Friday, January 10, 2014

The imminent revival, part 6: Addressing unjust economics

My pastor has often said in his sermons, "God is a good provider, but man is a poor divider." The last decade or so is a prime example of what he's been talking about.

Fifty years ago began President Lyndon B. Johnson's "War on Poverty," which used government programs and political action to help lift those who were suffering from the lack of not only funds but also resources. Of course the debate as to whether the "Great Society" worked is still out there, with its critics spending hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars to insist that the programs were counterproductive.

But its critics often, and deliberately, miss the point that it wasn't about money -- it was about resources. That is, get folks boots so that they could pull themselves up by their bootstraps. They never talk about that, perhaps because they realize that doing so will cost them power.

Which is spiritually ruinous, because when you have economic, cultural, political and social power you won't want, or feel that you need, the power of the Holy Spirit.

I have said many times that so-called religious right groups, led by media "ministries," were in fact in God's way, and I'm glad that they finally seem to be crumbling. With all their emphasis on "cultural" issues, they completely ignored that folks were suffering due to policies instituted by people they supported (and whom I suspect supported them financially). You never heard poverty discussed in Christian media because, frankly, industry -- who for the most part didn't care about abortion or gay marriage -- had basically bought them off. In this way "conservative Christian" groups became in fact theologically liberal.

Let's never forget that economics is a Christian issue and that bad economics, including denying opportunity to the powerless, represents sin.

So what does this have to do with spiritual awakening? A number of things.

First, we will no longer allow non-believers to determine the church's agenda; we will not only encourage people to live by Kingdom values but carry them out ourselves and thus show the world, "This is how it's done." Second, many of us Christians living during difficult economic times -- and who may have been caught up in the American dream-turned-nightmare -- will recognize that they were, in the words of Ecclesiastes, "striving after wind." Third, and related to the second, folks will realize that whatever they have comes from the hand of God and as a result develop humility. Fourth, and most importantly, we will finally identify with those that are suffering and learn what it really takes to minister to the "least of these" -- because we may have been there.

If we do these things in the power of the Spirit we won't be able to build churches fast enough, if only because we will offer something much different from the world.

I won't say that programs are wrong in themselves; they simply reflect a failure of the church "to act justly and to love mercy and walk humbly with [our] God," as mentioned in Micah 6:8. Sometimes that means challenging the powers that be, including ourselves -- and that means we need to be ready to abandon our personal and cultural agendas.

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