People who have read earlier posts of mine have gleaned that one of my passions is doing what I can to help people climb a ladder out of poverty. I have often referenced Bob Lupton’s book on “Toxic Charity” whose premise is we should help people, but avoid doing for them things they can do themselves. True charity should be reserved for emergency situations and beyond that we should look for ways to aid their efforts not replace them.
Recently, I have prepared two posts from the gist of the book “The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto” by Tavis Smiley and Cornel West. This book does a good job of highlighting the big lies about poverty and describes significant changes that we can make to help remedy our poverty problem in America. One of the big lies about poverty is many attribute characteristics that people in poverty are less virtuous and industrious. I found that not to be the case as people in poverty tend to be working hard at one or multiple jobs and their faith is the only thing they have. In fact, 84% of the homeless families an agency I volunteer with helps are employed. Poverty is purely defined as the lack of money.
Churches and synagogues are already doing an abundance of good work and they should be applauded for these efforts. I would only ask as they evaluate the success of what they are doing to ask the question – is what we are doing more for us or the people we are trying to help? Are we helping provide a path forward out of poverty or we providing a benevolent band-aid? What if we did not do this particular service, what would happen? These are all good questions to ask, so that we make sure we are making a difference. Please read these two books or at a minimum take a look at some of the earlier posts from the past few months.
Yet, I am going to shift gears and talk about an idea that to my knowledge is not being talked about enough. There is a high correlation between family size and poverty. The more fragile the family’s starting point will easily push them into poverty as their family size grows. Also, for the bad press Planned Parenthood gets in very religious circles, it does a lot of good things around helping people in poverty with mammograms, sex education and birth control access. I want to focus on these last two points, as here is where I see a role that churches could play that would endear themselves to their audiences, lessen the exposure to poverty and dramatically reduce the exposure to abortions and STDs like AIDs.
I believe churches and synagogues should conduct recurring sex education and family planning classes on their campuses for their teenagers and young adults. I think they should make available birth control information and birth control samples, as well. I also believe they can teach abstinence as much as they want as it is a viable choice. Why do I say this? Two givens. First, people tend to trust their church leaders. Second, teenagers are going to have sex. You cannot stop them just as your parents could not stop you. So, let’s pair the two together and have open conversations facilitated by the church with people who know what they are talking about.
Teenagers have many misconceptions about sex, pregnancy risk, STD risk, respect for women (for men) and how to say no (for women). One of my former colleagues told me about the amazing questions she got from teenagers at her church as she was seen as someone who would shoot straight with her answers. “I heard you cannot get pregnant if you have sex standing up” is a good example of what she was asked. Plus, the teenagers are subject to an intense level of peer pressure by a potential sex partner as well as others. I see the churches and synagogues providing avenues to have great discussions for their younger minds which are still being formulated, are very immature, and exposed to so much. What better place to have important conversations like these?
If done right, by people who have open minds, who know the subject matter and want to truly help, this could be a life changing curriculum. This would also give a greater reason for kids wanting to go to church. From the teenager’s perspective, you are talking about things I need to hear. Therefore, I can make better choices when I am in the midst of an important life event in the throes of passion. If I am going to commit to having sex, I will make sure I use protection or have taken some birth control. If I don’t want to have sex and someone is forcing themselves on me, I will be better prepared to know what to do and say. From a parent’s perspective it will make it easier to have these conversations. As a parent, I would welcome the opportunity to discuss this subject due to its importance.
From a societal standpoint, this would be an avenue to reduce unwanted pregnancies and abortions. It would keep children in school who had to drop out to have a child. It would teach responsibility to young men and women. It would teach these same people how to treat their bodies and each other with respect, but to also look for signals where something may be amiss. It would give young people ammunition to better combat peer pressure. It would have an impact on poverty as families size would be managed, teenagers would be avoiding families at a young age, and we could break a cycle of poverty as kids born into poverty are very likely to stay there. This last issue is key, as breaking a cycle of poverty, homelessness makes a huge difference for a community, not to mention the individuals. Finally, it addresses an overarching concern which is the global problem of population growth. Our earth’s ability to support life is being compromised as we grow. This is its own subject, but the US could lead by example in having a sustainable population.
I am raising this issue for strong consideration by church leaders, male and female. The members of the Catholic Church have tended to ignore the papal advice on birth control and should continue to do so. I see this as a way for churches and synagogues to be more inclusive and in keeping with the life challenges for our young people. I have seen too many decisions and posturing where some churches try to be exclusive and that only ends up driving people away. I truly see this as a win-win for many and will help us actually make a difference in people’s lives. I hope this message is given due consideration by our religious leaders.