Missiology: Urban Mission Part 7 – Confronting Poverty

Over the next few days I will be posting some thoughts on an issue facing the future of the church, namely the explosion of urban populations. I will start by taking a look at some of the issues brought up by the urban explosion, and I will conclude by reflecting upon how the Gospel addresses these issues.

Today we will look look at how the Church might begin to confront poverty.

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V-Mission Action: Confronting Poverty and Cultural Heterogeneity

            A-Poverty

            The city has the capability of becoming “the land of the left behind-the poor, the underemployed, the ethnic outsider.”[1] How will the church address the issue of poverty? First we must begin by recognizing the cause of urban poverty. Conn points out the fact that the “cause of poverty is largely injustice…injustices, oppression and oppressive structures cause poverty.”[2] The fact that urban poverty is largely due to injustice means that the church must work to bring God’s justice.

According to Stassen and Gushee justice has four dimensions: 1) deliverance of the poor and powerless from the injustice that they regularly experience; 2) lifting the foot of domineering power off the neck of the dominated and oppressed; 3) stopping the violence and establishing peace; and 4) restoring the outcasts. [3] Bringing God’s justice to the city will involve enacting these four components. However to enact these four components of holistic justice the church must take several steps. First the church must be willing and able to recognize and name injustice when it sees it. In doing this the church will be fulfilling its prophetic role to the cities. Here we must look to the work of Jesus, who in “cleansing the temple” acted out a “prophetic and symbolic attack to the whole temple system for practicing a cover up of injustice.”[4] In the city, this will mean confronting companies who keep profit margins high by paying their workers low wages. When workers are reduced to objects or resources based upon their economic value, they end up being exploited.[5] The church must confront exploitative practices. How will churches do this? Usually it will involve bringing these practices out into the light. In the city of Dhaka the projected 9th largest city in the world in 2015,[6] there was a case involving unjust work practices. Lisa Rahman was a 19 year old girl working in a garment factory assembling “Whinnie the Pooh” shirts. She was paid an equivalent of five cents for shirts that were sold at approximately twenty dollars. In 2002 the workers complained publicly about their poor working conditions. Due to the complaints, Disney cancelled all future work orders, leaving Lisa without a job.[7] This true story hardly made a dent in western news sources. What if the church had brought this urban injustice to light? Could the church have prevented these poor working conditions or the loss of Lisa’s only source of survival?

In addition to bringing injustice to the light it must act to end injustice. This means that the church will seek to change oppressive social arrangements and institutions. This will take direct involvement among poor communities, individual development, community development, racial reconciliation, and social reform.[8]

In addition to bringing injustice to light the church must learn to partner with the poor. It must create partnership that recognizes and maintains the poor’s dignity. “Partnership with the poor will change the face of the city.”[9] Yet the church must be not merely be a partner to the poor, it must come alongside the poor and live in solidarity with them. The church must take Christ as its model of solidarity. Christ was beaten and oppressed by the unjust oppressive systems of his day. Yet he endured this injustice in order to bring about justice. If the church can learn to suffer alongside the poor, like Christ suffered for his people, then the Church’s efforts at bringing about justice will be effective and credible.


[1] Conn and Ortiz, Urban Ministry: The Kingdom, the City, and the People of God, 70.

[2] Conn and Ortiz, Urban Ministry: The Kingdom, the City, and the People of God, 327.

[3] Glen Stassen and David Gushee, Kingdom Ethics, (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2003),  349

[4] Stassen and Gushee, Kingdom Ethics, 348.

[5] Miguel De La Torre, Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins, (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2004), 84.

[6] Jenkins, Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, 93.

[7] De La Torre, Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins, 98.

[8] Timothy Keller, Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just, (New York: Dutton, 2010), 130.

[9] Randy White, Journey to the Center of the City: Making a Difference in an Urban Neighborhood, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 61.

 

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