Poverty and the Alabama Faith Community

A Symposium for Faith Leaders November 15, 2007 Samford University Birmingham, Alabama

Resources for Faith Leaders
The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. It is socially as cruel and blind as the practice of cannibalism at the dawn of civilization, when men ate each other because they had not yet learned to take food from the soil or to consume the abundant animal life around them. The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Books
All Over But the Shouting by Rick Bragg Make Me Into Zeus’s Daughter by Barbara Robinette Moss Poor But Proud by Wayne Flynt Alabama in the Twentieth Century by Wayne Flynt Virginia Tax Review by Susan Pace Hamill The Least of These - Fair Taxes and the Moral Duty of Christians by Susan Pace Hamill How The Other Half Lives by Jacob A. Riis Blessed Are the Poor?: Women's Poverty, Family Policy, and Practical Theology from the Churches' Center for Theology and Public Policy by Pamela D. Couture Grace at the Table: Ending Hunger in God's World by David Beckmann and Arthur Simon Listen to Me Good: The Life Story of an Alabama Midwife by Margaret Charles Smith and Linda Janet Holmes Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich The Other America by Michael Harrington Scribner Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol The Working Poor: Invisible In America David Shipler Knopf Worlds Apart: Why Poverty Persists in Rural America by Cynthia M. Duncan

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Web Resources – Articles
Transforming Alabama by the Birmingham News Editorial Board http://www.al.com/opinion/birminghamnews/index.ssf?/base/opinion/1194168216167570.xml &coll=2 • Birmingham News letter to Gov. Riley and Alabama legislators highlighting the importance of state-funded pre-K programs. Alabama’s “Values Voters” by Stephen Foster Black http://www.alabamapoverty.org/ed_black_072805.pdf • APP Board member & Director of Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility at the University of Alabama writes about a different value that shapes our faith communities. 1901 Constitution: winners & losers by Mark Berte http://www.al.com/opinion/huntsvilletimes/index.ssf?/base/opinion/1180257768208430.xml &coll=1&thispage=2 • An overview of the problems caused by the Alabama constitution, with special note of poverty issues in the state. Alabama Stands Alone by Kimble Forrister http://www.alabamapoverty.org/ed_forrister_072805.pdf • APP Board member & Executive Director of Alabama Arise proposes ideas to bring fairness to Alabama’s tax structure. Alabama at bottom in taxes: Less collected per person here than in any other state by David White http://www.al.com/news/birminghamnews/index.ssf?/base/news/118397072332440.xml&coll =2&thispage=1 • Birmingham News story spotlights the difficulties Alabama faces in providing adequate services with minimal revenue. Various articles by Susan Pace Hamill http://www.law.ua.edu/susanhamill • Alabama law professor and APP board member, Susan Pace Hamill addresses tax reform and other issues from a faith perspective. Christian Coalition broadens its focus by Randy Brinson http://www.al.com/opinion/birminghamnews/index.ssf?/base/opinion/118146361254080.xml &coll=2 • The new leader of the CC in Alabama describes the new direction being taken by the organization, including more attention to poverty. Poverty is never fashionable by Theresa Shadrix http://theresashadrix.blogspot.com/2007/04/poverty-is-never-fashionable.html • Fashion & style columnist for the Anniston Star,Theresa takes a look at poverty from a somewhat unusual perspective. In the process she helps her readers to recognize the basic humanity of low wealth persons, who want to dress as well as they can – just like everyone else.

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State’s Poverty dips; still near worst by Kim Chandler http://www.al.com/birminghamnews/stories/index.ssf?/base/news/118837566053910.xml&co ll=2 • A review of the Census Bureau reports showing modest gains in income and declines in poverty in Alabama. Includes median household income and health care gains. Helping ´Nobodies' and ´Shut-Outs' Best Way to Serve God, Garland Says http://www.samford.edu/pubs/belltower/031607/garland.html • From Samford’s Belltower, Baylor University social work dean Dr. Diana R. Garland talks about the centrality of poverty in the church’s work. The Black Belt: Alabama’s Third World http://www.al.com/specialreport/birminghamnews/?blackbelt.html • A series of articles from The Birmingham News, describing the state of affairs in the poorest section of the state. What recovery? Working poor struggle to pay bills by Stephanie Armour http://www.usatoday.com/money/economy/2004-06-08-low-wage-working-poor_x.htm • From USA Today Yale panel: Does political engagement have a theological foundation? by Hannah Elliott http://www.abpnews.com/www/2804.article.print • From the American Baptist Press What Exactly Is a "Living Wage"? A grassroots movement aims to raise pay for the working poor. Here are some of the implications. by Rochelle Sharpe www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/01_22/b3734106.htm • From Business Week Business Leaders and Investors for a Living Wage http://www.responsiblewealth.org/living_wage/ • From Responsible Wealth: A Project of United for a Fair Economy; encourages business people and investors to join together to support a living wage for all employees. The Poverty Business by Brian Grow & Keith Epstein http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/07_21/b4035001.htm • From Business Week, an article dealing with the American business community and subprime loans aimed at low wealth people. Statement on Poverty by Christian Churches Together http://www.christianchurchestogether.org/poverty/ • A joint statement by representatives from National Christian organizations.

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Other Web-based Resources Alabama Poverty Project http://alabamapoverty.org • Contains a number of resources regarding poverty, with a specific focus on Alabama. Picture of Poverty, a survey of poverty by county, is available in a searchable database. Alabama Arise http://www.alarise.org • Statewide organization addressing policy that impacts the poor. Site contains a number of reports and other resources. Impact Alabama http://www.impactalabama.org • Works with the state’s colleges and universities to provide service opportunities for students, particularly in addressing poverty. Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform http://www.constitutionalreform.org/ • Believing that our state’s constitution holds us back, ACCR calls for a citizens’ convention to write Alabama’s seventh constitution. VOICES for Alabama’s Children http://www.alavoices.org/ • Advocacy group focusing on the needs of children in Alabama. Site contains research that includes the Kids Count Data Book. Facing Poverty http://www.shc.edu/facingpoverty/ • Produced by Spring Hill College in Mobile, a website that observes the lives of several low-wealth families living in the Mobile area. Kids Count 2004 Data Book http://www.kidscount.org/sld/databook.jsp • Provides a searchable database for a number of issues facing children in poverty. Numbers are available for each state. National Council of Churches Study Guide: “Eradicating Poverty” http://www.ncccusa.org/news/060201eradicatingpoverty.html • Can be ordered for use in your faith community American Baptist Churches USA & Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Study Guide: “Lessons in Racism and Poverty” http://www.thefellowship.info/resources/for_your_church/racepoverty.icm • Can be downloaded free for use in your faith community Sojourners on the Issues Discussion guides. “A Vision for Overcoming Poverty” and “Christians and Poverty” http://sojo.org/index.cfm?action=resources.discussion_guides • Guides include articles from Sojourners magazine. Available for download, cost is $4.95 each.

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Economic Policy Institute: Living Wage Issue Guide http://www.epinet.org/content.cfm/issueguides_livingwage_livingwage • Contains general information, table of current living wage ordinances and links to other EPI publications concerning living wage. Political Economy Research Institute http://www.peri.umass.edu/Labor-Market-L.197.0.html • Contains downloadable research and studies pertaining to living wage. http://www.peri.umass.edu/U-S-Living-Wage.372.0.html • Contains a wide variety of resources – articles, data, living wage campaigns and campus projects. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities http://www.cbpp.org • A policy organization working at the federal and state levels on fiscal policy and public programs that affect low- and moderate-income families and individuals. Let Justice Roll http://www.letjusticeroll.org/ • Provides a wide variety of resources regarding living wages. Living Wage Calculator http://www.livingwage.geog.psu.edu/browse_state.php • The living wage calculator is a product of Penn State’s “poverty in America project”. Poverty in America Project http://www.povertyinamerica.psu.edu • A product of Penn State University, site contains many reports and resources. Medicaid Numbers: http://www.statehealthfacts.org/medicaid.jsp • The Kaiser Family Foundation site. Primarily about Medicaid, there is also some good information about basic poverty numbers, comparing Alabama and national figures. Demos: A Network for Ideas and Action http://demos.org/home.cfm • Provides research material especially of interest to APP when it comes to economic issues. Grading the States from Governing Magazine http://governing.com/gpp/2005/intro.htm • Gives an overall grade to all U.S. states vis a vis basic governmental functions, including money, people, infrastructure, and information.

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Columns
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, AL. He is also a board member of Alabama Poverty Project. His column appears in various newspapers and websites. He can be reached at faithmatters@mindspring.com. The following columns were written by Pastor Evans. THE PERSISTENCE OF POVERTY “The poor you shall always have with you,” is one of the most misused and misunderstood things Jesus ever said. Sooner or later, as the debate continues on the Governor’s tax plan, someone is sure to throw it into the mix. It will probably sound something like this: “Why are we getting all worked about the poor. Jesus said there’s nothing you can do about them.” Let’s set the record straight—that is not at all what he had in mind. In case you don’t already know, here is how the saying came about. During the last week of Jesus’ life he went to the home of his close friends Mary and Martha. On this particular evening, Mary came to Jesus and poured an expensive and fragrant ointment on his feet and began wiping them with her hair. Perhaps she had some feeling about what was about to happen to Jesus. At any rate, this event is recognized universally among Christians as a lavish outpouring of love and adoration. At the time, however, her actions were met somewhat less enthusiastically. The perfumed ointment was very expensive. A family might spend as much as a year’s wages for the stuff. Imagine spending $40,000 for a bottle of cologne. The smell of the ointment was potent and it didn’t take long for everyone in the house to learn what Mary had done. Judas was there and began to complain openly about the waste. He said, “This could have been sold and the money given to the poor.” We know from the Gospels that Judas was an insincere person. He did not really care about the poor. He just wanted to be in charge of the money. Later in the story he finds yet another way to get some cash. Jesus, of course, was aware of all this and said to Judas, “The poor you will always have with you.” This is where arm chair interpreters step in and try to cast Jesus as a major cynic concerning poverty. But nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, Jesus was actually referencing Scripture that called for generous and consistent compassion for those who struggle economically. The biblical verses to which he was referring are found in a long speech by Moses in Deuteronomy 15. Moses was literally laying down the law for community behavior. During the speech he makes several references to helping the needy, and finally says, “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.’” Most biblical scholars view Jesus’ comment as a sort of short hand reference to the Deuteronomy passage. In effect Jesus was saying that Mary should not have to give up her act of worship in order to take care of the poor. The poor should have already been taken care of by provisions made in the wider community. Jesus’ words were not cynical about the poor, they were critical of a community that had failed to care for its own. Any honest and careful study of the life and words of Jesus leaves little doubt how he felt about the poor. No one who really knows anything about Jesus would ever believe he dismissed the poor as a lost cause. On the other hand, there is a long history, beginning with this very event, of those who are willing to twist the words of Jesus for their own purposes.

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IF IT’S BROKEN, THEN LET’S REALLY FIX IT Governor Riley deserves a lot of credit for trying to do something about Alabama’s grossly unfair income tax structure. The fact that we begin assessing income tax on a family of four that earns as little as $4600 is a tragedy. So the Governor’s desire to fix it is admirable. Unfortunately in fixing one thing there is danger he is going to break something else—public education. In the strange climate in which we live these days, seeking tax dollars for any purpose has come to represent some form of ultimate evil. It has almost become a mantra, a mindless chant that has no basis in reality. No taxes! No taxes! No taxes! That kind of fiscal religion is fine if you live on Fantasy Island, but that is not where we live. We live in Alabama where we already pay less in state and local taxes than almost anywhere else in the country. And we have the social services and public schools to show for it. Take a drive sometime into some of our poorer counties where the full effect of our low taxes can be seen crumbling all around you. Which brings us back to Governor Riley’s plan to fix our tax system. Being a political realist, Governor Riley knows the best way to get a tax break for anybody is to give a tax break to everybody. His proposal does just that. Unfortunately, when you cut taxes it reduces revenue. In this case it will cost the education budget $28 million a year. Now don’t get me wrong, we really need to change our tax structure, and we really need to stop taxing the working poor in our state. It’s cruel and shameless. But cutting revenue to public education is not a prudent way to fix this problem. We ease the burden on the poor with one hand, but diminish one of the critical institutions for solving poverty in the long run with the other hand. There is a better way. Alabama Arise in conjunction with Representative John Knight has put together a proposal which brings Alabama’s tax structure in line with the Federal tax structure, especially in the area of the income tax threshold—that is, the point at which working families begin to be assessed income tax. In both the Riley plan and the Arise plan, the $4600 threshold is removed. But in the Riley plan it is only moved to $15,000. That’s $15,000 for a family of four. I don’t know about you, but I think raising a family on that amount of money is going to be hard to do. Assessing state income tax on top of other life essentials is not going to help. The Arise plan sets the threshold at $22,800 for a family of four. And the Arise plan is revenue neutral. That means it neither increases nor decreases state revenues. I guess sometimes holding your own is progress. The tax cuts for the poor are offset by eliminating the deduction for federal income tax. Alabama is one of only three states that allow state tax payers to deduct their full federal income tax. Eliminating this deduction allows us to raise the threshold while preserving education funding. Arise analysts point out that with their plan, three out of five Alabama tax payers pay less. Listen, if something is broken, by all means let’s fix it. But let’s don’t break something else trying to get it done, especially when we know there is another way.

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THE VOICE OF FAITH NECESSARY IN SOCIAL ISSUES Christian groups in America have a long history of political activism. The issues may change from one generation to the next, but the impulse to reform society seems a constant feature of faith. The issues Christians care about today run the full length of the political spectrum. Progressive Christians such as Jim Wallis of the Sojourner’s community and evangelist Tony Campolo, champion the cause of economic justice. Both of these men are passionate in their belief that the Gospel of Jesus must include proactive ministries on behalf of the poor. On the other side of the aisle are Christian leaders such as D. James Kennedy and Jerry Falwell. Both of these high visibility preachers are unapologetic in their effort to “reclaim America for God.” Social concerns on their radar screen include opposition to abortion and gay marriage, and promoting public displays of the Ten Commandments. So passionate and so effective are these Christian advocates, from the left and the right, that one defender of church state separation believes that they are all part of the same problem. Barry Lynn, Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and state argues that faith advocacy from whatever quarter and for whatever motive violates the spirit of the Constitution. Lynn believes that politicians and not preachers should develop policy. And that policy should be based on the common good, not a Scriptural ideal. This really complicates matters. Evangelicals are nurtured in a climate of evangelistic fervor. They are taught from baptism that their purpose as Christians is to preach the Gospel to the whole world. The highest good for an evangelical is to see all people embrace Jesus as Savior. The problem comes when persuasive preaching gives way to coercion. While it is one thing to become a Christian voluntarily, it is another thing all together to force someone to live by Christian principles imposed by the rule of law--no matter how virtuous those principles may be. But where is the line? Certainly “do no murder,” is part of the Judeo-Christian faith tradition, but it turns out to be pretty good advice for everyone. Do not steal is another covenant principle that has become recognized as more law than faith. But matters such as idolatry, resting on the Sabbath, taking God’s name in vain, and even something as significant as not committing adultery or taking care of our parents when they are old, these ideals, important as they are, cannot be forced by law. Falwell and Kennedy would argue that God’s law is higher than the laws of mere human beings. They would not hesitate to make profanity or adultery crimes punishable by law. Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo, on the other hand, know they cannot make neglect of the poor and elderly a crime punished by law, but they do dream of changing the structures of our economic system so that public funds are available to assist the least of these in our midst. Were they to succeed, would that be an establishment of a faith? Is providing for the poor by means of a social program the same thing coercing someone to pray or listen to prayers? Lynn would say it is the same thing, but I would say it is not. While from the perspective of faith, honoring the Scriptures and following a covenant ethic is certainly good, it must be seen as a particular good—that is, a good that is not self evident to everyone. While people who pray would argue that prayer is the greatest thing ever, it is only so for those who believe. People who do not pray should not be forced to pray or hear prayers against their will. On the other hand, caring for the poor and disadvantaged, while certainly promoted in the Scriptures, is an ideal that transcends religious belief. Social scientists would argue that caring for the poor actually makes a society stronger, healthier. In other words, policies that seek to alleviate and eliminate poverty promote a common good. That people of faith share this concern, even if motivated by biblical teaching, does not mean that social programs are necessarily expressions of faith. However we discuss these matters, one thing is for certain. Christian activism is here to stay. Faith is, and should be, part of our national dialogue. What people of faith cannot do, and

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should not want to do, is impose their vision on everyone else by means of law. We should be willing to contribute to the common good in every way we can. But as for the particular good which grows out of the ideals of our faith, that’s when being salt and light becomes important. PAY DAY LENDING—AN UNGODLY PRACTICE The Bible has much to say about economics—both personal and communal. Expectations about the use of wealth and the needs of the poor are among the most frequent topics in Scripture. In fact, even when the Bible is offering instruction about something else, like sin for example, economic examples are often used to illustrate the point. Jesus’ “Forgive us our debts,” being is just one notable example. It is obvious, even from a cursory reading, that economics and spirituality are closely linked. Unfortunately much of the Christian community all but ignores biblical teaching about wealth and poverty. What is not ignored is often mangled into a spiritual mush that makes it nearly impossible to understand the biblical vision. There are many examples around of this failure, but none quite as egregious as the Pay Day loan business. If you have a job and a checking account you probably qualify for a pay day loan. It doesn’t matter about your credit history, or even your ability to repay. All that’s really important is that you are down on your luck and are willing to pay the price for some short term cash. And, oh is there a price to pay. For the use of $100 for two weeks there is normally a fee of about $20. You can do the math yourself, but if factored out into an annual percentage rate, $20 for the use of $100 for two weeks amounts to nearly 500 percent interest. I think this is what the prophet Amos had in mind when he complained about those who “sell the poor for silver.” The pay day loan people say these exorbitant fees are justified because of the risks involved. But that argument is pretty hollow given the rest of the deal. You see, in addition to signing a promissory note, borrowers also give the lender a post-dated check for the amount of the loan plus the fee. At the end of the two weeks the lender simply deposits the check. If the check bounces, pay day lenders then have recourse to the legal system to collect the debt on their behalf. I imagine the threat of a visit from the sheriff’s office is a strong inducement for the check to be good. So what does any of this have to do with the Bible? According to the Scriptures, God condemns economic practices that prey on the poor. There are specific provisions aimed at preventing the exploitation of the needy at the hands of the rich and powerful. There is even one part of the Bible that calls for the periodic cancellation of debt, just to make sure that the poor get a fresh start from time to time. Obviously we are not going to cancel everyone’s debt, but what we might do is limit the abuse of these so-called lending services. At present, pay day loans are virtually unregulated. Bringing them under the Alabama Small Loan Act would cap the interest charge at 36 percent— not that we should be overly proud of even that. Here’s the thing. We try to prove our faithfulness by displaying the Ten Commandments or offering prayer in school. But Jesus said genuine righteousness shows itself in mercy, kindness and justice. It’s when we show love and compassion to the “least of these” in our midst that the validity of our faith finds full expression. Gouging the poor with ungodly interest is not what he had in mind.

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Worship Resources Sermon Luke 6:20 BLESSED ARE THE POOR? By Jim Evans

It's hard to imagine in any realistic sense how Jesus could say that the poor are blessed. There is nothing blessed about being poor. Living in poverty often includes a lack of adequate housing and healthcare, not enough food or drinking water, poorly funded public schools and a lack of parental presence for children simply because parents have to work. In what sense, given this bleak reality, can Jesus think that the poor are blessed? To understand his words we must understand the world into which Jesus spoke the words. They relate to a specific theology and a specific social class arrangement. In the world of ritual purity created for and maintained by the Temple establishment of the first century, there were those who were considered clean and unclean, pure and impure, blessed and cursed, sinner and righteous. These are social designations which created social classes. To be a sinner did not necessarily mean that a person had transgressed some particular law. A sinner was anyone who was not ritually right to worship in the Temple. A leper, therefore, would be a sinner. A woman on her menstrual period would be a sinner. Someone with a physical defect, such as being born blind, would be a sinner. And someone living in poverty would also be a sinner. A beggar or some farmer who had lost the farm and was reduced to living off the charity of others would have been regarded as "cursed of God." First century Jewish theology taught that everything that happened was the result of God's activity. If bad things were happening to a person, then they must have done something to deserve punishment. The popular notion was if you were poor then you were cursed by God—cursed are the poor. Jesus' entire ministry was aimed at overturning ritual righteousness. The fact that he would heal and offer forgiveness outside the Temple routine demonstrates his desire to see people find peace with God. His intentional breaking of Sabbath rules, and his deliberate association with sinners, was an open rejection of the social classes created by ritual righteousness. It is in this context that Jesus calls the poor blessed. In describing the poor as blessed Jesus is critiquing a system that blames victims for their own misery. He is saying to those who would regard the poor as despised by God that they are wrong. These "little ones," Jesus would say, are the special concern of God. All of us, according to Jesus, will eventually be judged by how we treat the "least of these in our midst." It is also important to realize that when Jesus said the poor are blessed that he was also talking to the poor directly. His words were a form of pastoral care. For people who lived daily not only with the misery of their poverty, but also the added burden of believing God despised them, Jesus' words were like healing balm. "You are not cursed by God, you are cherished by God. You are blessed because God has taken note of your plight and is working to save you." Which creates the final context in which the words "blessed are the poor," have application. The words are also spoken in the hearing of those who are not poor. The idea here is that Jesus is trying to help us change our way of thinking about poverty so that we might become part of the solution rather than part of the problem. One of the things that negative social designations accomplish is a sort of dehumanization. The poor are not seen a full human beings, they are diminished human beings. They are sinners, cursed, unclean, unrighteous. Once we start calling people names it becomes pretty easy to ignore them and real easy not to love them. So Jesus seeks to overturn the theology that allows us to dehumanize the poor. He gives them positive social designations. He calls them blessed, little ones, children, sheep, brother,

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sister, and friend. Once we start using positive social designations for the poor, it becomes easy to re-humanize them, to care about them, to embrace them as our neighbor. Even though we no longer function in a ritually based social system, we have nevertheless created some of the same sort of negative social designations for the poor that existed in Jesus' day. We see and treat the poor as marginally dangerous. People assume, sometimes rightly, that poor neighborhoods have high crime rates. That, however, does not mean that all the poor who live there are criminals. And yet that lingering prejudice remains—the poor cannot be trusted. It's a new way of classing them as sinners. We also perpetuate the idea that the poor are poor because of their own decisions. If someone is living in poverty then they must have done something that made them poor. Maybe they are lazy or they use drugs. And sometimes that is true. Sometimes poverty is the result of life decisions. But not always. Sometimes poverty is the result of huge economic factors that are beyond the reach of individual decision. Sometimes poverty is the result of illness or age. Among the many people who live in poverty in our world, the vast majority are the aged and the very young. Poverty is not always the fault of the one who is suffering. Jesus saying "blessed are the poor" becomes our challenge to change our minds and our attitudes about poverty in our world. Seeing the poor as blessed by God is our chance to rehumanize them and become neighbor to them. Learning to say "blessed are the poor," is also our chance to give to those who live in poverty what they all most need—to be treated with dignity and respect. To live believing that you are cursed or despised is a terrible blow to the psyche. It creates opportunities for all sorts of resentment and anger to take hold. Love is the remedy for this anger, and it begins with learning to say that the poor are blessed. LITANY Leader: We gather as a blessed community. You have been gracious and generous to us, O Lord, accept our thanks today as we worship. People: Blessed are they who respond to the Lord with gratitude. Leader: You have anticipated our every need and provided a wealth of resources for us to enjoy. People: Blessed are they who know that God has provided. Leader: We understand and confess that the resources you have provided are not just for those who have them, but also for those who do not have them. People: Blessed are they who are willing to share what the Lord has given. Leader: Help us not to see our blessing as a privilege, but rather an opportunity to make true what you have taught us. All: Blessed are the poor, yours is the kingdom of God. PRAYER We pray with the Psalmist today, O Lord, create in us a new heart. Create in us a heart that is tender with compassion. Create in us a heart that is willing to learn new truth, and to repent from selfishness. Create in us a heart that desires all of your children to be cared for and to have adequate resources for life. Create in us a heart that believes that the concerted effort of people of faith can change this world for the better. Create in us a heart that is willing to dream of that better world. Amen.

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The Imperative of

Made in the Image
A Bible Study Regarding the Church’s Response to Poverty Alabama Poverty Project © 2007

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Table of Contents Introduction I. Background II. Stating the Problem III. Defining the Terms IV. Cost or Price - Which Will You Pay? V. The Lord God - Maker of Us All VI. The Poor You Have With You Always VII. Do Not As Some Do VIII. The Works That I Do Shall You Do Also IX. DIY X. A Call To Action XI. Know Them Who Labor Among You XII. Be Instant In Season and Out XIII. Somebody’s Watching You XIV. Commentary References 12 12 16 18 18 19 19 19 19 20 20 20 20 21 24

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Introduction This Bible study is presented in such a manner as to allow participants to customize the study to suit their needs. Topics are listed with various scriptures for in-depth study. While the lists are not comprehensive, they will serve as a good starting point. The commentary at the end can be used as a guide, or as a separate, more structured study. Approached with prayer and an open and receptive heart, the lessons will enlighten and challenge. It is time that we were about our Father’s business.

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I. Background
Gen. 1:27-28a God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it. . Gen. 2:7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. Gen. 9:5-6 And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man's brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man. Rom. 1:21-23 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Mark 14:7 For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always.

II. Stating the Problem
Matt. 6:21 and Luke 12:34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Ezek. 22:29 The people of the land have used oppression, and exercised robbery, and have vexed the poor and needy: yea, they have oppressed the stranger wrongfully. Prov. 30:14 There is a generation, whose teeth are as swords, and their jaw teeth as knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from among men. Prov. 22:7 The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.

III. Defining the Terms
A. From the Dictionary Alms - 1. money, food, clothing, etc. given to poor people. 2. a deed of mercy. Heart - 4. the central, vital or main part; real meaning; essence, core. 5. the human heart considered as the center or source of emotions, personality attributes, etc. specifically, a) inmost thought and feeling, consciousness or conscience; b) the source of emotions contrasted with the head, the source of intellect, c) one’s emotional nature or disposition, d) any of various human feelings; love, devotion, sympathy, etc. e) mood, feeling, f) spirit, resolution or courage. Imperative - 1. having the nature of , or indicating, power or authority; commanding 2. absolutely necessary; urgent; compelling Gram. 3. designating or of the mood of a verb that expresses a command, strong request, or exhortation 1. a binding or compelling rule, duty, requirement, etc. 2. a command; order.

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Judge - 3. a person qualified to give an opinion or decide on the relative worth of anything. 4. to form an idea, opinion or estimate about (any matter). Know - apprehend, 1. to have a clear perception or understanding of; be sure of or well informed about. 2. to be aware or cognizant of; have perceived or learned. 3. to have a firm mental grasp of; have securely in the memory. 4. to be acquainted or familiar with. 5. to have understanding of or skill in as a result of study or experience. Poor - 1. a) lacking material possessions; having little or no means to support oneself; needy; impoverished b) indicating or characterized by poverty 2. lacking in some quality or thing; a) lacking abundance; scanty; inadequate, b) lacking productivity; barren; sterile c) lacking nourishment; feeble; emaciated d) lacking excellence or worth; below average, inferior, bad, etc. or paltry, mean, insignificant, etc. e) lacking good moral or mental qualities; mean-spirited; contemptible f) lacking pleasure, comfort, or satisfaction g) lacking skill 3. worthy of pity ; unfortunate. SYN. -- poor is the simple, direct term for one who lacks the resources for reasonably comfortable living. Treasure - 1. accumulated or stored wealth, esp. in the form of money, precious metals, jewels, etc. 2. any person or thing considered very valuable. B. From the Bible (Biblical definitions are coded according to the numbering system found in James Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible.) Alms - 1654. merciful. Mercifulness, (active) compassion. Command - 1291. denoting transition, to send, to give a charge. 1297. to command, arrange in its proper order. The order, commandment, or edict itself; the decree of the king. 1299. to appoint, order. An ordinance. 1778. to charge, command. A commandment but emphasizing the thing commanded, a commission, mandate, precept. Heart - 2588. the seat and center of human life. (I) As the seat of the desires, feelings, affections, passions, impulses. the heart or mind. (A) Generally (Mat. 5:8), “the pure in heart” meaning those whose center of life has been made pure by Jesus Christ. The counsels or dispositions of the heart or inner man.(III) In the New Testament the heart represents especially the sphere of God’s influence in the human life. It is in the heart that the natural knowledge of God has its seat, and there also in the light of His knowledge, the glory of God shines in the face of Jesus Christ. Know - 319. to make oneself known. 588. approve, accept. 5318. manifest. 1096. become, to become manifest. 1921. to fully know. 1987. to understand. 3129. to learn. 3670. to acknowledge, confess. 3858. to admit. 4856. to agree with. Judge - 144. to perceive with the external senses as well as the mind. Involves knowledge based upon experience. 350. To discern to examine accurately (judicial) to ask. 1106. Discernment determines conduct. Recognize the counsel given without a command from the (counselor). Good will, something thought through the opposite of willful ignorance. To separate oneself from those on whom Christians show mercy. To stand at a crossroad with uncertainty. 1341. A judgment which renders justice and produces right. Opposite of favoritism and partiality. 2233. to esteem an individual in a particular light. 2250. moral light. 2917. to judge rightly, according to the flesh, generally unfavorable, to vindicate, avenge.

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Poor - 3993. to work for a living. Poor, but able to help oneself through his own labor or toil. 3998. Miserably poor, poor and needy, utterly destitute; 4433. poor and helpless. To be or become poor, helpless, and therefore to beg. 4434. to crouch, cower like a beggar, poor and helpless,, someone in abject poverty, utter helplessness, complete destitution, dependent on alms such as a beggar. A poor, helpless man and therefore a beggar. The poor, meaning the needy, those destitute of the necessities of life and subsisting on the alms of others. Of those who voluntarily become poor for the Son of man’s sake. Generally, poor, needy...one who may be poor but earns his bread by daily labor; also spoken of most poverty without the idea of begging as opposed to the rich. By Implication, poor, low, humble, of low estate, including also the idea of being afflicted, distressed, poverty, want, helplessness, lacking, deficient; pitiful, miserable. Treasure - 2344. (I) Treasure, anything laid up in store, wealth. Metaphorically, of spiritual treasures pertaining to the mind or to eternal life. (II) Treasury, place where treasures or stores are kept, storehouse, Metaphorically, the storehouse of the mind, where the thoughts, feelings or counsels are laid up.

IV. Cost or Price - Which Will You Pay?
Prov. 10:4 He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand: but the hand of the diligent maketh rich. Prov. 22:9 He that hath a bountiful eye shall be blessed; for he giveth of his bread to the poor. Prov. 14:21 He that despiseth his neighbour sinneth: but he that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he. Prov. 28:27 He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack: but he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse. Prov. 21:13 Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard. Prov. 29:7 The righteous considereth the cause of the poor: but the wicked regardeth not to know it. Prov. 14:31 He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker: but he that honoureth him hath mercy on the poor.

V. The Lord God - Maker of Us All
Job 5:15-16 But He saveth the poor from the sword, from their mouth, and from the hand of the mighty. So the poor hath hope, and iniquity stoppeth her mouth. Job 31:15 Did not He that made me in the womb make him? and did not One fashion us in the womb? Job 34:19 How much less to him] that accepteth not the persons of princes, nor regardeth the rich more than the poor? for they all [are] the work of his hands. Job 36:15 He delivereth the poor in his affliction, and openeth their ears in oppression. Ps. 72:12 For he shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper. Ps. 140:12 I know that the LORD will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and the right of the poor. Zech. 7:10 And oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart. II Cor. 9:9 As it is written, He hath dispersed abroad; He hath given to the poor: His righteousness remaineth for ever.

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VI. The Poor You Have With You Always
Levi. 19:10 And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather [every] grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger: I [am] the LORD your God. Zeph. 3:12 I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the LORD. Matt. 26:11 For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.

VII. Do Not As Some Do
Deut. 15:9 Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand; and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother, and thou givest him nought; and he cry unto the LORD against thee, and it be sin unto thee. Job 24:4 They turn the needy out of the way: the poor of the earth hide themselves together. Prov. 22:16 He that oppresseth the poor to increase his riches, and he that giveth to the rich, shall surely come to want. Jer. 5:28 They are waxen fat, they shine: yea, they overpass the deeds of the wicked: they judge not the cause, the cause of the fatherless, yet they prosper; and the right of the needy do they not judge. Prov. 17:5 Whoso mocketh the poor reproacheth his Maker: and he that is glad at calamities shall not be unpunished. Jas. 2:3 And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool:

VIII. The Works That I Do Shall You Do Also
Levi. 19:15 Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: [but] in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour. Deut. 15:7 If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother: Job 20:10 His children shall seek to please the poor, and his hands shall restore their goods. Ps. 41:1 Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the LORD will deliver him in time of trouble. Ps. 82:3-4 Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked. Prov. 19:17 He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the LORD; and that which he hath given will he pay him again.

IX. DIY - The Do-It-Yourself Version of “Somebody Ought To Do Something”
Deut. 15:11 For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land. Job 34:31-32 Surely it is meet to be said unto God, I have borne [chastisement], I will not offend [any more]: [That which] I see not teach thou me: if I have done iniquity, I will do no more. Prov. 31:20 She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.

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Isa. 58:7 Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? Luke 14:13 But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind:

X. A Call To Action
Prov. 31:9 Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy. Dan. 4:27 Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by shewing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquility. Gal. 2:10 Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.

XI. Know Them Which Labor Among You
Ps. 10:4, 11 The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek [after God]: God [is] not in all his thoughts. He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten: he hideth his face; he will never see [it]. Job 34:27 Because they turned back from him, and would not consider any of his ways: Job 29:14 I put on righteousness, and it clothed me: my judgment [was] as a robe and a diadem. Jer. 22:16 He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well with him: was not this to know me? saith the LORD.

XII. Be Instant In Season and Out - Preach the Gospel
Ps. 12:5 For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the LORD; I will set [him] in safety [from him that] puffeth at him. Ps. 34:6 This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles. Isa. 29:19 The meek also shall increase their joy in the LORD, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel. Matt. 11:5 The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. Luke 4:18-19 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised. To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. Luke 6:20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.

XIII. Somebody’s Watching You
Job 24:1 Why, seeing times are not hidden from the Almighty, do they that know him not see his days? Job 34:30 That the hypocrite reign not, lest the people be ensnared. Psalm 10:16 The LORD [is] King for ever and ever: the heathen are perished out of his land. Prov. 22:22 Rob not the poor, because he is poor: neither oppress the afflicted in the gate: Matt. 19:21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.

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Mark 12:41-43 And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:

XIV. Commentary
“At the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man...for in the image of God made He man.” We are, indeed, our brother’s keeper. God has ordained it to be so, yet man does not appear, in many cases, to be aware of this central tenet of the godly life. “In the beginning” man was given an assignment in the earth before he ever received a body. (See Gen. 1:27-28 and Gen. 2:7) “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth; and subdue it:” Mission accomplished, right? Perhaps not. Let’s take a closer look. “Replenish”, according to Webster’s New World Dictionary, Second College Edition, means “to make full or complete again, as by furnishing a new supply.” Keeping in mind that our objective is to explore the Church’s obligation to the poor and needy, the fact that we have failed to complete our assignment is glaringly obvious. There’s no arguing that we’ve taken care of the “multiply” part; and essentially the same may be said of the third command, “to subdue the earth.” We have managed to “withdraw, bring into subjection and cultivation; conquer; vanquish; overcome; and control” one frontier after another until very little of our world remains pristine. So how have we managed to miss the mark where replenishing is concerned? Rom. 1:21-23 answers this question quite well. “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man...” Money became our focus and our god. “The love of money.” “Every man for himself.” “It’s a dog eat dog world.” “God bless us four and no more.” “Survival of the fittest.” “Self-made man.” “Somebody ought to do something.” Selfishness, pride, apathy; call it what you want, but the bottom line is disobedience. To begin laying a foundation for greater understanding, let’s start by asking two very simple questions. Do you know God? Do you love Him? Let’s turn again to the Bible to help us answer these questions truthfully. “If ye love Me, keep My commandments.” John 14:15 “And hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.” I John 2:3 “He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” I John 2:4

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Let’s ask those same questions again. Based on what the Word says about loving and knowing God; do you love Him? Do you know Him? Clearly, for either of these questions to be truthfully answered in the affirmative, we must keep His commandments. Now that that’s settled, let’s find out what His commandments are regarding our responsibility to the poor and needy. “Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: [but] in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour.” Levi. 19:15 “For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.” Deut. 15:11 “Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.” Prov. 31:9 “Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked.” Ps. 82:3-4 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Gal. 5:14 “But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” 1 John 3:17 Although not an exhaustive list by any means, the scriptures shown above will get us well on our way toward understanding the Church’s mandate to “replenish.” The definitions given herein are from both Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, Second College Edition and The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament. This comparison of secular and biblical definitions is provided to assist us in understanding the differences between how the world generally thinks and how Christians might view the world around them. While there are many commonalities, a quick perusal will identify some interesting differences. For example, the dictionary defines the poor as simply “lacking material possessions,” while, in at least one place, the Bible defines the poor as those who “work for a living.” (II Cor. 9:9). In the book of Proverbs, the wisdom of Solomon vividly contrasts both the cost and the price involved in our treatment of the poor and needy. Perhaps the most troubling truth is found in Proverbs 21:13. “Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard.” This revelation alone should be enough to rouse even the most apathetic among us. “Did not He that made me in the womb make him? And did not One fashion us in the womb?” Job 31:15 Have you ever contemplated the many facets of these rhetorical questions? Job 34:19 tells us that we are all “the work of His hands,” so why is it that some people seem to have won the genetic or financial lottery and others struggle all their lives just to keep their heads above water where health and finances are concerned?

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“...the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work...” I Ptr. 1:17a So then, is it their own fault that they are poor, or is the Church somehow at fault? Have we done our part? The Bible tells us that during His earthly ministry, one of the things that Jesus referred to as proof that He was indeed “He that should come” [the Messiah] was that “the poor have the gospel preached to them.” (Matt. 11:5) This “good news” prescription appears in the same verse along with “the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up...” Therefore, we can easily qualify the preaching of the gospel as a means of reversing the effects of, or eliminating, poverty. “And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.” Luke 6:20. A major part of the task of replenishing then is teaching the poor to access the kingdom of God. “And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?” Jas. 2:16 Preaching the gospel to the poor is more than words. The truth of God’s Word will not only replenish the spirit, but when mixed with faith and given time, the stuff of life itself. What about the waiting period? How can the Church effectively assist the poor and needy in bridging the gap between seed time and harvest? Do the works of Christ. He fed those who followed Him. (See Matt. 14, Mark 6, Luke 9, John 6 and Acts 4.) Go ye and do likewise. “He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the LORD; and that which he hath given will he pay him again.” Prov. 19:17 “Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the LORD will deliver him in time of trouble.” Ps. 41:1 Without question, many would assent to the following statement: “Somebody ought to do something.” However, exceptions not withstanding, these same people would balk at the following: “Do it yourself.” God forbid that the Church should fall into the category of “a disobedient and gainsaying people.” (Rom. 10:21) (Those who speak or act against the truth of God’s Word.) It is far more profitable to simply do as the Bible instructs. If in doubt, observe the following: “Surely it is meet to be said unto God, I have borne [chastisement], I will not offend [any more]: [That which] I see not teach thou me: if I have done iniquity, I will do no more.” Job 34:31-32 The call to action is to all of us. (See II Cor. 5:14-21) It involves preaching, feeding, clothing, and becoming a dependable, consistent, change agent. Let us now be spurred to answer the call, spurred on to complete mankind’s original assignment. Accepting our responsibility “to make full or complete again, as by furnishing a new supply,” we can replenish the earth. “And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you;” I Thess. 5:12. Follow those who follow Christ. Beware of those who would do otherwise.

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“For his eyes are upon the ways of man, and He seeth all his goings.” Job 34:21 “Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.” Isa. 1: 17-20 “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto Me.” Matt. 25:40
References Bible - King James Version “MacSword” modified Nov. 2004. Online. http://www.macsword.com Dictionary Guralnik, David, ed. Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, Second College Edition. Cleveland - New York: William Collins + World Publishing Co., Inc. 1976. Word Study Dictionary Zodhiates, Th.D., Spiros, ed. The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament. Chattanooga: AMG International, Inc. rev. ed. 1993. About the Author: Debra Thomas Jones, a member of APP’s Board of Directors, is a chaplain with the Department of Corrections, Birmingham Work Release Center for Women

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