Who’s responsibility is it to help the poor?

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Religious communities around the world are dedicated to the idea that those who have more should help those who have less.

But unlike other western countries, America depends on that charity. And those resources are stretched to the limit.

If you’re poor in America — there’s a good chance you’ve received charity from a religious organization.

“And we actively have activities where we give away clothes and food and other things,” Andrew Chesnut, VCU Professor of Religious Studies said.

Chesnut explains how every major religion promotes charity.


“The Catholic Church in the United States and around the world, of course, is known for its charitable activities. Presbyterian, Methodists, Episcopalians, who are also more … into social activism and charitable giving.”


“There is kind of the tradition that those who have acquired wealth should have a concern for those who are on the margins of society.”

And Islam:

“Requires all Muslims who have the means give 2.5 percent of their income to the poor.”

Charity from churches and government assistance create our social safety net. But Professor Chesnut says charity can give politicians an excuse for cuts.

“And that, in a way, maybe ironically, makes it easier for both federal and state governments to diminish the safety net,” the professor explained.

But if you’ve been poor, that net has a lot of holes.

“Especially for me, speaking as somebody who is from a low-income family, I don’t think we handle the situation very well at all,” Michael Johnson told 8News.

The new federal budget calls for sweeping cuts to SNAP benefits. The Food Stamp program would lose $190 billion dollars over 10 years.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, repealing the Affordable Care Act will cause more than 20 million Americans to lose health insurance.

“Whereas Western Europeans, they aren’t religious and they demand, they expect that their government, you know, provide national health care,” Chesnut said. “Many of the things that aren’t necessarily part of the American social fabric now.”

In the meantime, churches may be asked to carry a bigger share of the responsibility.

“The Bible says it: Rich people are supposed to give to the poor,” Annie Morman said.

‘Do you think that that’s happening? Are rich people giving to the poor?’ 8news asked.

“No, no, no. Ain’t happening,” she replied. “Probably won’t never happen.”

Check here for more stories on poverty in the Richmond area, and resources that can help.

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