One of the basic Christian teachings is to practice generosity. Whether it is generosity of love and compassion, or generosity in terms of giving what you have to others who are in need.
But in the US, we often practice judgment instead of generosity. The rhetoric we hear – whether in politics, on the news, or in the street – often says that people are poor because they are lazy, cheats, dependent, or otherwise flawed. And unfortunately this attitude influences public policy. In the latest example, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to cut food stamps by $40 billion, which would cause at least 4 million people to lose food stamps, and 210 million school-age children to lose free school meals (see here for info).
There are a number of disturbing things about the judgmental anti-poor rhetoric.
First, it ignores the structural causes of poverty in the United States – from the historical concentration of wealth and how it is passed down, to failures in the educational and health systems, to the effects of prisons and the “war on drugs”.
Second, it raises the question: Why are we more concerned with judging people who are poor than we are with helping them?
The moment we begin to wriggle out of our own moral imperatives by making claims about the behavior of other people, something has gone terribly wrong. All attempts to we make indict poor people for being poor immediately transforms instead into an indictment of our own failure to live and act in love, compassion and generosity.
If you will follow your moral imperatives only if everyone else around you behaves as you believe they should, then when – if ever – will you actually have to act morally?
Human beings are imperfect – we fail, we behave badly, we fall down again and again. As soon as your judgment of other people comes ahead of your generosity towards other people, you’ve found a convenient excuse to simply never be generous. Unless, of course, you’ve already decided you like the person. But being generous to only the people you approve of doesn’t really ask much of you, does it?
In other words, when we place judgment ahead of generosity, we have lost the way. When we place judgment before compassion, we place ourselves before others – and the teachings of Jesus are left far behind.
We are called to a higher standard of living – a standard that does not look to what other people are doing before we ourselves act. We are not called to decide who “deserves” and who does not deserve. We are called to act in love, compassion and generosity – no matter what, and without regard to what anyone else is doing. If we fail to act generously, we can only blame ourselves – not the person to whom we are not giving.
So let us leave judgment behind, so that we can truly following Jesus’ teachings on generosity, live in freedom, and act based on love.