It’s said that when missionaries came to spread Christianity in Africa, a good number of them quoted the Bible selectively, only citing verses that glorified poverty and condemned wealth. Such verses as “happy are the poor for they will inherit the kingdom of God” and “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” gained currency in missionary preaching, though many people later came to realise that this was one of the ways through which they intended to keep Africans in their “natural habitat.”
Even today, a number of Christians are still divided whether the pursuit of wealth is evil and poverty should be regarded as a virtue. Some of the biblical verses like Proverbs 24:33-34 that says “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man” doesn’t help since, taken literally, it contradicts what some New Testament verses say about wealth, poverty and the kingdom of God as has been cited above.
This has made a number of Christians question whether poverty is a virtue or a curse. Will the poor inherit the Kingdom of God as Jesus promised in the Mountain of Olives? Should Christians, therefore stay poor, even intentionally, so that they become the few chosen ones when the Lord will be selecting His people?
“It’s hypocritical for Church leaders to preach the virtue of poverty while they live in swanky houses with state-of-the-art belongings, drive 4-wheel drive cars, wear latest designer fashions, drink expensive wines and generally live a life of opulence. What message are they sending to their flock? They shouldn’t preach water to the poor and drink wine in private,” says James Makuza of Nyamirambo Catholic Church.
He adds that being poor is not dishonourable in itself, but only when it comes from laziness, intemperance thoughtlessness and profligacy. “When, on the other hand it strikes a sober, righteous, industrious and brave man, who dedicates himself to service of people, then it’s a sign of lofty spirits that hides no mean thoughts.”
Jackline Kayumba of Remera says: “The cravings for wealth may lead us into all kinds of temptations. While we spend evenings and weekends earning extra money, we unwittingly deprive our families of love and attention. We close our eyes to those simple things that need our attention, and drive us away from our God.”
She adds that being poor and content and living your life in a healthy and spiritual manner is a perfect thing. What matters if one wants to enjoy life is simplicity and desisting from greed and desire to be wealthy at all costs. “Many poor people are contented with their lives while many rich people are not. You don’t need to be rich to enjoy life,” Kayumba says.
But Christine Umunyana, also of Remera, says that some people are working very hard to be poor, and don’t need any empathy. “A person who drinks all his money and starves his family has no right to say that happy are the poor. Such a person cannot inherit the kingdom of God.”