There is a socioeconomic dynamic that is sometimes referred to as “the culture of poverty.” This theory expands upon the cycle of poverty and seeks to explore why poverty perpetually exists in cultures despite widespread and improved anti-poverty measures.
Closely related to this area of study is the idea of a “poverty trap,” which describes any self-reinforcing mechanism which causes poverty to persist. This is also known as a “welfare trap.”
I’ve been exploring these themes in recent days after I heard the Lord whisper to me a curious phrase while riding on a bus in rural Costa Rica last week.
It was vague, yet strangely directive. I knew what He was showing me, but I also knew that He was still inviting me to uncover it a bit.
The word “Ghetto” traditionally means something along the lines of a neighborhood, usually where people of like class live. It later became synonymous with “inner city.” But in recent years, the term has taken on more cultural-slang relevance – usually pointing out someone, someplace or something that is dirty, lazy, strange, lacking, run-down, etc.
Cora Daniels authored a book entitled Ghettonation: A Journey into the Land of Bling and Home of the Shameless in which she says that “ghetto” is now not where you live, or exclusive to race or social status – but instead a poisonous mindset, the way you live.
In learning all of these angles, I could see that it was in this way, a ghetto mindset caught in a culture of poverty – that the Lord was showing me the “Spiritual Ghetto.”
In the natural, we see examples of people groups that are perpetually poor. They are around the world, and in your very town. Often times, these people groups are several generations old. Those born into the group and it’s conditions and standards of living are never given opportunities, never taught other perspectives, never shown a higher vision – to break the cycle. In fact, in many ways, the condition deepens with each generation.
To be sure, there are well-intentioned efforts to help those in these groups. But sadly, oftentimes the help itself is a contributor to perpetuating the culture of poverty (see the excellent book When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor). Those in the cycle have now grown up in the cycle. They do what they saw their parents (or whomever raised them) do. Their parents did as they saw their parents do. What develops is a two-sided attitude of:
Because they know nothing different, they have adapted into life as they do know it, become content with their lot in that life, and have little desire or motivation to move beyond that life. Because they receive enough help to get by (via social support structures, or aid), and because of their station of apathetic contentment – the need to advance in knowledge or achievement is drowned out in a swirling cycle of contented ignorant dependency.
And so it is in the spiritual with the “church” system.
Because we have made simply being saved an idolatrous object of the finish line for all Christians – we are apathetic to walking the narrow Path with Jesus toward Life.
Because we do not teach a Gospel message that includes carrying our Cross daily – we are content to sit at the foot of the Cross and be ok with staying there.
Because we grew up in a church building, a denomination, a tradition – we are ignorant to the Ekklesia Jesus is building.
Because we rely on professional clergy to teach us, lead us into worship, preach to us, pastor us and tell us what to think – we are dependent upon them to “feed” us.
The organized religious system of institutional Christianity has a very negative side effect, mostly an unintended consequence – it is a mechanism whose function does the precise opposite of what it projects to be designed to do.
Churches, their staff and those who “go” there will almost unanimously tell you that the mission is to grow closer to God and to bring Him glory. This is sincere. It is well-meaning. It is good.
But it is not Life. It is not the Lord’s highest.
It is not working.
Indeed, not everything done in the name of the Lord actually has the Lord in it, or gives Him glory. And not all who call on Him, “Lord, Lord,” will see the Kingdom.
You don’t grow in the Grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus by showing up to a building, which houses a non-profit institution “lead” by executive staff and have a religious meeting once or twice a week.
You don’t bear the Cross of Christ in your life by staring at the back of someone’s head in the pew in front of you, or at the same “Pastor’s” face week after week.
You don’t mature into Sonship in the Kingdom of God when you are never empowered to exercise your God given gifts because tradition says that you instead sit passively by and watch “ministers” do ministry. Or, that if you’re a woman, you can only do so much.
You don’t receive new revelation of the Head and Body of Christ when you must be lead into worship or the presence of God on Sunday morning, as opposed to ministering to the Lord in every area of your life, as worship.
You don’t learn of the creativity and caring, generous heart of God by putting a tithe check in a plate.
The Lord Jesus is not central, supreme, pre-eminent and Head in “church.” Instead, “church” is the single biggest deterrent to spiritual growth and maturity that a follower of Jesus will encounter.
And if “church” as we have erected it is where we live in the Lord, then Brothers and Sisters, we are living in the ghetto, the Spiritual Ghetto. We are being held back, abused, kept down and lulled into a false sense of security as to the fulness of the Fellowship of the Divine our Lord intends for us.
We are apathetic. We are content. We are ignorant. We are dependent.
Instead of growing into the gathering together as one all things in Christ, we are being spiritually retarded, trapped in a false gospel – and may not even know it.
In the movie The Shawshank Redemption, the character Brooks was a lifetime prisoner, who was released into the free world as an old man. Finding his new life too unfamiliar and daunting, he longs to return to the cage he’d become comfortable with. Finally, he ends his life by hanging himself. It’s a tragic story, one that is hard to wrap your mind around, especially if you’re a non-incarcerated person. Wanting to go back to prison?
Spiritual Ghetto is like that. It’s like this:
These prison walls are funny. First you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. Enough time passes, gets so you depend on them. That’s institutionalized. They send you here for life, that’s exactly what they take. The part that counts anyways. – Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding, on Brooks’ sad reality
The people of God are institutionalized by the self-reinforcing mechanism of organized religion today, causing spiritual poverty to persist. And it’s taking our lives. The part that counts anyways.
We have traded the riches of Christ for the spiritual perpetual poverty of churchianity. We are in a trap.
We must break the cycle.
What do you think? Do you agree? Do you disagree?