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Christian concern must extend beyond the middle class

We hear a lot these days about the middle class: Who’s in? Who’s out? Is it growing? Is it shrinking? The debate rages on. With 93 per cent of Canadians claiming they belong to the “middle” class, it’s easy to see why the issue gets so much attention.

The story and buzz about the middle class speak to the self-interest of a lot of self-professed middle-classers. Regardless of who the middle class actually is, politicians believe if they can appear to represent their economic interests, they may just get the vote of a grand majority of Canadians.

But Canadians (and certainly Christians) should be capable of more than just concern for their own bank accounts. The prospects of the middle class aside, there is reason for alarm on behalf of those who live in poverty in this country. This doesn’t make as good of a headline as there’s less debate over the facts. Yet, we know that providing a social safety net that reduces poverty not only create benefits for everyone (even those in the middle class) but also fulfills our calling as followers of Christ.

Even according to the most conservative measures, nearly 3 million people in Canada are poor. Our poverty rate ranks 24th out of 34 developing (OECD) countries and it’s estimated that poverty costs us between $73 billion and $86 billion each year. The poorest fifth of Canadian households have an average after-tax income of $15,100. If poverty was in the headlines, we’d be forced to do the math and realize how difficult it is to have an adequate home or eat healthy food on such an income.

While the middle class’s concern for their own interests is legitimate, people of faith must care for the most vulnerable and ensure their voices are heard amidst all the political noise. Amidst the debate around the middle class and, indeed, the growing wealth of the richest, we have the challenging task of interpreting the issues of the day from a framework of “us” as opposed to “me.”

Caring for the poor shouldn’t be a new message for Christians. The Bible is abundantly clear that we are required to stand up to oppression and lessen suffering. Churches have typically been outstanding in their efforts to support food banks or give to charities that address poverty. But as remarkable as these efforts are, they are not enough. They neither address the up-stream causes of poverty nor provide a long-term vision of a more just society and more inclusive communities. We can help create preventative solutions to poverty through becoming politically engaged.

Canadians have the opportunity to be known for their concern for all their fellow citizens, not just the middle class. Our focus can shift from an economy of continual growth to an economy of enough: the greed that causes the endless pursuit of wealth needs to end. There is currently enough for people in poverty to no longer be poor.

What if a key federal election issue for 2015 was making sure that Canada became a leader in ensuring that everyone could live with dignity and without poverty? It’s up to us to press our government, to let them know that their responsibility extends beyond the economic interests of the middle, or the upper, class, to the “least of these.”

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About the author


Special to ChristianWeek

Janelle Vandergrift is a Socio-Economic Policy Analyst at Citizens for Public Justice.