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Olasky lists Christian ABCs for aiding society’s needy

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–Christians need to move beyond their good intentions in order to change the lives of less-fortunate members of society, proclaimed World magazine editor Marvin Olasky at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

A solution, he said, parallels the ABCs of compassion established during an earlier era of American history.

Olasky, featured speaker for the Scudder Lectures on the Kansas City, Mo., campus, March 25-26, also teaches journalism at the University of Texas and has authored numerous books on social issues, including “The History of American Compassion” and “Abortion Rites.”

Olasky related seven principles that represent the kind of compassion exercised by Christians in an earlier era of American society. As he presented the concepts in alphabetical order, Olasky proposed restoration of these biblical principles by churches seeking to help the needy.

Affiliation refers to making an effort to determine what kind of help an impoverished individual can expect from family members, Olasky said.

Bonding involves setting up new relationships as the church becomes the family for a person lacking one.

Categorization allows for treating people differently depending on their values. “Government policy has been one size fits all,” Olasky said, adding, “Obviously that fails.”

Discernment recognizes man’s sinfulness and takes that into account when determining aid to be given.

Employment is an emphasis that regards man as having been created in God’s image and capable of work. “Today the tendency is to treat homeless people like our pets,” Olasky said. “We put food in their bowls, pat them on back and say, ‘Good boy.'”

Freedom recognizes there are plenty of opportunities to strive for a better life, but there is also the freedom to give up. “We’re not going to try to entice the person to stay by offering free this and free that.”

God is the final concept that Olasky finds many well-intentioned people forsaking in an effort to help the poor. “We have holes in our soul that only God can fill,” Olasky reminded. “Money can’t fill them and just being nice to a person can’t do it. God must be there. Without his presence, everything is for naught.”

Christians must follow Jesus’ example of giving people what will radically change their lives. Citing the biblical account of the healing of a paralytic, Olasky noted that Jesus told the man to “pick up his mat and become a member of society again.” When Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes to feed the masses, Olasky observed, “Christ was not providing an entitlement,” but he preluded the miracle with hours of teaching.

“Some who run homeless shelters think it’s wrong to give a gospel message,” he said. “In the Bible, the emphasis is on real change, not spare change.”

Olasky drew upon his study of America’s compassion toward the poor, noting the value of hands-on involvement as volunteers follow through on their good intentions, rather than simply writing a check. He described the $5 trillion spent on welfare the past three decades as stingy, with “lots of money and not much time.”

“We pay our taxes and let the professionals handle it,” Olasky said, avoiding the need for personal involvement. “There’s no messy problem of poor people and the homeless coming to our churches and our having to take care of them.” He added that many pastors simply keep a drawer of $5 bills to hand out to those seeking help. “The pastors feel good handing out the bills and don’t have to get involved.”

Olasky said he regards last year’s welfare reform legislation helpful in providing incentives for people to get off welfare. “It does do one thing that’s essential — it gets rid of the principle of entitlement — that just by being poor you’re entitled to certain benefits.” He said he hopes Congress will decentralize welfare assistance by moving more of it away from Washington, D.C.

Olasky challenged each Christian to visualize one poor person he has helped personally through the past year, developing a bond, and becoming deeply involved. Tutoring a child for an hour a week, mentoring a woman or homeless man trying to get off of welfare, coaching a team with kids who don’t have dads, or even adopting a child are examples Olasky cited.

“If we can’t see that person, then let’s get serious about following in Christ’s steps and start with that one person and see where it goes. Then you can speak from your Christian experience and not theoretical knowledge.”

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  • Tammi Ledbetter