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Gospel For Asia Is Talking About Institutional Poverty - Is That Good?

A note - Blogging isn't free. Right now I provide gifts to my writers as a way of thanking people for writing. I would like to be able to afford to give them some sort of renumeration, even if it is small, for making this blog what it is. I'm in talks with a friend who may be able to help connect this blog, which has been in existence for one year now, with more religious communities dedicated to interfaith dialogue. Your donation will do a lot toward making that happen.

I'm naturally rather skeptical about a Christian organization that sends books out for free and asks for money directly in them. I don't think it takes a genius to see why - capitalism naturally breeds scammers because, in order to gain monetarily beyond simply a basic income, you have to either have control over things people can't do without or coerce money out of people. Political evangelicals usually do the latter and hang out with people who do the former. Billy Graham used to raise money that way and it got him well beyond the level that tithing on a local level would.

Likewise I am naturally very skeptical of any Christian group that is going to make money off of third world poverty. Evangelical groups have been doing this for years - Pat Robertson got embroiled in scandals in which he allegedly diverted funds meant for relief during the Rwandan genocide toward mining operations in Sierra Leone. In the great song "Patience" he did with rapper Nas, Damian Marley once rapped, "Evangelists making a living on the videos of the ribs of the little kids, Stereotyping the images and this is what image is."

Right wing Christian groups love to pose as helping people but it's always by looking down on them. It never takes on the institutions that create and foster poverty.

I was pleasantly surprised by the book, No Longer A Slumdog, that I received from Gospel From Asia then. There were aromas of exactly what I despise in it, of course, and GFA has been embroiled in scandals in which customs have detained their staff for carrying very large sums of unmarked cash (for a group that asks each reader to dole over $35 to "sponsor a child," it doesn't take a genius to figure out what's going on there). Nevertheless the book takes on some language that conservative Christians wisely avoid typically and injecting such language has consequences, especially when we're talking about institutional income inequality, that is not good for the right.

Take an example:

Gospel for Asia was eager to reach out to the Dalits during this time of enormous transition. The greatest need among these poorest peoples of southern Asia, their leaders declared, was for their children to become educated. Simply knowing how to read would go a long way to protect them from being cheated in written contracts. It would open doors to better jobs with higher pay. This would allow them to finally get out of debt, which would end the cycle of bonded labor.

The Dalits, the lowest caste in India and the subject of this book, are meant with structural impediments. Structural impediments keep the poor from achieving the education and opportunities of the rich. Any "relief" from the poor is either Band-Aid help, providing immediate relief but no change in their lives, or is shallow opportunism like the scandals Pat Robertson was embroiled in. K.P. Yohannan, the writer of No Longer A Slumdog and founder of Gospel for Asia, plays around with Gutierrez style writing further in the book:

I have heard it said that liberation comes through education. And this is exactly what is happening in the lives of students in the GFA Bridge of Hope program. This is the liberation needed for the masses who live in South Asia.

I was surprised when I saw the cover of a Time magazine in 2006, calling India the next great economic superpower. The sad reality is that this statement is only partially true. Although India as a whole is getting richer, the wealth of the nation is becoming increasingly concentrated in the hands of the educated minority, the high-castes who can afford to send their children to school and to college. You will almost never see a Dalit on a plan heading to the United States or to Germany to study information technology or to get an advanced degree as a lawyer, doctor or engineer. The vast majority of them are still working in the fields and factories.

That talk made me think of the star power among American conservatives of Dinesh D'Souza. D'Souza surely demonstrates a great deal of classist attitudes (I couldn't help but a great deal of projection was going on with his anti-Obama documentary when he talked about inheriting bad ideology from your parents) and possibly racial attitudes, despite his dark skin (these things can be twisted and weird - conservatives are filled with self-hating individuals, be they minorities of the ethnic or sexual variety). That last sentence, referring to the majority in the fields and factories, made me think of the cover of Gustavo Gutierrez's classic The Power of the Poor in History. Gutierrez, of course, is the father of liberation theology. Take a look:

Liberation through education, bonded labor, the concentration of wealth - that's radical talk. I'm certainly glad so many Christians are talking about such things now. Maybe that will mean we will be relieved from them a bit. Gutierrez, of course, never asked for $35 a month to "sponsor a child" though - evangelical scammers aren't going away just because they've changed their lingo.


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About Radical Second Things

Michael Orion is a blogger, writer, artist and photographer based in the Bay Area. Besides his maintenance and promotion of Radical Second Things, he contributes to the San Francisco newspaper SF Western Edition, where he writes about local non-profit organizations.

Mark Cappetta is a practicing Catholic and active LGBT activist. He has been instrumental in keeping Radical Second Things and updates the Facebook account almost daily.

Eva Gnostiquette is an artist, programmer, "future scientist," bi-trans girl and graphic designer. She voluntarily helped to create the first print issue Radical Second Things and designed our beautiful banners. Thanks so much, Eva!

Jordan Denato is a professional artist based out of Iowa. He took the initiative to illustrate both Jennifer Reimer's story and Michael Orion's Oscar Romero work. He has his own art studio, Tar and Feather Studios, and is a critical part of Radical Second Things.

Radical Second Things is a liberation theology themed blog that has clear cut goals - we see the structural decline of the United States and much of the west and hope to present alternatives that will offer "a preferential option for the poor" as more become vulnerable.

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