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Just Tell Your Kids to Ignore the Poor?

Image via Wikimedia Commons/FEMA-Dave Gatley

As parents, my husband and I try really hard to make sure our daughter knows how lucky she is. Our 12-year-old has a whole lot more than either my husband or I did growing up and it’s  extremely important to us that she appreciates the life she has.

I’m OK with the fact that she’s got shelves full of books and the benefit of a house with a variety of electronics. But it’s important to us that she learns that many of her possessions are luxuries, not necessities, and that because we’re fortunate enough to have certain things, we have an obligation to share our good fortune with others.

Sometimes it’s a challenge to find activities that will resonate in age appropriate ways with our kids when we’re trying to teach lessons about compassion and giving to help others. One of the things we do as a family is to donate to and participate in food banks. And our daughter and a neighbor decided to create their own organization called  “Children Helping Children” — they deliver  neighborhood fliers to let the families on our block know when they’ll be collecting clothes and books to take to local shelters. It’s certainly not the grandest of charitable projects, but we were pretty proud when they developed their own plans for giving in a way that meant something to them.

But according to one high-profile minister, we’re teaching our daughter the wrong lesson when it comes to those in need.

Rick Warren, the minister of the Saddleback mega-church in Southern California and the author of The Purpose Driven Life — was recently asked in an ABC interview what he thought of President Obama’s remarks that the burden of the country’s financial deficits shouldn’t be shouldered solely by people on fixed incomes or families struggling to make ends meet. That didn’t seem like such a shocking or overly political statement. So what Warren said in response threw me for a loop:

“Well certainly the Bible says we are to care about the poor…. But there’s a fundamental question on the meaning of “fairness.” Does fairness mean everybody makes the same amount of money? Or does fairness mean everybody gets the opportunity to make the same amount of money? I do not believe in wealth redistribution, I believe in wealth creation.

“The only way to get people out of poverty is J-O-B-S. Create jobs. To create wealth, not to subsidize wealth. When you subsidize people, you create the dependency. You — you rob them of dignity.”

When did lending a hand to someone in need become a fable about the “redistribution of wealth?”

I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want our daughter — a pretty privileged little girl — to catch wind of is the idea that she doesn’t have to “redistribute” any of the money in her wallet to help feed hungry people or that it’s acceptable to tell a homeless man on the street to go get a job, instead of handing him some of the food we’re carrying in our shopping bags. I know that Warren was talking more about government programs than personal efforts to help others. But when a famous minister starts talking even abstractly about telling those in poverty that they aren’t deserving of anything other than a lecture on getting off their bums and answering the want ads, I fear that’s a “lesson” that too many people will take to heart.

Let them get a job? That sounds more like Marie Antoinette than Jesus to me.

Read more from me at my blog PunditMom and in my Amazon best-selling book, Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America.

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