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Want to Help the Poor? Focus on Relationships.

Spokespeople for free markets and limited government are often good with numbers, but they are rightly critiqued for their lack of emotional appeal. We know all the facts, we have all the charts, and we can fill our books with hundreds of pages of endnotes and citations. Where we fall short in our conversation on relationships, we try to fill with more research. Many on the political left are awesome—literally awe-inspiring—in their ability to discuss relationships. Their powerful stories successfully and rightly compel evangelical Christians to be moved with Christ-like compassion for their communities and the poor everywhere. Their ability to meet the emotional need of our generation to “to do something” separates them from the need to justify their prescriptions with the intellectual rigor that free-market advocates demand. We free-market advocates, so exasperated by asking good questions regarding math and basic economics of these big-government soothsayers, risk sounding like we are rejecting the very language of relationships and justice that their opponents invoke. This we cannot do! When progressive Christians make jumps from “children are hungry and poor in America” to “therefore, we need to increase taxes on the greedy corporations to redistribute the wealth to these children through government poverty alleviation programs”—we cannot simply say “you’re wrong.” There are hungry and poor and homeless and disadvantaged and lost and hurting in our communities, and we must demand an actual solution that will help those individuals in the long run. This is why I have been writing recently about “When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself” by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett of the Chalmers Center at Covenant College. This book takes a hard, honest look at what causes poverty—broken relationships. The premise of their work is that the fall of man severed four key relationships—relationships with God, with self, with others and with creation—and it is the brokenness of these relationships that cause material poverty as well as spiritual poverty. The authors describe ways that individuals and churches can help the poor in biblical ways. I so deeply appreciate that this book is not making an “if A, then B” argument where C, D and so on are all progressive, big-government solutions. Fikkert and Corbett make measured, logical and exceedingly practical recommendations on how to help the poor on an individual level–the level at which our own spiritual poverty is also aided. I highly recommend reading the book, but that is not the only take-away from this discussion. Another crucial point is that relationships are important, and talking in relational language does not equate to progressive, big-government prescriptions. Free markets and limited government create a healthy environment for individuals acting as members of their community to build relationships and combat poverty and injustice in their communities. This is a major moral advantage capitalism offers over statism that we must understand and communicate effectively–because relationships are important.