Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Milwaukee, Poverty and Presbyterianism

 I love Book TV. There are so many brilliant writers featured on CSPAN. Today I watched Professor Matthew Desmond talk about his book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City:,in which he looks at public housing and poverty in America through the prism of eight families from the poorest neighborhoods in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Eviction is devastating.Pictures,electronics,dishes,the spice collection,irreplaceable mementos and sheets disappear.The experience is totally de-humanizing. It's not just your stuff that you lose,it's whole parts of your life-every piece of energy,happy and sad breathed into the walls,every conversation you had there on the couch is somehow ripped from you and thrown to the street. You have to start over from scratch which costs money you don't have.and getting new stuff is the easy part.Recovering from the humiliation is a process ongoing.What productive measures are Milwaukee churches doing to help the evicted who by circumstance of accident or abandonment or despair, find themselves desperate? This question led me on a Google search of Churches in Milwaukee, the city highlighted in Desmond's book.What were they doing about it.I landed here. Wow! nothin'- I mean, at least for the Presbyterian Church USA and specifically the Milwaukee Presbyterians, the eviction crisis and subsequent homelessness problem does not even register on their disaster assistance map.Presbyterians built so much good in this nation from the ground up.From the the Bill of Rights,to the Abolition of Slavery,to great hospitals and colleges, Knox and Calvin's theologies are woven into many of our institutions.So why are the American poor, all fifty million of them, not registering star wattage for disaster assistance on the Presbyterian radar at this critical time in our nation? Well, the trend du jour seems to be about divestment rather than investment , about tearing down rather than building up.The church of my ancestors is not building schools, colleges and hospitals anymore.They are focused on the Middle East, more specifically on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.Really?

We have so many social problems right here in the United States.Especially problems concerning the urban poor which could and should be solved if people of faith with resources were living out the gospel mandate.Government can only do so much and the housing crisis is massive with many layers of fallout which will reverberate for generations.We have work to do here folks.It's time to ditch leadership conferences and roll up our sleeves.Helping the poor in our own communities is our obligation.If you belong to a church,you are not exempt.No act of individual charity goes uncounted. Loan someone a utility bill.Drive someone to the DMV. Babysit for a single mom.Lend an ear to a prisoner.Just imagine if millions of capable Christians gave sacrificially without counting the cost. Black, white and brown,we could change our cities one family at a time and rebuild.If we don't focus on healing this land,one city street at a time, our nation will not survive in any form worthy of our children.

All of the mainline Protestant Churches who have focused resources on political campaigns in foreign lands that do anything other than announcing the gospel should be ashamed of their silly hypocrisy. Why does it take a secular academic ethnographer to highlight the plight of the American urban poor? Where are the preachers to proclaim social redemption  in the streets ? Where are the banking vocations of old to build a greater society by uplifting the poor ? Your funds should be used to build low income housing and make interest free loans to the poor not to divest from international corporations in the name of Middle East peace. What about divesting from corporations who take our jobs to China? Finance, in the American Church tradition,should be a vocation to build, not a licence to political critique of other nations when our own is bleeding out hope.Where are you Presbyterians? Remember who you once were.Milwaukee is calling.

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