When Ed Koch was mayor of New York City, he was asked one day about the homeless people on the streets. His honor replied, “If only every church took care of ten homeless men, the city would have no further problems with these persons.” About the same time, then president Ronald Reagan said, “If only every church took care of ten welfare families, there would be no poverty problem.”
Paul Moore, Jr., Episcopal bishop of New York, labeled the two statements “naïve” because they overlooked the complexity of homelessness and poverty. The bishop noted that even professionally trained full-time social workers have been unable to do more than put a dent in these problems, which have their roots in economic forces; unemployment; poor education; lack of opportunity; mental illness; alcohol and drug abuse; haphazard upbringing; and a host of other thorny causes, sometimes going back for generations.
Moore agreed that churches have a responsibility to do works of charity. But he pointed out that in that year, 1982, a family needed $10,000 to survive. If each church took ten families, that would cost $100,000, which was more than most churches’ budgets. Very few churches could do that year after year. Moore concluded that both statements confused charity with justice.1
The bishop might have been taking his cue from Amos. The prophetic model is not for religion to foot the bill for solving every social problem, but to cry out for justice and insist that government, commerce, and industry address these matters too.