“Is There Hope For the Poor in The United States?”
National Social Service Conference–
Ronald J. Sider, Ph.D. –
“Thank you, Salvation Army, with all my heart. You have written the book on caring–you have done the work,” stated, Dr. Ronald J. Sider, president, Evangelicals for Social Action and plenary speaker before the National Social Service Conference.
“Is there hope for the poor in the United States?” Sider asked. He noted both materialism and compassion have grown at a rapid rate, but the bottom 30 percent of the population is in trouble. “For the first time in history, white evangelicals are getting serious about the problems of the poor,” he said.
“We need to love the whole person the way Jesus does. People need more than welfare. They need transformation–new values.” Sider observed that we have torn apart what Jesus started and urged the Army to keep fixed on justice. He stated that any attempt to divide evangelism and social action was a tragic division of focus. He was critical of modern thought which relates to humans as “economic machines” and which believes that if the economy changes then people change. He foresees a larger role for religious belief systems in the delivery of social services because other approaches have failed.
“We need to welcome the opportunity for new partnership with government,” Sider said. It is his impression that Christians make two vital errors in urging a role for government. The first is a Libertarian orientation which minimizes the role of government completely, and the second is a belief in bureaucratic government programs as the best solution when faced with a social problem. “We need intermediate institutions,” he said. He would base these on certain important principles.
“First, it’s crucial that we rediscover the biblical truth that God is on the side of the poor. We must seize the moral high ground and base our position in scripture. Second, the problems we face are both personal and social, so the solutions must be personal and social. Evangelism and social action must go together. We need thousands of holistic ministries which give themselves both to the individual people and to excellent social programming. You must strengthen the evangelistic component in Salvation Army social work.
Third, we need a biblically grounded political philosophy to help us decide the roles of government and the individual. Government has a vital role in providing quality schools, in establishing health insurance for everyone, and in developing jobs that pay a living wage.