To: Backwoods Presbyterian : Thanks for your comments and for being willing to engage in discussion about this issue. Your citations from Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians, however, aren’t quite applicable to poverty as we see it in third world countries and in the inner-cities of America today. If you read quickly through the rest of Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians, the “idleness” he’s protesting is that of Christians who assumed Jesus was going to return in a matter of days. “If Christ is coming again, then why waste time working in this life?” Paul corrects that, though, by reminding them that no one knows when Christ will return (1 Thess 5:1-2). His point is not that everyone should work to be independent or even to produce income – it is that we should be about the work of the Kingdom and other work which supports it in this age because we do not know when Christ will return.
Unfortunately, many people who are privileged with a comfortable American life don’t realize how hard it is for others who live in poverty. I agree with you also that poverty does not mean “not having a tv”. Poverty is deeper than that. It’s not being able to feed your children because the man who got you pregnant at sixteen ran away and your own parents are drug addicts. Poverty is dropping out of school because you’re afraid of gang violence and then never being able to get a job that pays a living wage. Poverty is an African woman infected with AIDS because her husband visited a prostitute and their country doesn’t have the resources to teach people how to prevent or treat the disease. I don’t believe any of these people are “idle” by choice, and they certainly aren’t being idle for the reasons Paul is challenging in the letters to the Thessalonians. Rather, I think it is our ignorance and our own desire for personal comfort that stops us from helping them. Our ignorance and our complicity is the problem, not the laziness of others. Perhaps we’re better off citing James 5 in this discussion: “1 Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. 2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. 4 Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. 6You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.”