Poverty, Solidarity and Protest – Definitions and a Preferential Option

Defining poverty – Themes and controversies
Images of poverty flood television screens, newspapers, the internet, and our churches. The world’s number one Millennium Development Goal, affirmed by the UN and its member states, is “Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger.” Poverty is seen as something to eradicate, the poor sometimes get lost in that effort. A broad definition would include any deficiency in a human being’s capacity to fulfill his or her basic human rights. Another definition would identify hunger and income as poverty’s center. Each of these is, in short, a reflection of what is “subhuman” (Gutierrez, 164). Gutierrez provides two reframed definitions of poverty. The first is “a scandalous condition inimical to human dignity and therefore contrary to the will of God” (165). The second is poverty as “opposed to pride, to an attitude of self-sufficiency; on the other hand, it is synonymous with faith, with abandonment and trust in the Lord” (169). Brought together in synthesis, a vocation of action and struggle emerges.

Solidarity – Synthesis and struggle
A third definition of poverty that Gutierrez introduces a third definition of poverty that synthesizes and strengthens the two definitions of poverty mentioned above. Poverty is best understood, he writes, “as a commitment of solidarity and protest” (171). This poverty is a call to struggle, a solidarity that is rooted in awareness and protest against injustice. Engagement with this poverty and solidarity in it opens the possibility of embracing “the concrete, vital context necessary for a theological discussion of poverty” (173). The future of the church and its theology rests on serious engagement with its worship and mission as vessels for bearing witness to and participating in the struggle for the transformation of the world.

A Preferential Option
Gustavo Gutierrez may be best known for his Preferential Option for the Poor. He identifies poverty at its core as “Death: unjust death, the premature death of the poor, physical death” (Nickoloff, 144). A preferential option means an investment and trust in the human richness of those who face injustice and the denial of their humanity. To abandon the poor, for Gutierrez, is incongruous: “The rejection of the preference [for the poor] means failing to grasp that we must combine the universality of God’s love with God’s preference for the poorest” (Nickoloff, 145). People of faith are called to solidarity with the poor for reasons of faith. As people of faith, Christians are called to fulfill the preferential option as participation in the community of God’s people (Nickoloff, 146). As Gutierrez writes, “If we believe in the same God, then we should walk side by side in history” (Nickoloff, 146). The current poverty of the privileged church is in their abandonment of this preferential option.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s