By Eric Stradford, U.S. Marine Corps, Retired
AMWS, June 4, 2017, Virtual – One man’s take on poverty is fueling national debate on the future of the agency he heads. Dr. Ben Carson, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said recently that poverty is a “state of mind” children learn from their parents, and that a “certain mindset” contributes to people living in poverty.
Critics quickly pushed back on the retired neurosurgeon’s assessment, offering evidence of systemic realities contributing to the “condition where people's basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter are not being met.” Whether you rely on absolute or relative measures, poor is poor. And, changing poor to not poor in America means adjusting somebody's “state of mind.”
Each year, Christians around the world revisit that historic event recorded in Acts 2. The spiritual event known as Pentecost, addressed historically unmet needs with a rather unique application of economic inclusion. “And all the believers met together constantly and shared everything with each other, selling their possessions and dividing with those in need.”
As one in 2.1 billion Christians, Dr. Ben Carson may be today’s best hope for laying “gifted hands” on a diseased mindset. Redirecting H.U.D. from the bureaucratic maze it has become, to a systemic countermeasure for #EconomicInclusion is going to take a miracle—the kind of miracle believers encountered in Acts 2.
Almost 50 million people in the U.S. are poor using what folks call the supplemental measure, compared to the 47 million using the official measure. Some five million Americans attribute their economic sustainability to food stamps rather than the grace of God. Depending on the news you choose to believe, children represent some 23.1 percent of the total population and 33.6 percent of people in poverty. Jesus valued these community assets in his remark, “For of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Business sources tend to approach the poverty problem in terms of absolute or relative. Relative poverty occurs when people do not enjoy a certain minimum level of living standards. Absolute poverty is synonymous with destitution and occurs when people cannot obtain adequate calories or nutrition to sustain their physical health.
History presents evidence of success for eradicating absolute poverty. The “state of mind” theory referred to by Carson, has been rejected throughout American history. Whether it was Richard Allen joint venturing with Dr. Benjamin Rush to counter Yellow Fever, Hosea Williams teaming up with Martin Luther King to feed hungry folks or Barack Obama sharing history with Brother Joe Biden as “My Brother’s Keeper,” Americans almost always choose chaos over community.
“Compassion Capital” branded a George W. Bush era application to engage communities of faith in a national vision of collective work and responsibility. The term, collective work and responsibility, is not new. Research shows that this term is attributed to Day 3 of the Kwanzaa Observation, between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, known as Ujima. It means to build and maintain our community together and to make our brother's and sister's problems, our problems and to solve them together.
Once upon a time, a $30 million Compassion Capital Fund (CCF) represented the first appropriated federal funds specifically targeted to assist grassroots organizations. This fund expanded a 1996 Clinton era program initially established in H.U.D. as the agency’s faith-based and community initiative.
The intent of CCF was to expand the role that faith-based and community groups play in providing social services to those in need. The policy recognized that faith-based and community organizations are uniquely situated to partner with the government in serving poor and low-come individuals and families, particularly those with the greatest needs such as families in poverty, prisoners reentering the community and their families, children of prisoners, homeless families, and at-risk youth.
Older narratives confirm the disease of disbelief in pursuit of common vision. In each era from the healing ministry of Jesus the Christ to the modern-day housing ministry of Ben Carson, a “national amnesia” inhibits forward movement. And, the American Dream, to some remains a dream deferred. If the preacher invests the time, the believer will see the money it takes to close this latest chapter on poverty.