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The Rev. Dr. Bill Coates: Following the way of Christ to help put an end to poverty

I will confess that I do not know what it is like to be poor. 

My mother and father both worked for the textile industry which meant they had steady employment, were able to build a small home, and they shared one used but reliable Chevrolet. We had a big garden and ate well; even throughout the winter we enjoyed the corn, peas, cabbage, blackberries my mom had canned the summer before. Now in their mid-eighties, they still live this way — one reason I love going to see them.

No one is meant to live in poverty. And we must dispel ourselves of the notion that poverty comes from laziness. It rarely does. Poverty by definition is lack. Lack of ability, lack of opportunity, lack of understanding. Above all, now more than ever, it is lack of education.  Industrialization and technology have changed the world, making skilled jobs requiring expert training and education indispensable. 

Governor Nathan Deal has put specialized education high on our state’s list of priorities as new businesses with great needs of an educated workforce locate in our state. He is seeking a systemic approach to lifting many out of poverty and dependency.

Perhaps the great problem, though, is another lack — lack of family. With so many broken families, or families affected by addiction, or families with less access to good education, many children grow up caught firmly in the cycle of poverty. 

Strong, loving families give their children huge advantages. This is where we as people of faith, as ministers and church leaders, can make the greatest difference. 

When we teach Christ’s values of honesty, fidelity, humility; when we proclaim peace, gentleness, generosity and when we model love for God and for all God’s children, this Christ way can only help. Following the Christ way means we must proclaim and model equal treatment for every person irrespective of race, gender, cultural background and religion. 

Christ treated Jews and Gentiles, men and women, rich and poor, slaves and free, Romans, Greeks and Samaritans the same. To him, every child is God’s child. 

And the central message of Christmas is exactly this: that, as Paul put it, “Christ became poor that in his poverty we might be made rich.” His way is the way out of a life of poverty into a life of fullness.

My parents are not wealthy, but they are rich. And through their deep faith they imparted their riches to my two brothers and to me, one of many reasons I have never personally known poverty.

The Rev. Dr. Bill Coates is senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Gainesville. He can be reached at 770-534-7354 or

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