Embracing the Matthew 25 Invitation and Acting On It
San Gabriel Presbytery has become a Matthew 25 Presbytery, which means we pledge to encourage 20% or more of our congregations to become Matthew 25 churches and embrace these areas of focus:
- Building congregational vitality
- Dismantling structural racism
- Eradicating systemic poverty
This year I have had the pleasure of working with Presbyterian Mission Agency staff, several Mission Co-Workers, and a number of Presbytery staff from around the country to come up with resources for churches and presbyteries to address the Matthew 25 focus area of Eradicating Systemic Poverty. I will give you links to those helpful resources at the end of this column, but for now let’s focus on why and how we should take action to eradicate systemic poverty and live into our Matthew 25 commitment.
From scripture we receive fairly strong messages about how we as Christians are called to take care of and protect the poor and oppressed. And it’s clear we are called to take action. Matthew 25:35-40 tells us that by taking care of the “least” of society we are also serving Jesus. But, providing material needs is not where our call as Christians ends. In Isaiah 1:17 God instructs “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.” And in Proverbs 31:8-9 a king “belonging to God” receives instructions that are understood to be from God. He is taught to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
I recently read through the Presbyterian Hunger Program’s Fall 2022 PHP POST. This edition’s theme is Eradicating Systemic Poverty. The front-page article by Andrew Kang Bartlett shares some wisdom from the founders of the long-time PC(USA) partner Bread for the World. He shared that David Beckmann, former president of Bread for the World “often preached an important message: We can’t food bank our way out of hunger; ending hunger requires political will.” Andrew also writes about Bread’s founder Rev. Art Simon, who frequently said, “It’s better to build a fence at the top of a cliff than to have an ambulance at the bottom,” meaning “Let us tackle hunger’s root causes.””
It seems to me our instructions are clear. We not only need to take care of the basic needs of people living in poverty, but we also need to work to correct unjust systems that keep people in poverty by speaking up. Speaking up can take many forms (i.e., letters, emails, phone calls, visits, and marches) and can have many audiences (i.e., city councils, state legislators, federal representatives). We’re lucky. There are a lot of faith-based organizations that are doing great, ongoing research into what specific root causes of hunger and poverty are locally and globally. Often these same organizations offer excellent guidance regarding what we can do to help correct unjust systems, and they are happy to have us partner or participate with them. I have known Christians who are uncomfortable being what they perceive to be political, but I think we all must acknowledge that Jesus, our Lord and Savior, wasn’t afraid to act and speak out in the public square. He held leaders to account and corrected those who were acting unjustly towards others. He spoke up! He called on those in power to do better! He advocated for the poor and oppressed! As disciples of Jesus, shouldn’t we do the same?
Advocacy may seem scary or complicated or too time consuming, but it’s really quite simple and usually takes only a little time. There are easy ways to get involved in advocating for the eradication of hunger and poverty. The Presbyterian Hunger Program, Bread for the World, LA Voice, and CLUE-LA, just to name a few, give us specific messages to speak up about and sample letters when we’re writing to someone. They can also connect us to others who are called to address root causes of hunger and poverty. I urge you to give it a try!
I promised I’d give you links to resources, so here they are.
If you’d like to read more of the Fall 2022 PHP POST, go to: https://www.presbyterianmission.org/resource/php-post-fall-2022/.
The new PMA resources that I worked on to help us as we follow our call to eradicate systemic poverty can be downloaded as a complete packet all at once or individually as desired. Here are the links.
The Matthew 25 Eradicating Systemic Poverty Resource Packet includes:
- Five Spiritual Practices to End Poverty (worship, learn, relate, act, share),
- Action Suggestions list organized by the Five Spiritual Practices,
- Core Principles and Assessment Questions for poverty work,
- Faith Assertions (our theological, confessional and policy beliefs about eradicating poverty),
- Strategic Domestic and Global Partners to learn more about active partner organizations to walk alongside,
- FAQ on poverty,
- PC(USA) Curated Resources list for each of the Five Spiritual Practices,
- Additional PC(USA) Resources list for extra suggestions for learning and exploration.
I would be honored to support you and your congregation as you ACT to bring about a just world. I can also connect you to organizations already engaged in this work. Please don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The peace of Christ be with you,