Category: Poverty

How Pastor Rod Hairston fights to restore Baltimore

The first Baltimore officer involved in the Freddie Gray case faces trial for second-degree homicide. A conviction may bring justice, but it does not promise healing.

Memories of the April riots are still fresh, and the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement proves wounds are still deep. In Time, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar describes it, not as “a slight sprain in the ankle that we’ll be able to walk off by morning,” but “a violently shattered bone that will have America limping forward on crutches for months to come, maybe even years.”

But one pastor is bringing hope to the city of Baltimore, and not in the way you’d expect.

Rod Hairston, pastor of Messiah Community Church and former Baltimore Ravens chaplain, said when the riots started, he felt disconnected in the suburbs from what was happening in the city. Along with other pastors, he decided to take to the streets to begin the healing process.

Hairston believes the riots and looting not only came from a place of distrust in police, but a sense of economic hopelessness. Abdul-Jabberexplains,

Baltimore protestors weren’t just expressing their anger over the treatment of Freddie Gray; they were expressing their frustration over living in economic circumstances that makes them seem less than human to those in power. Worse, they have little hope that these circumstances will change.

Hairston believes the economic piece of the equation must be addressed in Baltimore’s healing process. This is why he is working with Jobs for Life, a non-profit that partners with local churches to provide economic opportunity in tandem with the gospel. The program consists of eight weeks of biblically-based training, mentoring, and a community of support to connect the unemployed to meaningful work.

In a Jobs for Life podcast, the non-profit’s CEO David Spickard interviews Hairston as they drive through Baltimore, visiting the scenes of the riots. They discuss racial injustice and lack of understanding from those outside the black community. The conversation soon turned to economics.

Hairston mentioned many of the blue-collar jobs that once held together Baltimore’s economy are no longer there. In 1970, about one third of Baltimore’s labor force held manufacturing jobs. By 2000, that number dropped to 7 percent. Today, boarded up row houses line the streets where construction and development once endured.

For some, the problem is lack of opportunity. For others, they’ve lost the will to work. The economic issue is also a spiritual one. Spickard reflects on the spiritual factors at play,

Gangs, drugs, violence, prostitution – and fear – are trademarks here now. As children, they learned to survive in a place absent of safety. In their search for love and acceptance, they find anything to help them survive (emphasis added).

Without their own power and control, the members of these communities watch outsiders attempt to create order for them. It feels oppressive, yet in their helplessness they surrender control. The internal feelings of shame, uselessness, and despair eroded their hope over time.

Though Hairston admits the work can be overwhelming, he’s confident that Baltimore—like so many other broken cities—has only one hope: the church.

Listen to the full podcast here.

Originally published on the IFWE blog.

Good anti-poverty policy: strong families

Panelists at the Values and Capitalism Fall Summit gathered recently to discuss the impact of the family on poverty.

According to Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, the retreat from marriage has increased child poverty and inequality, hitting low-income families the hardest.

While educated families are more likely to enjoy stable homes and employment, those without high school degrees see an increase in single parent homes, teen pregnancy, and incarceration.

They are also less likely to get married, which further limits their economic opportunity.

The graph below illustrates the retreat from marriage across time for three different education cohorts. The least educated (high school drop outs) see a larger drop in marriage from the 1970s to the 2000s, followed by the moderately educated (high school degree or some college), and the highly educated (college degree).

Elise Blog Graph

Declining marriage rates drive a deeper wedge in the socioeconomic class divide.

Studies show that men who marry work harder and make more money.

Family structure is also a strong predictor of a child’s chance of moving up the income ladder.

Unfortunately, less educated men are becoming increasingly disengaged from institutions of work, religion, and marriage.

Panelist Melissa Boteach of the Center for American Progress named three important family factors that we must consider when discussing policy solutions, what she called the three S’s: structure, strength, and stability.

  • Family structure: the composition of a family unit at a point of time.
  • Family strength: the quality of parents’ and other primary caregivers’ relationships with each other and their children.
  • Family stability: extent of transitions between structures and changes in strength factors over time.

Boteach pointed out it is not necessarily a matter of marriage or divorce. The issue is more complex.

For example, a stable single parent home may provide a better environment for a child’s future than a family with many marriages and divorces.

Panelist Jennifer Marshall of the Heritage Foundation emphasized the failed policy of the War on Poverty as well as the church’s unique role in addressing these issues.

According to Marshall, the poverty rate today is nearly as high as it was in the 1960s. For that reason, she sees the War on Poverty as a 20 trillion dollar failure.

The issues are much deeper than something money and government programs can solve. Instead, she argues poverty relief efforts should embrace shalom and the wholeness of the individual.

Marshall believes there is a lack of creativity in the Christian community in this space, which reflects a lack of confidence in God’s redemptive work. She encouraged the church to get involved in the messiness of peoples’ lives and to do the hard work of building deep relationships with low-income families in order to better understand their needs.

How can the church help?

Wilcox suggested marriage mentoring. Those who grow up without a healthy marriage model need mentor couples to walk alongside them and offer guidance through difficult times.

Strong families prove to be good antipoverty policy, as the panelists concluded, but not without the help of the church.

The most inhumane way to fight poverty

You are probably familiar with China’s one-child policy enacted in 1980 as strategy to remedy social, economic, and environmental problems in China. Now Myanmar is trying to approve similar population control legislation requiring women to wait three years between pregnancies to improve health and well-being of women and children. But even those strongly against such coercive government policies still believe the biggest threat to the earth is that we have too many kids.

Some believe controlling the human population, either voluntarily or by force, will remedy problems associated with the environment, human health, and poverty. But this solution stands in paradox: limiting human life cannot lead to human flourishing, and it is certainly the most inhumane way to fight poverty.


The population control approach to poverty stems from a Malthusian view of the world. According to Merriam Webster, Thomas Robert Malthus theorized that,

Population tends to increase at a faster rate than its means of subsistence and that unless it is checked by moral restraint or disaster (as disease, famine, or war) widespread poverty and degradation inevitably result.

To many Malthusians, the logical solution to this problem is to slow, limit, or reduce human population growth.

This view is also rooted in the fixed-pie fallacy, that the economy is set at a fixed amount of wealth that can’t grow over time. Both of these views say the same two things:

  • People can’t create.
  • People are the problem.

Viewing people as the problem can encourage gendercide in countries like India. Baby girls are often aborted because they are seen as a huge economic expense for their families who are expected to provide them a dowry. This view also encourages policies like China’s one-child policy and Mynamar’s current proposed legislation requiring women to space out their pregnancies.

However, according to PovertyCure, population does not cause poverty and Malthusian predictions have proven false over and over again. Both the Malthusian view and the fixed-pie fallacy are rooted in a bad understanding of human nature and Imago Dei. It doesn’t account for human creativity, innovation, or our ability to adapt to changing environments.

People are not the problem. They are the solution. People are not only consumers; they are also producers.


In 2011, the earth’s population hit 7 billion people. The population is growing at an unprecedented rate, but humans are creatively adapting.

The BBC series Generation Earth, (currently on Netflix) highlights the remarkable way humans have adapted to life on earth today through innovation in areas of transportation, architecture, and basic resources like energy, food, and water. The presenter, Dallas Campbell, says,

The way we live on the planet is changing in ways that our ancestors would have thought impossible.

In ways our ancestors would have thought impossible.

We can’t even fathom what our world might look like in the few decades, let alone in the next century, and that might be a scary thought. But we should let our recent history be a reminder of the spectacular creativity humanity is capable of employing.

“I see people as the ultimate resource,” says Steven Mosher, of the Population Research Institute. To Mosher, more people means more minds to contribute to creative solutions.

God made us creative beings in his image, so instead of viewing 5,000 people as 5,000 mouths to feed, we should see them as 10,000 hands with the capacity to create. Population control limits our ability to flourish because it limits human creativity. It is also the most inhumane way to fight poverty because it diminishes the value of human life and our Imago Dei.

For more on this topic, visit

*Originally published at the IFWE blog.

The surprising news about poverty

My latest article in Relevant, which mentions economic freedom positively and has not yet received a barrage of angry comments!

Imagine someone asked you to put together a giant jigsaw puzzle without all the pieces included in the box. That’s how I think about poverty sometimes: an impossible problem we are called to solve anyway.

We won’t ever have all the pieces to the poverty puzzle in place on this side of eternity, but every now and then one falls into place, or we discover a lost piece between the sofa cushions.

Here are a few pieces of insight related to poverty that might come as a surprise to you.

Extreme poverty is declining — and business is a primary reason.

Last year, Barna Group found that more than eight in 10 Americans (84 percent) don’t realize extreme poverty has dropped by more than half over the last three decades. More than two-thirds (67 percent) actually thought global poverty was on the rise.

According to the World Bank, in 1981, 52 percent of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty, as defined as living on less than $1.25 a day. By 2011, it was cut by more than half (17 percent). This trend is also likely to continue. Bill and Melinda Gates predict “the lives of people in poor countries will improve faster in the next 15 years than any other time in history.”

Although traditional charity offers some immediate relief, it’s not the only solution because it doesn’t always focus on the root causes of poverty.

Peter Greer, President of Hope International, doesn’t believe traditional charity is the solution to poverty. He says in his essay in For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty that although traditional charity offers some immediate relief, it’s not the only solution because it doesn’t always focus on the root causes of poverty.

In the same book, Christian economists, theologians, historians and practitioners claim that it is economic freedom—the freedom to secure and protect one’s own resources, labor and private property—that is responsible for lifting millions out of poverty.

Countries that have experienced an increase in economic freedom over past decades, like Bangladesh and Botswana, are also seeing lower poverty levels. Why? Because economic freedom encourages entrepreneurship and job creation. Greer says in For the Least of These that, “In one generation, poverty has been cut in half, not through charity but through job creation.”

A job can’t solve everything though, which is why it is also important for the Church and private charities to also pitch in, by serving the poor in a personal and relational ways, especially during and after disasters such as the earthquake in Nepal. The key is finding balance approach, without losing sight of what can effect long-term change.

Churches used to do a lot more for the poor than most do today.

Up until the early 20th century, the Church played a major role in ministering to the physical needs of the poor. Perhaps we’ve forgotten what the Church is truly capable of since many churches we know today have withdrawn from the front lines of poverty alleviation.

The church in Acts 4 voluntarily shared their possessions with one another so that not one would be in need. In the Middle Ages, Christian churches ran all different types of social welfare programs—much like we see the government doing today. Many people might not know that it was common for churches to establish hospitals, schools for immigrants, homes for unwed mothers and welfare societies like the Salvation Army.

So what changed?

Some historians say things shifted in the early 20th century when more theologically conservative evangelicals began to react against the so-called “social gospel” movement, which they believed placed more of an emphasis on social justice issues than the message of the gospel.

In When Helping Hurts, Brian Fikkert writes, “As evangelicals tried to distance themselves from the social gospel movement, they ended up in large-scale retreat from the front lines of poverty alleviation.” Church historians refer to this era as “The Great Reversal” because the evangelical church’s shift away from the poor was so dramatic.

American evangelicalism is still suffering from the aftermath of this division, though the social justice movement today is working to refocus the Church on caring for the poor.

Read the rest here.

Economic freedom is not enough for human flourishing

Economic freedom may be our world’s more powerful poverty relief system, but it’s not enough for human flourishing.

It is the reason why economists report 80 percent of the world’s abject poverty has been eradicated since 1970, thanks to open trade, entrepreneurship, and free enterprise. In China alone, small market reforms since 1978 have raised 600 million people out of extreme poverty. Economic freedom also correlates with higher life expectancy, lower levels of child mortality, cleaner environments, higher incomes for the poor, better protected civil liberties, less child labor, less unemployment, and higher per capita income.

Christians are called to care for the poor (the Bible mentions the words poor and poverty 446 times!) and economists have shown us that economic freedom is a powerful way to make that happen. But, if you’re someone like me who is convinced that economic freedom is responsible for lifting millions out of poverty, it’s easy to forget that freedom is not enough on its own.

This was my message to the students who attended IFWE’s panel session titled Economic Freedom for the Least of These at the International Students for Liberty Conference in Washington D.C. last month.

It’s Not Just about Economic Freedom

Economic freedom is only the beginning of a much larger vision of human flourishing. Many theologians say flourishing is tied to the concept of shalom in the Old Testament. Theologian Cornelius Plantinga describes shalom in his book Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be. He says,

We call it peace, but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. […] shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight — a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed…

Christians believe flourishing is God’s plan for his people. It allows us to more fully become everything God created us to be.

Economic freedom is only one component of human flourishing. We should think about it as a prerequisite, a necessary foundation to society that makes human flourishing possible. We need to ask ourselves, once we have economic freedom, what do we do with it?

Economic freedom may be the number one force wiping out extreme poverty across the globe, but it can’t do the job alone. In a free society, we also need a culture of creativity, a culture of voluntary generosity, and a culture virtue and in order for humanity to flourish.

A Culture of Creativity

In a culture of creativity, the entrepreneurial spirit thrives and business prospers. Not only is human creativity a part of our Imago Dei, it is the source of wealth creation and therefore a necessary component for human flourishing.

Economic freedom encourages business by providing more opportunities for entrepreneurs, but it also requires a culture that views the human capacity to create wealth as a good thing. This is an idea has been lost in some Christian traditions. Some have forgotten that work in the business world can be just as important to God as missionary work, especially since God created everyone to do something different.

It’s the responsibility of the church to encourage a culture of creativity and promote human flourishing by affirming all vocations.

A Culture of Voluntary Generosity

Voluntary generosity is private charity through personal relationships. For Christians, the church should be the leader in promoting a culture of voluntary generosity through establishing and partnering with charitable organizations that serve the poor in their local communities.

Voluntary generosity is fundamentally different than government welfare. Voluntary generosity is different because the giver is free to give on his or her own accord.

A culture of generosity is the band aid when the market fails. It also requires good economic principles to know how to most effectively care for the poor since some traditional charity methods, like donation dumping, often hurt more than they help.

A Culture of Virtue

Poverty, as Dr. David Kotter points out in For the Least of These, has many causes. Some poverty is caused by sickness or disaster or injustice. Still more poverty is caused by moral failings like a bad work ethic, spending money in the wrong places, addiction, and so on. For Christians, it is the role of the church to instill good values in society, values allowing us to become more productive individuals, better stewards of our God-given resources, and to live more fulfilling lives as God intended.

Human flourishing cannot be accomplished without economic freedom, but the conversation on poverty – especially for Christians – cannot end there at economic freedom. We cannot sit back and let the market do the work because we are the market. Freedom doesn’t require less of us, it requires more.

Just as Christians have to make the daily choice to walk with Christ, love their spouse, and love their coworkers, let’s not forget economic freedom presents us with that same daily choice to actively care for the poor.

*Originally published on the IFWE blog.

How to fight for social justice right where you are

You may not be able to start a nonprofit, but you can bring Nutella to someone. -Dr. Anthony Bradley


You don’t have to fly to Africa to fight for social justice. You can do it right now in your office, on your campus, and at home. Just by bringing someone Nutella? Yep.

I’ll explain the Nutella part soon – but let me first say I recently attended a lecture I’ll never forget. Dr. Anthony Bradley’s talk “On Love, Social Justice, Hospitality, and Nutella” at the 2015 Jubilee Conference is one that I found so simple yet so inspiring, and I want to share it with you. Dr. Bradley’s message was that you don’t have to wait to retire to start that nonprofit you always wanted to start, or until you graduate to join the Peace Corps. Justice is local and you can start fighting for it right now.

Social justice is as simple as loving your neighbor as you love yourself (Mark 12:31). But the second greatest commandment might not be as simple to obey as it seems.

What’s Stopping Us from Pursuing Social Justice?

I’ve heard people say our world is becoming less hospitable. We no longer open our doors to the sojourner. We are less trusting of people today, and we are more concerned about protecting ourselves. Dr. Bradley suggests it’s the fear of being vulnerable that’s stopping us from truly loving our neighbor.

Stepping into the messiness of other people’s lives is a very vulnerable act, and being vulnerable can be extremely uncomfortable. We risk rejection of our efforts, which might hurt us. Dr. Bradley calls this kind of vulnerability with others hospitality.

Hospitality in the Bible

When I think of hospitality, I think of hosting a fancy dinner party for my friends, or letting my cousin stay with me when she’s in town. But in the Bible, hospitality is often in reference to strangers, and it’s about much more than hosting dinner parties.

Matthew 25:35-37 says,

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.

Biblical hospitality is giving someone what they need, not just physically, but also relationally. Hospitality is not just offering a home-cooked meal to a friend; it’s offering our friendship to a stranger. It’s not just inviting a stranger into our home, but into our lives.

Jesus is the ultimate example of hospitality. He made himself vulnerable to invite us in, freeing us to be vulnerable with others. To truly be hospitable means to offer ourselves—our friendship, our time, our gifts, and our resources—and to risk getting hurt in the process.

Fight for Social Justice with Hospitality

One way Dr. Bradley says we can fight for social justice with hospitality is by being in relationship with people who are different from us. Intentionally stepping into the life of someone you might not have become friends with naturally might feel uncomfortable, and it might not be that much fun. But hospitality is rarely comfortable or convenient.

At She Reads Truth, Rebecca Faires writes,

Hospitality is uncomfortable. […] Do you feel totally content with your two or three great friends, and just don’t need to reach out to every crazy lady you meet? The trouble is, I am that crazy lady. And so are you. We are all on the margins sometimes. This is the heart of hospitality: finding people on the margins and bringing them in.

I’m sure you can relate to being that person on the margins too. We all know what it’s like to be “the new kid” at some point or another. When we bring those on the margins into community, they are known and their needs are known. Hospitality is making sure no one’s needs—spiritually, relationally, or physically—are left unmet.

Where Do I Start?

The next time someone pops in your head—whether it’s a friend, a coworker, a roommate, an acquaintance, or even someone you hardly know—consider that maybe God is asking you to pray for that person, send them a text to see how their day is going, ask them to lunch, give them a hug, or offer them a ride.

Fight for social justice in your community by spending time with someone you wouldn’t normally spend time with; someone different than you, someone who is disconnected from community, or someone who is suffering. Learn about their life and who they are.

Dr. Bradley says you can even be hospitable by just bringing them a jar of Nutella, because who wouldn’t be happy to share a jar of hazelnut chocolate spread with you?

For more on this subject, we recommend Episode 4 of For the Life of the World (view the trailer here) and the She Reads Truth study on Hospitality.

*Originally published on the IFWE blog.

What the social justice movement is missing

Whether or not you identify yourself with the social justice movement, as Christians, we are all for social justice because Jesus represents all that is truly just. No other institution on earth has a greater interest in justice and human flourishing than the church.

Social justice advocates are focused on fighting poverty from all sectors of society, especially through the church and the government. Whether it’s volunteering with a homeless outreach project with your church or protesting in front of the Capitol for economic justice, advocates recognize they must fight poverty from all sectors of society to be effective.

Different institutions can accomplish different things for poverty. If we want to be good stewards of our resources and meet the needs of the poor in the most effective way possible, we must deeply consider who does poverty relief best.

The answer to this question is exactly what the modern social justice movement is missing.

Who Does It Best?

How we do something matters just as much as what we’re doing. When it comes to issues of poverty and hunger, we seem to have the “what” down, but the “how” questions are much more difficult to answer.

If we want to take seriously our Christian call to love thy neighbor, we must ask, “Who does it best?” while considering three different institutions: church, government, and business.

The church, government, and business are all ordained by God and each have a very important role to play in poverty relief. But each exists for a much different purpose than the other. It’s important to take a close look at the strengths and limitations of each institution to understand the best way to promote the common good.

The Forgotten Institution (and Source of Prosperity)

Between 1981 and 2005, the World Bank reported the number of people living on $1.25 per day or less decreased from 52% to 26%. That’s amazing. In one generation, extreme poverty was cut in half. How did that happen?

Peter Greer, president of HOPE International, says this was not due to church charity or government programs, but business and job creation. Business is often the forgotten institution when the church comes together to fight poverty. In For the Least of These, he says,

For too long, capitalism was treated as a bystander in poverty alleviation and human development. Rock stars and air activists were calling for more charity and a greater response from the global community, but few were calling for investment in entrepreneurship and policies that promote economic development.

Why are activists coming together promoting business as a more effective solution to worldwide poverty than church charity or government aid? Only because business can do something neither the church nor the government can do: create economic prosperity over the long haul.

The church, private charities, and the government can transfer wealth from one person to another – a church through donations and a government through taxes. This can be a short-term solution to poverty. But only business offers a sustainable solution because it can generate the prosperity needed to reduce poverty over the long-term.

However, business can’t do everything for poverty. Just like any other system or institution on earth, it’s flawed. And that’s when we look to the help of charities and government programs.

The Most Effective Charity

The government plays an important role in securing individual rights and rule of law that make a just, free, and flourishing society possible. But one resource the government will never have is a personal relationship.

Your church can know a person’s needs in a way the government cannot because your church is closer to the problem. Your church can love a person in a way that a government cannot because your church is closer to the person.

We cannot forget the unique role God has given his church to reach out and actively care for the spiritual and physical needs of everyone—especially those in need—in ways that business and government will never be able to.

We need the church, the government, and business involved in alleviating poverty. Realizing the capabilities and limitations of each institution will help us better understand how to do that more effectively.

Is Poverty Too Big for the Church?

Poverty is too big for the church as a stand-alone institution, but poverty is not too big for the body of Christ.

The body of Christ is made up of legislators, entrepreneurs, and volunteers; courts, businesses, and charities. Each institution, each organization, and each person has a unique role to play in God’s Kingdom. Then who does poverty relief best? We do poverty relief best.

The church today is equipped now more than ever to take God’s call to help others flourish. The social justice movement is fueling the charge with energy and enthusiasm, but it will ultimately fall short without seriously thinking about who does poverty relief best.

Recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of our institutions will change the way we fight poverty. Our efforts will be more effective. Our methods will be more dignifying. And the results will be unprecedented.

So what if we thought of entrepreneurs as someone God has called to create prosperity to lift their community out of poverty? And legislators as someone God has called to preserve justice for the vulnerable? What if we thought of the church as the primary social safety net?

That would be a taller order. But it would also look a lot more like social justice.

*Originally published on the IFWE blog.