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Do We Simply Want To End Poverty, Or Do We Want Humans To Flourish?

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People of good will wish to end poverty. No one who lives in abject poverty wishes to remain there. We all know that poverty is a problem, but we differ on how to “fix” it.

One clear distinction, discussed by Stephanie Summers, is whether we want to end poverty, or whether we want to promote human flourishing. This is a critical delineation.

Ending poverty focuses primarily on government policy and programs. It utilizes metrics, numbers, data to “prove” success. The goal is to move a person or family from one income bracket to the next, higher up. It is economics-focused, not person-focused.

How is the goal of human flourishing different? It is more robust, Summers says; it encompasses more than simply economic factors. “We are not simply baptizing a particular public policy agenda or means,” Summers states, but seeking a manner of living that allows each person to reach his/her fullest potential.

Second, we need to call on fellow Christians to serve our neighbors in ways that extend beyond tangible acts of mercy. Christians also serve as citizens in the political community we share with others. For some, because government seems so dysfunctional, there is no urgency behind policy-driven efforts to overcome domestic poverty, even though they are deeply committed to serve the tangible needs of their neighbors.

How we articulate our role as citizens in the political communities we share is crucial in how we work alongside others in developing the right means to address the myriad policy challenges of our time. If we believe God’s plan is for the flourishing of every human, we cannot be concerned only with our own interests. We can and must lead here.

Third, we need to make plain that the means to achieve human flourishing are multifaceted.  We need to help articulate the right role for government.

Primarily, government must not hinder human flourishing. It cannot and must not stand in the way of human flourishing or worse, encourage human stagnation. Summers suggests that, instead of viewing solving poverty as the end game, we maintain a holistic approach, thus helping those in poverty make realistic and sustainable changes. This allows us to move from goal-oriented (move people out of poverty) to a holistic approach (supporting people as they work to positively change their circumstances for life). In this manner, we can not only alleviate poverty, but protect the integrity of each person.

Read “Overcoming Poverty: Beginning with the End” at the Center for Public Justice.

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Elise Hilton Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.

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