Monday, June 21, 2010

Poverty is an affront to God's glory

One of the speakers I am really looking forward to hearing at the forthcoming conference on the Church and the Academy is Michael Woolcock. He is currently Professor of Social Science and Development Policy at the University of Manchester, where he is on leave from the World Bank.
He will be speaking on theology, poverty, and development.

An earlier version of his paper is available here. The abstract includes the following fascinating ideas:

In the realm of theology, I argue that justice is a necessary but insufficient foundation for concern about poverty, proposing that St. Irenaeus of Lyons’ contentions regarding the nature of ‘glory’ be further explored. I develop a theology of glory based on three scriptural understandings, namely grandeur, grace, and gratitude, and argue that we are most “fully alive” when we are in right relationship with ourselves, each other, and God. Poverty is an affront to God’s glory, then, because it is both a cause and consequence of broken relationships.


  1. That seems a rather essentializing analysis. Once upon a time, the poor were noble and a spiritual witness to the self-satisfied rich. On the basis of this quotation, it seems that Woolcock would rather have us all be in the latter category. Couldn't one equally argue that monetary wealth is both a cause and consequence of broken relationships?

  2. Of course one could, that doesn't mean that wealth is bad. The Bible is emphatic over and over that wealth is good, but that sinful people can't handle it. Nevertheless the Bible never wishes poverty on people, never.

    What sort of middle class nonsense is that? I'm sorry for the force, but it's comments like that that make Christians look like the worst people on earth, and is such dangerous theology to convince people to adopt.

    The poor in this world are not impoverished in comparison to the rich, they're impoverished in comparison to those who have food, or those who have clean water. People dying of malnutrition and diseases which were eradicated for us self-satisfied rich people 100 years ago, are not something we should aim to keep so that the self satisfied rich have a mirror to look in to see their own spiritual frailty.

    Why not keep a homeless person in the courtyard of your house so that every time you walk by, you're reminded of your own spiritual poverty. Don't feed him too much or educate him too well, lest your mirror be shattered and your own short-comings be more difficult to discern.

    This is disgraceful theology indeed.

    When Jesus speaks of the poor he speaks of future relief. Sure they may act as a mirror in some circumstances, but that does not mean he intends to keep them that way. Never does the Bible condone the existence of the poor, but it repeatedly condemns those who do not give to them. God's plan for the fullness of time is immeasurable wealth.

    But what's more, who is any self satisfied rich person to claim that the status quo (ie the existence of the poor) is a good thing? How dare anyone who has much claim that it's good that there are those who have little. Give everything you have away, impoverish yourself, and then make that claim. Sit on a pole for the next 20 years if you truly feel this way. Of course you don't. Armchair theologising about such weighty matters is a disgrace.

    Sorry Ross - feel free to remove this comment. As usual, thanks for the great blogs.