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Sider Supports Faith-based Community Organization


    Well-known evangelical Ronald J. Sider now supports faith-based community organization as a "powerful tool to enable the poor to end their sense of powerlessness." (JUST GENEROSITY, Baker Books, 1999) Famous for his often revised book RICH CHRISTIANS IN AN AGE OF HUNGER Latest 1997), Sider has now JUST GENEROSITY: A NEW VISION FOR OVERCOMING POVERTY IN AMERICA.

    Sider continues to lift up the Jubilee (Leviticus 25) and Sabbath (Deuteronomy 15) laws as astonishing biblical texts on basic equality of opportunity (p. 63-67). Then he moves a step further by accepting CSCO leader Stephen C. Mott's translation of Lev 25:35 that the community's responsibility to the poor is "to make them strong."

            "If members of your community become poor in that their power slips with you, you shall make them strong ... that they may live with you." (Mott, Stephen C. A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE ON POLITICAL THOUGHT, Oxford, 1993, 14, 230-1) (See note at bottom of " Power to the People" Bible Study.)

    It is this mandate to make the poor strong that Sider appears to have embraced as the major priority of ministry to the poor. In Conversations (Christianity Today, April 28, 1997, 68-9) Sider tells how he has changed in the last twenty years. Twice he talks about empowering the poor. "I wish most churches undertaking construction projects would raise matching funds for evangelism and empowering the poor. That would say clearly, We're not going to be seduced."

    JUST GENEROSITY, a book complimenting RICH CHRISTIANS if not to replacing it, spells out Sider's detailed vision for overcoming poverty in America in 224 packed pages. In his last substantive chapter on Leviticus 25:35-36 Sider lays out his strong endorsement of church-based community organization and CSCO. Here are some brief excerpts:

        "The poor lack power. Poverty by definition means little economic power. It also involves far less political power and social respect. ... Biblical faith - not some partial version but full-fledged biblical faith - can overcome this powerlessness. Biblical faith affirms the inestimable worth and dignity of all persons, no matter how poor, and invites them into a personal saving relationship with the Creator of the galaxies. Biblical faith teaches those marginalized by society that the Lord of history hates oppression, cares especially for the poor, and is active not seeking justice for them. Biblical faith insists that justice means restoration to community - i.e., to the economic and social power to be dignified participants in their community. ...Congregation-based community organization is proving to be a powerful tool to enable the poor to end their sense of powerlessness. ... Historically, mainline Protestant, Catholic and African American churches have been most active in congregation-based community organizing. Recently, however, Marilyn Stranske has founded an evangelical network - Christians Supporting Community Organizing - that is articulating a biblical foundation for congregation-based community organizing." (p. 208-9)

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