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September 15th, 2010
07:00 AM ET

My Take: 5 myths about poverty that Christians should renounce

The author with a Ghanaian woman who received an Opportunity International loan to run a daycare center and primary school.

Editor's Note: The son of missionary parents, Mark Lutz is Senior Vice President at Opportunity International, a non-profit microfinance organization, and author of the new book UnPoverty: Rich Lessons from the Working Poor.

By Mark Lutz, Special to CNN

Poverty is not an issue. It's people.

We hear about it, but do we really understand it? Myths about poverty abound, particularly among those of us bent on following Jesus' teaching about the poor and oppressed.

Myth 1: People are poor because they are lazy or stupid.

Poor people work incredibly hard, under harsh conditions, frequently seven days a week. With no welfare programs and no social networks, if they don’t work, they don’t eat. That’s reality.

My work in microfinance has taken me to some 50 countries. I’ve watched men making bricks in equatorial sun from morning till night in exchange for $10; women hauling five-gallon containers on their heads and in each hand every morning to water their garden-size farm; children rifling through trash for recyclables to exchange for a meal.

Despite their efforts, these hard-working people cannot get off their economic treadmills; they pass their generational poverty onto their children and grandchildren. Getting to know them as sisters and brothers, I can vouch that they are anything but lazy or stupid. The only reason for their life of misery and mine of relative luxury is where we were born.

Myth 2: Poor people want handouts.

We assume that a hungry person wants us to give them something to eat. Sure, if a mother’s children are hungry she’ll gladly accept a free meal. But what that person would much rather have is the opportunity to work and feed her family. Each time she accepts a handout she exchanges a portion of her dignity.

In the Bible, God instructs farmers not to harvest the corner of their crops, but to leave it for the poor. God didn’t tell them to reap it and give the money to the poor, but to leave it for the poor to pick and eat. They need food, but they also need and want an opportunity to work.

Every day some 25,000 people die from starvation. Disturbing as that may be, the real tragedy is that for 90 percent of them, there is no food shortage. They just can’t afford to buy available food. The appropriate response is not relief but development, including opportunities to work.

Myth 3: Our foremost responsibility is America’s poor.

The number one objection I hear to our work in the developing world is that we must first solve the problems in our own country. Yet half of humanity barely survives on $2 per day. And they don’t live here.

We live in a generous country where last year more than $300 billion was given to charity from voluntary donations. As grand as that is, less than five percent goes to international work, leaving 95 percent in our own country for our churches, university endowments and symphonies.

These are worthy causes, but charities that serve the wealthiest nation. I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant when in Matthew 25 he told his followers to serve “the least of these.”

Myth 4: Jesus said we will always have extreme poverty.

What Jesus said in Mark 14:7 was: “The poor you will always have with you.”

Jesus recognized that some will always have less than others. But the kind of abject poverty that over one billion people endure—those living on $1 per day—wouldn’t be tolerated by Jesus and should not exist today.

I honestly believe we can eradicate extreme poverty. And if we can, then we must.

Myth 5: Jesus was concerned primarily about spiritual poverty.

I grew up in South Africa, surrounded by missionaries. There was a subtle message that eternity is a lot longer than life. If someone is saved and bound for heaven, it doesn’t much matter how hungry their children are.

But when Jesus began his public ministry, he read his mission statement: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor… To set free the oppressed.” (Luke 4:18).

Though we must read on to understand the full gospel, if we seek to follow his example and teaching, we must bring good news to the poor and set free the oppressed. More than 2,000 verses in the Bible deal with the poor. Jesus had special solidarity with the poor and told us that if we love him, we will show it by caring for them.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mark Lutz.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Opinion • Poverty

soundoff (335 Responses)
  1. bigolug

    Mr. Lutz, I spend a lot of time with Christians and I never hear them say what you claim in your article. My church reaches out to help the poor in America and other countries as well. I think you need to spend some time at a Christian church and get to know real Christians instead of believing what the media spins.

    September 15, 2010 at 8:36 pm |
    • biggerolug

      I think bigolug isn't getting the point here. Mark has spent his whole life with Christians as well as those American Christians are trying to help. I've spent "allot of time with Christians (what ever that means) too and I DO HEAR wat Mark is saying. Don't hate, this bigolug guy has nothing better to do than toot his own horn in fear someone is making a power move above his head. Midwestern close minded egocentric white Caucasian and complacent, Relax and join us brother. we get it, you're great.

      September 16, 2010 at 12:07 am |
    • Dave7

      Sounds someone hit a nerve there bigolug. I think in the psychology world they call that projection? Anyway, you're angered by something you don't like about yourself. Or you just don't this nice man, can't imagine why.

      September 16, 2010 at 6:46 am |
  2. stoopid sheep

    well uncle tom thank you for jugding me (judge thee lest the be judged your self ) i am a follower of christ but when the country took a down turn it seems like churches sprouted like roses in your bathroom hows that new shirt my holyer then thow

    September 15, 2010 at 8:23 pm |
  3. Tom

    Always amusing to see the atheists on here that immediately attack "rich" churches or religions. Lest we forget that secular society pales in comparison to Christianity in helping others.

    September 15, 2010 at 8:16 pm |
    • ScottyGa

      Presume you mean me, though I am not an athiest. In the context of the Gospel of Prosperity read, "Money, Possesions, and Eternity" by Randy Alcorn. I don't agree with everything he writes but one thing that makes a lot of sense is that the Gospel of Prosperity puts the buck first, which is fundamentally at odds with the teachings of Jesus.

      September 15, 2010 at 8:30 pm |
    • Dave7

      Yea Lest!

      September 16, 2010 at 4:53 am |
  4. chelseykee

    Bringing up the writer's salary/compensation amount as if it's a legitimate attack to his credibility actually has no place here.

    "He's earned all that money; where does he go off talking about giving to the poor?! He should donate all that money away!"

    This perspective actually originated from none other than Judas, the man who stole money from Jesus's offering bags and then later, ultimately betrayed Him. It's a cleverly disguised mask for envy, and tells more about yourself than the other person : you don't care about the poor at all. You just see how much money the other person is earning, and snidely thinks he should give it away. Well, how about all of you? What are you doing? Are you giving more money to the poor than the writer? (For all you know, he probably gave away more of his income to the poor than any amount you probably could've imagined.)

    It's not a crime to be a Christian and be wealthy – that's exactly how God intends to bless His people : so they could GIVE the money to the poor. The more they give to the poor, the more God blesses them with money. The thing is, God is looking for people who He could trust with riches, to complete this holy financial cycle. People who constantly denounce or criticise Christians for "having too much money" doesn't seem to understand that it is precisely becausea) they can be trusted to actually GIVE away the money cheerfully, and b) heck, God WANTS them to enjoy the fruits of His blessing. Yes, this means a bit of indulgence shopping on a Saturday afternoon for us ladies.

    September 15, 2010 at 8:00 pm |
    • tom

      Please- stop watching tele evangelists! What you are saying is not Christian. It is selfish but a way for you to manage your guilt of falling for material wealth and rejecting Jesus true teachings.

      September 16, 2010 at 9:38 am |
  5. stoopid sheep

    poor this rich that church here politics there why argue about church an politics its the same funny how people loose there jobs but churches an politicians pockets keep getting bigger but nobodys crying about bet that new guchi shirt impressed the preachers wife you wore on sunday but you argue for the poor , ol lutz says 25 k die a day well then why worry about charitys they collect 10,25 % just like churches an line thier pockets ,so why argeu you stoopid sheep

    September 15, 2010 at 7:48 pm |
  6. Hannah

    I am a donor to Opportunity Intl and like that they not only teach a person to fish, but that they give the fisherman a loan to buy the boat and nets.

    The money is not a handout and therefore the recipient earns a living and saves his income which enables him to feed his family.

    Several people have commented that poverty is not a Christian or political issue and I agree. Let's give the poor "a little credit" like the author is advocating.

    September 15, 2010 at 7:38 pm |
  7. Mark from Middle River

    "Why are christians so up in arms about this? The article is asking you to do your duty as a christian and renounce those who say these things"

    I know for me it is because it is again one Christian telling another Christian that they are wrong because they do not practice or follow the gospel the way they do. Bin laden does it and for many of us we have seen pastors and ministers who do it. 

    What you are seeing are folks disagreeing with mr lutz and challenging his articles and his views. This is a place of discussion, not a fan site where we are only to nod our heads in agreement and praise all that CNN writers put before us. 

    This is what we do in a civilized world kid. I mean think about this ..... In other parts of the world he would have had. Bounty or jihad placed upon him. Folks here just called mr lutz an idiot. Maybe he will lose sleep over it maybe he won't. 

    September 15, 2010 at 7:21 pm |
    • Dave7

      I'm sure Mr. Lutz is happy to have reached so many people and give a little reminder to us all who are fortunate enough to live in the US where help is needed. Sure there will always be a few jack asses in the bunch who misinterpret things.

      September 16, 2010 at 6:54 am |
    • Frogist

      @Mark: Actually what I'm seeing is not people challenging Mr Lutz's views. Instead they are challenging that anything he says is applicable to themselves. Being offended that he is asking christians specifically, is not talking about any of the myths put forward or the counterpoints he has to them. People are just saying, "Why is it a christian's responsibility to help the poor?" Well it's a christian's responsibility because that is what christians are supposed to do – help those in need. It's even more disturbing to see so-called christians refuse to stand up to people who happily promote these myths as true. And that, I believe, is the true focus of this article. If you don't believe these myths to be true, you have a duty as a christian to speak out against people who do. Many comments here say christians don't want to be represented by people who espouse these myths. The article is saying, "Good! Don't let them hijack your faith. Tell them you want no part of their lies." Otherwise, you are letting lies be spread which go against the tenet of helping those less fortunate. And that makes christians part of the image problem they say they are against.

      September 16, 2010 at 5:01 pm |
  8. Dom

    (2. Poor people want handouts)

    This is not a myth. Everyone wants something for nothing. I'd like the government to give me more than what I put in and I think that most people want this. Everyone wants a handout.

    September 15, 2010 at 6:59 pm |
    • NL

      If what you say is correct, then perhaps it's a myth then that just the poor want a handout?

      September 15, 2010 at 7:41 pm |
    • Sammy N

      Handouts don't help the poor. They actually drive you deeper into poverty. Too many charities give away things but fail to appreciate they are doing more harm than good.

      September 15, 2010 at 8:32 pm |
  9. ScottyGa

    Great article but someone needs to track down all the followers of the Gospel of Prosperity and remind them of this.

    September 15, 2010 at 6:59 pm |
  10. Shaun

    I really like Sam Adams Octoberfest. It reminds me of rustling leaves and the smell of a fireplace.

    September 15, 2010 at 6:43 pm |
  11. LEB

    Have to say I disagree with a lot of this. Some of the poor in America are mentally ill and truly can't help it, but I used to help Section 8 renters find apartments, and trust me, most could work if they bothered to try, and those who DO work wouldn't be so badly off if they didn't spend their money on stupid things. The poor in developing countries are sometimes just as guilty of that. The patriarch of the family will buy himself alcohol and cigarettes... money he could have used to send a child or two to school. Yet he considers his smokes and booze more important than his childrens' education.

    One of the greatest problems the poor have in this country and developing countries is that they tend to have too many children. Middle and upper class couples limit their families, oftentimes because BOTH parents have careers they don't want to be derailed from for too long. Large families among the highly educated and highly employable are rare. Furthermore, studies show that when women in poor countries are educated, they have fewer children and educate them better (both sons AND daughters), and this eventually allows the family line to break free of the cycle of poverty. Bottom line... empower women to be educated and to use birth control, and the economic status of society automatically improves as a result.

    September 15, 2010 at 6:32 pm |
    • Susan T

      Your right!

      September 15, 2010 at 8:07 pm |
    • Dave7

      LEB
      How can you blame them. You make their lives sound so wonderful. Of course they want to be poor, section 8 housing, cigarettes and alcohol, a bunch of hungry kids, where do I sign up?

      September 16, 2010 at 5:04 am |
  12. Guest

    At last, somebody of Christian faith talking about helping people and trying to explain the good, rather than trying to spread hatred.

    September 15, 2010 at 6:26 pm |
    • Dave7

      At last? Are you referring to people like Sara Palin and her followers? They don't count.

      September 16, 2010 at 7:00 am |
  13. Frogist

    You know I just realised something about this article. It says Christians should renounce these myths. Meaning, if you are a christian and see people espousing these ideas, renounce them! Why are christians so up in arms about this? The article is asking you to do your duty as a christian and renounce those who say these things. It's not saying you do these things... even though I bet some of you do. To those who are so offended the author t!tled the article to christians: I think you do protest too much.

    September 15, 2010 at 6:13 pm |
  14. sockeyerama

    And all the Dems are accusing Republicans of depending on dirty coal too much. Just listen to a cap and trade Republican.
    Republican environmentalist: "These are garments, Mr. Cratchit. Garments were invented by the human race as a protection against the cold. Once purchased, they may be used indefinitely for the purpose for which they are intended. Coal burns. Coal is momentary and coal is costly. There will be no more coal burned in this office today, is that quite clear, Mr. Cratchit? "

    September 15, 2010 at 5:15 pm |
  15. MdMd

    thats what Christian missionaries do...give them money,medicines and then tell them to convert to Christianity....and fool them saying its "Miracle of Jesus!!"
    Jesus died for our sins (duh, we weren't even born then).
    Can't you guys keep God & Christianity out of this, and just serve humankind.

    September 15, 2010 at 4:53 pm |
  16. Duwayne Anderson

    Myth 6: Paying money to the church is a way to win God's grace and be blessed with prosperity. It works for the Pastor, not so much for the flock.

    September 15, 2010 at 4:46 pm |
    • NL

      That's because the pastor is gaining his prosperity by getting his flock to give him their money. It's like a pyramid scheme that only ever reaches two levels. Definitely not Christian.

      September 15, 2010 at 7:37 pm |
    • Susan T

      I know of a church that gave their Pastor a new Mercedes. Why does a man of the cloth need a Mercedes to spread the word? That is also why I don't watch Joyce Meyers. She became filthy rich spreading the word. Then she defends her actions by saying God doesn't want people to go without things. That is a hypocrite of hypocrites.

      September 15, 2010 at 8:04 pm |
    • NL

      Susan T-
      Wasn't that the pastor who said that the donkey that Jesus road into Jerusalem was the Mercedes of that time?

      September 16, 2010 at 10:37 pm |
  17. Mark

    Maybe when Jesus said that the poor would always be with us, he was admitting to the reality that those who have the real means to help make a difference won't. Rich people don't stay rich by helping poor people. Politics doesn't have a thing to do with this, folks! Get over it! We're in this world together and we are called upon to take care of each other! So cut the garbage, read what Jesus had to say, and take him at his word! Check out what Buddha and Mohammad had to say, while you're at it! It's a universal truth! We need to learn to work together!

    September 15, 2010 at 4:12 pm |
  18. Anna

    Please read the book Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo. she exactly points out the dependancy relationship many people in poor countries have become used to. I am not saying dont help people, but the reasons for helping should not be based just on religion to make yourself feel good. Also the aid should not be given in a way with no strings attached. The aid should just be a business investment for these people to get back on thier feet with promises that they will educate thier children, take responsibilty, follow birth control and improve the status within these years. Unless some rules are put down these people will not get better life because they know some one will be giving them free lunch

    September 15, 2010 at 3:55 pm |
    • Susan T

      Well said!

      September 15, 2010 at 7:57 pm |
    • ScottyGa

      When Jesus taught, he didn't say "judge the poor, and then feed those who are worthy", he said, "feed the poor". What don't you get about that message?

      September 15, 2010 at 8:33 pm |
  19. brad

    I've noticed that identifying oneself as Christian is the same as wearing a big bulls eye. We are bound to hear accusations and inuendoes about how we're not following Christ's teaching correctly or are simply hypocritical bigots. It's so predictable.
    It would be easier to belief nothing. Or you can believe everything in the spirit of broad-mindedness in which case nothing is important enough to commit oneself to. Then you can bash everyone from a position of safety.

    September 15, 2010 at 3:49 pm |
  20. Kelley

    What I find so interesting amid all this talk of Jesus/God/Whatever, is that the same Bible that the author of the article is quoting also states that God (and, therefore Jesus) is both omni-potent and omni-benevolent. If that were in fact true, then there certainly would not be any poverty or suffering in the first place. Conclusion: there is no God. Just like Santa Clause or Leprechauns, it is all make-believe. By saying this, I do not mean to say that charity is unimportant, because it is. If we help others, we ultimately hlp ourselves too.

    September 15, 2010 at 3:49 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.