Archive for the tag “Christianity Today”

Broadening the discussion on injustice

Have you seen Gary Haugen’s new book, The Locust Effect? It gets down to a thorny issue at the heart of the constant battle against poverty.

marty-durenMarty Duren writes at Kingdom In The Midst:

A recent interview in Christianity Today hit me between the eyes. Why We’re Losing the War on Poverty featuring Gary Haugen of the International Justice Mission is a blunt evaluation of our efforts to fight injustice, specifically sex trafficking. Haugen, a former DOJ and UN investigator, says:

You can look to the struggle against slavery in the 19th century, to the struggle against child labor, to the civil rights movement. In each, the church had a critical role in not only being an advocate, but also deploying specialized expertise and skills in the work of justice. At the turn of the 20th century, the amazing police reform in New York City was influenced by a Presbyterian minister, Charles Henry Parkhurst.

Throughout history are hidden other stories of Christians taking up their biblical, prophetic role—not of seizing governmental power, but of using their power as citizens and their moral voice to ensure that the state’s power was used to protect the weakest. In Scripture, God’s people exhort the rulers, the authorities, to exercise their power with justice. The fight for law enforcement is now being engaged in the developing world. The violence manifest in the developing world is actually against the law.

The problem is not that the poor don’t get laws. The problem is that they don’t get law enforcement. There is a functional collapse of law enforcement systems in the developing world; the poor are left utterly vulnerable to violence. This is another historic opportunity for the people of God to be on the side of justice in very practical ways.
[…]

When people think of poverty, they tell you what they see: the shacks, the dirty water, the hungry families. Those are all the visuals that immediately come to mind.

What they don’t see are the assaults, the slap across the face, the rape, the torture by police, and the extortion. It’s intentionally hidden by the perpetrator. The victims are scared and ashamed, and it’s difficult for them to speak. People don’t talk about the things they don’t have solutions for. People working in the development field and in poverty-fighting or public health don’t often come from law enforcement.

The primary fields of IJM’s work are international, thus Haugen’s comments are drawn from Third World experiences. This leads CT’s Timothy Morgan to ask “What can the average American Christian do about violence against the poor thousands of miles away?” The missing element is this: these abuses of power, up to and including law enforcement, are not limited to the third world. They are prevalent in the United States.

A January 27, 2014 article out of San Diego reports Sex Trafficking Overtakes Drug Trafficking As Gang’s Top Cash Source.

San Diego’s rival street gangs like the BMS, the Neighborhood Crips and Brim have put aside their differences over turf and drugs, and have struck up alliances to sell women and girls, some as young as 12.

“They’re absolutely a syndicate,” [FBI Special Agent Robert] Howe said. “We have noticed an increase in the sex trafficking piece over the drugs. These criminal enterprise street gangs have realized the profit margins are so much bigger.”

It’s a cash-rich business for pimps because the girls and women can be sold and resold daily.

“You have a product that you don’t have to keep in inventory,” San Diego U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said. “You don’t have to purchase it. You don’t have to wait for the money to come back on this product and then buy it from the supplier. You are not as exposed as you are if you are caught with drugs to being caught with a woman or being a girl.”

Of course this is maddening and heart-breaking at the same time. These stories could be told millions of times a day. But, as a friend asked, “What can we do to change things?”

I’m feel sure Wilberforce asked himself the same question.

What hit me between the eyes is how IJM engages those in authority. They challenge the justice system by rousing community leaders to action.

The decades long evangelical strategy toward societal change has been the attempt to reform political systems. Voter drives, running for office, boycotts and the like have all been used as pressure tactics. Many of these have been at the national level over court rulings, appointees, and congressional bills. Perhaps we have overlooked going to our local council member, mayor, deputy mayor, or county commissioner, having a face-to-face conversation then publicizing the results.

I have a blog. If I were to meet with a public official over an issue of homelessness or child abuse then write a report of that meeting, it brings a different kind of pressure than, “I’m not voting for you.” Incumbents rarely have anything to fear. But if the conversation changes all around them, they have to listen.

Maybe all you have is Facebook. Use it to change the way the conversation is presented.

If we continue with the same strategy we will likely see torturously slow results. Voting out one band of self-serving politicians in favor of another profits nothing. The milk is still spoiled. Instead, let’s ignore party affiliations and keep the pressure on regardless of who holds office.

Quiet revolutionaries of freedom

Kisouru BangalaErich Bridges writes at WorldView Conversation:

Having no faith in the existence of heaven, postmodern secularists dream of a paradise on earth.

This paradise — to be created and ruled by secularists themselves, since there is no God — will ensure freedom for all, eliminate oppression, eradicate poverty and guarantee equality. Perhaps most important, it will bury old religious superstitions once and for all and usher in a new era of universal “tolerance.”

Cue global group hug.

“Society will outgrow doctrinaire [religious] belief systems accepted on traditional ‘faith’ and inculcated by authoritarian intimidation,” confidently predicts one futurist. His forecast is echoed by many others.

Since this brave new world didn’t work out so well during the disastrous experiment on humanity called communism, secularists hold up post-religious, democratic Western Europe as a model. There, old cathedrals stand empty and traditional Christianity appears to be dying, but many Western Europeans still enjoy relative political and personal freedom — at least for now. In the new, post-religious world promoted by secularists, that’s enough. For them, freedom is an entirely material phenomenon, a new stage in the historical evolution of human beings striving to shake off the chains of oppressive institutions, especially religious ones.

Such a view is not only bigoted but reveals historical ignorance verging on amnesia.

Even a cursory study of the West locates the roots of the modern idea of human freedom in the radical Gospel liberation offered by the God of the New Testament. The spiritual revolution begun by the first Christian Apostles and missionaries, while Rome still ruled, was rekindled and powerfully amplified in the emerging modern world by the Protestant Reformation, the printing press and the spread of the Bible to the masses in their own languages. Freed from their spiritual and mental chains, Europeans eventually embraced democracy and the ideals of political liberty.

And what about the rest of the world?

A fascinating cover story in Christianity Today reaffirms a historical reality that will make the secular fundamentalists gnash their teeth: Missionaries have spread freedom and education, aided the poor, worked for the empowerment of women and advanced general human progress almost everywhere they have gone. Not just any missionaries, mind you, but “conversionary” Protestant missionaries — evangelical Christians who have gone into the world to spread the Gospel and make disciples.

The Surprising Discovery About Those Colonialist, Proselytizing Missionaries,” by Andrea Palpant Dilley, highlights the groundbreaking research of sociologist Robert Woodberry, associate professor and director of the Project on Religion and Economic Change at the National University of Singapore. As a young grad student in sociology 14 years ago at the University of North Carolina, Woodberry became intrigued with the connection between the spread of Protestant Christianity across the globe and the spread of freedom and democracy. He has made it his life’s work.

“In essence, Woodberry was digging into one of the great enigmas of modern history: why some nations develop stable representative democracies — in which citizens enjoy the rights to vote, speak, and assemble freely — while neighboring countries suffer authoritarian rulers and internal conflict,” Dilley writes. “Public health and economic growth can also differ dramatically from one country to another, even among countries that share similar geography, cultural background, and natural resources.”

What he found in country after country was a direct correlation between the historical presence and mission activity of “conversionary Protestants” and the advance of freedom and social progress.

“I was shocked,” Woodberry told Dilley. “It was like an atomic bomb. The impact of missions on global democracy was huge. I kept adding variables to the model — factors that people had been studying and writing about for the past 40 years — and they all got wiped out. It was amazing. I knew, then, I was on to something really important.”

Woodberry “already had historical proof that missionaries had educated women and the poor, promoted widespread printing, led nationalist movements that empowered ordinary citizens, and fueled other key elements of democracy,” Dilley reports. “Now the statistics were backing it up: Missionaries weren’t just part of the picture. They were central to it.”

In 2005, a $500,000 grant from the John Templeton Foundation enabled Woodberry to hire a platoon of research assistants and launch a major database to gather more information. Armed with those results, he was able to assert:

“Areas where Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in nongovernmental associations.”

Woodberry’s findings explode the popular modern myth that most 19th- and early 20th-century missionaries were little more than agents or unwitting tools of Western colonialism. Yes, some fell into that tragic pattern. But many others sided with the people they served in the face of any form of exploitation, local or foreign. They fought the opium trade in China, defended Africans and Pacific islanders from encroaching white settlers, worked for the abolition of slavery in the Caribbean, struggled against temple prostitution and the burning of widows in India. And nearly everywhere they went, they began schools and hospitals, taught people to read and helped the poor to better their lot.

“Pull out a map, says Woodberry, point to any place where ‘conversionary Protestants’ were active in the past, and you’ll typically find more printed books and more schools per capita,” Dilley writes. “You’ll find, too, that in Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia, most of the early nationalists who led their countries to independence graduated from Protestant mission schools.”

In most cases, Protestant missionaries of the past did these things not because they were radical social reformers or political revolutionaries, but because their Gospel ministry brought them close to the common people, the poor and the oppressed, whom they sought to serve in the love of Christ.

What is the message for evangelicals in a postmodern age that relentlessly strives to sneer the Gospel out of the public square? Stop apologizing for your missionary roots. Be proud of your spiritual ancestors. Many of them were gutsy heroes who braved all sorts of dangers to take the Gospel far beyond its traditional centers to the ends of the earth.

They changed the world of their day and ours — and they are worth following.

Listen to an audio version of this column.

More than ‘fair trade’ activism: Doing justice requires risk

fair trade activism vRachel Pieh Jones writes at christianitytoday.com:

… I have a theory about what is partly contributing to the dearth of young Americans willing to spend their lives on behalf of others.

They think they already are.

They think that with their pocketbooks and food choices alone, by sewing their own clothes and purchasing fair-trade coffee, by boycotting Wal-Mart and preaching that as gospel, they have already done their part to address global injustices.

In Nicholas Kristof’s documentary Half the Sky, actress Meg Ryan also thought she was doing her part to highlight child trafficking in Cambodia, but then declines to go on a brothel raid. She says she doesn’t have the “adventure” gene. I appreciate her honesty. I have less appreciation for her ignorance. What did she think fighting sex trafficking would be like, if not going to brothels themselves? Her reticence is symbolic of goodhearted people who have forgotten about risk.

Buying fair-trade coffee, boycotting Gap jeans, and eating only organic vegetarian foods can be important and valuable decisions. They cost time, money, comfort, and an established worldview. But they cannot be the end of our response to the deeply systemic and complex issues that allow human suffering to persist the world over. They don’t require risk.

Read the full text of this very challenging article by clicking here.
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