Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and received his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller. He is the author of Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, and Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith.

You Can’t Be “Christian” If You’re Not Caring For The Poor

People often falsely assume that the word Christian has a clear, singular, meaning but that’s not necessarily true.

There’s “Christian,” which refers to a particular religion of over 41,000 different denominations or sects who disagree on what Christian means. Then there’s “Christian” which can refer to a nationalistic religion prevalent in America.

And then there’s “Christian” the way I like to use the word: like Jesus. In fact, when the word first caught on in the early church, that’s almost precisely what the definition was.

Of the thousands upon thousands of people who belong to the first two types of Christianity, (approximately 78% of Americans), fighting poverty isn’t high on the radar. Various studies over the years have actually shown that the number of Christians who tithe amount to approximately 5-7%. This means that at least 93% of Christians don’t even give money to the church they attend, let alone give money to fight poverty.

And even among the 5-7% who do tithe, most of that gets sucked into ever growing church budgets, leaving the amount of money that actually ends up going toward helping people poverty negligible at best.

What does this mean? Well, to be perfectly blunt, it means that Christians in America statistically give very, very little to the poor.

But here’s the problem: You can’t be Christian if you’re not actively helping and serving the least among us. Sure, you can belong to one of the 41,000 Christian denominations and fail to do that, but you can’t be Christian—you can’t be like Jesus or a follower of Jesus– if you’re not actively serving those who are impoverished.

Honestly, I think we have a problem that we must face here in American Christianity: 97% of Christians (noun) aren’t Christian (adjective). Jesus taught his disciples to first take the beam out of their own eye before worrying about the speck in their brother’s eye, and I think it’s time we get a crowbar and start yanking this beam out.

For the one who desires to be Christian, we have a non-negotiable model to follow. Scripture tells us that Jesus lived his life in such a way that serves as an example for us to follow, and that we are to walk in his footsteps—even if that means sacrifice or suffering.

What’s the example Jesus left us? Well, Jesus spent his time preaching good news to the poor, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and helping the lame to walk again. In fact, helping the poor and sick was so absolutely central to Jesus’s ministry, that he commanded his followers to continue this tradition—and even warned them that if they refused to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, or welcome the immigrant, they would find themselves facing an everlasting punishment on judgment day.

Did you catch that? To Jesus, helping the poor isn’t simply a nice thing to do—it’s what often gets classified as a “heaven or hell issue.”

The fact that 93% of Christians in America are not doing something Jesus said was a requirement of being his disciple presents a major discipleship challenge for the next generation of pastors and teachers. It’s one that absolutely cannot be ignored—because you can’t be Christian if you’re not helping the poor.

While on one hand I think that we need to begin to acknowledge that American Christianity has a major, major oversight, this week I’m encouraged by the actions of some who long to follow Jesus. I’ve been traveling in the Dominican Republic with World Vision, and have been overcome with emotion at some of the stories I’ve listened to.

There was the mother who was sick and dying, but when World Vision came to check on her children in their program, they realized she needed help– and she got it. When she was well, they also helped her build a home, get some animals, and start a business– and today the family is not only intact, but she’s actually taken in foster children from the village.

Or, then there was the community who realized that they could improve the condition of everyone if they banded together and started a business. So World Vision provided training and resources, and today I spent the afternoon at their office where they make and sell shoes– providing a livelihood for at least a dozen families who would otherwise languish in poverty.

I saw it at the goat farm too– a group of folks who realized they could prevent families from splitting upD090-0231-121 and searching for migrant work if they could create a sustainable job for the whole community. Because of World Vision donors, WV was able to help them get the business going, and today they’re able to resist the urge to leave their families in search of migrant work where they could end up exploited or trafficked.

I have witnessed the beauty of what happens when God’s people do what Jesus said we should do– and I long to see more of it.

I believe one of the ways we can help the 93% of Christians become more Christian, while helping the next generation of Christians avoid the error of our own, is to encourage child sponsorship through World Vision. Sponsorship is just $39 a month, and as I have witnessed firsthand traveling with World Vision in Eastern Europe and the Caribbean, sponsoring just one child has the power to transform an entire community.

The letters you and your children exchange with the child you sponsor will both be a major source of encouragement to your sponsor child, but will also help teach your own about the beauty of being Christian and the beauty of giving.

And that money you give? Well, I’ve seen first hand the net results of sponsoring a child. I’ve been a guest in the homes of those who were once homeless, I’ve embraced healthy people who were once sick and dying, and I’ve bounced children on my knee who have beamed with pride over the fact they had a World Vision sponsor in America.

Yes, it’s true that we as Christians have had a beam in our eye, and that statistically speaking we have overlooked a core tenet of what it means to be Christian. But what’s also true is that it doesn’t have to be that way for another generation.

We don’t have to ignore it.

We can change. And as we change, we’ll change others.

And as we change others? Well, do that long enough and you just might change the world.

Will you join me today in sponsoring a child through World Vision? There’s no better time like the present, and you can select your sponsor child right here.

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Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and earned his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller.

He is the author of Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, and Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus.

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23 Responses

  1. I could say “alright, let’s help them by giving them fish”. Or, would it be better to give them the knowledge of making a nets? In either way, because of religious doctrines of the faith, we will not be able to sustain life on earth, because of overpopulation. Unless we get rid of religions, we will not be able to save mother earth…

    1. There you go speechifying in a tedious, pompous way, an unprovable, unloving and totally homicidal equation!! You, sir, are thinking only in black and white us versus them. Is your identity wrapped up with violence toward others with whom you know nothing about except propaganda of which you’ve heard somebody else with hateful motives who are trying to groom you and control you into committing murder? Please take this opportunity to examine your antisocial behavior, for in my humble opinion, you are being tempted to do exactly what fascists do which is identify a scapegoat whom you can blame for what’s going wrong in your life and whom you can eventually arrive at the conclusion that you can justify killing without conscience.

  2. Even better to go with your check and experience the poor: that will change someone’s life AND ours. Shane Claiborne said that when he took the gospel to the poor they brought the gospel to him. Good article. From an African Christian.

  3. Anyone with half a brain should realize you need not have even heard of gods or religion to care about those that are less fortunate. It is empathy which enables this concept of caring and has nothing to do with any god or doctrine.
    Religion has simply appropriated this idea and under false pretenses from the human psyche.

    1. I think that the point of this article is that Christians to be truly followers of Christ should give to the needy in some way. What the issue is here is not whether you are more giving as a Christian than as a non Christian, but that millions of people who call themselves Christians do not give at all. Which is rather shocking, but not at all surprising.

      1. You miss the point entirely. What is important is to realize what is actually true. That no one needs god belief or religion to be a caring person. God belief and religion are at best diversions from helping people and at worst get in the way of it entirely.

  4. I take your points and agree with many, but you do seem to have forgotten that there will be a proportion of American Christians who are themselves poor, sick, or otherwise needy. And surely there must be many who do not tithe, but do charity work, or just give to people in need when they can.

  5. The author of this article is someone that says he has an interest in missiology, which is the study of religious (typically Christian) missions and their methods and purposes. The real purpose of Christian missions to to spread lies and detrimental ideas to gain power over the gullible and ignorant for the gain of the one spreading the lies and the organization. This is a despicable person and his article is based on lies and deceit.

    Always fact check the author.

  6. I don’t disagree that many Christians don’t behave as Christians, but I’m not so quick to latch on to that 93%. What do you do about the Christians who don’t give because they themselves are already in dire poverty? The people who wish they could give but don’t have the resources to — the ones who refuse to be charity cases even though they’re the ones we want to help. Because the maxim has it backwards — in a culture that equates wealth with virtue, it is far more difficult to receive than to give.

  7. ah the no true scotsman fallacy. christians are christians i do agree we should help others though

  8. There have been studies (don’t recall the details offhand, but it’s well documented) that a lot of people naturally fall into a psychological trap where if they identify with the concept of helping others– through merely clicking links, merely buying a certain product, etc– then it seems to dull their senses a bit. Almost like a New York Yankees fan choosing to wear given hat and t-shirt, there’s this trick in the brain that makes one think that they’ve ‘done something’ meaningful for others when they seriously haven’t.

    It’s a cognitive bias that humans have being human, whether Christian or otherwise, that’s a tough nut to crack. Thing seem to boil down to a matter of confirmation bias. Person X believes that he or she is ‘good’, which is very well completely true, but then X gets stuck with the blinders of interpreting what he or so does as a big thing when its really not.

  9. Luke 19. 1-10 explains what happens when someone accepts the Grace of God. The result is not works, it becomes the normal behavior of someone who is now in Christ.

  10. Very, very inspiring…and tremendously daunting. Again, the story line this is the true christian and this is not. Maybe that line needs to be drawn. But many other groups will redraw it as absolute dogma. The wishy-washy progressive overly concerned with righting social issues than serving the kingdom of heaven. I prefer what Jesus did: tend to their basic physical needs first, no questions asked and no demands made. Treat them as a brother or sister without question. Hold them in the simple esteem of a loved one. Look on them kindly. Listen. Delight in their presence. Be in that moment with them as if no other destiny or moment existed.

  11. While I agree that the heart of a Christian should yearn to provide help to “the least of these,” I don’t agree with the over-the-top title of this post. The Bible clearly teaches that we are saved by grace not works. No act of service makes us Christian; nor does omitting an act of service strip the name Christian from us. Each of us becomes a Christian when we agree with God that we are a sinner in need of a savior, repent of our sins, believe that Jesus Christ is God and accept His sacrifice on our behalf, and ask Him to be our “boss.” If we get those steps right, He’ll lead us to ministries that utilize our unique giftedness, whether to care for the poor, defend the widow and the fatherless, evangelize the lost, and/or disciple other Christians. Let’s face it. Some people have little money to help the poor. That doesn’t make them any less Christian if they’ve already professed their faith in Christ.

  12. Thank you for this much needed reminder of Jesus’ instructions to care for the poor. Our sponsorships have been a blessing to us and a particularly good education for our children. Thank you for this first hand report that they’re making a difference “over there.” We all could do more.

  13. Thanks for posting this insightful commentary with examples from World Vision. We’ve supported impoverished families through them for about 45 years and am so thankful for a caring empathetic organization who works among the world’s poorest and most needy, and also fights for justice and human rights.

    The troubling question is why don’t most humans reach out to those in need like World Vision does?

    Instead, billions of dollars are being spent by U.S. Christians and secularists on bombing in Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan.

  14. World Vision, isn’t that the organization “Christians” threw a hissy fit about and stopped supporting because they said they would hire gay employees?

  15. Whilst I still maintain that in the passage in Matthew 25 Jesus is specifically talking about our treatment of His followers, all Christians as a minimum should be giving money to charities such as Tearfund who work with the poor throughout the world.

  16. Great points Benjamin.

    I think this topic may have been the tipping point for me when I was going through the process of leaving evangelicalism as defined in a conservative, American context.

    I remember often hearing the quote from the NT about the poor always being with us and this quote being used as an excuse for not engaging in social justice to the poor and marginalized. I also remember the over spiritualization of everything Jesus said about poverty.

    I no longer believe these arguments hold much water.

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