Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Justice, Oppression, Poverty and Mission... Where Do We Stand?

What do you do when what you believe no longer seems to be orthodox?

What do you do when you have arrived at a place where it seems that if you share where you are at, you’ll be exposed, sort of like the Emperor with no clothes?

In Isaiah 58 we read... “If you do away with the yoke of oppression… and if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will shine in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”

Years ago I was at a training event for youth pastors. The speaker, a well known Christian leader opened his presentation by saying he did not care if another kid ever came to Christ through his ministry.

You can imagine the uproar that came from the room. Here was this respected leader telling everyone there that what they thought was important, was not very important.

As the crowd readied their pitchforks, he explained.

He was saying he was not interested in getting people to pray the prayer; he was looking for people to develop deep seated long lasting relationships with Jesus. And he wanted the people who he was serving to have food on their table at night, be able to walk the streets of their neighborhood without fear of gunfire and live a life filled with hope and expectation not just for that eternal future, but for the present too.

They weren’t buying it. The Gospel is the Gospel is the Gospel. Period. And let’s not mix it up with all this social justice stuff.

Working in Oaxaca, Mexico has changed me. It has brought me face to face with such systemic evil that at times it is hard for me to even share.

Things like oppression, hunger, injustice and poverty are not just concepts I read about, they are facts of life in the corner of the world I believe God has called me. But here’s the rub, a significant number of people that support Christian missionary work do not believe working to alleviate these horrible realities is part of our Gospel calling.

I believe that justice and everything connected to it needs to be a central part of our holistic Gospel witness. But that belief puts me dangerously close to heresy in the eyes of many in the church. It also negatively impacts the finances that are needed for His work, not just in Mexico, but around the world as people look to ensure their gifts and donations are being used for "pure Gospel work."

As I have lived and served in Mexico, I have come to see the human existence as a stool supported by three legs of health. One of those legs is spiritual, one economic, and one physical. If you take out any one of these legs, the stool will collapse. If any one of those legs is over, or under developed, the stool will not function properly.

For too long, the church has only focused on developing one of these critical legs, which makes for a pretty unstable stool upon which to depend.

As I look across the landscape of ministry in Mexico generally, and in Oaxaca specifically, I see a church that has grown into maturity and is doing a good job in the spiritual health department. Sure, there are areas that need improvement, but overall, the Christian church in Mexico has arrived.

So why am I there? Because I believe that we need to strengthen the other two legs of people’s stools. Because I believe we need to spend our lives on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed!

Then our light will shine in the darkness.

Next up... Connecting economic and physical health to the Gospel.


Lisa said...

By the way Dave I did answer Kid but when he has no reply he doesn't publish the comments..

Scott said...

Social justice is not an "issue" for Christians if kept in perspective. Study the revival of Wesley. It was clearly gospel oriented, there are few as evangelistic as Wesley was. And through this revival came social justice that changed England dramatically. The issue is when social justice becomes the end all, and the gospel is left behind as secondary. Any study of Church history will tell you that when social justice becomes the primary focus, priorities are out of order, and the group/ministry will within a generation or two, walk away from the reality of Jesus being the way, the truth and the life. There are far too many groups who started as Christians working on social justice, moved toward social justice exclusively and left Christianity behind.