Around Thanksgiving, churches often collect food to give to the poor. And some charities accept donations of clothing. Some accept computers, furniture, or other items. People who work in homeless shelters or other facilities intended to help the poor often do things other than giving money. They spend time with the poor to help them with a drug or alcohol problem, to teach them how to read, to present the gospel to them, etc.
What about our development of technologies, medicine, and other non-monetary products that benefit the poor around the world? When American doctors teach doctors in other parts of the world how to perform a particular type of surgery, for example, don't they act, at least in part, out of an interest in helping the sick in other nations, including the poor? When we give other nations our technology, our medicine, our methods of producing food, and other such things, aren't we intentionally benefiting the poor (among others)?
America has also been a major source of missionary work around the world. Much of that work has benefited the poor.
I mentioned that the United States military will often help the poor to some extent in a nation like Afghanistan or Iraq. A couple of other examples, involving more than just our military, would be our efforts to defeat Nazism and Communism. What we did, through our military and by other means, benefited many millions of poor people around the world. Richard Wurmbrand, a pastor who spent more than a decade in a Romanian prison camp, wrote:
Every freedom-loving man has two fatherlands; his own and America. Today, America is the hope of every enslaved man, because it is the last bastion of freedom in the world. Only America has the power and spiritual resources to stand as a barrier between militant Communism and the people of the world.
It is the last "dike" holding back the rampaging floodwaters of militant Communism. If it crumples, there is no other dike, no other dam; no other line of defense to fall back upon.
America is the last hope of millions of enslaved peoples. They look to it as their second fatherland. In it lies their hopes and prayers.
I have seen fellow-prisoners in Communist prisons beaten, tortured, with 50 pounds of chains on their legs - praying for America...that the dike will not crumple; that it will remain free. (cited in William Federer, America's God And Country [Coppell, Texas: FAME Publishing, Inc., 1994] pp. 705-706)
In his Farewell Address, Ronald Reagan commented:
I've been thinking a bit at that window [in the White House]. I've been reflecting on what the past 8 years have meant and mean. And the image that comes to mind like a refrain is a nautical one -- a small story about a big ship, and a refugee, and a sailor. It was back in the early eighties, at the height of the boat people. And the sailor was hard at work on the carrier Midway, which was patrolling the South China Sea. The sailor, like most American servicemen, was young, smart, and fiercely observant. The crew spied on the horizon a leaky little boat. And crammed inside were refugees from Indochina hoping to get to America. The Midway sent a small launch to bring them to the ship and safety. As the refugees made their way through the choppy seas, one spied the sailor on deck, and stood up, and called out to him. He yelled, "Hello, American sailor. Hello, freedom man."
A small moment with a big meaning, a moment the sailor, who wrote it in a letter, couldn't get out of his mind. And, when I saw it, neither could I. Because that's what it has to -- it was to be an American in the 1980's. We stood, again, for freedom. I know we always have, but in the past few years the world again -- and in a way, we ourselves -- rediscovered it....
But life has a way of reminding you of big things through small incidents. Once, during the heady days of the Moscow summit, Nancy and I decided to break off from the entourage one afternoon to visit the shops on Arbat Street -- that's a little street just off Moscow's main shopping area. Even though our visit was a surprise, every Russian there immediately recognized us and called out our names and reached for our hands. We were just about swept away by the warmth. You could almost feel the possibilities in all that joy. But within seconds, a KGB detail pushed their way toward us and began pushing and shoving the people in the crowd. It was an interesting moment. It reminded me that while the man on the street in the Soviet Union yearns for peace, the government is Communist. And those who run it are Communists, and that means we and they view such issues as freedom and human rights very differently....
The past few days when I've been at that window upstairs, I've thought a bit of the 'shining city upon a hill.' The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important because he was an early Pilgrim, an early freedom man. He journeyed here on what today we'd call a little wooden boat; and like the other Pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free. I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it, and see it still....
And she's still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.
I don't think it's accurate to describe Americans in general, much less conservative Evangelicals in particular, as the rich man of Luke 16. We've always been a nation that's had a significant amount of concern about the poor and have benefited many poor people around the world. That's due largely to our Christian heritage.
And that brings me to something else I want to address from David Platt's sermon. Why do we give so much attention to issues like homosexuality while, allegedly, neglecting the poor? I've explained why I don't think we neglect the poor as much as David Platt suggests, though I do agree that we should be doing a lot more. But why so much attention for an issue like homosexuality? Part of the answer is that this nation seems to be more at a turning point on the issue of homosexuality than it is on issues pertaining to the poor. There isn't a prominent movement of people arguing that we shouldn't be concerned about the poor, comparable to the prominent pro-homosexual movement. Thanks largely to our Christian heritage, there's an American consensus that we should be concerned for the poor. Despite disagreements over how to best help them and disagreements over just how much of our money and other resources we should give, there's widespread agreement that we should help the poor and should do so in many ways and to a large extent. The comparable consensus that used to exist on homosexuality has been rapidly deteriorating in recent years, and that deterioration has implications for other issues (polygamy, how we view human sexuality, the raising of children, etc.). There's good reason to give an issue like homosexuality more attention than issues of poverty in some contexts.