Objectifying the Poor

It wasn't long ago that I wrote a post about the potential idolatry in our tendency to objectify God. I began that post by reflecting on the problems inherent in objectifying people. We clearly see how when women, for example, are objectified by men they are seen as things to be obtained and consumed. Since writing that post I have been considering how we, Christians, have a tendency to objectify the poor as well. We speak of poverty in ways that betray the very heart of God that we so hope to connect with as we try to engage the poor. Poverty is, in our minds, a cause to be addressed or a condition to be relieved of. We want to make poverty history without ever making it personal. We might donate money or even take a trunk load of sandwiches downtown to share with 'the poor' and they remain 'the poor'. When I say they remain 'the poor' I am not referencing our inability or failure to change their condition and pull them from poverty, rather I am referring to our very perspective of them as such. If your brother came upon hard times and you found out that he had been residing under a bridge downtown would your perspective be different? Would you take him a sandwich and then drive back to your house? Would you feel good about that? Would you begin to see him as 'the poor' or would he still predominately be your brother. He would never stop being your brother and you would never not see him that way. When we try to love 'the poor' we either objectify them as the poor and completely fail in our effort to love or we love them and find that they are brothers and friends and neighbors and saints and sinners and they have names like magic and momma and jason and ben and steve and willie. 'The poor' is a concept that we can theorize about, it is a cause that we can rally behind but it is not a person and cannot be loved, people are to be loved. It seems to me that people that live in poverty are some of the most objectified people in the world. Our city leaders might see 'a blight', the police might see 'a problem', the church often sees 'a mission' or 'a project' but I really want to see Willie or Steve or whoever it is that I have the privilege of sharing life with. I pray that I might be granted the clarity to see brothers and sisters and that I would never again see 'the poor'. When my friends that are experiencing homelessness, for example, are loved as brothers they are human beings and no longer 'the poor'. They are less poor for being seen as something more than 'the poor'.


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