Poverty in the US is on the increase


Tony Pugh of the McClatchy newspaper chain reports that poverty in the US is on the increase. According to his article,

The percentage of poor Americans who are living in severe poverty has reached a 32-year high, millions of working Americans are falling closer to the poverty line and the gulf between the nation's "haves" and "have-nots" continues to widen.
What is particularly interesting about this is that this is taking place during a supposed economic boom:
The plight of the severely poor is a distressing sidebar to an unusual economic expansion. Worker productivity has increased dramatically since the brief recession of 2001, but wages and job growth have lagged behind and the share of national income going to corporate profits has dwarfed the amount going to wages and salaries.
Profits are up, and poverty is also up. This tells us in a nutshell, I think, what is wrong with American society. It seems that, as long as corporate profits are higher, the economy is said to be "booming" and "expanding", and thus we are told that the economy is doing "well"--poor people be damned. As long as we live in a society that serves the interests of corporate profits rather than human needs, then nothing else matters. Is anyone--is any politician, even those who talk a good game about ending poverty--willing to do what it takes to challenge the corporate ruling class? It is clear to me that corporate interests lie at the center of the social and political system of the modern-day American Empire. I would argue that this contemporary alliance between capitalism and politics serves as the analog to the class-based peasant society of the Roman Empire that Jesus lived in. People like Walter Wink and Marcus Borg prefer to use the term "domination system" to describe the kind of rule that Jesus lived under. But I would assert that we have a new kind of domination system today, and it is just as oppressive in its own way.

The Tony Pugh article concludes with a somber note:
"Whether these patterns will continue throughout the first decade of 2000 and beyond is difficult to say ... but there is little reason to think that this trend will reverse itself any time soon."
What are we doing today to bring about the Kingdom of God? And is simply settling for "reversing" a trend what we should be seeking--or should we instead seek nothing short of total social justice?

In Diana Buter-Bass's book Christianity for the Rest of Us, she addresses the question of justice-seeking as a part of the life of a congregation. She points out that the cause of social justice has had little to do with traditional political liberalism:
At the time of the civil rights movement a few white mainline churches, even some southern ones, supported integration and voting rights for blacks. However, they typically did so on the basis of political liberalism, drawing from the language of fairness, equality, and rights. While fairness, equality and human rights are very good things, they are also primarily secular ideals. As shocking as the discovery may be to many American Christians, that secular language is not found in the Bible or in the vast consensus of Christian tradition. Instead, those ideals emerged during the Enlightenment, the liberal philosophical movement that has shaped Western thought for the last three centuries. By the 1960s, Enlightenment liberalism dominated ideological thinking in white mainline churches. During my Methodist childhood, it was hard to figure out what God had to do with what was happening in Mississippi or Alabama. "Justice" had more to do with the courts than with the Bible.

Unlike white Protestants, African-American Christians spoke a different language of justice--one that was deeply spiritual and tapped into the stories of the Bible. King talked of justice as a spiritual journey, as doing the work of God. Although some white liberals agreed with his cause, many found King's religious vision, with its implicit criticism of secular politics, hard to take. At Cornerstone [United Methodist Church] on Martin Luther King Day, political liberalism is notably absent. They celebrate King's vision of diversity and justice as biblical ideals, as part of their spiritual journey. For them, justice is not about backing a secular political agenda--whether that be liberal or conservative. Rather, justice is part of the faithful life of being a Christian; justice is spirituality.
There is, in my view, a contrast between the polite, restrained values of the modern liberalism, and the radical values of social justice as espoused by the such diverse characters as the Old Testament prophets, Jesus, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and Abbie Hoffman. Does that mean that I think one should then reject politics out of hand? No, I don't. I think one can take that view too far and conclude that politics don't matter, or that we can build justice by ignoring politics. I do not believe that. I am deeply interested in what happens in the political arena, and I would not, therefore, agree with the rock band The Police, who, in their song "Spirits in the Material World" claimed that "there's no political solution to our troubled evolution." However, the Police were correct in that song about the corruption of the existing political processes:
"Our so-called leaders speak
with words they try to jail you.
They subjugate the meek;
but it's the rhetoric of failure."
To me, secular political processes may not always be the direct conduit for us as we seek the Kingdom of God. If we consider the corruption of the domination system to be the primary means through which we achieve the Kingdom of God, if we ally ourselves too strongly with it,I believe we are doomed to be corrupted by that very system. To me, we need to seek social justice first and foremost, and let the political chips fall where they may. That means standing outside of the system as voices of conscience who afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. I am a cynic and a radical. I believe that we can only achieve the Kingdom of God if we seriously look at building a a new social order based on the principles of justice, where human needs instead of corporate profits are what define what we do as a society. The current domination system of our time cannot lead the way to the Kingdom of God, in my view. Only the people at the grassroots, listening to God's call (whether they believe in God or not), can do that. It's a tall task indeed. Jesus died 2000 years ago because he would not bend to the domination system of his day. What are we doing today to honor his sacrifice?