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Associated Press/Photo by Kevin Frayer

The promise and the over-promise

A new poverty campaign has both

Issue: "Focus on Mitt Romney," July 16, 2011

Thought experiment: If you could give a dollar a day to a trustworthy organization able to assure you it would be the difference between life and death for a person somewhere in the world who now lives on less than $1.25 per day, would you give it?

I suspect that just about every WORLD reader would send a dollar, and some much more. Many of us already contribute to groups that seem likely to help rather than hurt.

What holds us back is often a lack of assurance. Hard lessons, and good books with titles like When Helping Hurts, have taught us to be wary when we read publicity releases such as one that came last month from the "58:" organization, an alliance of 10 leading Christian relief and development groups that announced a goal of "working together to end extreme, global poverty."

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The name comes from chapter 58 of Isaiah. The highly reputable organizations include Compassion International, ECHO, Food for the Hungry, International Justice Mission, and others to which many WORLD readers have contributed. I know individuals in those groups who heroically fight poverty and oppression.

And yet: When those organizations' public-relations folks declare that "a slight upward nudge in Christian generosity" will (here's the headline) "END EXTREME POVERTY BY 2035," aren't they over-promising?

Questions about politics: Since a major cause of extreme poverty is authoritarian government, does the alliance have a plan to overthrow leaders in some Asian and many African countries? How exactly will a "reallocation of church budget priorities" contribute to ending extreme poverty in North Korea, Zimbabwe, and Sudan?

Questions about culture and law: Since Peru's Hernando de Soto has shown how crucial it is to establish the rule of law and private property, how exactly will the alliance further that cause? And, why do some Christians emphasize the importance of a biblical worldview in many areas of life but ignore that essential when it comes to poverty-fighting? Good books by Darrow Miller such as Discipling Nations show clearly (to quote the subtitle) The Power of Truth to Transform Cultures. Apart from God's grace changing the hearts of both dictators and ordinary people, the extraordinary change that the 10 organizations want will not happen.

We should give generously. We should also be honest about the nature of the problem. Through generosity, and through helping people build businesses, we can reduce the amount of extreme poverty. Ending it, though, requires us to struggle with not only flesh and blood but principalities and powers. When we disregard that biblical and practical truth, we build cynicism that reduces the willingness to give.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.


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