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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Going to Church with the Poor

hermeneutics newsletter
Thursday, May 21, 2015    

Going to Church with the Poor

I don't know if there's an institution that has done more for the underprivileged, the unemployed, the sick, and the homeless in our country than the church. From Salvation Army shelters to orphanages, food banks to disaster relief, Christian groups have acted on a biblical call to serve and bless the needy.
And yet, for all the organizations launched, volunteer hours logged, and dollars donated, many congregations continue to struggle to overcome our society's class divide in their own pews. Hannah Anderson, a pastor's wife in rural Virginia, discussed this issue on Her.meneutics this week. She cited a new book from Robert Putnam, who found that church attendance among low-income Americans has dropped by a third since the '70s, far more drastically than the upper class.
Hannah raises the questions, "Have our congregations become echo chambers for broader societal inequality? Are we amplifying the gap instead of bridging it?," and encourages church leaders to serve the local needs of their communities, across class lines. It's an important message, but it's not an easy change to make. Church feels better, when our community is like us enough to "get" us. We conflate social comfort and friendship with biblical fellowship.
Privileged and middle-class, I've gone through some awkward moments as churches welcomed low-income friends and neighbors. My sister's wallet and iPhone were stolen by a homeless visitor at a Christmas Eve service. I hesitated to voice prayer requests of my own after hearing from guys in my small group desperately praying they'd get a state ID so they'd be eligible for work. I stopped bringing up college and my wedding in conversations with some church friends when I realized that coming from a poorer background, they'd never had those experiences.
When our church communities include people from across class lines, it's harder to relate to one another and it can take longer for bonds to form. But when they do, oh what a testament it is to an increasingly split society. How do I know this person? Church. What do we have in common? Christ. As it says in John 17:23, "May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."
As we look to serve the poor around us locally, in our cities and counties and schools and nail salons, we must also remember the plight of the global church—particularly the women and girls who bear the burden of terrorist violence in regions of Africa and the Middle East. Do not miss Katelyn Beaty's article on Boko Haram, ISIS, and rape as a weapon of war.
Thanks for reading,
Kate Shellnutt
Kate Shellnutt
Editor, Her.meneutics

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