In the last post I outlined some of the dramatic findings that came out of the recently released “State of American Children” report. Most significant of all is this: 1 out of every 5 children in American lives in poverty. That is an incredibly alarming statistic.
Dr. Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, says that America is the only industrialized country that has their children as the largest group of poor – it would be unheard of anywhere else. It is surprising to me that this simple and scary truth does not stir more discomfort than it does.
How should we respond when we hear that one out of every five of our children currently lives in poverty? Let me quote three different revolutionaries to spark some ideas.
First is Frederick Douglass, the prominent 19th century thinker, reformer, and suffragist, who after escaping from slavery became a leader of the abolitionist movement. He fought valiantly for a number of important causes, yet always understood the importance of keeping children front and center:
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
He was not suggesting that to “repair” broken adults is any less important than to build strong children. He is simply pointing out what has always proven to be the most effective pathway to eradicating multigenerational, systemic poverty – focus on the children. Children who grow up in poverty face far more challenges than those who don’t, and due to that the odds are stacked against their future success in a far more magnified fashion. To look the other way when 1 out of every 5 children in our country face those kinds of odds would have been unthinkable to him.
Second is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran pastor, theologian, dissident anti-Nazi, and founding member of the Confessing Church. He wrote some of the most influential books that have shaped modern Christianity, and here was one of his important quotes:
“The ultimate test of a society’s morality is how it treats its children.”
If that radical statement is even partially true, then what does it say about our national morality if we remain indifferent when 1 out of every 5 children live in poverty?
Finally, the words of Jesus, who gets the final word on this. In my opinion, these are some of the most compelling words from Jesus as how to prioritize his mission:
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.” (Matthew 18.10-14)
This passage is especially stirring when placed against the recent report of how many children currently live in poverty in America. Jesus said that the Father in Heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.
Jesus believed in the sanctity of each child’s life so strongly that he said the good shepherd would leave the safe 99 children to go after just 1 has wandered away.
If Jesus would do that for 1 out of 100, then how do you think he’d feel about 1 out of 5?
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