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The Poor Shall Inherit the Boards

Feb 12 2014
Calling for more economic diversity in church leadership.

Barbara Ehrenreich discusses these kinds of prejudices in a recent article aptly titled "It Is Expensive to be Poor":

By the Reagan era, it had become a cornerstone of conservative ideology that poverty is caused not by low wages or a lack of jobs and education, but by the bad attitudes and faulty lifestyles of the poor.

Picking up on this theory, pundits and politicians have bemoaned the character failings and bad habits of the poor for at least the past 50 years. In their view, the poor are shiftless, irresponsible, and prone to addiction. They have too many children and fail to get married. So if they suffer from grievous material deprivation, if they run out of money between paychecks, if they do not always have food on their tables—then they have no one to blame but themselves.

Ehrenreich goes on to say the recent recession should have ended our victim-blaming theory of poverty, causing us to finally see, "Poverty is not a character failing or a lack of motivation. Poverty is a shortage of money."

Could our prejudices against the poor keep us from seeing the gifts they have to offer our leadership boards? Thankfully, not all bow to Mammon or are prejudiced against the poor.

An evangelical pastor once told me about how a member of the congregation, also the well-to-do owner of a car dealership, complained about his sermons from Isaiah on justice. He didn't like the pastor's interpretation. The pastor patiently explained that he had been preaching straight from Scripture, drawing implications that clearly followed. Nevertheless, the business owner threatened the pastor with, "If you don't change, my money and I will leave the congregation." I sat on the edge of my seat waiting to hear how he handled the challenge. He said, "Well then go ahead and leave." The man did. Although the church took a steep financial hit, at least the pastor and congregation maintained their moral integrity.

There are Christian ministries who strive for diversity on their boards. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, the director for the School for Conversion, an umbrella of community-based ministries in Durham, North Carolina, aims for economic diversity on their board and staff. It makes sense that an organization so focused on hospitality, community, and inclusivity would benefit from involving leaders from a range of backgrounds… but shouldn't that go for all of us?

Recently Pope Francis opted to pass over some of the more influential archbishops in the U.S. and other countries in his choice of new cardinals. Instead, he selected archbishops from poorer countries like Haiti and Burkina Faso. These new cardinals will help select the next pope. Concerning the Pope's choices, the Rev. James Martin writes:

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