Speak up for the Poor, or Allow them to Speak for themselves?

In a conversation on Monday, Craig suggests the following,

“I think as Christians, the Biblical mandate is clear, that God’s command is to speak for the poor and oppressed regardless of whether or not they can speak for themselves.”

Certainly, Scripture does speak to what Craig calls a mandate; for example, the wisdom passed down to King Lemuel from his mother, was to

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy (Provers 31:8-9)

However, do we live in a society where those who are destitute have no voice? Secondly, what constitutes speaking? We don’t live in an Ancient Near Eastern monarchy (or city-state for that matter). While originally, only propertied white males were allowed to vote, today, all citizens of all races, classes, and genders can (ideally).

Sometimes even the most well-intentioned forms of charity can do more harm than good; for example, is a charitable act just if the recipient of such charity must convert to white, evangelical Christianity or is forced into accepting adoption as we saw in Haiti? Supposedly, these good-hearted Christians called themselves speaking for the poor.

What’s more important than giving a voice to the impoverished is making space for them to speak for themselves. Does your church have seating based on class? Does your city hold local elections on business days where the poor are at the greatest disadvantage?

This is exactly why I prefer solidarity over charity, each and every time. Charity is beholden to a false messianism, where the oppressed have to depend on the almsgiver. This “charity” rejects the Imago Dei that we as all of humanity, are made in. I don’t think there is any need for the marginalized to await a Cornel West or Tavis Smiley to tell them what they are going through.

What does it mean to speak, anyhow? Is it to make sure the big bad media machine, the 24 hour cable news cycle gives you attention? Is that not falling trapped into the same corporatist machine that is dragging our country down? That would mean giving even more power to the powers that be yes?

Just a thought.

0 thoughts on “Speak up for the Poor, or Allow them to Speak for themselves?

  1. Tusk

    I like this post a lot. I do think you are walking a fine line here, though.

    “This is exactly why I prefer solidarity over charity.”

    Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant! So brilliant, in fact, that a part of me wishes you had written some of the scriptures. Perhaps it should have told us to stand with the poor, rather than just speak for (read: about) them.

    The fine line I mentioned earlier, you actually ended up hinting at crossing it. There is a difference between, say, getting a story heard on the big bad media conglomerate’s hourly reiteration of the day’s events, and helping to influence action by your representatives. I can’t help but notice, since takin it upon myself to become informed that politicians too often respond and react to the media instead of the voters. It’s a smart move (in these times) but O don’t think it’s how a democracy should ideally be run. One needs only to wait until the commercial break of any 24-hour news stream to understand why “the people” aren’t being heard.

    You asked twice, “what does it mean to speak for?” (along those lines, anyway). And I think I am right there with you. To speak for seems like an ill-founded idea. If someone is spoken for, it kind of puts them in a position of subservience. Like, “I can’t represent myself. I’m spoken for.” We shouldn’t be speaking FOR…we should be speaking WITH (as in along side) the poor to those most able to change the way things work.

    Just a thought.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *