This post first appeared in the Christianity for Life blog
Imagine you were one of the richest people in the world. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
If you’re reading this article in sub-Saharan Africa, Haiti, Somalia or any so-called under-developed country, you imagine a secure place to live with indoor plumbing and an adequate supply of food and potable water, perhaps a school to educate your children. And a job. If you’re in North America, Western Europe, Australia or any so-called developed country, you’re thinking mansions, yachts, fancy cars, world travel and beaches – a materialistic binge. And early retirement.
Wealth is relative, we know that – there’s nothing new there. It’d be nice if there was an even playing field for each of us to accumulate wealth but let’s face it, some of us have an advantage, and that’s a huge understatement. Jesus said we’d always have the poor among us (John 12:8), and on the flip side He said that its easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God (Matthew 19:24).
In my last two posts I pondered God’s Kingdom and suggested that the Kingdom of God is more of a concept than a physical place and that it comes into being wherever the kingly authority of God is acknowledged. It follows then, that the rich person, Christian or otherwise, might often be too distracted by the trappings of material wealth and the good life to engage in Kingdom matters such as helping the poor. It takes a conscious effort to squeeze through the eye of that needle.
Again, nothing new. Be a good Christian, help the poor, give arms to the needy, etc. We’ve heard it all before, but let’s try to put a different spin on that message by placing a few things into a Kingdom context. In God’s Kingdom, who are the rich and who are the poor?
Looking at those questions locally, from a material perspective I can distinguish the rich from the poor by the cars they drive and the homes they live in. In my hometown of Victoria BC, we have a neighborhood known as the Uplands. Stately oceanfront mansions, Mercedes Benz, Range Rovers and the occasional Rolls Royce. Residents of the Uplands are the rich folks. In the downtown area we have homeless shelters, food banks, addicts, “street people” and a beggar on every corner. These are the poor folks. Somewhere in between the Uplands and downtown, we have the rest of us with our Chevys, Toyotas and nice suburban housing. We are the middle class.
In the western world we’ve heard a lot lately about the growing gap between the rich and the poor and the gradual shrinking of the middle-class. People are alarmed at the concentration of so much wealth in the hands of so few. The anti-poverty and anti-capitalist activists would like wealth to be distributed more evenly and they engage in frequent protests to make their point. Quite often, the individuals engaging in these protests are the same participants to be found in other popular demonstrations for causes that include pot legalization, gay rights, aboriginal rights, and a host of social reforms. They haul out their pickets, masks, puppets and drums to change the world. Backpacks, hemp and dreadlocks.
But in practical terms, what do they really want? Anti-globalization is popular, if not a little vague. Apparently we need to stop corporate greed so as to cure the ills of the world – some actually believe that wiping out corporate wealth and influence will alleviate poverty. I’m not sure how that would work; capitalist democracies are generally wealthy so why not propagate success? (The communist experiment failed on so many levels it would be laughable if not for the decades of human misery).
In recent years our protesters have engaged slogans such as, “We are the 99%” and “Occupy Wall Street”. The idea being that most wealth is concentrated in just 1% percent of the population and, somehow, Wall Street is to blame. Well, they’re close, but they’re missing something. They count themselves among the 99%, and that’s a gross oversimplification of the facts. If you look at the pyramid below, you’ll see that about 70% of the global population have an annual income of $10,000 or less. Where I live, welfare recipients receive more than that.
So that puts our welfare recipients in the top 30% – they’re richer than 70% of the population!
I’m going to go out on limb here and suggest that while our protesters certainly include many welfare recipients, most protesters are earning more than $10,000 per year and are likely making much more, approaching the top 10-15% of global earners. The many students in these protests are likely earning more than $7.25 an hour (the current US federal minimum wage) in their part time jobs, or doing even better if Mom & Dad are helping out.
In India (population `1.3 billion) the average annual income is about $500.
About half the citizens of Nigeria (population `175 million) live on less than $2 a day.
Nepal’s official minimum wage is $70 per month. Most make less.
So who are the rich? Its you, dear protester!
Who are the poor? Well, that’s almost everyone else in the world.
So should we all pool our resources and share everything out evenly? Sounds like a good idea but its just another oversimplification. We need the wealthy.
If you won $10 million in a lottery you’d discover relatives you never knew you had. Everyone would be there with their hand out. So would you give it all away? Counting parents, children, siblings, nieces and nephews etc., let’s say you have 10 branches of your family that you’d like to help out. You decide to share the money evenly and give them $1 million each. Everyone would have a great time taking trips, buying houses and cars and living the good life. But a million bucks doesn’t go very far these days, and unless they’re already 75 years old, its certainly not enough for anyone to quit their job!
So fast-forward a few years. They all fondly remember the big windfall, but for most, the money is gone.
But what if you had held on to your $10 million? After spending a few hundred thousand helping folks out with new cars, housing down-payments and education funds, you invest the remaining funds and take your place as the rich relative whose branch of the family will be there to help out the rest for generations to come.
We need the wealthy.
Back to our protesters. If we really want to change the world by helping the poor, I suggest we stop whining about the wealth of billionaires (just like the poor, they’ll always be with us), and start doing something about global poverty.
There are about 1.5 billion of us in the top 30%. If each one of us donated just 1% of our net worth to alleviate poverty, it would amount to 2.34 TRILLION dollars. Now you’re talking impact! This is the 30% solution!
But we know that’s not going to happen. Instead, let’s be more realistic and donate just one half of one percent, 0.5%, of our annual income. That would amount to more than 75 billion dollars annually from the US alone, and the EU could easily outdo that amount. So let’s call it a conservative 100 billion dollars a year available to help the poor if we all chipped in.
That’s not going to happen either.
So dear Christian, this is a Kingdom thing. We are another demographic of an alleged 30% or so of the population, which trims our 100 billion down to just 30 billion annually.
30 billion annually? Awesome.
I challenge you to contact a Christian NGO of your choice, such as World Vision (www.worldvision.org), to do your part. Let’s be the 30% solution.
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