Jan 13 2012
Shouldn't We Take Care of Americans, First?

(Picture was taken at a church in Rwanda, where Air1 listeners have now given these girls' families access to clean water, for the first time in the their lives. Thank the Lord.)

 

"We've got poverty right here in America.  Let's take care of those people, first, then worry about someone way over there."

 

I've heard this before.  A lot.  When we tell people about needs elsewhere, desperate, crying needs elsewhere, we hear we shouldn't even really be talking about it. Look around!  Let's take care of Americans first!

Problem is, for the Christian, it doesn't make sense.

----------- 

First, and most obviously:  Why can't we help people both near and far?  Why is this an either-or choice? You've got a burden to work with the homeless, here? GOD BLESS YOU. You want to provide clean water, there?  GOD BLESS YOU.  You want to do both?  AWESOME.

And secondly:  Where's the Biblical justification for prioritizing, as a church, American people over non-American people?  Good luck on that.  It's an open-book test.

Seriously, I loves me some America.  Serving in the military wasn't an option for me (turns out you have to be able to see straight) but my brother served, and my step-dad, and my grandfather, and so forth.  I've initiated and led community-wide "support the troops" efforts in my radio career.  I root for the American hockey team in the Olympics.  And don't even get me started on the founding fathers -- I'll extol their unique genius for hours, or until you're bored into a coma, whichever comes first.

America is a beautiful, brilliant, and God-blessed experiment.   

I love America.  I have an allegiance to America. 

But it's not my highest allegiance.

My highest allegiance is to a Kingdom that exalts the humble, and humbles the exalted.  It's a Kingdom that's given to the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers.  Its laws are above American laws, its borders beyond American ones, and its people -- the Church -- are not even at home here.  They are aliens, themselves, and they are strangers.

While you're looking in the Bible for "our nation first" commitments, you might want to clear a few days.  It will take you awhile, because "nations", as we now know them, have been around only a few hundred years. (Interesting, challenging, and stunning: Sometime check out where the collections from New Testament churches went. Not fractions of them, but the entire collections were sent elsewhere, to poor believers in other lands, or the border-less work of traveling apostles.)

If it seems... unsettling... to say these things, to question the centrality of American nationhood in God's plan, to question our government's ultimate authority, please know:  It's always been unsettling.  It's always been subversive to say, "Jesus is Lord."  Always was, is, and will be.

"Jesus is Lord", means Caesar... isn't.  And "Jesus is Lord" means America... isn't.  He's the King above kings, and if you are a citizen of His Kingdom, you are to see His will is done.  He's not subtle about this.  Check out Amos 5 (The Message), where He talks about a people who ignore the plight of the poor, but still give Him religion:

"I can't stand your religious meetings.  I'm fed up with your conferences and conventions.  I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals.  I'm sick of your fundraising schemes, your public relations and image-making.  I've had all I can take of your noisy ego-music....

Do you know what I want?  I want justice -- oceans of it.  I want fairness -- rivers of it.  That's all I want.  That's all I want."

Like I say, not subtle.  

I say we give Him what He eternally wants, and we don't stop at our -- very temporary -- national borders.  If we are truly citizens of the Kingdom, let's let our borders be His borders, and not an inch closer.

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Comments (27) -

1/13/2012 9:08:07 AM
Eric United States
Eric
Brant,

GREAT WORD! To be honest I've made this statement before as well. I made this statement completely forgetting that God's kingdom trumps the kingdom of this world. Thanks for sharing this, very good and much needed perspective for today's Christian.

1/13/2012 9:13:37 AM
Mike Taylor United Kingdom
Mike Taylor
I hope I needn't say that I agree with the basic point here.  And yet --

"Where's the Biblical justification for prioritizing, as a church, American people over non-American people?"

Of course there is no special place for America.  But I think there IS as "start where you are" thing.  As in "preach the gospel in Jerusalem, in Samaria and to the ends of the Earth".  And as in "if a man will not take care of his own family, he is worse than an infidel".  (Quotes are probably messed up, I've not checked them, but I think they're right in essentials.)  So for Americans, that means other Americans; specifically, for Californians it means other Californians, and so on more and more locally.

The REAL problem with "Shouldn't We Take Care of Americans, First?" is surely that it tends to be said be people who aren't taking care of Americans, either.
1/13/2012 9:20:45 AM
Cara United States
Cara
I LOVE this! I think that God puts it on people's hearts to go far to help, to stay close to help, and for some, God wants us to help near and far. As always, Brant, I <3 your blog! Keep on spreading the love of Jesus
1/13/2012 9:22:52 AM
brant United States
brant
Mike,

I respectfully don't see a "start where you are" thing, scripturally, so much as a "do your work as a member of the body" thing.  I don't think the state borders matter, either.

If we're all radically, joyfully generous, we've got the resources, creativity, and drive to address hither and yon.  I also think there's an element of triage involved here. Our brothers and sisters in Christ in developing nations may have half our life expectancy.  

"Poverty" there looks much more brutal, frankly. (I say this after visiting the worst neighborhoods in the U.S., as well as Indonesia, Rwanda, Senegal, Thailand, Costa Rica, Haiti, Kenya, El Salvador, Afghanistan, India, etc.)  This isn't to diminish the physical and spiritual poverty we have here, but, like I say, there's an element of triage.  ("Who needs water?  Let's make it happen.")

And your last observation is so right: The complaints I've gotten, after years of both domestic and far-flung work, have been by people whom, when cross-examined, really aren't doing a whole heck of a lot to start with for anybody.
1/13/2012 9:45:05 AM
Jeff United States
Jeff
I can't imagine telling our local food pantry that our church is too busy drilling two clean wells in Haiti to round up twenty 5# bags of sugar this week...

Excellent thoughts Mr Hanson.  Well played. (soft golf-clap begins growing to deafening "formerly known as Tiger Woods Roar" levels)
1/13/2012 9:45:51 AM
Jeff United States
Jeff
BTW... It's still really weird to think of you in a different location.  Especially when I fly to FL.  
1/13/2012 9:50:54 AM
Hannah United States
Hannah
Brant,
I completely agree with this, and I thank you for posting about it.
I went to Uganda for two months this summer, and I heard this statement ALOT! I totally understand where these people are coming from, but I have to clarify what I mean.
It doesn't make anyone more "christian" to serve God in another country. If you feel that God is calling you to minister in your backyard, then AWESOME! If you feel like you are called to serve overseas, then AWESOME! No one ever said that you can't do both. Our calling is to serve God, and be a light wherever we go, whether that be at home or abroad. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ, and I think that we should take care of each other, no matter where they are. America would be nothing without God's intervention, as we have been tremendously blessed.
1/13/2012 9:59:54 AM
vic United States
vic
Countries like Rwanda don't have the resources to provide for the people like America does. A lot of people in America choose to live the way they do. ( not all, just some) We should help those that are less fortunate and by going so we can learn how to better help ourselves.

God has put us here for a reason and part of that is to help others. Your neighbors are not just those who live on your block, they are those who live in this world. The same are also your brothers and sisters so why should your family suffer?

Great blog Brant. God bless.
1/13/2012 10:01:57 AM
Chantel United States
Chantel
All I got is wow in a good way.
1/13/2012 10:13:20 AM
Mike United States
Mike
Brant and All,

First.  Brant, thank you for offering this perspective and words.  Excellent.

Second.  For the others, if you have any doubts about our responsibilities beyond our own shores, please read on.  

Here's my story.  I am an evangelical Christian.  My day job is as a business man.  I was blessed to travel to Southern India (Chennai/Madras) on behalf of my Fortune 50 company.  On our one day of free time over the 2 week period, I was being "ushered past" a beggar woman with leprosy as we entered the western style shopping mall.  Later as we exited the shopping mall I intentionally made an effort to make my way to the beggar woman.  She's sitting 1 foot away from high traffic street.  I dropped equivellent of $1 US into her cup.  She stared at me and wept.   (I was told not to give more for fear that she would be attacked for having relevant amount of money.)

In the taxi ride to hotel, I gave a handful of small American chocolate (Snickers) to our taxi driver.  He cried and said his children would cry with gratefulness and that they would enjoy the chocolate over the period of the next week.

Friends, we as first world westerners are SO CASH RICH.  We must keep this in mind.  

As Christian first world westerners, we have a RESPONSIBILITY.  We have the financial means to spread the Gospel, the true hope that BILLIONS of souls on this planet NEED and cry-out for!  Think about that.

My company paid for my trip to India.  Our business objectives were met.  My personal life was impacted in such an amazing way, I've never been the same and I see things in a completely different way.  Returning to the US, entering Customs at the airport in SFO, seeing the USA from the outside for first time in my life was life changing.  

Sure, we now sponsor some children via Compassion.  So do my own children (each with A SMALL PERCENTAGE of their allowance!!!)

We have a responsibility that comes with our wealth as a nation of INDIVIDUALS to do as Jesus did.  Help our neighbor in need.  We have the means and logistics to do it all.  Justice.
1/13/2012 10:16:34 AM
Chance United States
Chance
Sometimes people create a choice between "helping here" and "helping abroad" so that they don't have to face the choice of "helping somewhere" and "cutting down on Starbucks or not buying that new TV".

I'm not saying we should never buy nice things so that we can devote all our resources into the poor, but that if God calls us to give, it's sometimes at the sacrifice of ourselves, not some other ministry.  This from someone who occasionally buys coffee and has a nice TV.
1/13/2012 10:18:03 AM
Jessica United States
Jessica
Amen!
1/13/2012 10:38:16 AM
Chance United States
Chance
<i>"In the taxi ride to hotel, I gave a handful of small American chocolate (Snickers) to our taxi driver.  He cried and said his children would cry with gratefulness and that they would enjoy the chocolate over the period of the next week."  </i>

Wow.  Just Wow.  
1/13/2012 1:49:21 PM
FRANCISCO United States
FRANCISCO
I COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY AGREE WITH YOU. EX: I AM MEXICAN MANY PEOPLE SEE MY RACE AS COMPLETE AND UTTER TRASH WHICH PER THE CONTRARY IS JUST MESSED UP. MY RELIGION IS SIMPLE I DO NOT HAVE ONE I JUST LOVE GOD SO I AM SEEN DOWN EVEN FURTHER BECAUSE I DO NOT BELIEVE IN RELIGION. AND I LOVE IT NOT IN A CRAZY LUNATIC CHARLES MANSON TYPE OF WAY,MORE LIKE IN A BRING IT ON ATTITUDE. IF MY GOD IS FOR ME AND I AM FOR MY GOD THEN WHO CARES ABOUT THE LITTLE PROBLEMS THAT ARRIVE DURING MY LIFE. AND IF I AM FOR MY GOD AREN'T I ENTITLED TO HELP WHENEVER I CAN?
1/13/2012 1:58:17 PM
Anna United States
Anna
I completely agree with you, Brant! We sponsor kids through Compassion and I have gotten that whole "You should care for people here more" thing. It drives me crazy! Especailly since we KNOW God wants us to sponsor them.
1/13/2012 3:20:03 PM
Stephen Van United States
Stephen Van
very good the closest i've seen to anything that would even provide the shambling basis of support to that sort of attitude is Matthew 7:4 but that doesn't support that viewpoint at all, matt 7:4 is saying to clean up your own life before helping others clean up theirs but this can't and shouldn't be applied on a national scale. the binding rule of our day should be to use make an impact wherever and whenever we can whether on the home or foreign front. whether in our own backyard or in the neighbors. If we can do good then we should, every opportunity missed is to many.
1/14/2012 8:45:28 AM
Michele United States
Michele
This is the way I see it... God called some to go there and some to stay here so that all grounds are covered.  For example, I personally am called to missions in Latin America, which I've been doing since 2006, but on the other hand, my mother is called to childrens' ministry and healing ministry right here in the USA, right in our own hometown.  My mother has never told me, ever, that I should stop going into the Latin American jungles and mountains and work with people right her at home, nor have I ever felt the need to tell my mother to get off her butt and come to Latin America with me.  We both see the importance of each others' callings.  Mark 16:15 says to go into ALL the world... and "all" includes here and there... all mission fields are the same in His eyes, and He sends different people with different giftings to each one.
1/14/2012 9:02:24 AM
Heidi United States
Heidi
I can't agree more. How much could we change the world if we really did what Christ has called us to do. What if we gave all to those who need it most, or those who deserve it least.
We had this same conversation about who to help at church a couple of weeks ago. I choked on my on tongue not to argue with a much older man in my class who proclaimed that we should help Americans first. Even after my husband politely explained that the poorest Americans are still  weathlier than anyone in a third world country. I was so frusterated that with age does not always come wisdom.
Does anyone know of some reading material that I could pass on to this man to explain that Christ called us to serve those in need and not just those that bear our nationality?
1/14/2012 1:52:14 PM
Sarah Ray United States
Sarah Ray
I cannot agree with you more!  You constantly stun me with your insight beyond all human "imaginary" boundaries.  
1/14/2012 8:01:47 PM
Adam United States
Adam
I don't think you get the whole prioritizing argument. It stems more from the interpretation of the divided versus undivided house argument.  When someone thinks of children thirsting, it creates powerful emotions, however sending a case of bottle of water to Africa will help one or two children for a day.  However, if you can get the smaller area together you and groups of other people can, through collective action, give several villages water for a few months and, with even more preparation, solve the problem permanently.  And don't get me started on those scams you occasionally see on TV asking for pennies a day; studies have found little money is ever invested in those children, most is pocketed by the CEOs. Suppose someone here who lives in poverty would like to help, but lacks the means.  By helping them you are enabling them to help the children with no food or water.  It is very likely the oppressed in your own backyard would be more sympathetic to those who are worse off.
The argument for this is that it is better to let some children suffer now to save all the children including the unborn, rather than invest heavily and accomplish very little.
Suppose you were on a pirate ship with an empty bottle of rum and the ship started taking on water and you are the first to notice. You can fill the bottle of rum with water and toss it overboard now, or look for a large bucket or other pirates to help you bail water. Would trying to find a better tool and help, offset water seeping in unchecked while you searched?
1/15/2012 6:13:08 AM
Jason United States
Jason
Just a thought.  What about Matt 15:26?  Unless Jesus was just testing/probing the depth of the woman's faith.
1/16/2012 6:11:38 PM
Micheal United States
Micheal
people tend to forget that we should be willing to reach out to all mankind. not just other americans, we as christians tend to end up trying our hardest to outdo other christians. we should look at our own actions as justification to do what is right in this  situation.its scary to know that we tend to not stop and think " am i doing whats right in God's eyes or am i only thinking selfishly." christ once said "give all that we own to the poor" well why don't we do that. everyday i find an excuse to go to the store down the street from my job. there is always this man there, i always say" hows it going chief?" he always replies " going great captain, you got any change?" i always try and get all the change i save up every day from driving everywhere here in tulsa. and give him that.im not a rich man, but i give what i can. im currently looking into going to uganda and visiting with the invisible children. if you have yet to see this video i recommend it. it is what changed my outlook on being greedy and holding back so much money. brant you help save me every day. your station is all that i listen to simply because here there are hardly any christian radio stations. everytime im cut off in mid traffic or yelled at. i stop and listen to whats going on on air 1! thank you for being awesome!!!
1/17/2012 10:45:53 PM
Amy United States
Amy
I agree with this, Brant. Just because I am American doesn't mean Americans have to/should be my first priority. But I don't see why any other country should be any higher on the priority list. Why should I raise thousands of dollars to go to some far-off country, if there are people right here that don't know our Lord? Now I'm not saying by this that I think mission trips are bad. Not at all. I'm considering going on one myself. I believe the Lord calls people to go on mission trips. I am just confused as to why we would be called to go to the other side of the world when our neighbor has never heard of Jesus. This is a question that I, along with many others, struggle with.
1/27/2012 11:58:36 PM
Cert Killer United Kingdom
Cert Killer
Why should we first take care of Americans? Give any reason. But i also helping through this http://www.certkiller.me/
2/15/2012 4:21:33 PM
Angela United States
Angela
We do need to take care of those we know, in our family and our 'church family,' and most American churches don't do a very good job of that anymore, BUT

I am a single mom raising 8 kids, and have lived 'below the poverty line' for 25 years, but I know I live like a king compared to most of the world's population, and definitely to anyone who is poor in a third world country. We've never been hungry or without a decent home.

I think it's wonderful to help people in other countries -- I worked with one of the Indian tribes in Mexico for awhile myself.
9/10/2012 9:52:52 AM
Amy United States
Amy
Some one very close to me once asked me this question. My response was: When God looks down on us he doesn't see color or borders. He just sees His people that He loves.
2/16/2013 4:31:45 PM
Kate Canada
Kate
@Vic. I work with the homeless. I have yet to meet someone who chose to end up on the street.  It may be the result of a series if bad choices, but I have never met someone (who isn't mentally ill) who chooses homelessness.
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