Gleaning and Giving: Thinking about Poverty Relief

May 8, 2015

In the midst of a busy workday, we’ve all used our lunch hour to run errands. In the midst of checking off a never-ending list of to-dos, we’ve been confronted with the all-too-familiar scene of a person holding a sign with a message akin to “Need work, please help.”

For many of us, a direct encounter with those in need is the catalyst that forces us to grapple with the reality of poverty and hunger, but too often the internal wrestling ends when the light turns green or when we walk past a particular intersection. Like many occasions in life, the best time to formulate a response to difficult situations is not in a tense moment, but before the moment is upon you. That said, let’s examine some common responses to need in light of scripture and work toward a solution that is constructive and redemptive.

In recent months I started asking Christ-followers how they responded to these encounters and I observed three trends. I noticed some are opposed to offering handouts and the reasons varied from person to person. Others are in favor of offering handouts because of a desire to meet an immediate need. There is also a large number of people who desire to assist people in need but are unsettled on a solution.

I appreciate the motivations of those who offer handouts (although it can be used to soothe the conscience of the affluent). I’ve encountered a number of people who give out of a genuine desire to meet a need. Unfortunately, I’m convinced that a long-term poverty alleviation plan that features handouts is shortsighted because it fails to consider the fullness of God’s creative design. A robust Christian worldview includes four principal relationships that each person has, including a relationship with 1) God, 2) others, 3) one’s self and 4) with God’s creation. Material poverty is a symptom of one or more of these relationships being disproportionately strained and a one-size-fits-all solution like offering handouts does not account for or restore the complex causes of poverty.

Conversely, those opposed to handouts arrive at their conclusion for different reasons. I’ve noticed an unfortunate trend among some in opposition to handouts because of an underlying distaste for the poor. This aversion is a result of the assumed character flaws or poor decision making that resulted in their plight. It must be understood that poverty is not always the result of bad personal choices nor refusal to work. Like the rich, the poor’s economic status is a confluence of personal, systemic and relational dynamics.

I’m encouraged by a second trend among those who are opposed to handouts. This group has carefully crafted alternative solutions that eclipse the benefits of (but does not exclude) direct material support. As time passes I hope to carefully craft solutions that are truly beneficial to those in need, but I have a lot of thinking to do.

In the book of Ruth, the economic climate was desperate because of a famine that plagued an agrarian society (1:1). Ruth had additional challenges to overcome including: being without a husband and father-in-law in a patriarchal society (1:3-5), having taken responsibility for her mother-in-law who did not contribute to their economic wellbeing and having moved to a foreign land (1:22). In essence, Ruth’s safety net crumbled beneath her feet like many in our cities today who resort to holding a sign on the street corner.

Although I’ll focus on Boaz’s response to Ruth for the Canon & Culture readers, a glance at Ruth’s faithfulness during economic difficulty is noteworthy. In a proactive effort to meet her own needs, Ruth studied her surroundings, found an opportunity to work and took the initiative to pursue a promising option (2:1-2). After finding a means of providing for herself and Naomi, Ruth worked hard (2:7) and maintained a good reputation (3:11) to make the most of her opportunity.

The story of Ruth is a beautiful example of stewardship and providence that helped sustain the line of the Messiah (4:18-22). Ruth’s deliverance from material poverty was due in large part to wise stewardship of what that God gave her, in this case, a familial relationship to Boaz and her ability to work. At the same time, Ruth’s delivery from poverty required Boaz to faithfully steward his influence on behalf of another.

In the story, Boaz took the concept of gleaning from Leviticus 19:9-10 to heart. God’s instruction to love the sojourner and the poor is embodied when Boaz encouraged Ruth to continue gleaning on his property (2:8-9 & 2:15-16). In addition, Boaz protected Ruth when she was vulnerable (2:8-9), he honored her for her integrity (2:10b-11) and he self-consciously acted as a conduit of grace by pointing her to God as her provider (2:11b-13).

The gleaning model is one of a number of potential solutions that affords an opportunity for the broken relationships that lead to material poverty to be healed. Let’s revert back to the more contemporary example of the person on the corner with a sign to apply the gleaning principle to our lives.

As a homeowner there are any number of housekeeping tasks to be done. Let’s consider a household chore like yard care (along with maintaining a margin in our finances, likened to “not reaping our fields to the very edges”). With the constant need of summer yard care in mind and some discretionary funds in tow, an encounter with someone in material need can be redemptive on several fronts. The homeowner can simultaneously receive help with his household chores and dignify someone by meeting their need via hiring them to do yard work.

Application of the gleaning principle has restorative potential for each relationship in the Christian worldview (noted above), beginning with the relationship between humanity and creation. A simple, yet illuminating definition of work will help us along the way, simply stated, “What creatures do with creation.” With this definition in mind, if someone does not know how to cultivate creation in a constructive or marketable manner then they are unable to be gainfully employed.

How does the Christian help heal someone’s relationship with creation? Vocational discipleship is one means of assisting. If the person does not know how to cut grass one option is to find another worker, but a more fruitful path is to vocationally disciple them. In essence, discipleship is bringing about the hidden potentials in someone or something. So, teaching someone how to cut grass and trim bushes allows them to cultivate God’s creation (Genesis 1:28-30), thus mending the relationship, but it gives them a marketable skill that could result in future employment.

If a person has a marketable skill but no relationships with others then there is no possibility of gaining employment. Some of the most gifted people with highly refined skills are jobless because of the lack of relationships. The vocational mentor can assist their mentee with their interpersonal skills and ultimately utilize their relationships on their behalf. For example, if the mentor has a friend who owns a lawn service they can refer their new friend for a job and vouch for their skill set that was cultivated in their own yard.

Regarding the relationship with self, working is part of humanity reflecting God’s “image,” in fact we are introduced to God himself as a worker in Genesis 1:1. When image bearers have the opportunity to work and provide for their needs it brings about dignity which is rooted in the ability to reflect the actions of God himself. In essence, working instills a sense of fulfillment and value in a worker that undergirds a healthy view of one’s self.

Lastly, and most foundationally, the human relationship with God. After having selflessly served another, one friend has the opportunity to communicate the message of the gospel that heals the relationship that makes the others possible. While common grace allows some ability to rebuild these relationships, true restoration is only possible by someone who is a new creation. A worker can only experience what it means to work unto the Lord as a follower of Christ. Entering into the rest of Christ is prerequisite to becoming a fulfilled worker that cultivates love for neighbor, peace with one’s self and an understanding of God’s world.

As we pass by the “Need Work, Please Help” signs, the question becomes, “How can we utilize our resources to love our neighbor?” We might not have the land, crops, workers, money nor infrastructure that Boaz had, but the question remains, do we utilize our resources, opportunities and contacts to further our own careers alone or to love God and neighbor?

Walter Strickland

Born in Chicago and raised in Southern California, Walter’s passion is to equip people to flourish in their context from a deep commitment to God’s design. Prof. Strickland’s interests include contextual and systematic theology, African American religious history, multicultural studies, education theory, and theology of work. Along with being a diversity consultant, frequent … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24