Secret Millionaire (aka Hidden Poverty)

I watched Secret Millionaire for the first time yesterday. I had seen that it was going to be in Houston, so I hit the record button on my DVR. I have resisted watching the series until now. The whole concept seemed gimmicky to me, and it made me uncomfortable for reasons that I couldn't put my finger on. So I didn't watch. But watching this most recent episode, I think I am a little more capable of putting my finger at what disturbs me about the concept of this show.

Ok, yes. It was moving. It was heart-warming to see the good work done by the social agencies featured in the show (Lazarus House, No More Victims, and the Sean Ashley House). It was heart-breaking to see the poverty in the neighborhood visited by the "secret millionaires." It was touching to see the millionaire couple appear genuinely moved by what they saw, and respond with generosity. All that is true. And, if that is all that matters, then it was good entertainment.

But this is not just entertainment. This is life - life in our country, life in our culture. When Kevin & Diane Hearn arrived in Houston's 3rd Ward - a neighborhood that Kevin had grown up in - they were shocked at what they saw. In their daily life, they don't encounter people who live in that sort of poverty. They live in a different America. In the 3rd Ward, the average annual income is around $5,500. In the Hearns America, that is on the low side for a daily income.

  • How about instead of asking people like the Hearns to help in communities like the 3rd Ward for entertainment, we say that no one should have to live in that sort of poverty in our America?
  • Wouldn't it be a great America if organizations like the Lazarus House, the Sean Ashley House, and No More Victims didn't have to scrape by on shoe-string budgets?
  • How is it that a show like "Secret Millionaire" - and the generosity that it highlights - does well in the ratings at a time when we are cutting our funding of social services for the poorest people in our country?

Maybe a show like Secret Millionaire is good entertainment, good television. But when I watch it, I can't help but feel like it is a symptom of a very deep-seated illness. A reflection of our twisted thinking about wealth, the Gospel, and what it means to love and care for our neighbor. We seem caught in in a mindset that our first priority is to look out for ourselves, take care of ourselves, and close our eyes to how our actions affect anyone else.

Should a nation that calls itself Christian, that claims a Christian heritage and values, be able to close our eyes to the suffering of any of God's children? Should there be an option for us to live a comfortable life where we never have to see the "other America" - the America that struggles below the poverty line?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not just talking about the extremely wealthy, like the Hearns. It's us in middle-class America too. I've never been to the Houston's 3rd Ward, and I live just down the road. But what would happen if we spent the $30 a month to help lift people out of poverty, instead of on our membership to a gym like Curves? What if we spent $50 a month to provide healthcare for those special needs children, instead of on our satellite tv subscription? What if we spent $5 a day on education for children from troubled homes, instead of on another latte? What if we really start to look at the affects of poverty in America, instead of letting the poor be hidden from our eyes?

I'm just asking the questions. I don't know that I have the answers. But they are questions that I think that we need to ask together. Or, we could just change the channel.