Faith in Christ calls us to seek justice, end poverty

By Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball, Special Contributor…

I was recently reminded in a sermon shared by the Rev. Mark Flynn, superintendent of the Greenbrier District in the West Virginia Conference, that Jesus became angry over very few things. One of the rare times when the Scriptures record Jesus’ anger was when the disciples spoke sternly to the children that people were bringing to him.

Bishop Steiner Ball

When the disciples saw the children as less important than the adults, Jesus got angry.

He said, “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children.” The Gospel of Mark tells us that he then took the children in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

This story presents us with several questions: Are we more like the disciples, or more like Jesus? Do our prayers, actions and words proclaim the importance and value of our children? Children who live in poverty? Little children who are most at risk, most vulnerable in this world? Children, who depend on us for decisions that support them and bless them for life?

A report on child poverty in West Virginia suggests we are failing our children. That we have been shooing them away, or at the very least, not taking action to get them the help and blessing they need.

One in four children in West Virginia live below the poverty line. 52 percent of our children are part of families that live below the self-sufficiency standard, the income level where a family has enough to get by without outside assistance. 56 percent of our children receive free or reduced lunches; and in McDowell County I have been in schools that serve three meals a day to the majority of their students because of the deep poverty in which most of these students live. Living in or on the edge of poverty is the norm for most of our children here in West Virginia.

There are countless stories unseen in these statistics. There are families who have no health insurance and who cannot get medications for simple illnesses, who cannot access treatment for cancer, who cannot even get broken bones set. There are families living in cars and under bridges in our communities.

How do we as people of faith strive for justice and peace among those who go to bed hungry most days? And, how do we respect the dignity of the children and families who die in loneliness, despair and poverty every year? What does our faith tradition offer?

We can offer the body of Christ in this world by carrying out the ministry, mission and life of Christ.

That means that we are responsible for leading and implementing ministries of charity and justice. Ministries of charity work to alleviate the effects of injustice. Faith communities must do works of charity to combat the effects of poverty. We do this when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisons, shelter the homeless and provide education, child care, and health and wellness outreach.

Our faith also calls us to ministries of justice. This is the body of Christ engaged in action that creates structural change in society to reduce and eliminate poverty. One way to do that is to partner with others to fulfill our call in the work of justice. Events such as Children’s Day at the Legislature are opportunities to do this.

Faith, community and legislative leaders need to talk about and work toward the structural changes needed to abolish poverty in our lifetime. The job of our legislators is to work on behalf of all of us, for a better world which includes a better tomorrow for our children currently living in poverty.

In Scripture, there is no purely spiritual answer to the pain of the poor. To live in poverty is to live in oppression. If we don’t connect faith with advocacy and political choices, we risk an outcome where children are treated as objects instead of people.

“The point of justice,” said Walter Brueggemann, “is to sort out what belongs to whom, and to return it to them.” Justice re-describes the world, and achieving it means intervening in the social order. This is exactly what Moses did in Pharaoh’s court when he insisted on freedom for the Hebrew slaves.

Benefits and income that go to working families need to be increased. The basic costs of life (food, clothing, shelter, medical care), need to be reduced. We also need to invest in human development, especially in the early years of life.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. It is socially as cruel and blind as the practice of cannibalism at the dawn of civilization. . . . The time has come to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.”

As people of faith, may we be bold! May we ask our elected officials to be part of the work of proclaiming freedom, working for recovery and relief, and bringing hope to those who are living in poverty and at the margins of society.

Bishop Steiner Ball leads the UMC’s West Virginia Conference.

Special Contributor to UMR

Special Contributor

This story was written by a special contributor to The United Methodist Reporter. You may send your article submissions to

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
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