I'm dealing with my final semester laziness by abandoning the CST ship as much as possible, and heading across the street to CGU, the bigger and more beautiful grad schoool. Yesterday, I attended my first class of "Poverty, Ethics, and Politics: The Political Challenge of Poverty." Aside from the redundantly circular title, it seemed like a decent class, though perhaps more earnest than informed. Although the focus is on policy issues, it's a transdisciplinary class full of people who don't really know how policy works. Nevertheless, we pored over statistics and charts purporting to illuminate what poverty looks like in the U.S.; a great deal of class discussion centered around the chart of consumer goods owned by families above and below the poverty line. Ninety-nine percent of all households own televisions, while 97% of poor households do. What does that mean? That credit encourages poor people to purchase luxury items? Is there any distinction made between a crappy black & white portable TV and a $4000 plasma screen monster TV with TiVo? And then the more difficult questions involving relative poverty: on a global scale, any household with a TV would be considered well above the poverty line. U.S. poverty rates are primarily relative to U.S. wealth, not necessarily based on what families actually need to survive.
I left the class feeling more inept to address issues of poverty and oppression. The weight of tangible facts and figures was simply overwhelming. The problem with theological education- even when it includes liberation theology- is that it treats poverty like a theoretical concept. Sure, God doesn't like inequality, and yup, it's part of our Christian vocation to fight the injustices that result in poverty. But there is very little discussion about practical courses of action. No statistical studies, no discussions on policy. What good is it to proclaim God's preferential option for the poor if we don't do anything about it?