Why Don't All Christians Serve the Poor?



I was having a discussion with an agnostic friend of mine last night, and he asked me a question I wasn’t quite sure how to answer.

My friend, mind you, is a moral relativist.

He asked if I admired Mother Teresa, and beleived she was doing God’s work. I replied, “Yes, of course!” He then asked why I, and every other Christian, wasn’t out there feeding the poor and embracing radical poverty.

He was trying to demonstrate the inherent contradiction of Christianity: If we believe that feeding the hungry and clothing the naked is a divine mandate, then aren’t we all being sinful hypocrites by not doing the work of Mother Teresa?

I replied that charity admitted of degrees, and that some acts of charity were more heroic than others, and that Christians did not believe that God intended all people to be that heroic.

In return, I was told this was a convenient cop-out, and who was I to decide how much charity was good enough?

Anybody know how to answer this?



Has it occurred to him that not all of us are called to that?

The other thought is, if he feels it’s such a great idea, then why doesn’t he and all the atheists get out and do it? I’d be glad to be shamed by atheists if that was the case.


And he thinks we take up collections of money each week at Mass because…?

Certainly isn’t just so that we can have wine and caviar parties out back after Mass!

We serve the poor with our monetary donations and our prayers, both of which we all of us offer each week at Mass, as well as with practical help, which not all of us are called to.


I wonder though…Now this is not a question of assisting those who truly cannot help their position, such as in third world countries, but I do have a question I think may fit into this thread, and I’ve been wondering about it for awhile. What of the homeless on the streets of the U.S.? People who sit on the sidewalks with empty beer bottles in their hands? I find it extremely difficult to believe any citizen of the U.S. had no way to prevent their homelessness. There are numerous programs to assist with joblessness, there are businesses who will quite literally hire anybody (so you lost your office job and joining the fast food brigade doesn’t seem particularly glamorous to you? Too bad, suck it up and do what has to be done), and if an addiction is your problem, well then put yourself in rehab.
My question is, are we morally obligated to assist those who’ve put themselves in this position? Is it fair to be expected to help those who won’t help themselves? I’m not a Christian, but I am often concerned I may be a tad bit too abrasive and somewhat cold toward my fellow man, and wonder, what reasons to you give yourself to help those in the above situation? Do you? Should you? Why?
A minor moral dilemma I’d love to have feedback on.


For one thing, a life of radical poverty is not compatible with raising a family.


Isn’t that convenient for us? Sure, some are called to poverty. I, myself, am called to wealth beyond the dreams of avarice.

Uh … Because there’s nothing in an atheist’s philosophy that requires him to do so. But there might be something in Christianity that suggests that it’s less than perfect to dine on steak while your brother is dining on air.


Penny, do you think that because something is labeled as a “Christian” teaching or requirement that it is automatically not a teaching, belief or requirement for NON Christians?

IOW, are the Christian corporal and spiritual works of mercy–one of which is to feed the hungry–ONLY for Christians?


That’s the whole point. Some are some aren’t.

Uh … Because there’s nothing in an atheist’s philosophy that requires him to do so. But there might be something in Christianity that suggests that it’s less than perfect to dine on steak while your brother is dining on air.

Then how does that qualify them to criticize those of us who do work with the poor and others who are disadvantaged?

The point is that the argument is specious in that it attacks those who do a good work, and those who support those good works, while to the best of anyone’s knowledge not being a member of either group.

I think it’s called a cheap shot in some circles…


you friend must know an awful lot of people if he is able to say categorically that “all Christians do not serve the poor”.


He did not say this. He says that most Christians don’t do what Mother Teresa does.

And he’s right.

Is this wrong?!


No, it’s not wrong. If most Christians lived like Mother Teresa, economies with large Christian populations would collapse.


To be honest I do think that yes we probably should all be doing what Mother Theresa did. I’m as guilty as anyone but honestly if we were all behaving as servants to the needs of brothers and sisters we would remove a great deal of suffering from the world. If we would see the face of Christ on everybody we pass on the street our charity would know no bounds.

I think your atheist friend has a valid observation. Of course he himself becomes a hypocrite by asking the question. While it is true that an Atheist makes no claims to any moral philosophy or path, by asking Christians this question in critical fashion he has acknowledged it as a moral good. As such in his zeal to condemn he has made himself equally accountable.

So in the end we come back to the inevitable: we’re all sinners and we all fall very short.


Who requires?

We say: “God requires.”

The atheist says: “Who?”

I think it is fair for anyone to challenge us on this. We believe that God has said to us that we are to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty. Anybody has the right to say: “Are you doing what you say God says you should do?”


True, but the OP noted that the person was not only asking why ‘every Christian’ was not out there feeding the poor (a statement which subtly ignores the many who do)–he also went on to say all Christians should embrace ‘radical poverty’-- and THAT is something which Christianity (unlike its teaching to feed the poor which is authentic) DOES NOT REQUIRE of its adherents. Yes, it is an option, and a good one. . .but it is not for all, and it’s a very convenient and popular way to attempt to dismiss Christianity, by taking one ‘good example’ and attempting to mandate it for everybody. Thus you will hear that 'if Christians don’t want abortion, why don’t they ALL financially support poor pregnant mothers and the children born?" Some do if they are able, but this is not DEMANDED of us. And abortion is not a financial issue, but a HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUE to begin with!

So we have a case of a person first criticizing people who ‘call’ themselves Christian, criticizing the ones who are NOT ‘doing their job’ but also criticizing the ones who ARE for apparently not ‘making’ everybody ELSE ‘do their job’ AND criticizing them further for not doing something they do not HAVE to do. . .as though because they don’t do the ‘radical’ poverty they aren’t being Christian.

Further, he complains the OP is trying to cop out and that who is SHE to decide ‘how much is enough’ --yet HE is the one it appears who is deciding that Christians are not doing ‘enough’ HIMSELF.


You answered it well. To say that all Christians have to give up everything to feed the poorest of the poor in the world is irrational. How could Christians fulfill God’s command in Genesis 1:22 to “be fruitful and multiply” and therefore raise families if we gave up everything? How could our children eat, or have clothes?
God calls some to give everything and follow Him and be “eunichs for the kingdom of God” (Mt 19:12) and to some that means literally everything.
To most of us it means to give it up to the Lord (don’t put it above God) without having to actually
sell everything because God also says that if we don’t take care of our families we are like unbelievers and HOW can we take care our their needs if we have given it all away??
1 Tim 5:8 says
"If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever."

Paul in 1 Cor 7 speaks of it being better to be unmarried so that the single person can better serve the Lord.

Some Christians are called to a higher calling, to give up everything to fulfill Mt 25:40 and some do, and others to give up some and “be fruitful and multiply” and those Christians do; everyone is called to fulfill Mt 25:40 to “do these things [help the poor] to the least of these” yet all Christians give up something in order to help the poor.
And who are the “poor?” The poor aren’t just those who don’t have money but the poor are also the most helpless; our children, the elderly, the sick, the dying, our unbelieving friend, our neighbor who is lonely these are only a few examples of the “poor.” Sure there are truly poor people in third world countries but there are also other poor people right by us too.


I carry around protien bars in my car and hand them out in downtown Seattle. If someone is hungry they are hungry. The problem is that most people in America have never been hungry. And yes there are alot of programs to help people out of homelessness. If you arent handing out money or food, ask yourself why your not in one of those programs. Homelessness is not an outcome always of personal choice, its an outcome of our culture. (our poor parenting, our materialism, our education system, our economics, our morals.) Its not the failing of the individaul alone but the failing of the system. Near Greenlake in Seattle I once watched a woman walk by a homeless man with a bag of groceries, stop and give him a few things, smile and walk on. I’d never seen Jesus before that, only small pictures with big words. The woman who handed the man the food only lost things, but she gained more.

At the same time it takes to two hands to pull someone out of a pit. One hand to choose to pull up and the other hand has to choose to hold on. When it comes to trauma, substance abuse, mental disorders, and loss of hope, there isnt alot of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.

Now the theology answer, picture Acts 9 in your head. Paul is walking to Damascus and all of a sudden he is knocked to the groud by a light and asked a Question. Why do you persecute me? But you see Paul had never persecuted Jesus, only his followers. From there you draw the connections, how I treat others is how I treat God.


Is it? Do you not believe that Momma T could raise at least two kids. Funny thing is, she helped raise alot more then two. In the West today we are the richest 5 percent of people in all of history.


Would that be such a bad thing? If we all lived like Momma T, don’t you think the love that comes with the Kingdom of God would sustian us better then any economy could.


Thanks for the challenge, mahoneyt.:thumbsup: Yes, we should all try to serve the poor - and if anyone here is blessed enough to serve as much as Blessed Mother Teresa had, his/her sustaining grace would definitely come from Our Lord.

On the same token, we are called by Christ to be stewards of the gifts He has given us on Earth. Whether that be by protecting the environment, raising a family, or giving charitably, however big or little, these acts would be responses to that call. Not everyone is called to be like Mother Teresa - each of us is fulfilling God’s plan for us.


People love to judge homeless guys. Like if you give them money they’re just going to waste it.
Well, he lives in a box, what do you want him to do? Save it up and buy a wall unit?
Take a little run to the store for a throw rug and a CD rack? He’s homeless.
I walked behind this guy the other day.
A homeless guy asked him for money.
He looks right at the homeless guy and says why don’t you go get a job you bum.
People always say that to homeless guys like it is so easy.
This homeless guy was wearing his underwear outside his pants.
Outside his pants. I’m guessing his resume isn’t all up to date.
I’m predicting some problems during the interview process.
I’m pretty sure even McDonalds has a “underwear goes inside the pants” policy.
Not that they enforce it really strictly, but technically I’m sure it is on the books.
words by lazyboy

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