The title above is a quote from Jesus, from the King James Version of the Bible. The full quote reads “Suffer the little children to come unto me.” Jesus is asking his followers to let the children engage with him rather than shielding him from them. Later translations use the word “Let” instead of “Suffer,” but the double meaning in the word “suffer” catches our attention as we think about children living in poverty. They suffer. And too often we Christians shield ourselves from them and their suffering.
Our study of childhood poverty through the book Our Kids has taught us that poor children are increasingly out of sight and therefore out of mind for those of us in the middle and upper classes in America. We live in separate neighborhoods, attend different churches and schools, and have increasingly fewer community interactions. Studies and our own experience teach us that when we don’t know poor people, we are more likely to ostracize, stigmatize and create myths about them that further shield us from their plight.
Speaking to a couple myths in her presentation on the impact of poverty on health care for poor children, pediatrician and life-long member Anna Rodenbough said: “Parents living in poverty are not worse parents. There is nothing involving money that makes you love your kid more or less. These parents are doing much more in terms of trying to budget and trying to organize transportation, school, and after school – but they have a paucity of resources. Many parents go without food so their kids will have food. It’s pretty shocking that that exists in the U.S. today – but it does.”
“Children are born with six hardwired emotional responses: sadness, joy, disgust, anger, surprise, and fear. All other emotional responses must be taught, including humility, forgiveness, empathy, optimism, compassion, sympathy, patience, shame, cooperation, and gratitude. When compared to children from well-off families, children living in poverty are more likely to not have access to an adult with the time and/or ability to teach them these critical emotional responses.” From Teaching with Poverty in Mind, by Eric Jensen.
And our own Sally Beck, who shared her significant experience working with poor children through the Guardian ad Litem program, challenged us to see poor children the way Jesus saw them, not ostracize and shame them and their parents as a financial burden on those of us with resources : “If we only evaluate things through the lens of fiscal responsibility, we miss what chronic anxiety, trauma and scarcity do to people.” – Judy Wu Dominick
We might think about the many ways we “other” the poor, as discussed in this article we shared in the Our Kids study.
Our goal in this series has been to expand our knowledge, and with that knowledge, to create the empathy that allows us to see poor children through Christ’s eyes. In the words of our Sunday School curriculum, “Children, Poverty and the Bible”:
“The prevailing hope is not that we would know more or even do more as a result of this study; but that we would be transformed into people and communities who demonstrate the will of God in issues related to children and poverty.”
We who serve on the Justice and Peacemaking and Enrichment committees are grateful that so many of you chose to engage with us, to read and study and listen and learn and discuss. Whether or not you’ve had a chance to join us so far, we hope you will come to hear Gene Nichol this weekend, and hear him with an open mind and heart.
Let us seek to be transformed by God’s word into people who suffer — and suffer with — the little children.
-Melanie Rodenbough, For the Justice and Peacemaking and Enrichment Committees