Affluent saviorism: what is it, and why should Christians care?
How do we ensure we honor people’s inherent dignity while we serve them? As Christians, we demonstrate our faith through our love for others. Many of us are familiar with home repair mission trips, food pantries and soup kitchens as foundations of Christian service.
But a common pitfall for Christians, particularly affluent Christians, is the tendency to turn people experiencing poverty (whether spiritual or material) into projects, and place ourselves on a pedestal we should reserve only for Jesus.
We need to be aware of our internal biases toward people in poverty. The following 4 steps can help you identify these biases and grow in your knowledge of how to love the poor well. You can put this knowledge into practice when you go on your next mission trip or give money to someone experiencing homelessness.
1. Empathize with the broken. Don’t merely pity them.
The distinction between empathy and pity is a fine line. Empathy requires you to put yourself in the shoes of the people with whom you are working. Ask yourself:
- While our experiences may differ, can I identify with this person in any way?
- Are there any connections I can make between our experiences?
- How would I feel if I were in their situation?
Pity, on the other hand, is condescending. Pride is the key issue here. With pity, you see others as “less than” yourself and emphasize others’ lostness more than their inherent dignity as image bearers of God. This may be an unconscious process. Sometimes, we believe that because we are more materially blessed than others, we think God loves us or protects us more than he does our brother or sister. This is not true.
Ask God to humble you and equip you to better love those you serve.
Verses to consider:
“We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” Romans 15:1
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15
2. In righteous anger, grieve the injustice around you.
This requires introspection. It is easy to get caught up in the “righteous” work you are about to do—after all, you are helping people in need!
However, if you are more focused on the joy of making a difference and how it makes you feel worthy rather than on a true desire to right what is wrong and serve God’s children, you may need to examine your motives. At the same time, if you do experience anger toward injustice, poverty and oppression, examine your heart:
…if you are more focused on the joy of making a difference and how it makes you feel worthy rather than on a true desire to right the wrong and serve God’s children, you may need to examine your motives.
- Why am I angry?
- Do I feel vengeance or rage towards oppressors?
- Is pride a factor in my indignation?
You must be careful to be angry out of compassion and distress over our broken world and not personal pride. The Bible warns against sinning by acting on our anger.
Ask the Holy Spirit to break your heart for what breaks Jesus’s and compel you toward actions that glorify God and his character.
Verses to consider:
“But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” 1 John 3:17
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32-32
“Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, and plead the widow’s cause.” Isaiah 1:17
3. Do not view people as projects.
Nonbelievers are in need of a savior. The issue comes when we, as missionaries, put ourselves in Jesus’s place and rely on our own ability to bring people to Christ. We can’t bring people to salvation. The truth is that while God works in and through us, only the Holy Spirit can convict someone and bring them to the feet of Jesus.
This is a good thing! It removes the pressure of ensuring others’ salvation. We are called to love others—period. Sharing the gospel is the best expression of love, but we should not be kind to others or help them materially just so we can check one more soul off our list.
Relationships are not transactional and building faith is a lifelong process. If we are only friends with someone for the purpose of getting something out of them, are we a true friend, or are we more like a football player trying to score another point?
Ask God to help you cultivate real friendships with people from many walks of life. Let the Holy Spirit guide you into meeting them where they are and loving them well.
Verses to consider:
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” John 14:6
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: if either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-10
4. Be quick to call out “affluent saviorism.”
Affluent saviorism is when someone with a higher income, more privilege or more resources swoops into a system of oppression or inequality and mistakenly thinks they can solve issues of poverty or brokenness with their money or time in one go.
Sometimes, missionaries enter situations thinking they are “bringing God” to places of brokenness or Godlessness. The Bible shows us this mentality is simply untrue. God is everywhere, constantly working in the lives of his children, whether they know him or recognize his works! It is also important to keep in mind that his work is not dependent on material wealth. When missionaries serve nonbelievers, we are to put God’s name to the work he is already doing and be a witness to his glory. We must understand that truly loving others may go beyond painting a house or staying for a few weeks in an impoverished community. Instead, we may be called to develop life-long friendships and provide support more holistically.
God is everywhere, constantly working in the lives of His children, whether they know Him or recognize His works!
Pray that you would have the eyes to see God’s movement in others’ lives and the hands to carry out His will.
Verses to consider:
“For thus says the high and exalted One, who lives forever, whose name is Holy, ‘I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and revive the heart of the contrite.'” Isaiah 57:15
The broken world is hard to bear. Loving your neighbor may look like a friendly smile, natural disaster relief efforts, the gift of food, or a charity donation. God compels us to serve our neighbors, and Love Thy Neighborhood can help you navigate toward a deeper understanding of your place as a servant in the Kingdom of God.