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The poor in Australia

Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor
Will also cry himself and not be heard.
Proverbs 21:13

This chilling warning was one of many verses I wrote out to take with me to South Africa. I wanted to have a collection of truths from God's word handy that would apply to the situations we would be in during our time there. This verse had spoken to me some weeks before as I was thinking about our choice not to live in South Africa right now: in making this choice, we must not ignore the poor there.

As I've mentioned this to some people, they've asked the obvious question "aren't there poor people in Australia?". My short answer would be "nothing like in South Africa", the longer one that there were segments of poverty. I am not unaware of what some indigenous communities in Australia look like, and I am not unaware that some people do live on the streets.

Since returning to Australia, I've been reminded that many of my fellow citizens are deeply concerned about poverty here. This has caused me to ask myself a few of questions. Am I missing something? Am I ignoring real and present poverty? Am I shutting my ears to the cry of the poor?

As I've thought this through, I've realised that many Australians are deeply concerned about relative poverty. This is the phenomenon of some people living on low incomes, and not having the same advantages as others. Many Australians are passionate about the principle of equality.

The Parliamentary Library describes the difference between absolute and relative poverty in this way:
"It should be noted that estimates of poverty are generally estimates of relative poverty. They estimate how many families have low incomes relative to other families. The alternative, absolute poverty, would be measured by estimating the numbers of families who cannot provide the basic necessities such as housing, food or clothing."
What is your opinion of relative poverty? Do you believe it is something that should concern us as Christians?

Faith  – (September 17, 2008 at 2:51 AM)  

I believe that the church (meaning the whole body of believers, not just one local church) should be helping the poor. The poor will always be among us. this includes the spiritually "poor" as well as physically/materially poor. Yet, i believe it is the local church's obligation to instruct people that "if you don't work, you shall not eat" (a bad paraphrase...sorry I don't know the correct quote off hand). our particular church has classes (free) to help people learn to budget, get job skills, etc. We also have a Caring Needs Network for people who are "between jobs" or recently unemployed. Here in the USA there are just way too many pepople taking advantage of the welfare system.

Sherrin  – (September 17, 2008 at 9:41 AM)  

I agree with you, Faith. The church does need to assist those who are truly poor - and that should include life skills education. It is great to hear what your church is doing! Australia has a much more extensive welfare system than the US. This is why there are very, very few people who are living in absolute poverty (as a proportion of the population). However, some welfare groups turn out statistics such as "one in ten Australians live in poverty". I think this can be quite confusing and misleading, as what they mean is "relative poverty", which is not measured on the basis of a lack of the basic necessities of life.

Homemanager  – (September 17, 2008 at 12:43 PM)  

It does seem that when Jesus encountered different individuals, the only people where their "station" in life or their place in society changed were those who had had some hindrance to working and instead begged for their livelihood. (ie. the blind, the leper...)
He never spoke of having everything "equal".
The early church seemed to have everything in "common" and I think that still addresses the bare necessities and not necessarily a change in societal standards, hence, you will always have the poor with you.
Is this the correct understanding?

Sherrin  – (September 17, 2008 at 1:09 PM)  

Hello Karen,

you and I seem to be online at the same time, which is fun!

I think that everything in common cannot mean absolute equality, because we read so much in the epistles about the rich in the church. They have specific commands addressed to them, such as caring for the needy and not chasing wealth. However, there is no indication that it is wrong that there are people of differing economic stations. It is only wrong if the needy are not being adequately cared for, and are mistreated.

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