In recent decades, there has been a widely acknowledged global trend of less and less extreme poverty. According to World Bank standards, 1.1 billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty since 1990.
According to The Good News About Global Poverty, a recent report released by Barna Group, in partnership with Compassion International, points to the power of empathy and optimism in facilitating justice for the poor. If the recorded decline in worldwide poverty is not yet cause for celebration, it’s at least reason to hope and – following the lead of the Church in the developing world – incentive to continue chipping away at poverty and its effects.
Let’s look at some other indications of mounting momentum and optimism in the fight against extreme global poverty, particularly within the Church.
Faith and poverty activism go hand in hand
Christians, especially practicing ones, are consistently generous – not only with their money, but with their hours. For instance, weekly volunteering is reported by one in three practicing Christians (33 percent), compared to 27 percent of non–practicing Christians. About a quarter (24 percent) of them have volunteered specifically to combat global poverty.
Practicing Christians outpace all US adults in participation in a variety of actions to help the poor, in the US and abroad.
Concerning those in need in their own community, practicing Christians also more often report bringing food to a family in need (75 percent have done so in the past 12 months), directly donating goods other than money to people who are financially poor (72 percent) and volunteering to help the poor (47 percent).
Occasionally, people exhibit both a consistent emotional and practical response to poverty – Barna calls these people Responsive Supporters, who make up a quarter of respondents (24 percent). These compassionate adults, more often of the Gen X and Millennial generations, also appear to be compelled by religious conviction; two–thirds of Responsive Supporters (67 percent) are Christians, and 43 percent are practicing Christians, the highest number among the types. They are the most active church attenders (68 percent have been to church in the past month).
A majority of these Responsive Christians believes that helping the poor, in turn, helps Christians understand the heart of Christ (58 percent). And most have spent significant time praying for the poor (53 percent). Forty–four percent of Responsive Christians say that their churches should prioritize spending resources to address poverty in other countries. Christians in this group are also the most eager for information on poverty; eight in 10 are at least somewhat interested in learning more about a biblical perspective on poverty (79 percent) or hearing about how the Church could be involved (80 percent).
Global and local poverty don’t have to compete for attention
But beyond this hypothetical survey scenario, nothing seems to keep US adults from giving to multiple issues, or to the same issue in multiple locations. Survey results show in a few dimensions that practicing Christians particularly do not see fighting poverty as a zero–sum game, where either American or overseas children must lose. In other words, there does not seem to be a tradeoff between interest in global poverty and in local poverty
Hope in and proof of personal impact matters
Barna observed that people who are hopeful that they can make a difference in poverty alleviation are those more willing to try. A majority of US adults (57 percent) says that knowing it is possible to end extreme global poverty would make them do significantly more to help bring that about. Among practicing Christians, the percentage climbs to 62 percent.
For most people, any evidence of one’s financial impact would encourage them to give more. This is very true of Millennials (62 percent, compared to 32 percent of older generations), an age group that places a high value on information and transparency. This “show your work” approach could be particularly helpful in retaining donors.
Overall, most US adults and Christians, if they have some assurance that they could have an impact, would be willing to play their part in combating poverty and its ills – a testament to the animating effect of optimism and confidence.
Photo: Larm Rmah, Unsplash