Sunday, February 3, 2008

Evangelicals and the domestic poor

Nicholas Kristof has an interesting piece on the impact of evangelicals in fighting global poverty, climate change, and in Darfur. (He's careful to distinguish between this new type of evangelical and the gay-baiting, anti-abortion Pat Robertson type.)

He talks with Rev. Rick Warren, author of "The Purpose Driven Life" and the head of a California megachurch:
“I realized they [a 25 person church in Africa] were doing more for the poor than my entire megachurch,” Mr. Warren said, with cheerful exaggeration. “It was like a knife in the heart.” So Mr. Warren mobilized his vast Saddleback Church to fight AIDS, malaria and poverty in 68 countries. Since then, more than 7,500 members of his church have paid their own way to volunteer in poor countries — and once they see the poverty, they immediately want to do more.
Rev. Warren's remarks highlight a distinct feature of evangelical anti-poverty work: its focus is primarily, if not exclusively, international. America's poor in struggling cities and Appalachian backwaters aren't his focus. (Granted, there's poor and there's really poor, but we do have problems here.)
“Almost all of my work is in the third world,” Mr. Warren said. “I couldn’t care less about politics, the culture wars. My only interest is to get people to care about Darfurs and Rwandas.”
Interesting quote. The politics of welfare--enormously contentious and divisive partisan issues over the last 30 years--have turned the social work-minded Christian right away from addressing American poverty. Is he chanelling the conservative anti-welfare platform, e.g., poor people in this country (disproportionately drug addicted anti-social types, or so the thinking goes) deserve what they get? Or is he saying that this kind of work wouldn't be possible in this country because of opposition from the right?

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