Christians Are More Likely To Say It's Poor People's Own Fault That They're Poor

White evangelicals in particular were more likely than non-Christians to believe poverty is caused by laziness.
A homeless woman sits bundled against the cold in the Manhattan borough of New York City, January 4, 2016.
A homeless woman sits bundled against the cold in the Manhattan borough of New York City, January 4, 2016.
Mike Segar / Reuters

The Jesus of the Bible had plenty to say about the poor ― their dignity, righteousness, and faith. He went so far as to suggest that those who serve the poor will inherit the kingdom of God.

Some American Christians’ beliefs about the poor may not be as forgiving, according to a recent poll from The Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation.

Christians in America are twice as likely as those of other faiths to blame poor people for their economic status, the study found.

The survey of 1,686 American adults asked respondents what they thought was generally more often to blame if a person is poor ― lack of effort on the individual’s own part or difficult circumstances beyond their control. Researchers found that 46 percent of Christians said that poverty is generally due to a person’s lack of effort. Only 29 percent of all non-Christians said the same.

According to The Washington Post’s statistical analysis, white evangelical Protestants, compared to those with no religion, were 3.2 times as likely to say that poverty is caused by a lack of effort.

Atheist, agnostic, and unaffiliated Americans blamed difficult circumstances for people’s poverty (65 percent).

Forty-two percent of American adults in total believed poverty was due to a lack of effort, while 53 percent believed it was due to difficult circumstances.

Although religious identity was an important factor, The Washington Post found that political partisanship is the most important demographic identity when it comes to this particular question. Seventy-two percent of Democrats attributed poverty to circumstances, while 63 percent of Republicans blamed lack of effort.

Christians’ beliefs about the causes of poverty don’t necessarily translate into inaction on caring for the poor. The Washington Post interviewed a number of individuals for the piece, most of whom claimed that they were taught in church to help the needy and that their congregations worked hard to care for the poor.

46 percent of all Christians said that poverty is due to a person’s lack of effort.
46 percent of all Christians said that poverty is due to a person’s lack of effort.
Arrangements-Photography via Getty Images

The Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, a minister at Middle Collegiate Church and a progressive Christian activist, told HuffPost she believes there’s an inherent conflict in giving charity to the poor while blaming them for their economic status. Acknowledging that poor people are caught in structures and systems that are often beyond their control forces Christians to think deeply about how to work for justice, Lewis said.

“We are forced to ask ourselves about whether the ways these systems work are consistent and coherent with our believe in a God of love and justice, whose compassion was shown uniquely in the life of a poor Jewish Rabbi from Palestine. We have to ask ourselves can we sleep at night when there are homeless on the street, when a mom can’t see her children because she has to work three jobs to survive. We have to ask ourselves are we following in the Way of the Christ or are we following in the Way of the Empire,” Lewis said.

“And that is more decidedly difficult question than can I make my shift at the soup kitchen.”

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