This month’s Christianity Today carries an important piece from Richard Stearns, author of The Hole in Our Gospel. The article, titled “Solving Poverty Is Rocket Science,” expresses articulately the point we often seek to make on this blog: that good intentions aren’t enough, and that responsible Christians are called not only to love, but to love wisely and well.
Stearns observes, “We are right to help, but we also need to help in the right way. In the complex system of poverty, well meaning efforts can have unforeseen and unintended consequences in another area.” After affirming the generosity of Americans, Stearns warns:
But here’s the problem: Poverty, whether here in America or abroad, is one of the oldest and most complex problems plaguing the human race. It is tangled in social, cultural, economic, political, ethnic, geographic, and spiritual factors that challenge even the most skilled experts. Simple solutions just don’t work, and well-meaning amateurs can not only waste valuable resources but even cause unintended harm in their efforts.
Of course, there are times when “well-meaning volunteers” are the one thing that is most needed. All the money in the world couldn’t buy enough “well-funded experts” to care for the world’s orphans and neglected children…nor would such experts be likely to provide the personal concern and nurture that children need to thrive.
That said, Stearns point stands: far too often we assume that big hearts and good intentions will be enough to untangle the intricate knots of poverty. That is simply not the case, and Christians should be the first to commit to the diligent study, thorough preparation and costly expertise needed to engage the world’s need with both big hearts and sharp minds.