Empower Women, End Poverty

"…In my opinion, the single most significant thing that can be done to cure extreme poverty is this: protect, educate, and nurture girls and women and provide them with equal rights and opportunities – educationally, economically, and socially." 
–Rich Stearns, President, World Vision US

Women of Vision is a volunteer ministry of World Vision that mobilizes women to address poverty and justice issues that relate specifically to other women and their children. 

Volunteers are involved in combating female genital mutilation in East Africa, providing counseling services to children in war-torn areas of the Middle East, helping young Romanians integrate into society after growing up in orphanages, and meeting the needs of street children in Cambodia, Mexico, and Mongolia.  All proceeds from the auction, (after fees), will go to projects like these.

Thank you for your bids!

Package #1 includes 2 reversible car seat covers, a light blue knit scarf, a “Robin’s Nest” therapy sack, and a signed copy of Evolving In Monkey Town.

Package #2 includes 2 reversible car seat covers, a green-and-white-striped knit scarf (perfect for St. Patrick’s Day!), and a one-of-a-kind Proverbs 31 sash, handmade and signed by yours truly!

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Spring Break Re-Post 1: How God Judges the Nations

I’m taking a little spring break from blogging this week and reposting some oldies. This post, from August of 2008, is especially appropriate in light of last week’s discussion about Glenn Beck’s controversial comments. (See also Scot McKnight’s fantastic post on the subject.)

James, the brother of Jesus, wrote the following in an open letter to the early church:  “…Weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you…[Your sin] will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire.” Was he referring to a) homosexuality, b) abortion, or c) excessive wealth?

The answer is c.

When the Prophet Ezekiel describes why God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, does he cite the cities’ a) sexual promiscuity, b) abortion record, or c) excessive wealth/neglect of the poor?

The answer, again, is c. In Ezekiel 16:49, the prophet quotes God as saying: “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, surfeit of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them, when I saw it.” (emphasis mine)

In his letter to Timothy, Paul urged his young protégé to “flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness…” Was Paul warning against a) homosexuality, b) pornography, or c) wealth?

The answer is c. Paul writes, “If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare, and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. Flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness…” (I Timothy 6:9-11)

I highlighted the passages above to show how the Bible consistently employs strong language to describe the potential dangers of wealth, and to condemn the neglect of the poor. The “fire and brimstone” tones so often used by evangelicals to judge homosexuality or abortion are actually more commonly used in the Bible to judge excessive wealth and injustice toward the needy…sins that perhaps hit a little too close to home. 

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been warned of God’s impending judgment on America in response to gay marriage and abortion. Attend just about any church event billed as “a time of prayer and fasting for our nation” and the focus will be on these hot-button issues. However, a more serious look at Scripture reveals that the most consistent criteria regarding God’s judgment of nations is how those nations treat the poor.

For example, the prophet Amos tried desperately to warn that the northern kingdom of Israel would be destroyed. Why was God going to allow this to happen? Writes Amos, “Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall…Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile, and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away.” (Amos 6:4, 7) In Israel, Amos described a kingdom in which the rich “trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth.” (Amos 2:7)

Isaiah too warned that destruction would befall Judah because of its mistreatment of the poor: “Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees…to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right…What will you do on the day of punishment, in the calamity that will come from far away?” (Isaiah 10:1-3)

Jeremiah also condemned the wealthy who had amassed riches at the expense of the poor. He writes,“They have become great and rich, they have grown fat and sleek. They know no bounds in deeds of wickedness; they judge not with justice the cause of the fatherless, to make it prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy. ‘Shall I not punish them for these things?’ says the Lord, ‘and shall I not avenge myself on a nation such as this?’” (Jeremiah 5:26-29)

Even at the ultimate judgment, Jesus makes the standard for judging the nations quite clear: 

“I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.” (Matthew 25:35-36)

And what fate befalls those nations who do differently?

“Depart from Me accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.”

So I guess the question is, how does the U.S. stack up?  No one would dispute that we are a wealthy nation. But how do we treat the needy among us? And how do we respond to the incredible poverty around the world?

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Do you go to a “communist” church?

“He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you? 
To act justly and to love mercy 
and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

"When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint.
When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist." - Helder Camara

***

Glenn Beck: "I beg you, look for the words ’social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words [for communism]. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!"

Jesus:  "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and the regaining of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Luke 4:18; see also Leviticus 25, Isaiah 58, Matthew 25:31-46, 2 Corinthians 8:13-15…and, quite frankly, the entire Bible.)

Often when I’m speaking with conservative friends about politics and I ask how a certain policy might affect the poor, they say that caring for the poor is not the government’s job; it’s the church’s job. I don’t necessarily agree, but I think it’s a fair point and I can respect that position. And yet Beck seems to be suggesting that even churches that seek to bring relief to the poor should be abandoned!

Now, I don’t want to spend much time picking on Glenn Beck. He’s a bit too extreme to take seriously, and I suspect most of my readers don’t think of him as an authoritative figure. In fact, I’ll give Beck the benefit of the doubt and assume he has no idea what “social justice” means and is simply ignorant of the fact that it’s been a part of the Church’s identity for over 2,000 years.

What I’d like to ask is this: Does YOUR church Web site say anything about justice? Does it say anything about caring for the poor, helping the sick, or standing against oppression?

Feel free to copy and paste or include a link!

Maybe Glen Beck has done us a favor, providing churches around the country with a little gut-check moment! :-)

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We already failed Haiti

Transient

As images from Haitian earthquake continue to flood our TV screens, and as calls for aid grow louder and louder, it’s only natural that we pause and ask ourselves, Why did this happen? Where was God in all of this? Couldn't He have done something?

For years, questions like these threatened to unravel my faith. In the aftermath of the Asian tsunami of 2004 and the Pakistani earthquake of 2005, I found myself struggling to believe that God was good, present, and real. When well-meaning friends told me that these disasters were just God’s way of punishing sin, I recoiled at the thought of God finding honor and glory in the suffering of little children.  For a time, I came close to giving up on the Christian faith.

While I haven’t found answers to all of my questions, I have since come to believe that if the God of the Bible is true, then He loves his creation and no one is forgotten or disposable to Him. He doesn’t desire sin, pain, and destruction. These things are the result of a broken world, filled with broken people, harassed by a broken yet powerful Enemy. 

This shift in my perspective was accompanied by a greater sense of responsibility.  I was moved by Mother Teresa’s simple response to the question of God’s goodness in light of suffering. “If sometimes our poor people have had to die of starvation,” she said, “it is not because God didn’t care for them, but because you and I didn’t give, were not instruments of love in the hands of God, to give them that bread, to give them that clothing; because we did not recognize him, when once more Christ came in distressing disguise—in the hungry man, in the lonely man, in the homeless child, and seeking for shelter.” 

Saint Teresa of Avila put it this way:

Christ has no body on earth but yours, 
no hands but yours, 
no feet but yours. 
Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion for the world is to look out;
yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good;
and yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now.

You might wonder how this applies to something like a 7.0-magnitude earthquake, something so entirely out of our hands. 

Well, in an interview with CNN, Haiti’s ambassador to the United States described his country as “a catastrophe waiting to happen.” Haiti has the lowest per capita income of any country in the western hemisphere.  More than three quarters of the population live in extreme poverty. In addition to suffering from disease, malnutrition, illiteracy, and political upheaval, the people of Haiti deal with one of the worst infrastructures in the world. Most live in flimsy, breakable homes, homes incapable of withstanding an earthquake of this magnitude. 

These people have been living in abject poverty right under our nose—less than 700 miles from our shore. 

While we spent millions on weight-loss pills, our neighbors were dying of hunger. While we bemoaned the fall of our inflated financial institutions, our neighbors were struggling to find shelter for the night. While we filled our homes with Christmas presents in celebration of Christ's incarnation, our neighbors watched their children slip away into despondency, as hunger and sickness overcame their little bodies. 

Christians love to debate whether homosexuality is a sin and if gays should be allowed to marry. Perhaps it is time to debate whether such gross inequity is a sin and if we should allow ourselves to continue to grow richer while our neighbors are so poor. 

(We need only look to Isaiah 58 for our answer.) 

Now, I’m not trying to take anyone on a guilt trip. These are things I thought about last night, as I looked around my living room—at my TV, my Wii Fit, my shelf full of books, and my Alabama Crimson Tide Snuggie. I wondered how many Haitian children I could have sponsored, how many vaccines I could have paid for, how many sturdy homes I could have built. 

In Richard Stearns’ excellent book, The Hole in Our Gospel, the president of World Vision explained, “It is not our fault that people are poor, but it is our responsibility to do something about it.”

As the Apostle Paul put it, "Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written, 'He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.'" (1 Corinthians 8:13-15)

We have already failed Haiti. The question is—Will we do it again? 

***

Help the victims of the Haitian earthquake

Some questions for you: How do you process disasters like these on a theological level? How do you respond to disasters like these on a practical level?

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