John Stackhouse recounts a telling episode in the history of poverty relief.
Fairly famously, Christians were known for not only looking after their own poor, but looking after the poor of others. In fact, a particularly unhappy pagan Roman emperor writes a fairly famous letter that says, we’ve got a public relations problem. These Christians, whom we despise, and whom we mount the occasional persecution of in order to justify Roman law and Roman customs, they’re making us look bad because they care for our poor as well as theirs. Here’s some money – spread this around, in the Emperor’s name. So pretty early on, charity and caring for others becomes associated quite deeply with the Christian church.
One of the concerns I have today is that some secular governments in the West are trying to restrict Christianity only to the modes of worship. And if they do anything else, that’s seen to be something ancillary that the state should regulate, and perhaps even shut down – caring for the poor in particular. And we have to show them that this goes right back to the early church, that Christians have been charitable to their poor and everybody else’s poor from the beginning, as an intrinsic part of their honouring God, who said to love your neighbour.