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5 Reasons We Should Focus on Poverty Instead of Abortion

800px-TWO_YOUTHS_IN_UPTOWN,_CHICAGO,_ILLINOIS,_A_NEIGHBORHOOD_OF_POOR_WHITE_SOUTHERNERS._THE_INNER_CITY_TODAY_IS_AN..._-_NARA_-_555950Abortion tops a short list of angst-inducing moral issues generating a great deal of fervor and passion for a lot American evangelicals. For many, it’s the sole issue dictating how they’ll vote in any election.

While you’d never find me arguing for the validity of abortion (I wouldn’t), I think it’s time for Christians to focus their energy on poverty issues instead.

Here are five reasons the church would gain more by advocating for the poor than by fighting abortion.

1. 22% of children live below the federal poverty line

If a family of four makes less than $23,550 a year, they fall below the federal poverty level. Think about that a second. If a family of four brings in $24,000 annually, they receive very little assistance whatsoever. But there’s no way $24,000 is a livable wage for four people!

That’s why there are now 20.2 million Americans spending more than half of their incomes on housing. This is a 46% increase from only 12 years ago.

If Christians focus on abortion because they care about children, it’s time to start thinking about those children trapped in poverty.

2. Women in poverty made up 42% of all abortions in 2008

Between 2000 and 2008, the number of abortions fell for most groups of women—except the poor. Abortions among women making less than the federal poverty level rose 18%.

We have no right to demand these women listen to us when we don’t care about the issues leading them to feel abortion is their only solution. It’s a sad state of affairs when many right-leaning Christians want to end abortion while resenting those who rely on government subsidies.

If we stop a woman from having an abortion but don’t care what happens to her after she’s had a child, we have failed—plain and simple.

What if Christians could have a positive affect on the number of abortions performed by simply advocating on behalf of the poor?

3. Restrictive laws do not lower abortion rates

In the United States, the average abortion rate for 2008 was 19.6 per 1,000 women. In Africa, where abortion is more strictly regulated than in most countries, the rate was 28 per 1,000. Latin America, whose countries boast some of the world’s strictest laws against abortion, the average was 32 out of 1,000.

Where in the world are the lowest abortion rates found? The Netherlands. “Wait a second,” you say. “How can that be? The Netherlands are crazy liberal!”

Yeah that may be true, but their abortion rates are 12 per 1,000. Most attribute these extremely low rates to aggressive sex education programs, open discussion of sex in the media, and greater access to birth control. (They also have the lowest rate of teen pregnancy.)

What if restrictive and tighter abortion laws aren’t the answer? Is cutting down the number of abortions worth it to Christians if they have to make concessions in the areas of openness to sexual discussion and access to birth control? I’m not so sure. We’re not known for our willingness to make compromises.

4. Focusing on the poor would cut down on political polarization

Abortion is one of the main reasons that evangelicals are so aligned to the Republican party. But Republicans don’t seem to be doing a lot to put an end to abortion. It’s a political carrot used to lead Christians to the polls.

If Christians were to focus on the issue of poverty, not only could we have a positive effect (for once) on abortion rates, we could also remove ourselves from being so closely associated to Republicans.

Can you imagine if those who also care passionately for the poor (generally those on the left) saw Christians as people who worked with them instead of simply opposing them? We might eventually build a relationship which allowed us to speak wisdom into both parties.

Christians need to long for influence more than they desire power.

5. God makes it clear that poverty is important to him

God talks about the issue of poverty over 2,000 times in Scripture. If the poor was important to him, I honestly don’t know how he could make it more clear.

God talks to Jeremiah about Shallum, the son of King Josiah, and says, “He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?”

If one is honest about what Scripture says regarding the poor, then the answer to God’s rhetorical question would be, YES! This is what it means to know him.

It’s time to become advocates for the poor

The church does not have the resources to take care of the poor on our own. We need to advocate on their behalf. I find it hard to believe that when the world sees how much we care for the weakest in our society, they’ll not listen to us on many more issues.

It’s time for each of us to speak up for those who have the least.

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4 Reasons Christians Need to Quit Sharing Hoaxes

From Christians to atheists and beyond, my Facebook friends run the ideological gamut. I’m blessed to have thoughtful and deep friends from all walks of life.

But after spending years on Facebook, I’ve seen a trend that’s both interesting and troubling: If I find a hoax in my news feed, chances are it will have been shared by an evangelical Christian.

I know that sounds like a terrible thing to say, but it’s true. In fact, it’s so typical and intriguing, that I’ve been keeping track of the phenomenon for quite a while. I’ve often wondered why mainstream Christians (not my high-church friends, not my Catholic friends, etc.) are so quick to pass on news stories and testimonials that are untrue. But that’s a discussion for another time.

Today I want to talk through some reasons they need to stop:

1. They’re credibility killers

The Christian message is one that requires a certain suspension of disbelief. I mean, come on, we believe in a man who turned out to be God and was resurrected after he was crucified. What do you think it does for our credibility every time a Christian shares something that they could easily disprove with a simple Google search?

Paul calls the message of the cross foolishness to the gentiles (1 Cor. 1:23). I have a hard time expecting people to wrestle with the claims of Christianity if they have to overlook the fact that we’ll obviously believe anything. We can’t afford to let our gullibility be the obstacle between people and Christ.

2. They spread fear

The message of Christianity isn’t that the world is a scary place where everything and everyone is a potential threat—but you wouldn’t know that on Facebook.

From CFL lightbulbs which will burn down your house to Obamacare requiring the implant of RFID microchips ushering in the mark of the beast, there’s plenty of hoaxes to wring your hands over. Sometimes it seems like evangelicals are so enamored with end-times scenarios that they’re actively looking for stories to legitimize their paranoia.

The Christian message to the world isn’t, “Hey, look how bad things are!” It’s “take heart, He has overcome the world!” We don’t have to share every sensational and scary story—especially when their truth is suspect.

3. They engender phony activism

I cycle through many of the same fake or outdated stories in my feed—sometimes with the most horrifying and heartbreaking images. Whether I’m supposed to keep sharing a story to ensure a child’s heart transplant or keep sharing a story because Facebook will donate $3 for each share to help a burned infant, my sympathies are being played upon to solicit some kind of response.

The problem is not just that these stories aren’t true, it’s that there are people in hospitals in every city who need legitimate financial and moral support. We could be encouraging real philanthropy instead of the fake humanitarianism and concern generated by these bogus statuses.

4. They elevate emotion over accuracy

Recently the story of Pastor Jeremiah Steepek was making the rounds. In the story a new pastor pretends to be homeless when he visits his new church and uses the experience as a lesson to the congregation. No one can find any proof of this pastor, and even the picture that accompanies the story is a fake.

In one discussion on Facebook, a Christian stuck up for this story because Jesus used parables to teach lessons too. But the difference is that Jesus didn’t try to pass his stories off as true when they weren’t. We cannot afford to pass off questionable stories as true just because we appreciate the message.

Knowing the truth is quick and simple

When I see a story shared in my feed, I’ll usually check the source. If I recognize the source’s legitimacy, I’m more likely to trust it. Then I’ll Google the first sentence. This will usually tell me in moments if it’s a hoax.

It really doesn’t take too much work to figure out if a story is trustworthy or not, and knowing the truth is priceless.

Image: David Reeves

3 Phrases Christians Should Quit Relying On

Sometime I cringe when I listen to Christians talk (myself included). Here are a couple phrases it wouldn’t hurt to hear less.

1. “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.”

Image: Josh Janssen

Image: Josh Janssen

When someone’s going through a rough time, it’s a struggle to say the right thing. But it is always appropriate to say nothing. In fact, Scripture encourages people to “mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15) You cannot rub the salve of magic words on someone’s hurts to make their pain go away.

If you absolutely have to say something, make sure it isn’t philosophically empty, spiritual nonsense. Telling someone that “God never gives you more than you can handle” is wrong on many levels.

  • It’s not biblically accurate: You’re going to have a hard time finding this little gem in the Bible (or any similar sentiment for that matter). I am convinced that Scripture is  full of people who find themselves at the end of what they can handle.
  • It isn’t appropriate: Even if it was true, at the point that a loved one is confiding in you about some terrible trial they’re going through, they feel they’re dealing with more than they can handle. This platitude comes off as painful and dismissive.
  • It’s just dumb: People go through more than they can handle all the time. Whether it’s the loss of a child or a slow death from cancer, people are going through things you can’t possibly imagine. Would you tell Jewish prisoners at Buchenwald that “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle?”

2. “God told me . . .”

There’s no question in my mind that God speaks to us. What I do question is how accurately we receive it. After spending many years leading worship in a Pentecostal church, I am convinced that much of what we attribute to God is our own internal dialogue.

There are many problems with saying, “God told me . . .”:

  • It prohibits conversation: What can you say when someone says something silly and emboldens it with “God told me?” Are you supposed to respond with “No, he didn’t.” Attributing things to God is one of the largest conversation killers imaginable—the ultimate trump card.
  • It’s hyper-spiritual: In the Christian world, there’s not much more you can do that creates spiritual one-upmanship than implying a conversational relationship with God. Truth is, in twenty years of ministry, the people who’ve attribute every thought they have to God have been some of the least spiritual people I’ve known.
  • It’s often a breach of trust: The impressions and thoughts that I occasionally feel come from God are spoken to me. It’s sort of like two lovers sharing intimate pillow talk and then one of them blabs every cherished word to everyone they know. It cheapens that communion. Things spoken in secret don’t become more profound when shouted in public. In fact, speaking them often kills all the motivation for follow through.

Trust me, if God’s spoken to you, it’s valuable whether anyone else knows or not.

3. “I’ll pray for you.”

This is kind of a tricky one. Prayer is one of the most important things a Christian can do. But there are moments where, “I’ll pray for you” doesn’t seem appropriate.

  • It’s a commitment: The offer to pray for someone is sacred. If you have no intention of praying, or even if you just lack the wherewithal to follow through, it’s best not to make the commitment. The plus side is that your prayers are valuable even if the person your praying for doesn’t know (maybe even more valuable).
  • It doesn’t take the place of action: Someone diagnosed with cancer needs your prayers, but they may also need meals, childcare, or financial help. To promise to pray for someone while neglecting the tangible ways you can show you God’s love is heartbreaking. By all means pray, but invest some time and effort too (it might actually be someone else’s answer to prayer).
  • Pray later, but pray now: One thing that makes “I’ll pray for you” a cop-out is that it’s future tense. It adds someone’s care to your to-do list. You want to reach out to someone? Pray for them later, but pray for them now, too. I’ve never asked anyone if I could pray with them and had them tell me, “No.” But even if they do, so what? Get out of your comfort zone and pray now.

Are there things Christian’s say that make you wince? Leave us a comment!

Image: Josh Janssen

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