Tag Archives: social justice

True Religion

World Vision President Richard Stearns opines in the Wall Street Journal  concerning the falsehoods Americans believe concerning how much aid the government provides the poor around the world.   Many believe that 25% of the federal government goes to foreign aid when the actual number is 1.5%.    Of that 1.5%, 0.5% is poverty focused.  In addition, a Pew Research Center survey revealed 56% of evangelicals think “aid to the world’s poor should be the first thing cut from the federal budget.”   Stearns also points out a Baylor University survey found that Americans who strongly believe that “God has a plan” for their lives—as evangelicals do—are the most likely to oppose government intervention on behalf of the poor.

One of the great mysteries of our present state of Christianity is how clear Scripture is concerning our role in helping the poor and how often we divorce that thought from our value set.   How can one read James 1:27 (“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world”) and then come to the conclusion that it is a bad thing to help the poor?   As they say in the text world SMH.

One common argument of being against government providing poverty focused aid both domestically and internationally is that its the church’s job to take care of the poor, therefore government shouldn’t interfere.  Besides, the narrative goes, in order for ministries to effectively carry out their mission if the government is involved financially the possibility rises of ministry being controlled by government regulation.

Really if we call a spade a spade what such skepticism is rooted in is not Scripture but political leanings.  The fear of being “controlled” by government is understandable.  However oftentimes the same people who express this fear applaud when corporations get involved in aiding the poor.  Where then is a healthy skepticism of being “controlled” by corporations who give aid to ministries?  Furthermore, when one realizes the common good that  government plays in providing poverty aid (especially for many people of color) such skepticism between government and corporations needs to be justified, not merely accepted as government aid=bad and corporate aid=good.

This is not an partisan issue.   We as the church need to take the biblical imperative to take care of the poor seriously and accept all the help we can get from the outside.

How Did We Get Here?

“Here is a question that you need to wrestle with.  How much time do you spend with sin sick people?  I’m not talking about some evangelism program.  I’m talking about intentionally building relationships with people you know need the Great Physician.   To quote Jesus I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”   This is clearly the method of His mission.  So maybe when those undocumented workers from Mexico show up on your job instead of parroting that Mormon Glen Beck or acting like Romans 13 is the only chapter in the Bible you follow the teaching of Philemon, welcome the stranger, and turn it into an opportunity for the gospel to be spread.” –  An excerpt from one of my sermons  

Was that offensive to you?   A few months ago I had an experience that was a first in my 20 years of preaching.   After this  sermon on social justice a man came up to talk to me about this point.   He started off cordial but no more than 30 seconds in I realized his niceness was a set up.   He kept inching closer and closer, literally getting in my face and angrily chewing me out over my comments.   I literally had to walk away in fear of the guy hitting me and trust me, I don’t scare easily.  It was a very tense moment.

But that wasn’t the end of it.   He stormed off and chewed out the host pastor for inviting me.  Other people chewed out one of the staff pastors.  Furthermore some people tracked down my home phone number and called, demanding a meeting about the sermon.   I thought I was in the Twilight Zone.  I don’t know maybe it’s me but I didn’t think what I said was so offensive.   But obviously it was.

Last week at my Alma mater (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) Al Mohler and Jim Wallis debated the question “Is social justice an essential part of the mission of the church?”  I didn’t watch the debate because for me I read Micah 6:8, Matthew 25:31-46, and a host of other Scriptures and that’s a wrap.   Personally I’m not even sure how  this a question that can be debated.   So how did we get here in the first place, where we are questioning whether the church and justice should be paired together?   And people want to deck a 6″5, 275lbs guy at their own peril (I may be a minister but I ain’t but one generation from the street!)

So let’s have our own debate.   How did we get to the place in the American church where its Gospel v. Social Justice?

On Troy Davis

Sitting here watching CNN report on the anguish of Troy Davis.   I had not really payed attention to this case until tonight.  Doing some internet research quite honestly I have no idea as to whether the man is guilty or not.  I’m not a lawyer either but  it seems to me common sense dictates that if 7 of the 9 witnesses recant their testimony there should be a stay of execution.  What flashed in my mind was a story that I read many years ago in the book A Theology as Big as the City by Ray Bakke:

A Clergy colleague of mine spent a day in Chicago’s housing court watching as the judge threw out case after case of renters in slum buildings.  He always sided with the slumlords, those absentee real estate speculators, against the poor people.  Finally my friend could stand it no longer.  He spoke up:  “Your honor, if it pleases the court, may I ask, Where is the justice in this court?  I’ve been here all day long and I’ve seen no justice whatsoever.”  The judge quickly replied “Reverend this is no court of justice.  This is a court of law.  If you want justice change the law!”

This is yet another reminder that we do not have courts of justice in America but courts of law.  I can’t help but feel that the law has failed in this case.  With all the doubt surrounding this at the very least the Governor could have given Davis clemency, stopping the execution but keeping him in jail for life.  That may not have been just either but it would have at least kept a man who may have been innocent alive.

Grading the Middle Class

The Atlantic which is one of my favorite mags has an excellent article on the shrinking middle class.  It’s long but worth the read.  Essentially it talks about how the gap between the haves and have nots is growing more and more.   My thoughts as always is how will this effect the Church?   Talking about this with one of my colleagues via email about the article he made an excellent observation that I will share with you:

I read this. Interesting. I can’t help but see ways in which history is repeating itself.

The glory of ancient Rome was preserving the Republic, with it’s failure due to greed (cf. the Historian Sallust) and a lust for power and control, representative government shifted to oppressive injustice under the Empire.

In the days of Christ there were basically the rich, the poor and the destitute. The rich in the Scriptures did not have to work, but had others work for them. They owned the land, were merchants, tax collectors, or inherited their wealth. New Testament scholars estimate that only a few percent of the population, much like this article were rich. The other 90+ percent were either the poor or the destitute. The poor were people who lived on their daily wages, or as we say today worked “paycheck to paycheck.” The destitute were those who were blind. In the NT, both the poor and the destitute are translated (or mistranslated) “the poor.”

So why ramble on this…your article makes me wonder too…Wondering backwards to look forwards…

When Jesus arrived in a world where NT scholars say there was virtually no middle class, he called His people to live in communities of grace, justice, love in a world…Those who were not rich were not to try to be rich, but to be content with basic necessities. Those who were rich were to realize the purpose of their provision was to do good, be rich in good works, be generous sharers of possessions…

I guess I am saying we should create the communities of care because soon, those on top won’t care, and most of us will be on the bottom anyway. Let those who think they control the world do so, for what shall it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul, right? I guess what I mean is Jesus did not launch programs, he called for a different way of life that compelled people in droves…

Some pretty challenging thoughts to chew on.