Finding Faith by Studying the Down-and-Out

Finding Faith by Studying the Down-and-Out June 18, 2019

Chris Arnade studied the most destitute and seemingly hopeless Americans–street people, addicts, prostitutes, the wretchedly poor, the “underclass,” people often referred to as the “dregs of society”–searching for the shreds of human dignity that they still have by getting to know them.  And a funny thing happened:  He came to faith.

From a review by Kathryn Jean Lopez of Arnade’s book Dignity: Seeing Respect in Back Row America:

But there is no such delusion on the streets he spent time on:

You cannot ignore death there, and you cannot ignore human fallibility. It is easier to see that everyone is a sinner, everyone is fallible, and everyone is mortal. It is easier to see that there are things just too deep, too important, or too great for us to know. It is far easier to recognize that one must come to peace with the idea that “we don’t and never will have this under control.” It is far easier to see religion not just as useful but as true.

. . . Their communities have been shattered, their sense of place and purpose ruptured, leaving them with no confidence in ‘worldly’ institutions and with a clearer sense of the importance, value, and necessity of faith in something beyond material.”

But doesn’t this go against the fact that the working classes are the most unchurched in America?  No.  That’s the white working class.  Many of the people he was studying and going to store front churches with are black.  And African Americans are the most religious demographic in America.  Plus, these folks Arnade is writing about are not “working class.”  They typically don’t have jobs.  So they don’t fit into the American economic class system, such as it is, either.

Does this experience contradict what we blogged about yesterday?  Arnade seems to have taken on a “humanitarian” project, and he refuses to judge these folks.

I’m interested especially in the impact that these people and this side of life had on the thoroughly middle class Arnade, with his Ph.D. and social standing.  Does this suggest that Luther’s Theology of the Cross can play a role in evangelism?



Photo:  Homeless Man Sleeping at the Colorado Supreme Court Building © O'Dea at Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]

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