Problems of the Heart

Twenty years ago, Star Parker was a single mother living on welfare. She had been through four abortions and had a history of drug abuse, promiscuity, and burglary. Today, Star Parker is the president and founder of the nonprofit Coalition on Urban Renewal and Education. She is a popular author and a committed Christian. In her latest book, Uncle Sam's Plantation: How Big Government Enslaves America's Poor and What We Can Do about It, Parker recalls the words that helped turn her life around. Having gone to church at the invitation of some Christian friends, Parker heard the pastor challenge his congregation with these words: "What are you doing living on welfare? . . . The government is not your source!" Parker was stunned. "Government welfare was my source -- my only source," she writes. "I believed I was entitled to receive government welfare anytime I wanted it and viewed it as an unlimited resource. This belief was intrinsic to my worldview. I didn't realize my belief system had trapped me in spiritual and economic poverty." Looking back now, Parker believes that her problems stemmed from a lazy and rebellious attitude that she adopted while still in her teens. She divides the poor into three categories -- "the economically challenged," "the lazy poor," and "the poor in spirit." Parker has worked with people in each category and understands that many poor people are not to blame for their circumstances. But she unhesitatingly classifies her younger self as one of the "lazy poor," willing to blame anybody but herself for her problems and unwilling to work when she could get welfare checks for doing nothing. That's why Parker argues that government's increasing involvement in the lives of the poor causes a dangerous dependency, leading to emotional and spiritual poverty. The welfare reform bill enacted in the 1990s was a good start, but, in her mind, it does not go far enough. We need to change cultural attitudes about government and the poor. We're still attempting to use government as a Band-Aid to cover life-threatening wounds. Parker doesn't propose any one-size-fits-all solution, but she does assert that we must not encourage poor people to see government as their salvation. Government can never solve the kind of problems that held her down for so long, Parker says, because they are problems of the heart and must be dealt with at a deeper level than government can reach. As Parker writes, "In our attempt to blame poverty on prejudice, we have taught the poor to be prejudiced against the basic values necessary to sustain a free and civil society . . . We've taught them there are no real absolutes to the human condition -- except perhaps that the highest value in life is to acquire things." That's a good reminder for all of us, the poor and the prosperous alike. Our dependence on government to help the poor is a natural result of an outlook that honors materialism and wealth above everything else. But materialism is no answer for rich or poor. Real hope comes only from God who teaches us to work with dignity, who gives us self-worth. I have met Parker and read her book. She's a sparkling witness, and I hope every political reader will read her book. Then we could really do something to give the poor real help. For further reading and information: Star Parker, Uncle Sam's Plantation (WND Books, 2003). See Star Parker's tour and media schedule. Dutch Martin, "Star Parker on 'Uncle Sam's Plantation,'" interview,, 30 December 2003. Star Parker, "The real lessons of black history,", 4 February 2004. Star Parker with Pamela Pearson Wong, "Breaking the Bonds," Family Voice, March/April 2000. BreakPoint Commentary No. 040106, "At the Foot of the Cross." BreakPoint Commentary No. 031009, "Smashing Idols: Why God Loves the Poor." Chuck Colson, "The Lost Art of Association," BreakPoint Online. "Richer, Fatter, and Not Much Happier," press release for State of the World 2004, Worldwatch Institute, 8 January 2004.


Chuck Colson


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