Friday, August 28, 2009

A Gospel Way That Is Neither Liberal Nor Conservative

Okay, so I'm home on my day off supposedly finishing a fence project that I started last summer. The wife and kids are gone to the zoo to give me peace and space. I look forward to their return even as I enjoy work in peace. As I work I'm listening to the radio and what I'm listening to is hacking me off.

At present I'm listening to Michael Medved. He's talking about this story which I agree is horrific. But the way he's talking about it reveals the paucity of his conservative Jewish worldview.

How does liberal politics deal with sex offenders? Here's in a nutshell (the fence awaits my attention after all!) what a liberal view says: criminals are not bad people, yes they've done some bad things, but if they get a better view on life via rehabilitation (like education only later in life after you've screwed up), they can reenter society.

How does conservative politics deal with sex offenders? Here's the summary: criminals are bad people, that's why they've done bad things, they may be convinced that the spoils of crime don't add up to the benefits of right living, if so they can be released but if not keep them locked up and never let them back in society. This last phrase is what Medved is saying about the recently arrested man who kept the sex slave for 19 years.

Here's my hasty analysis... the liberal gets it wrong because they don't see people as really broken and sinful. The conservative gets it wrong because although they see people as truly broken they don't believe true internal transformation is possible.

The gospel way to think about this (and apologies in advance if this offends you, but if it offends you, you've got more of the gospel to understand my friend) would follow these lines: we're all broken and sinful including sexually, we express our brokenness in different ways, some people are more careful with their sexual perversion than others, but all people - NO MATTER WHAT kind of sexual perversion they have (and we all have them, including the writer and the reader!) - can be freed from the power of that perversion by conversion under the gospel and kept from that perversion by the power of the Holy Spirit.

This perspective is lacking in Medved. Sadly it's also lacking in other conservative talking heads who espouse Christianity or a form of it. We can't leave "perverts" hopeless or we leave ourselves hopeless. Either the gospel applied by the Holy Spirit CAN transform the "very worst" of sinners or its simply something to help us "lesser sinners" get along in life. Which is it?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Smaller Pea Shooter Than They Think

This past Sunday's Seattle Times had a Sunday magazine article covering World Vision, a non-profit ministry based in Federal Way (a city on the I-5 corridor between Seattle and Tacoma). You can read the article here.

Before I take a broadside at World Vision, let me be complimentary first. It is laudable to seek the relief of the poor. Helping people who can barely eat or who don't have clean water or who have no opportunities for schooling is fabulous work. I'm all for it. But... I'm all for it within a larger context of work World Vision and other non-profits must also do.

My beef with World Vision (and frankly with tons of non-profits, NGO's, and "ministries") is they are very shortsighted in their work. Relief of the poor is good. On the other hand, thoughtful economic development via worldview transformation is far better, farther reaching, and (most importantly!) more effective, life transforming, and generationally freeing. Let me explain ...

Maybe you've heard the Chinese proverb, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." World Vision's approach is very "Give a man a fish." Or, at the most, there is with schooling and micro loans the hope that somehow those efforts will help "feed him [or her] for a lifetime". However, without worldview transformation wholesale economic development is impossible.

Trillions spent in the developed and undeveloped world don't lie. Have some been fed for a day or two? Yes. But have whole countries or even villages or tribes been developed economically? Rarely if ever in the past 100 years. Why? Because the fundamental things that would have to happen for that to occur World Vision chooses not to do.

World Vision seems humble knowing they are up against a great Goliath. Towards the end of the article Richard Stearns is quoted saying, "We're aiming at global poverty with a pea shooter." I agree and not just because we're little creatures trying to solve a very large problem. By choosing "feed a man for day" (or at best for a lifetime) instead of the wiser goal of worldview transforming economic development they've used a smaller pea shooter than they think.

The Seattle Times Magazine rticle writer (Janet I. Tu, The Seattle Times religion reporter) notes, "The organization does not proselytize and serves all, regardless of their faith." I'm in full agreement with the second part of this statement. Loving your neighbor can't be selective.

For historic Christians though, it is radically unloving to your neighbor to not seek their conversion. A person fed in this life (even fed for a lifetime!) is slightly happier now but will be forever unhappy when this life ends if they don't turn to Christ. "Deeds without creeds" kill not save.

And there's more sadness that comes with this approach ... let me illustrate this sadness with a surprising statistic. Do you know what is most likely to land a child in America in poverty? Having a single parent. All other issues aside (including ethnicity, geography, family history, skills, etc.) the way to end up poor is to grow up in a family where (most likely) Dad isn't around. Poverty persists where family structure doesn't in America. And where does a glad embrace of family structure come from? A Christian worldview that flows out of a person being proselytized into the Christian faith. If we want less poor kids in America, we need more Dads that stay around for more than one night.

What about around the world? In my studies in economic development (ask me in the comments for reading suggestions if you're curious) the two greatest factors that prevent the economic development of a particular geography are political instability/corruption and the worldview of the people. Let me offer some brief comments on each of these.

Big dollars amounts given in "economic aid" to developing countries rarely end up feeding the hungry. Why? Corrupt, unaccountable politicians line their own pockets and feed their cronies in style while suppressing and starving the opposition. Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe is the expert in this style of country-raping oppression. But it happens everywhere where aid comes in.

Big governments simply aren't equipped to selflessly bless the citizenry if they aren't Christians or don't have a heritage of accountable democracy that flows out a Christian worldview. Even in America where we have that kind of political heritage the corrupt hearts we all possess reveal their dark side in graft, corruption, fraud, and other forms of malfeasance. Developing countries rarely have governments that can effectively bring about a fair distribution of aid. So we feel good that we "helped" but at best we fed a man for day.

Just as the worldview of a government has a large effect on how they govern the citizenry (or abuse it as the case is frequently in the developing world), so also does the worldview of the citizens. Many times the worldview of the citizens PREVENTS their own economic development.

I should say as an aside here (and thanks goes to Dr. Peter Jones, a mentor of mine who sharpened me at this point) that when I talk about "economic development" I'm not saying that a suburb of Dhaka should look like my neighborhood in West Seattle. Simply exporting the selfish affluence of the West would be to import a degree of curse instead of blessing. I'm not pushing for the developing world to reach a point where they are as unhappy as we are in our wealth. Rather, what I'd like to see is children who grow up fed, whose health is cared for, who have the opportunity to learn, participate in the arts, worship their Maker, and use their gifts for the blessing of their city and God's Kingdom.

But at present so many live in grinding poverty with no hope of anything else. World Vision (compassionately and laudably!) wants to see this change. My point though is this ... without proselytizing, that is without wholesale change in worldview, many developing countries cannot economically develop. Why? The nuts of bolts of what can lead to economic development are not in place so it can't happen.

Though I LOVE the concept of micro-lending (it's one the best on the ground ideas in familial economic development to come along in years), it's single generational. Let me explain ... Suppose a male child grows up in a family with a single mom who gets a micro loan but never gets any sort of worldview training that would result from his family becoming Christians. That male child will likely go on in his own life better fed, perhaps in slightly better health and with more schooling but with the same ethics as his own father. All the system does (without proselytizing that leads to worldview change) is perpetuate the need for the woman this male child eventually impregnates having to get her own micro loan after he knocks her up and leaves.

I know this kind of speech is straightforward and not very politically correct. To many it is anathema to say that for people to develop economically their culture and belief system must change. But it must or else we are actually slightly loving instead of fully loving.

An example of how worldview affects economic development is in order. A story is told by Bryan Chapell in his book Holiness by Grace of his accomplished farmer father going to Africa to attempt to try to help some poverty stricken farmers grow more crops. Chapell's father suggests they implement some modest technology to help them yield more. They refuse and remain in poverty. Why? According to their worldview, if they changed the way they farmed the land their ancestors had farmed for hundreds of years, the spirits might be upset and they might not have more crops but less. In their minds, it was better to subsist in poverty than risk upsetting the spirits.

It's a small example but it could be multiplied across cultures and countries. Where reality (i.e. the Christian worldview) is embraced, right thinking, right ethics, and right living result from the transformed hearts of people who live differently in Christ. And economic development happens when good ideas (like relief and micro-lending) are combined with proselytizing that results in worldview shift. Where this doesn't happen we actually aren't being all that loving.

World Vision is shooting a big problem with a smaller pea shooter than they think. And they don't have to, it's just easier to.

As I finish this missive I realize I have proposed something different, only theorized and critiqued. What would real help to the poor of the world look like? It's happening in Uganda right now. Ministerial candidates come to Westminster Theological College and Seminary and learn not just the ministry but also the basics of how to support themselves and teach others to do the same. So they bring back to where they minister not just the gospel but a form of life that is economically ahead of subsistence. This form of life is what they spread as the church grows.

This kind of effort is fully loving, multi-generational, and long-sighted. But would pluralist, pagan, "I want to feel like I'm doing something" American donors give to such an effort. Unlikely. Ironically so many in the West want the feeling of helping without really helping. We enjoy the prosperity such worldview transformation brought about in the West hundreds of years ago but won't multiply that - because of our paganism - to the developing world. Not very loving is it. But it is what is going on.