A Black Lutheran Perspective on Poverty and Plenty

The Conference of International Black Lutherans formed in 1986. Its second meeting in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe in 1996 addressed issues of poverty and plenty. What follows are excerpts from the meeting’s official statement, “A Message from Bulawayo.”

[1] The reality of poverty and plenty, the plight of the “have-nots,” and the privilege of the “haves” cannot be denied and must be acknowledged by all. Thirteen million children under the age of five die annually of malnutrition and other diseases. Three hundred and forty six out of every one hundred thousand women giving birth die every year due to complications related to pregnancy. Many of these complications are preventable. Eight hundred million people go to bed hungry every night, and just as many do not receive adequate health care. Among these, we recognize that people of African descent in general, and women and children in particular, suffer disproportionately as a result of poverty. As the World Bank recently noted, world poverty has declined in every part of the world except sub-Saharan Africa, where 40-50% of the population live below the regional poverty line of one United States dollar per day. In a very real sense, many of God’s children, the “have-nots,” are being deprived of the necessities of life.

[2] On the other hand, “haves” possess not only the necessities of life in abundance but also the luxuries of life in good measure. They are the economically privileged. While the “haves” comprise 25% of the world’s population, they own and/or control 75% of the world’s wealth. For them, excessive consumption, rather than starvation, represents both the immediate and the constant reality. In a very real sense, these children of God, the “haves” of this world, are hoarding life’s necessities and in so doing are depriving the “have nots” of these necessities. This hoarding of God’s abundant creation is indicative of a moral and spiritual crisis of epic proportions.

[3] From our perspective as Black Lutherans, the reality of poverty and plenty in the world is neither a consequence of divine creation nor a mere historical accident. At one level, it is a consequence of complex social, economic, and political forces that are constantly at work. At a much deeper level, however, this reality is a manifestation of structures and systems of oppression grounded in racism, sexism, classism, colonialism (both past and present), nationalism, capitalism, and governmental greed, all of which are manifestations of sin. Together, they have created the gap that exists between the “haves” and the “have nots.” Together, they both stand and serve as contemporary idols of the privileged.

[4] In the midst of poverty and plenty, we are reminded that Jesus came that all might have life, and have it more abundantly. Furthermore, we are reminded of God’s abundant and amazing grace in Christ Jesus, poured out for humanity on Calvary’s cross. In light of this, we boldly confess that God is a God of plenty (John 2:1-12) who is active in the world, opposing economic injustice and exploitation and the poverty caused by them. Simultaneously, the God of plenty calls all people to become instruments of God’s liberating activity, working for economic justice and an equitable sharing of God’s plenty.