Monday, January 19, 2009

Violence to the Poor?

People have asked whether Catalyst is a Christian foundation. I don't really like the question. The founders are committed followers of Jesus and I am also; in that respect everything we do is in some way Christian. But we are somewhat reluctant to identify Catalyst with that adjective. The reasons are slightly complex, but basically we wonder about all the assumptions that are made when anything is tagged as Christian.

We have determined that within the work of Catalyst we are not funding programs that are focused on explicit evangelism and church planting. We are active in our own churches and we certainly do believe that there is a need for the truth and grace of Jesus to be shared sincerely and broadly. We just don't believe that is the primary role for Catalyst.

So, where does faith fit into to our work? That too is complex sometimes. Most of the best leadership and relief/development organizations and resources we can find have Christian people in positions of great influence. In some cases the organizations identify as Christian, in some they don't.

Today I read an article arguing that the greatest social need in the world is not health, economics, or even justice; but restoring proper relationship with God. I certainly believe the hope and direction that come with salvation are the ultimate deliverance, and I hope that in some way my life points to that reality. At the same time, I'm wary of those who encourage people to "go, be warm and well fed" while they pass out religious literature and warn of the peril of hell.

I find myself thinking about Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. It's pretty hard for people to consider the claims of Christ if their children are dying of polluted water. Medical Ministry International understands this well, as do some of our other partners.

I would truly love to hear how the above article resonates with some of the rest of you.

1 comment:

chris wignall said...

Greg Paul from Sanctuary Toronto sent me his thoughts by email:

Hi, Chris.

I agree, of course, that the fundamental human ill is alienation from God. The danger I see is that evangelicals do tend to see social justice and the evangel as separate matters, as this writer seems to. What has happened with this in the past is that evangelicals have tended to abandon justice activities (although almost every evangelical movement was founded in such activities - our own Brethren ancestors were very active in the care of orphans and the development of more just labour laws in Britain in the 1800s), even coming to see them as antithetical to the preaching of the gospel of personal salvation. The writer points out that mainline denominations held justice and personal salvation in balance in the early to mid 1900s, before slowly sliding to a gospel that became more and more skewed to social action. True enough, but evangelicals did exactly the opposite. The truth is that both wings of the church 'lost' the integrity of the whole gospel.

Scripture teaches that what we would call 'social justice' is in fact the primary means by which we announce and actually effect good news, worship, and personal intimacy with our God. Consider Isaiah 58:

Isa 58:8-9
Then [when you have begun to engage in the kind of social justice activities described in the preceding verses]
your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

Jesus himself declares his mission as announcing good news to the poor (Luke 4), and teaches us that the way to get up close and personal with him is to do gospel things (feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and imprisoned, etc) for 'the least of these my brothers' (Matthew 25:34 ff). Caring for the poor is intrinsic to the gospel and its proclamation, not merely a good thing we do on the side.

Christ came to defeat sin and death in all its manifestations, and to redeem all creation, not just individual souls. I like what the director of the ministry to gay prositutes says near the end of the article - that doing all sorts of practical good things for people who are poor is truly, essentially important, but that we ultimately do violence to them if we withhold from them the message of personal forgiveness and redemption.

Hope that helps. I've also attached a paper that addresses this in much greater detail. I'll be presenting it to an international Salvation Army conference next week in Cleveland. Peace -