“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”
–Dom Helder Camara, Brazilian archbishop
I grew up in a small town in Central Texas. My father was the eldest son of first generation German immigrants. His father died when my dad was thirteen. My grandmother was disabled and unable to work outside the home, so my father went to work at the local drive-in restaurant. He worked there from the age of thirteen until his death at age fifty-five. He moved from car hop, to fry cook, to manager, to part owner in that time. Like my dad, my mom became a business owner, starting and building several different businesses over her life time. At the age of sixty-three, she is still growing her business and creating jobs. I was born into poverty but watched my parents accumulate a fair amount of wealth. I am a product of the American capitalist dream.
So as you can imagine, I found it quite ironic that a former friend ( I say former because he unfriended me on Facebook after insulting me), decided to call me a socialist on my Facebook page. I had posted a link to a Steven Colbert clip titled “Glenn Beck Attacks Social Justice” which I thought was funny. It was this link and another post I wrote titled “Social Justice is not a Political Statement” that drew criticism from this former friend. As I have been praying about this, I find it absurd that anyone could see the work we are doing as socialist is nature.
I was at a Communities First Association Conference this week in New Orleans with more than twenty Christian Community Developers from across the country who use Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) techniques in their work. When I shared my frustration with being called a socialist, another community developer shared that he had received a call from a friend warning him that ABCD was really a part of Obama’s hidden socialist agenda. Which is equally as absurd as me being a socialist. ABCD is simply an approach to doing community work that looks first at the assets in a particular community instead of the needs. In ABCD, you focus on the gifts, callings and capacities of the individuals who live in communities. You then work to link those assets together in a way that the people are empowered to transform their community themselves. The whole idea is to create systems that empower people instead of creating dependency on the government or outside agencies. It is exactly the opposite of what the fear mongers are espousing!
My dad “pulled himself up by his bootstraps.” The reality is that not everyone’s bootstraps are the same length or strength. As a Christian community developer, all I do is help people and communities discover they have bootstraps and find ways for them to lengthen and strengthen them. If that makes me a socialist in some people’s eyes, then I think they need new glasses. The lenses offered by Glen Beck and others are most definitely causing a distortion of the facts.
Apparently sanity has not been restored and fear continues to rage across this nation when people who are simply trying live out Jesus call to care for the poor are being called socialist simply because they think a comedian is funny.
I want to encourage all the other Christians out there who are seeking to live their call to help those with less than adequate bootstraps. I pray you find others who share your passion and commitment. I pray also that God continue to fuel the missional movement that is awakening Christians to their call to love all their neighbors, even those who have not benefited yet from our dream releasing capitalist system.