Our local newspaper ran an article on its editorial page highlighting a positive view of life in this century. It reported that this has been the most prosperous time in human history. Wars have been on a much smaller scale than last century. More people are richer, lives are longer, and the American economy is the healthiest in the world. Income is rising, unemployment is falling. At the same time there are many sectors of the population who feel that they have been left behind and are trapped in their low-paying jobs. Our federal debt is now 70 percent of gross domestic product (it used to be 40 percent). In ten years it will be 85 percent which means that it will take one-third of income tax revenue simply to pay interest on the national debt. Politicians give us what we want and borrow to pay for it. Will we end up like Greece?

Worldwide there has been a stunning decline in poverty, illiteracy and disease. Since 1990: 2 billion people have gained access to clean water, 156 million people are no longer hungry, maternal mortality rates have been cut in half. The proportion of people living in extreme poverty is now half of what it was 25 years ago. However nearly 800 million people are still chronically hungry, and 663 million people lack clean water. The world is divided between the haves and the have nots. That, in part, is fueling the refugee and immigration crisis in Europe and North America.

Rich Stearns, president of World Vision reports that about 50 countries – characterized by conflict, natural disasters, poor governance and civil war – contain 50 percent of the world’s poor even though they have only 20 percent of the world’s population.

Emma Lazarus wrote the words which are inscribed inside the Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

What does that mean for us today? Is it realistic? What challenges does it mean for our culture, for Western civilization? These are hard questions when there are so many desperate to escape poverty and yet not always willing to assimilate and become American or European citizens with our values of democracy, freedom, equality, and a respect for our Judeo-Christian heritage.