Mission Context: When Work Disappears

Ben Sheppard is a member of Christ Community and a senior at UGA. He wants to serve the church by encouraging Christians not to just consume, condemn, critique or copy culture — but to continually create a culture that testifies to the reality of the gospel. More specifically, Ben is taking a look at the places, practices, institutions, events, and cultural patterns that contribute to our cultural context in the American South, the city of Athens, the UGA campus, and the surrounding communities. 

Check out this post for an explanation of what he’s doing, why he’s doing it, and where he got the idea.

The book above was one of the required texts for my Communities & Crime class this semester. Wilson is a sociologist whose work focuses on urban poverty. While our entire nation is experiencing a crisis of unemployment, Wilson wrote this book in 1996 to describe a more severe and persistent problem: the extreme scarcity of jobs in inner-city neighborhoods. 


According to Wilson, the disappearance of blue-collar jobs and the movement of entry-level service-sector jobs from the cities to the suburbs have created ghettos that are not isolated because of cultural or racial factors but for economic reasons. The prevalence of “ghetto-related behaviors” like drug dealing, violence, and high teenage pregnancy rates can at least be partially attributed to persistent, intractable poverty, which results from severe joblessness.


Since we’re talking about a book here, the answers to our cultural analysis questions are pretty easy. Wilson’s book assumes that the problem (“the way the world is”) is that ghetto neighborhoods are economically and socially depressed because work is not readily available, and it assumes that the solution (“the way the world should be”) should be policy changes at the national level, including school performance standards and an extensive public works program. 


But how do we approach the issue through the framework of the gospel — the announcement of God’s power to save people through Jesus? There is a laundry list of potential answers to that question, so here’s one angle, from Old Testament scholar Chris Wright:


“The jubilee law pursued this objective [family viability], not by merely moral means, that is, appealing for greater family cohesion or admonishing parents and children to greater exercise of discipline and obedience respectively. Rather, the jubliee approach was immensely practical and fundamentally socioeconomic… . Family morality was meaningless if families were being split up and dispossessed by economic forces that rendered them powerless” (Christopher J.H. Wright, The Mission of God, p. 297).  


The jubilee laws, which concerned the canceling of debts and the redistribution of property to its original owners, were expressions of God’s desire to save whole people, whole families, and whole communities. Wilson’s contention is that while personal character determines the choices people make, larger structural factors determine what kind of choices they are given. In the jubilee laws, we see that God isn’t just interested in making better people; God is interested in creating a culture that gives people better opportunities to make choices for their own good and the good of their communities.


What do you think about the idea of jubilee and the job problem in inner-city neighborhoods?

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