Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving From Affluence to Generosity.
Ronald J. Sider
"We each have our own unique gifts and calling. God wants many of us to fast and pray about social sin. Most should study, and many should write and speak out. Some should join and support organizations promoting social justice. Others should run for political office. All of us should ask how changes in our personal lifestyle could help model a better world. But God does not want anyone to feel guilty for not doing everything--or for taking time off for relaxation and recreation....Correct[ing] social sin is not a heavy burden. It is an invitation to joy and meaning in life, an occasion for blessing our neighbors, and a wondrous opportunity to be a coworker with the Lord of history." (pg 117, emphasis mine)
This is a really insightful book. I recommend it to all Christians especially those with big hearts who have not yet been handed a thanksgiving sized platter of the realities of international inequalities and injustices. This book will help a person grow their social consciouses. It is a difficult read because many of the things contained in it are not pretty and the lifestyle alterations recommended are not always easy or entirely comfortable. But compared to the alternative (countless lives lost often due to our abundances and neglect) I think it's worth while.
The book has four parts. The first part focuses on the division between rich and poor. It is chalked full of stats and numbers to make the distinction tangible. This section gives of history or how the rich got rich and how the poor became poor. It also defines rich and poor.
Part two is a biblical perspective on poverty and possessions. This section makes clear God's preferential treatment on the poor. But more than that it expounds upon God's desire for justice and those that are oppressing are struck down and those being oppressed are cared for. Israel has been on both sides of that coin and we can read about that all we want in the Old Testament through the Exodus and then through the divided kingdom and the prophets. Some questions posed in this section: "Have we allowed our economic self-interest to distort our interpretation of Scripture?" "Are the people who call themselves by Christ's name truly God's people if they neglect the poor? Is the church really the church if it does not work to free the oppressed?" A quick summation of the conclusion of this section would be, "God is not biased. Material poverty is not a biblical ideal. Being poor and oppressed does not make people members of the church.... God actively seeks justice for those who are oppressed and neglected. (In fact, by pulling down oppressors and lifting up the oppressed, God does what is good for both groups.)" Then there is a big part of the jubilee. One painful quote reads, "Christians in the United States spent $15.7 billion on new church construction alone in the six years between 1984 and 1989. Would we go on building lavishly furnished expensive church buildings if members of our own congregations were starving? Do we not flatly contradict Paul if we live as if African or Latin American Christians are not also part of Christ's one body along with those in our home congregations. The division between the haves and the have nots in the body of Christ is a major hindrance to world evangelism. Hungry people in the Third World have difficulty accepting a Christ preached by People who symbolize (and often defend the materialism of) the richest societies on earth." (pg 87) "It is not because food, clothes, wealth, and property are inherently evil that Christians today must lower their standards of living. It is because others are starving." (pg. 98)
Part Three is on what causes poverty. This is probably the best section but it is difficult to read. So I will leave that up to you. Check it out from the library and soak that reality in!
Part four is on our reaction as individuals, as community (church or otherwise), and as a society to reign in justice. My favorite quote which also arguably an ideal from Charles Wesley is, "Christians should give away all but the plain necessaries of life that is, plain, wholesome food, clean clothes, and enough to carry on one's business." Wesley wanted all income given to the poor after bare necessities were met. This reminds me of the early church. There are lots of good suggestions for other personal changes some that are simple and some that will take years to transition into. The community discussion isn't complete and needs to be considered further within your individual communities. I like the Christian commune thing but also I realize the effectiveness of house churches. Thank you Via Christus, I love you!!! and then all the societal things are mostly over my head but I am trying to learn and move in that direction backed by communities. We can all do something and we must!
"Growing divisions between rich and poor will lead not only to more starvation and death but also to increasing civil strife, terrorism, and war.... To obey will mean to follow. And He lives among the poor and oppressed, seeking justice for those in agony.... God regularly accomplishes his will through faithful remnants." (pg. 269)
Read the book, love your starving neighbors, live simply so that others can simply live!