While attending a meeting of United Methodists I heard the cry to practice Christian holiness through charity. Churches were encouraged to help persons who were "less fortunate than ourselves." The entire conversation was continuing evidence that we, the people of the church, are out of touch with what it means to be relationship with the desperately poor. Poor folks are powerless. Like everyone else, poor folks want dignity and respect. Charity describes how the haves give to the have nots. Charity is what middle and upper class folks do to make themselves feel good. Charity screams out "I have it, you need it, and because I love Jesus I am willing to give it to you." There is no equity of power between persons in the practice of charity. There is no dignity and respect. That is why charity is a dirty word. There was a medical clinic which served the desperately poor through charity. This medical clinic operated through a medical delivery model. The medical delivery model assumes that the poor need medical care and doctors, who are generous with their time, give from their medical knowledge to those who are less fortunate. Medical personnel had all the power. Patients, mired in poverty, took a number at the receptionist's desk in order to be seen by the doctor.
Then there was a church that happened to have a medical clinic. The doctors of that clinic operated out of a wholeness and wellness model. These doctors and practitioners were interested in learning about life from desperately poor. In return for homeless folks teaching street smarts and experiential wisdom to the docs, the medical personnel shared some ways to relieve physical pain and suffering. The receptionist called patients by name, not by number. It was an attempt to practice equity of power in the form of dignity and respect.
Desperately poor folks voted with their feet. While the first clinic scrambled to get patients, the second clinic was full.
The church for tomorrow will give hope to the hopeless. The church for tomorrow will give power to the powerless. Equity of power is essential if we are to attack the spiritual disease of poverty. We can no longer do charity. Charity is a dirty word. No more ministry to the poor. We must do ministry with the poor.
Want to learn more?
Read Not Just a One Night Stand; Ministry With the Homeless by John Flowers and Karen Vannoy
These two clinics operated within 3 miles of each other.