just say that I’ve been able to observe some general tendencies about socialist systems that I find… disturbing. Meanwhile, your position seems to be that it’s impossible to observe general tendencies about socialist systems at all, as any attempt to criticize real-world socialism is met with your stock response of “well that wasn’t really socialism.”

            Have you ever considered that the “elite-centered government” that you’re so concerned about is actually baked into the cake of socialism? That you’ll probably always be arguing that actually-existing socialism isn’t really socialism as you understand it because it will always end up being elite-centered? I’d argue that we’ve developed a similar problem in the United States over the course of the 20th Century with the continual “progressive” expansion of the federal government. As individual liberties are sacrificed to a central power, even one that purports to be benevolent, that central power necessarily becomes a new class – a “nomenklatura,” if you will – with power over the masses and nice new prerogatives to tend to. And as Lord Acton reminds us – power tends to corrupt.

            And yes, I’m aware that you have this idea for a bottom-up socialism that apparently works on a commune in Idaho or something.

          • Curt Day


            Actually, I am referring to the part that says the following:

            There is an erroneous anthropological assumption that people of a particular, generic group must be homogeneous enough that all one needs to do is figure out the perfect calculus for appealing to their sensibilities, and they will be hooked on a brand for life

            One of the points of the article is that even within groups, there is diversity.

            As for your cake, let me ask, how many socialists have you read? I have read enough to know that socialists can have many divergent opinions. Some do favor elite-centered gov’ts of varying types while others do not. And one has to read variety of socialists, rather than socialism’s antagonist who rest on yesteryear’s stereotypes, to understand the differences between socialists.

            Of course, those who combine personal prejudice with capitalist tribalism won’t hear of the diversity that is in socialism. Some such people claim to worship small gov’t but want an all powerful military. Well, unless your military is full of private contractors whose ultimate allegiance is to the signer of their paychecks, such is a contradiction.

            Finally, we already have a central power in the U.S. It is called the moneyed- interests. They control gov’t and they buy enforcement and laws that grant them immunity from prosecution. To think that you don’t have an elite-centered power controlling the country while you let corporations and financial institutions grow so much that they are too big to fail is naive.

            In the meantime, compare that with the expanded democracy that socialists, like myself, are calling for. Why an expanded democracy? In order to redistribute the power of the gov’t and private sector entities. And we accomplish this by running businesses democratically rather than through managers. Now, if you prefer the latter, then realize which side of elite-centered rule you are on.

          • Marc Vander Maas

            Oh, you’re still talking?

  • Cris S

    There are a lot of people who don’t take advantage of the education, don’t invest in themselves so to speak, then of course they don’t have so many chances to be hired so they blame their situation on those who learned, have skills and are eager to work.
    “…wealth is consolidated by a small percentage of people…” is self-sabotaging idea. In order to succeed, we need to liberate our minds from limiting ideas.

    • As Elise Hilton pointed out last month, the global middle class is growing.

      And she linked this article:

      The Myth of the Disappearing Middle Class

      President Obama, many Democrats and editorial page writers have been working to convince the nation that it is wracked by inequality, a disappearing middle class and a lack of opportunity. The charge of growing inequality is partly correct, mostly because those at the top of the income distribution have pulled away from the rest of us. But the other charges are wrong or misleading.

      First, consider the claim that the nation’s economic growth in the past three decades has gone straight to the richest Americans. The focus on the “1 percent” too often leaves out consideration of the overall distribution of income. Economist Richard Burk­hauser of Cornell shows in a forthcoming paper in National Tax Journal that, when the insurance value of health care and the value of certain government transfer payments are included in income, the top 20 percent of the income distribution experienced income growth of about 50 percent between 1979 and 2007 (in dollars adjusted for inflation).

      He also notes that households near the top of the top 20 percent have achieved income gains of well above 50 percent. But the income of households between the 60th and 80th percentiles grew by 40 percent, and those in the 40th to 60th percentile grew by nearly 40 percent. In these numbers, the disappearing middle class appears pretty healthy.

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