Page 1

PRISM July/August 2011

Plant a Tree, Save a Life Caring for the poor by caring for the earth Farming for justice in the inner city

Evangelicals rediscover their legacy of animal protection


Solar grandmothers illuminate the developing world

PRISM Vol. 18, No. 4  July-August 2011

Plant With Purpose, a Christian non-profit organization, breaks the vicious cycle of poverty and deforestation by transforming it into a victorious cycle of environmental restoration, economic empowerment, and spiritual renewal.

WE TEACH poor farmers to solve their own problems through community development, emphasizing empowerment rather than handouts.

WE PLANT innovative, mutually beneficial agroforestry systems that restore the land while providing farmers with abundant harvests

WE CREATE healthier, sustainable economies

through savings based microfinance loans to help develop alternative sources income.

WE SHARE the Gospel through long-term rela-

tionships focused on discipleship and servant leadership.

Editor Art Director Copy Editor Financial Operations Publisher Assistant to Publisher

Kristyn Komarnicki Rhian Tomassetti Leslie Hammond Sandra Prochaska Ronald J. Sider Josh Cradic

Contributing Editors Christine Aroney-Sine Myron Augsburger

Clive Calver Rudy Carrasco Andy Crouch J. James DeConto Gloria Gaither David P. Gushee Jan Johnson Craig S. Keener Peter Larson Richard Mouw Philip Olson Jenell Williams Paris Christine Pohl James Skillen Al Tizon Jim Wallis

Issac Canales M. Daniel Carroll R. Paul Alexander James Edwards Perry Glanzer Ben Hartley Stanley Hauerwas Jo Kadlecek Marcie Macolino Mary Naber Earl Palmer Derek Perkins Elizabeth D. Rios Lisa Thompson Heidi Rolland Unruh Bruce Wydick

Subscription Information

Renewing your subscription? Visit Regular PRISM Subscription Only $30 a year. Type: US/Canada via air mail Good Stewards Subscription (PDF) Receive the same PRISM as everyone else but in your email box and save big! Only $15 a year. International Subscription Receive PRISM internationally for 1 yr. electronically. Only $15 a year. Library Subscription Order PRISM for your library! Only $45 a year. 6 E. Lancaster Ave, Wynnewood PA 19096 484-384-2990/ Note: Standard A mail is not forwarded; please contact us if your address changes.

A Publication of Evangelicals for Social Action The Sider Center on Ministry and Public Policy Palmer Theological Seminary of Eastern University

Learn more at:

All contents © 2011 ESA/PRISM magazine.

July / August 2011

“What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? ... How is the soil? Is it fertile or poor? Are there trees in it or not? Do your best to bring back some of the fruit of the land.” Numbers 13: 19, 20


2 Reflections from the Editor Kneeling in the Garden with God

10 Planting the Future

3 Talk Back

When both rural land and its inhabitants are being degraded, the best answer is a program that brings new life to both.

4 Celebrate!

18 A Call to Compassion from Our Brothers the Animals

Letters to the Editor Rejoicing in the power of advocacy

6 May I Have a Word? A Weak Body

7 Faithful Citizenship I Am Not Forgotten

8 Leading Ladies Catalog Life

9 Art & Soul

Anthems for the Kingdom of God

40 Washington Watch

Christian Faithfulness and Government Policy

41 Making a Difference

Singles Ministry without Holes

Animal suffering may be off the average Christian’s radar today, but concern for our fellow creatures carries a long history in the church and a strong biblical mandate.

23 Sowing Justice

Thanks to Earthworks, inner-city Detroit is reaping a ripe harvest of shalom.

26 Solar Grannies

Wanted: illiterate middle-aged women from poor rural villages to become solar engineers. Educated male urbanites need not apply.

34 We Were the Least of These

A survivor of childhood sexual abuse shares how in Christ she found healing from her hidden wounds.

42 Off the Shelf Book reviews

46 Kingdom Ethics

Letter from a Grateful Son

47 Music Notes Sacred Steel

48 Ron Sider

America’s Historic Choice Cover image by Shooarts


R eflections from the Editor Kneeling in the Garden with God Out there, they’re talking multilaterals, capacity building, and capital flows. In here, we’re talking soil, seeds, and sun. They’re talking global governance, poverty gap ratios, and welfare initiatives. We’re talking rural farmers putting trees back into their dusty land, city kids harvesting and marketing their own food, unschooled women electrifying their villages. I’m not putting down the former— those big ideas have their place among the suit-and-tie experts of the development world. But I am grateful that, in this issue, we get to hang out with the latter—the real experts, those cashpoor but experience-rich folks who are making a tangible and joyful difference in their own lives, with a little help from friends who are wise enough to know how to keep out of the way. So join me as we plunge our hands into the rich earth to plant saplings with farmers in Haiti, Kenya, and Mexico. See how they are reclaiming their barren hillsides, bettering their own lives, and providing a future for the next generations all at the same time. Learn how, for these men and women, trees do much more than provide shade, oxygen, and beauty—they are symbols of hope and inspire humans to reach higher and dig deeper. Planting trees in impoverished nations has wide-reaching spiritual and even political effects: As Kenyan Wangari Maathai, the first African woman ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize, says, “sustainable development [such as treeplanting], democracy, and peace are indivisible.” Then follow me to urban Detroit, where residents of all ages are raising asparagus and currants in the garden, whipping up artichoke dip and tomato soup in the kitchen, and making honey and organic compost in the heart of the inner city. Try a sip of elderberry juice, take a whiff of basil, sample a spoonful of homemade jam. The joy of connecting with the earth’s bounty is contagious, isn’t it? The smiles on the faces

2 PRISM Magazine

of the Earthworks community say it all. Now let’s soar to Rajasthan, India, where the charismatic but humble Bunker Roy has the honor of introducing the poorest of the poor to their heretofore unimagined potential. Become a solar engineer in just six months, he promises them; the less formal education you have the better. Sounds like a snake oil salesman, right? But this guy’s for real. His vision—and his track record—for training up “barefoot” engineers (and architects, healthcare providers, entrepreneurs) from among the world’s impoverished and least educated is nothing less than astonishing. Although not himself a Christian, Roy seems to understand Christ’s attraction to the poor (not to mention the latent power of a mustard seed) better than most believers I know, myself included. I thank God for him and the work he is doing to electrify—both literally and figuratively—the Creator’s most vulnerable populations. Then we’ll take a tour through church history to remind ourselves of the long legacy of Christian animal care and advocacy. From the forest to the farm, how we treat the animals who nourish and serve us has consequences for how we love the God who created them. Regardless of what one thinks about “animal rights,” when we mistreat creatures (or turn a blind eye when others do) we harm ourselves and disrespect both the Giver and his gifts. Jesus’ life was connected to the earth in ways that very few of us in the developed world can comprehend today. He talked to a fig tree, drank from fresh springs, prayed in a garden, and slept on a lake. He saw spiritual truths in every seed, flower, weed, thistle, vine, branch, tree, mountain, and gust of wind he encountered. He called his beloved children sheep and himself their shepherd; he said God knows and remembers each sparrow. He was announced by a dove, praised the ant, identified with the hen, and rendezvoused with a donkey. Sand,

Kristyn Komarnicki

soil, and stone were the very stuff of his stories. Jesus honored the natural world with his attention, and he was ministered to by the natural world in his enjoyment of it. It strikes me as genuinely tragic that we are today so unprecedentedly removed from the beauty, joy, and nourishment of creation. While many of us strive for political solutions and wrestle with methodological approaches to big problems like hunger, environmental degradation, generational poverty, and

gender injustice, God is content to kneel in the garden, focusing on the details and delighting in his creation one daisy, robin, and child at a time. While we fuss and fritter about results, God is patient, tending each part of his garden with great care and intention, fully present and unhurried. All praise to the Master Gardener who has hidden in the care of creation all the secrets we need—not only to save the planet but also to live victoriously in peace and plenty. Kristyn Komarnicki enjoys picking arugula and mint for her dinner salad and finds weeding to be the perfect companion to prayer (“Lord, dig those sins out of my heart— just look how tenacious the roots are!”). She confesses to entertaining murderous thoughts toward a certain ground hog, who has made a habit of breakfasting on her zucchini blossoms.

T alk Back

Letters to the Editor Regarding “School Choice Conundrum” by Christopher Petersen in the May/June issue: How encouraging to open up the latest PRISM and see an article on school choice. How discouraging to read a one-sided review of Pennsylvania’s SB1 and the explicit advocacy of vouchers. No response from public educators and no pretense of objectivity here. Despite the quick nod to public education successes, as in “While there are examples of public school successes in urban neighborhoods” (no references provided), the author continues with “these are the exceptions.” Thank you to PRISM and/or the author for the full disclosure in the author tag: “…works as a fundraiser for a private school in Southwest Philadelphia, Pa.” As a public school teacher, even I could make the connection that SB1 just might be in the author’s self-interest. And, by the way, there remain advocates of public education “For those whose faith is at the center of all things…,” who do agree that “education must be a human rights matter.” However, we sharply disagree with this author’s point of view. Mark Pennington  El Dorado Hills, Calif. Author’s response: It was my intent in “School Choice Conundrum” to advocate for education improvement and present a critique of voucher legislation in Pennsylvania.  In the piece, I was clear in pointing out the problems I have with Pennsylvania’s SB1 as it is written.  However, I also believe vouchers can be a solution for some families who prefer charters or private education.  Given the reality that the majority of students will remain in public schools, any voucher legislation, including SB1, should require recipient schools to meet higher academic standards than that of the school where students attended prior to receiving a voucher.  Although the private school where I work would benefit from SB1, I worry that it may result in school closures, consolidations, and perhaps fiscal chaos for an already troubled School District of Philadelphia.  This may be exacerbated by

the cuts in Pennsylvania’s education budget. Vouchers can be one tool to support education improvement, but they must fit into a larger vision that helps more students succeed at higher levels.    Christopher M. Petersen Philadelphia, Pa. I was disturbed by Ron Sider’s column in the May/June issue, “Intergenerational Justice and the American Debt: Biblical Foundations.” The article either displayed a naïve understanding of economics, or it was a partisan statement, or, in an attempt to be bipartisan, Sider chose cowardice over truth.  Too many moral questions that directly affect decisions about the national debt are not covered in this article. But each one of these questions influences the biblical morality of the answers. I list some of the issues below. 1. We didn’t simply overspend providing for our citizens. The two instances when the national debt became problematic in terms of public discourse were after Reagan’s and G.W. Bush’s presidencies, when sizable tax cuts were given to the highest income tax payers in the name of trickle-down or supply-side economics and at the same time the nation experienced significant military build-up. This is statistically a failed economic experiment that needs to be reversed. 2. What is the appropriate size and role of government in the US? Are financial regulation, education, health, and welfare of our citizens appropriate in the public sphere on a federal level? Much of the deficit discourse centers around ridding our government of those functions which political conservatives deem inappropriate. 3. Social Security, which has nearly eliminated extreme poverty among the elderly, is not in trouble, nor is it a threat to our federal deficit. Social Security is fully funded for another 25 years or so. After that, without any aid, Social Security can continue to operate at 75 percent of its current


Email us at

level. A simple rise in the payroll tax cap would solve this problem. 4. Medicare is in financial trouble because medical expenses have been growing much faster than our economy. However, there is no evidence that cutting benefits to the elderly will control overall senior medical costs, only that senior citizens will have more trouble affording care. We have higher medical costs and poorer outcomes than the rest of the industrialized world. 5. We seem to be continuously funding wars. Are they just wars? Are there nonmilitary means we can use to effect change? 6. Many reputable economists do not believe that now is the time to balance the federal budget, because that action may exacerbate the recession. A government needs to be able to use a combination of debt and surpluses to regulate the amount of money available for investment in the marketplace to encourage businesses during recessional periods. In fact, it is possible that by drastically cutting the federal budget right now, we may so strangle the ability of our government to act that the economy will not be able to grow significantly in the future; unemployment will not be adequately addressed; and infrastructure will continue to crumble. We may even, because of our failure to adequately stimulate the economy, end up with bigger deficits. A thriving economy raises revenue and would significantly alleviate our deficit problem. We may leave our children with a shadow of what we have had. 7. One last word on the debt load of our families. It has indeed been problematic. But for the last 40 years, US families have been plagued by stagnating wages while over a third of our nation’s wealth has flowed upward. Whether this growing level of inequality is healthy is another serious moral question. In closing, I admit that many of the things I have said seem partisan. I believe this is because of the one-sided nature of discourse taking place right now. But the questions I raise are serious economic and moral questions. Christians must wrestle with the issues and try to discern best what God wants. By presenting primarily one side of the argument, your moral discourse, in my opinion, fails. Elizabeth Fisher Laconia, N.H.


C elebrate! Here are some recent advocacy victories we can rejoice in and thank God for. Send any good news you want us to celebrate to The release of prominent newspaper editor Eynulla Fatullayev is a step in the right direction for freedom of expression in Azerbaijan, according to Amnesty International, which led an international campaign for his release and named him a prisoner of conscience after his arrest and imprisonment in 2007 on trumped-up charges of terrorism and defamation. The campaign for his release culminated in an international Twitter action targeting President Aliyev’s Twitter account. The action was launched by Amnesty’s UK section on May 24th. More than 800 people took part in the action, which led to his release just two days later. The ECPAT Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism requires hotels to train their staff to recognize victims of sexual exploitation, educate their guests about the dangers of sex tourism, communicate with local law enforcement, and advocate for victim rights. This creates a first line of defense against global sex trafficking. When brothels were discovered in Hilton hotels in Ireland and China, thousands of protesters sent letters to the hotel chain, but Hilton didn’t respond until the CEO was faced with the threat, voiced by 317,000 members in a 24-hour period, of hard-hitting ads appearing in his hometown. Hilton signed. Now 180,000 hotel employees will be trained to spot and prevent the horror of sex slavery of women and girls. Learn more at

For decades, the insecticide Endosulfan was used in spite of its incredible toxicity. But it’s the end of the road for the deadly pesticide thanks to the tireless efforts of activists, including the 28,000 of you who signed the Environmental Justice Foundation’s petition calling for a global ban. Thank you for protecting people and the environment from the devastating impacts of Endosulfan use!

4 PRISM Magazine

Uganda’s anti-gay law, which looked sure to pass in early May, was dropped after 1.6 million petition signatures were delivered to Parliament and tens of thousands of phone calls were placed to gove rnme nt s around the world. Please keep advocating against the horrific practice of “corrective rape,” used to “set lesbians straight,” in South Africa. Scholastic, the world’s largest educational publisher, was until recently pushing “The United States of Energy,” a controversial fourthgrade curriculum paid for by the American Coal Foundation. Just two days after the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood and Rethinking Schools launched a campaign against Scholastic, the publisher announced that it would immediately stop distributing the materials. This is a significant victory for anyone who believes that schools should be free of industry PR and teach fully and honestly about coal and other forms of energy. Learn more at In March, PRISM editor Kristyn Komarnicki marched from Philadelphia’s court house to the school district building, along with hundreds of students, teachers, and other lovers of education. The Campaign for Nonviolent Schools was protesting Pennsylvania’s latest budget proposals, which includes spending $650 million on the construction of three new state prisons while slashing $550 million from education funding! In June, she joined a group of homeless folks and homeless advocates outside City Hall in Philadelphia, demanding that a bill be thrown out that would criminalize the homeless. This was part of the Solutions, Not Citations Campaign. Not all advocacy efforts result in quick victories, but small efforts build up into small victories over time and make a difference in the end. What kind of advocacy work do you engage in? Tell us what you’re up to, and we’ll do our best to share it with our readers. 


M ay I Have a Word?

The 10-year-old with autism who plays his guitar in the worship team. The 4-yearold girl with cerebral palsy in the nursery. The woman with a walker who takes the elevator to the sanctuary. Although this is a picture of a Sunday morning at my church, it wasn’t always that way. More than 20 percent of physically or cognitively disabled persons who consider their faith important to them do not attend faith services. Barriers both architectural and attitudinal are to blame, but the result is that Christ’s body is missing some of its parts! Several years ago a young visually impaired girl named Megan began attending our services. Because none of our all-volunteer children’s ministry staff had experience working with visually impaired persons, Megan was most often handed something to “keep her hands busy.” Staff did this from lack of training rather than insensitivity, but their actions told the truth: We did not consider Megan’s participation important enough to learn how to facilitate her full involvement. But God continued to bring children with special needs into our church. While initially overwhelmed with trying to deal with their needs, we eventually found training and offered it to our teachers. Theologically, we understand that all are created in the image of God. But while the church is becoming a better advocate for those who live with disabilities, our inclusion of them in our fellowships lags behind our public sector advocacy. How do we go from recognizing their imago dei to truly welcoming them as a part of our community? Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 12:21-26 offers several principles to guide us in this.

6 6PRISM Magazine

He is usually just off the beat and needs special direction to stay with the band. While the appearance up front on a Sunday morning may not be as smooth as it might be without him, I believe our commitment to Ben is part of specially adorning a vulnerable part of our body. And far from being distracted, members in our congregation rejoice in Ben’s presence. This elevation begins with special modesty and protection but ends with the honoring of disabled persons as members of our committees and as leaders on our boards. It finds its fullest expression in the input of and fullest participation from persons with disabilities in our discussions and teaching series. For my church, this full inclusion of persons with disabilities has required extra planning, training, and cost to ensure our hospitality to them. We’ve been stretched in our understanding of God’s love, and we’ve learned about God’s patience with each of his broken children— including ourselves. God knows that our natural inclination is to overlook those whose disabilities require us to slow down or remind us of our own weaknesses. After watching the evolution of my church’s response to persons with disabilities, I understand why Paul calls attention to the weakest parts of our churches so that “[the body’s] parts should have equal concern for each other.” To make sure we suffer with those who suffer and rejoice with those who are honored, God has made those parts indispensable to us. Without biblical attitudes and practices that invite the complete and respectful welcome of people with disabilities into our fellowships, as well as into leadership, our church bodies will remain incomplete, crawling rather than leaping toward the kingdom of God.

Sarah Kidd works in Southeast Asia, learning Hindi, building friendships, and blogging at WhispersontheJourney.

Symbol of 3ELove: “Embrace diversity. Educate your community. Empower each other. Love life.” Used by permisssion.

A Weak Body

Making provision for the weaker members of the church benefits the whole body. Providing a ride to evening services for older folks who can’t drive after dark or sign language for the deaf is certainly a blessing to them. However, it is also a recognition that we cannot fully function without all of our body parts present— including those parts that appear to be weaker. For the health of the whole body, each church must recognize the parts it has excluded, seek forgiveness, and learn to say, “I need you!” Our instinctive priority should be to protect those members with special needs. For years, my church talked about the sanctity of life. But we had to act on our principles when a family in our congregation had two young sons with autism and severe behavioral difficulties. Our teachers had to learn how to incorporate the boys’ needs into their classrooms; helpers had to be trained to assist them in class. The clear message was that because we believed in the sanctity of all life, we would be there to support all parents in raising all children. Some parents complained about the special attention given to the two autistic boys. However, creating a culture of life begins with ensuring that the weakest parts receive our instinctive protection and best care. Our physical body automatically puts stronger members at risk to protect a weaker member, just as our hand would gladly take a projectile heading for our eye. Shouldn’t we find the same attitude in our church bodies? The weaker parts should receive special respect. In our own physical bodies, our weakest parts not only receive protection but also respect. Paul talks about giving our “unpresentable parts” special treatment. Do we object to mocking aimed at a person with a disability as strongly as we would to vulgar sexual jokes? The church’s weakest members are to receive the greatest honor, respect, and even a special modesty. Paul’s language refers not just to covering up but also to adornment. We not only cover the most special parts of our bodies, we also dress them in the most attractive fashions. Ben is a boy with autism who plays in my church’s worship band.

Sarah Kidd

Harold Dean Trulear

Over the years in this column I have devoted significant space to the challenge of incarceration, and to churches’ role and responsibilities in light of the record numbers of men, women, and young people who populate our nation’s jails and prisons. But about two years ago, I experienced a different dimension of our criminal justice system when I became an inmate myself. As a recovering and redeemed alcoholic, I take full responsibility for the actions that led to my time in jail. And, in retrospect, I can gratefully claim the truth of God’s promise to work “all things together for good” for me. I learned much about the conditions of incarceration and grew as a human being. As I prepared to leave, I wrote the reflection below, both to capture a cathartic moment in the transition back home and to express a deep yearning for the church to increase its efforts and advocacy on behalf of all those affected by crime and incarceration. It is an honest prayer, with gratitude for God’s faithfulness to me, and petition for God’s church to “remember those who are in prison as imprisoned with them” (Heb. 13:3): Although I will not be for much longer, today, at the moment that I write this, I am inmate #10002648, George W. Hill Correctional Facility, Delaware County, Pa. Not the Rev. Trulear who pastored a church, not Dr. Trulear who commanded the attention of seminary students at Howard Divinity School, but an inmate with a number, sitting in a discharge cell at the end of a year of jail, furloughs, and work release. And thanking you, Lord. For I am not forgotten. As I look back over these past 12 months I see your care. You gave me a gracious sentence that allowed me to be home to care for my family Monday through Friday for 40 of the 52 weeks. You have been beside me my entire time here. You taught me what

it means to be a human being, using the cells and the cubes, the locks and the wire to remind me starkly that I am not in control. I am not forgotten. You see each inmate in every jail cell around the world. You tell believers to remember us in prison, but it is not clear to me that your church really does. Some remember to train a few folks to come in once a week or month. But I don’t know if they come because they remember us as brothers and sisters who hurt and yearn not to be forgotten, or because they remember to serve God and we are useful ob- “You taught me what it means jects of outreach and service, a duty to be checked off the list. to be a human being.” I am not forgotten. When I have, in spite of your promises, felt for- going to let me out? Though I have gotten, I have had to encourage myself paid an important debt, served time I in you, remind myself of the truth of deserved, and experienced the grace of your Word. I have had to remind oth- two years without a drink, I have this ers also, those who do not receive fam- last chance to remember, right now, ily visits as I did or mail from church what it feels like to be forgotten. Do members as I did, my people praying they know I am here? Does the larger for me by name and not just by cat- church? I am not forgotten. Looking at this egory. So many with me feel forgotten, because they are. In the past they were dirty cell, I recall author, prison miniseven forgotten by me, a one-time pas- ter, and former prisoner Lennie Spitale tor not far from this jail who purported coming to our jail church and remindto shepherd a church which included ing us that Paul’s letter to the church five women whose sons served time at Philippi was written in such a place. with me this year. I don’t know which is Spitale offered us this as a reminder worse—the shame of my incarceration that we are not forgotten. Tonight, or the shame of meeting their sons in my cellmate read Philippians 4 with me here instead of in church. The church again. I am not forgotten, but one last doesn’t so much need an outreach to the prison as it needs an outreach to time, before I leave this place, allow me those members whose loved ones are in to feel the pain of the forgotten. Lord, jail, to help reconnect them with each help me not to forget. other and with their God. We have Harold Dean Trulear is failed those who sit in our pews and associate professor of apsuffer in silence because they cannot plied theology at Howard share the pain of an incarcerated son, University School of Didaughter, spouse, dad, mom. They feel vinity in Washington, DC, forgotten... and director of the HealBut I am not forgotten. Sitting here alone in a solitary, trash-strewn ing Communities Prisoner Reentry Iniholding tank waiting for my discharge, tiative at the Philadelphia Leadership I do feel forgotten—Does the jailer re- Foundation (HealingCommunitiesUSA. member I am in here? Are they really org).


Photo courtesy of Gabriel

I Am Not Forgotten

F aithful Citizenship

L eading Ladies

Catalog Life As I opened the mailbox the other day, out tumbled yet another cache of catalogs. They arrive relentlessly week in and week out. While I’ve taken to pitching most of them right into recycling, there are a favorite few that provide me a bit of guilty pleasure. As I flip through the pages, beautiful and impeccably groomed women are smiling and relaxed as they effortlessly sport just the right outfit, with a few handsome men or cute kids thrown in to complete the picture. They’re perfectly dressed for a compelling setting—a festive party, a fabulous house, an enviable vacation, a country retreat. No one is bogged down with the slings and arrows of life gone awry. There are no unsolved problems. Catalog life presents in freeze-frame a perfect world made just for me—flawless, inviting, and seemingly attainable. In a culture where the delights dangled before us in catalogs, or in any medium—web, smartphones, television— promise repeatedly to meet our highest hopes, it’s hard to avoid being shaped by those expectations. After all, they’re right there in the picture. Connection, adventure, excitement? Book now! Ease, elegance, comfort? You’re worth it! Indeed, we are raised on “happily ever after,” and it’s even written into the Declaration of Independence that we have an inalienable right to pursue happiness. And so—even as Christians—we do it relentlessly, passing those same values onto our children as we help them in their quests for perfect smiles, great SAT scores, fairytale proms,

8 PRISM Magazine

and reputable colleges. The message is clear: Play by the rules, work hard, get a good education, choose the right career, and heaven on earth is possible. Except when it eludes us. When the job disappears. When the marriage collapses. When the diagnosis devastates. When the child disappoints. When death intrudes. And there are countless less monumental stresses that weigh on our lives every day and at times even define them. The crushing loneliness. The unwanted pounds. The chaotic household. The insufficient funds. How many times do we quietly declare to ourselves, “This isn’t what I signed up for!”? Ironically, as unrealistic as our expectations so often are, we long for perfection because we were created for it. And then humanity fell. Life after the fall was intended to be punishing, and it doesn’t disappoint. Despite our best efforts to push that truth aside, our desires are frustrated continually because our relationship with God is broken. That is why the gospel is such good news! Through Christ, that relationship is repaired and we become a new creation, instilled with his mind and

Susan Michaelson does not abandon us to them. Rather, he walks with us through them, even through the valley of the shadow of death itself. As we patiently abide, remaining faithful as we seek his face, Paul tells us that we are being prepared for an eternal weight of glory, while Peter reminds us that we are already heirs of an imperishable inheritance reserved for us in the heavenly realm. We will know suffering, but we suffer with hope grounded in the certain promises of God. Second, Christianity is not an individual, independent enterprise. As Christians, we are called to live in community with other believers; Christian fellowship involves commitment to one another. We not only share our resources, talents, and time but also are to be honest about our own particular needs as well. Our brothers and sisters in Christ are called to help us bear our burdens, as we are called to help them bear theirs. The give and take within a healthy Christian community reminds us that it’s not all about us, our wants and desires. Rather, it’s about others’ needs and about what God is doing in and through us for his glory. Finally, while enduring perfection will elude us in the here and now, by God’s grace we are periodically gifted with the in-breaking of a true glimpse of heaven, those moments of transcendence that take our breath away. A stunning vista, the glance of a beloved, the thrill of spine-tingling music, the cry of a newborn. So much more than the staged promises of catalog life, these uplifting experiences are divine encouragement from the heavenly Giver to whom we owe heartfelt thanks. In Colossians we are commanded: “Be thankful!” The cultivation of a grateful heart focuses our attention on all that we have—and away from whatever we think we lack. It’s time to put the catalogs into the bin.

We long for perfection because we were created for it. And then humanity fell. his Spirit. Nonetheless, we continue to live in a world groaning along with us in ongoing suffering until he returns. Only then will heaven and earth come together and our desires for perfection be legitimately fulfilled. So what do we do in the meantime? How do we, as Christians, live faithfully in a culture that continually dangles the promise of catalog life with no ability to truly or lastingly deliver it? How do we bear witness to the gospel when brokenness is so persistent in our own lives, in the lives of those around us, and in the world at large? While there are no easy answers or clutch verses, the Word of God does provide wise direction. First, it’s helpful to be realistic in our expectations. The truth is that we are not promised heaven on earth in this lifetime; if anything, we are promised trials. But God

Susan Michaelson teaches New Testament at St. Joe’s University in Philadelphia, Pa.

A rt & Soul

Justin and Maggie Best

Anthems for the Kingdom of God “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” Creation reminds us, O God, of your love. By grace we are learning, as year leads to year, We’re called to be stewards, your caretakers here. - Carolyn Winfrey Gillette The fullness of the gospel can be compared to a Russian nesting doll. Aspects like personal salvation, redemption of creation, continuing discipleship, and spiritual disciplines fit closely together within the kingdom of God. When viewed as an ensemble, they represent the great renewal that the Old Testament prophets spoke of, the redemption of all things that the New Testament writers hoped for, and the restoration of the shalom that Jesus himself inaugurated. God’s kingdom comes, on earth as it is in heaven. This is the gospel that has wooed the heart of Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, a pastor from Delaware who masterfully weaves Jesus’ good news into hymns for this generation. Gillette champions the message of hope and redemption by writing about facets of the kingdom not foreseen by great hymn writers of centuries past. Though Martin Luther and John Newton did not, Gillette touches on such issues as women’s rights, school violence, and immigration. Her hymns speak to what the church is struggling with in this day and age. For Gillette, hymn writing is a ministry of discernment and proclamation of God’s kingdom come to us. She was raised by a mother who was an excellent writer and a father who was an English teacher. “They both taught me to choose words carefully—and that the longest writings aren’t necessarily the best,” she says. Her parents also taught her about faith through daily devotions, worship, and discipleship. In 1998, she wrote her first hymn at a church conference in response to a discussion on the psalms. The attendees

were talking about passages of Scripture used as the basis for writing hymns but couldn’t remember a particular piece about the Ten Commandments. So Gillette wrote one, setting the lyrics to a familiar hymn tune; she shared it with a friend, and it was sung in church that Sunday. This experience taught Gillette the value of helping others “find new words to pray—words that help them make connections between their faith and their everyday lives.” Many churchgoers today miss out on the beauty of hymns because their language can seem remote from 21st-century life. Gillette’s hymns give accessible expression to the issues that contemporary saints wrestle with on a daily basis—questions such as “What does it look like to love my neighbor?” and “How do I respond to issues of injustice in this world?” She wrote “God of Creation” about the relief response to Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf region. “God of Mercy, You Have Shown Us” concerns gun violence. “Another Son Is Killed” responds to issues in the Middle East and includes references to Psalm 137. Other hymns carefully blend current issues and biblical themes, such as “God, May Your Justice Roll Down,” which integrates the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the message of justice from the book of Amos: Christ, we give thanks for past saints who renewed education, freed the oppressed, brought your healing and fought segregation. Savior and Lord, great were the risks they endured, bearing your hope and salvation. Gillette emphasizes with her work and ongoing ministry that “our faith and life need to be very much connected, and

I seek to help people see these connections through my hymn writing.” With her husband, Bruce, she is co-pastor of Limestone Presbyterian Church in Limestone, Del. Hymn writing is a vital part of her ministry, both to her congregation and to the church at large. She has published two books of hymns and has been featured in other collections as well, including Voices Found: Women in the Church’s Song (Episcopal Church Publishing, 2003), Sing the Faith: New Hymns for Presbyterians (Westminster/ John Knox Press, 2003), and Worship and Song (Abingdon Press, 2011). Woven together out of a rich scriptural context and a deep empathy for the church today, Gillette’s hymns are not the lofty arias of an ancient cathedral— they are meat and potatoes for a hungry church. The Rev. Dr. Arlo D. Duba of the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary says that Gillette’s poetry and imagery remind him of “both Tom Troeger and Wendell Berry, homey, yet profound, packed with inspirational material.” Gillette beckons us to take a step back and take in the fullness of the kingdom of God. For Christians who feel as if older hymns have no relevance to them and their journey of discipleship, Gillette’s hymns teach them to sing a different tune. Through her hymns she invites us to marinate in the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ, that it is not just what we’ve been saved from but also what we’ve been saved for. Her hymns lament the violence and evil of our world, cry out for justice, and rejoice in the coming yet already present King. Learn more about Gillette’s work at Justin and Maggie Best studied missions and anthropology at Eastern University, where Justin just got his master’s in international development. They are on their way to Miami, Fla., to be part of a church plant called Rhythm Community Church.


Planting th

Reforestation addresses one tree at a time

he Future

s poverty at the roots, By Tim Høiland 11

Previous page: A community in the Dominican Republic plants tree seedlings in a nursery, where they learn to care for them as well. Top: This hillside is completely deforested on one side, allowing for serious soil erosion on the other.

Middle: Contoured living barriers such as this one help mitigate soil erosion. Bottom: This landscape in Oaxaca, Mexico, shows varying degrees of degradation and vegetation. Plant With Purpose partnered with local farmers to plant the saplings seen in the foreground.

12 PRISM Magazine

On the surface, it may appear that planting trees and caring for the poor are two separate undertakings. But when you dig a little deeper, says Scott Sabin, the connection becomes undeniable. For Sabin, who serves as executive director of Plant With Purpose, a Christian, environmental nonprofit organization based in San Diego, choosing to focus on either the needs of the poor or the environment is a false choice—and one with tragic repercussions. Take Haiti, a country mired in desperate poverty long before the devastating earthquake of early 2010. Once a tropical jungle, hillside slums now reveal a barren landscape. In Haiti, Sabin says, “we see how extreme poverty results in environmental disaster, which in turn feeds extreme poverty. If you address one in a vacuum, the other will defeat you.” “There are a lot of environmental programs out there that ignore the needs of the poor,” he continues, “and they fail for obvious reasons. At the same time, many of those working to address poverty issues fail because they have ignored environmental factors.” Plant With Purpose, originally known as Floresta USA, got its start in 1984 in the Dominican Republic. Tom Woodard, its founder, noticed that while countless humanitarian organizations were doing noble work there, none seemed to be addressing the inescapable connection between the degradation of rural land and the plight of the rural poor. It was a startling conclusion to the puzzling question of why so many people were leaving their rural farms and moving into urban slums where overcrowding, violence, and substandard sanitation were the norm. But in many cases, according to Sabin, “these people were coming from situations they considered worse.” Worse than a slum? The realities of environmental impacts in developing countries may be difficult for many of us to comprehend, Sabin says, “because here in the US we’re very divorced from our environment. The impact of environmental degradation is real to us, but we can insulate ourselves pretty easily because of our affluence.” The rural poor do not have that luxury. For them, many of whom are farmers who daily depend on their land for their very survival, the effects can be devastating. And at the crux of that grim scenario is the problem of deforestation. Trees are essential in replenishing the nutrients in the soil and in preventing topsoil-depleting erosion and landslides capable of destroying entire communities in one fell swoop. Trees help the soil retain its water, which allows aquifers to be recharged. They

Dig Deeper In Unbowed: A Memoir (Anchor, 2007), Wangari Maathai (pictured left) tells her story of growing up in Kenya; becoming an influential professor, parliamentarian, and activist; founding the Green Belt Movement; and winning the Nobel Peace Prize. It is an intimate look at a remarkable woman who endured imprisonment and harassment for planting trees, not only to improve the lives of the poor and to protect the environment, but also as a symbol of freedom and peace in Kenya and beyond. For more on Maathai and the Green Belt Movement, please visit The movement has spread into several African countries, and this site contains all the latest news, photos and videos of the work that Maathai and others are doing. Scott Sabin (pictured, far right, with Carlos Disla, executive director of Plant With Purpose’s Dominican Republic operation) has written a book called Tending to Eden: Environmental Stewardship for God’s People (Judson, 2010). In it he shares insights from his own experiences, theological reflections on creation care, and practical ways to “tend to Eden.” The book also features guest contributions by key Christian thought leaders with unique perspectives on environmental stewardship. For more on Plant With Purpose and how you and your church can be involved, visit

also act as filters, naturally purifying the water found in rivers and streams. Additionally, deforestation has been linked to lack of rainfall, as God-ordained cycles of nature are disrupted. The cumulative effect of deforestation is that poor farmers find it increasingly difficult to produce the crops they depend on. The widespread nature of the problem has a lot to do with why 80 percent of the chronically hungry in our world are the rural poor and, subsequently, why urban slums continue to absorb a growing stream of “environmental refugees” desperate for an alternative to the precarious lives they have come to know.

An idea whose time has come

Though hardly new, deforestation began to accelerate in the 1800s at the height of the Industrial Revolution, a time when agrarian societies were being replaced by industrial ones that demanded large quantities of natural resources. While rates of deforestation in developed countries have leveled off and the overall pace in developing nations has slowed, it still remains a significant problem worldwide, experienced most acutely by the rural poor but impacting all of us in one way or another. Deforestation has gained more attention of late, coinciding with a renewed recognition of the finiteness of our planet and

the ubiquitous, multifaceted dangers of environmental degradation. In a resolution passed by the General Assembly, the United Nations named 2011 the International Year of Forests, recognizing the connection between deforestation and poverty, stating that “forests and sustainable forest management can contribute significantly to sustainable development, poverty eradication, and the achievement of internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals.” But perhaps no one has done more to highlight the connection between deforestation and the poor than Wangari Maathai. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her work with the Green Belt Movement, a grassroots organization that engages women’s groups and others in planting trees “as an entry point for self-determination, equity, improved livelihoods and security, and environmental conservation.” Born in Kenya in 1940, Maathai saw the impact of deforestation firsthand as a child. “As I was growing up,” she recalls, “I witnessed forests being cleared and replaced by commercial plantations, which destroyed local biodiversity and the capacity of forests to conserve water.” Maathai became the first woman in Kenya to earn a doctoral degree, and she eventually held respected posts in both government and academia. The Green Belt Movement (GBM)


Dirt! The Movie by Tim Høiland

Dr. Vandana Shiva is the founder of

Navdanya, a network of seed keepThere are all sorts of things you and I take for granted every day of our lives, but ers and organic producers in India few are as basic or fundamental to our very existence as dirt. This is the core premthat seeks to preserve agricultural ise of DIRT! The Movie, an 80-minute documentary exploring the profound impact biodiversity. of soil on every sphere of society. The film features interviews with Indian environmental activist Vandana Shiva, Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, a wine connoisseur, an Austrian-born physicist, a professor of agroecology, and an array of others, all offering their unique perspectives on the irreplaceable significance of soil in our lives. To Christians this should come as no surprise. In the second chapter of Genesis we read, “God formed Man out of dirt from the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life. The Man came alive—a living soul!” (The Message); indeed, even the name Adam means “dust.” Yet too often we consider this as mere poetry, thinking of dirt and dust as nuisances to be avoided rather than the elemental sources of life our creator God intended them to be. Given the long-standing indifference and neglect dirt has endured in the public mind, one might expect a documentary of this sort to be, well, dry. It’s anything but. While the interviewees have impressive credentials on their own merits, the creators of the film went to great lengths—at times rather goofily so—to make the film accessible and interesting. If DIRT! The Movie makes one core contribution to the environmental conversation, it is in highlighting the symbiotic relationship between people and the land. In doing so, it makes clear that, for better or worse, even the smallest of actions on this finite planet have cosmic consequences. “The earth is the Lord’s,” says the psalmist, “and everything in it.” Meditating on the truth of those words, with the arguments of DIRT! in mind, may help us as stewards to cultivate and value dirt for what it is, rather than simply treading it underfoot.

itself grew out of work she pioneered with the National Council of Women, where she first began planting trees. In addition to the obvious environmental benefits, GBM also planted trees in public places in Nairobi as a form of protest, demanding the release of political prisoners. In time, Maathai says, “the tree became a symbol for the democratic struggle in Kenya.” During her speech in Oslo, Norway, in December 2004, Maathai thanked the Nobel Committee for publicly acknowledging the connection between democracy and environmental protection. “Recognizing that sustainable development, democracy, and peace are indivisible,” she said, “is an idea whose time has come.” The decision to plant trees through women’s groups may have initially been circumstantial, but it was also clearly strategic. After all, says Maathai, it is the women in Africa who generally take responsibility for farming the land and feeding their families, and they are naturally the first to recognize deforestation and other forms of environmental destruction that threaten their livelihoods. Understanding how the environment is connected to democracy, sustainable development, and peace is crucial if the rural poor are to have a hand in ensuring for themselves a better future. So GBM has established a “citizen education program” designed to help people identify the causes and possible solutions to the problems their communities face, enabling them to pinpoint how their own actions contribute to what they observe in society and the environment. If the program

14 PRISM Magazine

is successful, Maathai says, the rural poor “come to recognize that they are the primary custodians and beneficiaries of the environment that sustains them.” To date, over 40 million trees have been planted in Kenya and throughout Africa as part of the movement In her memoir, Unbowed (Anchor, 2007), Maathai reflects on the significance of trees and how they have shaped her understanding of our world. “Trees have been an essential part of my life and have provided me with many lessons,” she writes. “Trees are living symbols of peace and hope. A tree has roots in the soil yet reaches to the sky. It tells us that in order to aspire we need to be grounded, and that no matter how high we go it is from our roots that we draw sustenance. It is a reminder to all of us who have had success that we cannot forget where we came from. It signifies that no matter how powerful we become in government or how many awards we receive, our power and strength and our ability to reach our goals depend on the people, those whose work remains unseen, who are the soil out of which we grow, the shoulders on which we stand.”

Valuing the land

While outside forces like multinational corporations are sometimes to blame for widespread deforestation in vast areas like the Amazon basin, Scott Sabin is quick to point out that, for the most part, the poor themselves are the ones depleting their own small plots of land. “A lot of people are surprised to learn that often it’s the

desperation of the poor that in fact creates environmental degradation,” he says, adding that their poverty can drive them to use marginalized, less resilient land for agriculture or to cut down trees for timber, firewood, or charcoal, either for personal use or to sell for a small profit. When any of this occurs, “the poor are in fact causing the deforestation that is making them poorer.” For this reason, in the six countries where the organization works, Plant With Purpose staff are trained to help identify these vicious cycles and, in partnership with local communities, to find ways to create lifegiving cycles in their place. One of the primary ways of doing this is by planting trees. In fact, Plant With Purpose calls reforestation “sustainable development in its most sustainable form.” “It’s getting at the foundation issues leading to situations of underdevelopment and degradation of the environment, the life support system that the community depends on,” Sabin explains. “Just as deforestation robs people of their health and livelihood, reforestation and sustainable farming practices can begin to return it.” For people whose poverty has seemingly forced them to think only of their immediate needs, the long, slow process of planting trees as a form of community development might seem like a hard sell. That’s not necessarily the case. Sabin argues that in some ways the rural poor understand the value of reforestation and environmental stewardship intrinsically. He recalls that on more than one occasion farmers who never finished elementary school have explained to him in detail how watersheds work—a feat the majority of the well-educated among us are incapable of. But in any community there are skeptics, so it is important to demonstrate immediate results in addition to long-term promise. The ideal medium for this is agro-forestry, an approach that mixes reforestation with basic agriculture. The beauty of this method is that trees naturally release nutrients into the soil, helping crops to grow. The trees also prevent erosion, ensuring that the precious topsoil remains in place, which means that robust crop yields can be enjoyed for generations. In most cases, Sabin says, there are one or two farmers in a community who latch onto the agro-forestry approach early on. These positive deviants, as he calls them, “tend to become noticeably more prosperous, and that gets the attention of others. Then it spreads.” Unfortunately, however, in some countries the law fails to provide the incentive to invest in the long-term health of the land. Sabin has met farmers who were reluctant to give agro-forestry a try, not because they

While industrial logging, mostly by foreign companies, continues at an alarming rate in many of the world’s rainforests (above), it is often the poor, like this Haitian farmer (below, left), who, in desperation, cut down trees for timber, firewood, or charcoal (below right).

Below: Members of the Musongeti farming association in Burundi plant cassava for themselves and for sale at the market.


Do Your Part: Opt out of Yellow Pages, catalogs A mid-sized city like Seattle, Wash., collects an average of 35 million pounds of paper to recycle each year. It’s a lot cheaper, and easier on the environment, to stop the waste at the source. Go to to decline unwanted phone books, which are today unnecessary thanks to the internet. Then go to to have your name removed from retailers’ catalog lists. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the catalog industry mails more than 19 billion catalogs a year in the US, 95 percent of which are made from virgin forests, consuming, on an annual basis: 53 million trees, enough energy to power 1.2 million homes, and enough water to fill 81,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Yet the industry’s own research shows that less than 2 percent of the catalogs result in a purchase. Opt out today! thought it would fail but because they feared losing their land once it started to flourish, as it would begin to appear more valuable to officials and greedy neighbors. In response, Plant With Purpose helps farmers with land mapping so they can establish legal rights to their land. Counterintuitively perhaps, Sabin believes it is essential for small landowners to maintain the rights to cut down their own trees. “It’s not so much about preservation as about valuation,” he explains. What matters is that farmers value their land and understand how they can best cultivate it and make it profitable for the long term, rather than telling them what they can and cannot do with it. “Otherwise, you’re taking away potentially productive land. A tree that you can’t benefit from and have no rights over is an intrusion.” Ensuring that rural farmers have full use of their land, with the confidence that it will remain in their hands, is crucial for sustainable development. “Squatters, sharecroppers, renters, and people who cannot gain legal title to their property have no long-term stake in the land,” he explains, “so they are unlikely to invest much in its future.” Despite the fact that the actions of the poor often cause

the deforestation that contributes to their own long-term poverty, it is more than just a problem by and for them. “We cannot lay the responsibility for the environmental crisis at the feet of the poor,” Sabin writes in his book, Tending to Eden: Environmental Stewardship for God’s People (Judson, 2010). The rural poor “are forced by desperation, oppression, and lack of opportunities to abuse the environment. This is a vicious cycle in which they have little choice. Greed, exploitation, and carelessness on the part of governments, multinational corporations, businesses, and wealthy individuals are major contributors to the environmental crisis. And these people and organizations do have a choice.”

Complete transformation

While many communities have now experienced the transformative impact of environmental stewardship thanks to the work of Plant With Purpose, Sabin says this sort of transformation is not enough. “Early on in the Dominican Republic, our reforestation and agro-forestry programs were working,” he says, “but we saw that newfound wealth didn’t always lead people in good directions. We noticed a progression: more alcohol consumption, a TV, a mistress. And that’s just not good, sustainable development.” So in addition to environmental stewardship, Plant With Purpose incorporates discipleship into its programs, at times through loan groups and a savings-led credit model. This approach is intended to help meet the community’s deepest needs while empowering them to care for the environment by themselves. “I have always wanted to help the poor, motivated by the love of Jesus,” Sabin says. “But the more I’ve learned about God’s heart for the world, the more I’ve wanted to give people the very best that Jesus has to offer.” Sabin continues, “To the woman at the well, Jesus offered, ‘I can give you living water and you’ll never thirst again.’ If we restore a watershed, great. But if Jesus has living water to offer, who are we to withhold that? It’s just so easy to lurch from one to the other, considering one or the other a distraction.

Trees Please Plant With Purpose recently launched the “Trees Please” campaign, aimed at getting trees into the hands of poor farmers—the people who need them most. Donors have the option of planting a tree, an orchard, a hillside, a grove, or even a forest. At $1 per tree, the campaign provides not just the seedling (which may cost 10-15 cents), but the coaching and oversight by community agronomists who can ensure the program’s long term success. “Getting trees in the ground is the easy part,” Sabin says. “Making sure the community learns how to maintain the trees, to water them, to keep the goats out—those are the things that make all the difference.” Last year, the “Trees Please” campaign enabled Plant With Purpose to plant one million trees. To learn more about the campaign and to get involved, visit

16 PRISM Magazine

A Haitian is hard at work constructing a soil conservation barrier to halt erosion and prevent the deadly landslides that can occur during the rainy season.

But I’m not sure why it’s so hard to The future bring the two together.” One of the areas where Plant With On a practical level, Plant With Purpose works is Oaxaca, Mexico. Purpose’s engagement with local Because it looks like a desert, Sabin churches varies depending on context, says, it is natural to assume that is but staff work hard to seek out mutualhow it has always been. But it too ly beneficial relationships. Sometimes, once had lush forests. Now, more churches are equipped with leadership than 80 percent of its original forest training for Bible studies, and in turn cover has been lost, making Oaxaca church leaders enlist their congregaone of the most deforested parts of tions in support of reforestation and the world. agro-forestry programs in their comA key driving factor in this case munities. has been the production of charTanzania is a unique example, coal, which the poor of Oaxaca where churches have made a signifisell for kitchen use to wealthier cant commitment towards environMexicans whose affluence insulates mental stewardship. In fact, Lutheran them from the immediate effects of churches there make it a requirement environmental degradation. Those for students going through confirmaproducing and selling the charcoal tion classes to plant a designated nummeanwhile have little choice but to ber of trees before completion. continue in the vicious cycle that is With Purpose works with 22 Tanzanian Plant With Purpose also works to Plant making them poorer. communities in the regions surrounding Mount establish partnerships with US church- Kilimanjaro, where 850 families have created famBut by planting trees, starting es to support the work of environmen- ily vegetable gardens and collectively planted over fisheries, operating small handcraft tal stewardship abroad. While there has 350,000 trees. businesses, and installing rooftop traditionally been some ambivalence cisterns to catch what little rainfall among American evangelicals towards Oaxaca receives, some have started environmental initiatives, Sabin says to experience a different way of life. In the community of El Porvenir, this landscape is rapidly changing. which in Spanish means “the fu“I’ve been doing this work for 18 years,” he says, “and for the first 10 ture,” Plant With Purpose has been years it seemed that our work was able to walk alongside the people as they have rediscovered the signifitoo Christian for environmentalists but cance of their community’s name. too environmental for Christians.” Sabin says that initially in speaking with On the road into the commuchurch groups he would emphasize the nity, a small oasis in an otherwise barren land, travelers are greeted economic impact of Plant With Purpose’s work, adding the reforestation with a sign that reads, “Welcome component later, almost as an aside. to El Porvenir, where there are opNow, though, given what he calls a portunities.” recent “groundswell of concern for the The transformation of El Porvenir is remarkable, but it does not environment”—occurring in part along generational lines—Plant With Purhave to be unique. Indeed, it is pospose has been able to re-emphasize the sible to interrupt the vicious cycles of deforestation and rural poverty. environmental focus while the work on the ground continues to produce both By recognizing the undeniable coneconomic and environmental results. nection between planting trees and Special thanks to our friends at Plant With But for Sabin, Plant With Pur- Purpose for supplying the photographs used caring for the poor, a green future is pose’s work does not depend on what here. well within reach, a future brimming with life, dignity, and hope. is currently in vogue, because he believes the powerful impact of reforestation and agro-forestry on the lives of the poor speaks for itself. “People tend to be Tim Høiland is a freelance journalist and international developvery pragmatic,” he says, noting, “It’s hard to argue with what ment worker. He blogs about the intersections of faith, justice, and peace in the Americas at works.”


A Call to Compassion from Our Brothers the Animals by Kendra Langdon Juskus 18 PRISM Magazine

Kate Komarnicki

“Oh God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, our brothers the animals to whom Thou gavest the earth in common with us. ... May we realize that they love the sweetness of life even as we...” - Basil of Caesarea efore Stella was Stella, she was a nameless “production unit” at a factory farm, and her time was almost up. A breeding sow valued only for birthing pigs for slaughter, Stella had reached an age where her utility to the industrial meat system had peaked. She was likely on her way to a slaughterhouse when an accident—perhaps a crash involving the truck transporting her—released her into the Florida suburbs instead. A man watering his lawn was shocked when Stella, emaciated and covered in wounds, staggered into his driveway and collapsed. “Stella’s wonderful,” says Elaine West, the president of Rooterville, a Melrose, Fla., sanctuary for rescued animals, where Stella now lives. “If you’re out[side], she’s going to be there with you, checking out what you’re doing and rubbing up on you and wanting to get her back scratched...You call her name and she comes running.” West and her husband, Dale, have named most of the 110 pigs who have been rescued from abuse or neglect to live peacefully on Rooterville’s 20 acres. Unlike Stella, whose ear tags and docked tail (cut off at its tender base to prevent other distressed pigs from chewing it) identify her as a factory farm pig, most of the pigs at Rooterville are pot-bellied pigs purchased as house pets and then abandoned when they grew too large or had too many litters. Shelters, rather than saving the pigs, often give them away to be slaughtered or killed as training bait for hunting dogs.


behind fencing; and the routine bludgeoning of weak calves unable to stand. We like to think such cruelty occurs only in isolated incidents and at the hands of disturbed individuals, but the 2007 legal charges against NFL quarterback Michael Vick taught us otherwise. When Vick was sentenced to 23 months in prison for financing the popular but illegal blood sport of dog fighting and participating in the killing of underperforming dogs, the pervasiveness of animal abuse in American society was exposed. Most of us are implicated in the brutality. For example, many well-intentioned pet owners unwittingly participate in the abuse of dogs by “puppy mill” breeders. Puppy mills confine dogs without access to exercise or medical care and breed them until they can no longer reproduce (at which point they are killed, along with unsellable offspring) to provide millions of adorable, but often behaviorally and physically challenged, puppies to local pet stores. But we are perhaps most complicit in animal suffering at the dinner table. “The sad statistic about meat consumption,” says Christine Gutleben, director of faith outreach for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), “is that in the US it has increased by nearly 78 pounds per person per year from just 60 years ago.” To meet and encourage this demand, the agricultural industry, in a gross departure from the family farms of a generation ago, crams millions of “production units” (cows, chickens, and pigs like Stella) into “confined agricultural feeding operations” (CAFOs). Animals in CAFOs, sometimes literally living on top of one another, are deprived of space, light, and exercise and slaughtered in sloppy, violent processes.

“Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.” -Proverbs 12:10 “God has given us a calling,” West explains of her work. “It has not been easy. But I know that God’s there, and if we’re doing what he wants us to do, he’s going to make a way.”

Dominion betrayed

Expressions of cruelty toward animals are legion: pet overpopulation (from insufficient spaying and neutering) that brings abandoned pigs to Rooterville and necessitates the euthanizing of 4 million cats and dogs each year; baby seals clubbed, cats strangled, and dogs skinned alive for their fur; captive hunts, where hunters pay to shoot animals trapped

Matthew Scully, a conservative Catholic and onetime speechwriter for former President George W. Bush, describes the system in his book Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy: Four companies now produce 81 percent of cows brought to market, 73 percent of sheep, half our chickens, and some 60 percent of hogs... In 1967 there were more than a million hog farms in the country; today there are about 114,000, all of them producing more, more, more to meet market demand. About 80 million of the 95 million hogs slaughtered each year in America, according to the


Animal welfare—like the education of girls, child labor laws, and disapproval of all that was lewd, violent, and debasing—fell into what William Wilberforce called the “reformation of manners”—a call for the moral regeneration of an entire society. National Pork Producers Council, are intensively reared in mass confinement farms, never once in their time on earth feeling soil or sunshine. Genetically designed by machines, inseminated by machines, fed by machines, monitored, herded, electrocuted, stabbed, cleaned, cut, and packaged by machines—themselves treated like machines “from birth to bacon”—these creatures, when eaten, have hardly ever been touched by human hands.

Religious Liberty Commission, recognized his own compassion toward animals at the age of 10, when a peer opened a lizard’s jaw to the point of its cracking, and then let the creature go. Today Duke helps the SBC’s state affiliates fight evils like cockfighting, an initiative that might surprise some but that Duke insists makes sense for Southern Baptists because of animal welfare’s biblical foundations. “You read the Bible,” he says, “and it’s very clear that humans are to engage in compassionate care for creation, Still, animal suffering isn’t on the average Christian’s which of course would include the animal world.”That manradar. Certainly it hasn’t been high on the list of social con- date starts in Genesis 1:28, where God gives us “dominion cerns that evangelicals have reclaimed in recent years. Its over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and absence is puzzling given that animal welfare, among other over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Some pervert the meaning of “dominion” to justify the injustices evangelicals condemn, is marked by a long legacy wanton abuse of animals. But this is not a biblical underof Christian thinking and leadership. standing of stewardship. Proverbs 12:10 asserts, “Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy Our place in a peaceable kingdom Dr. Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and re- of the wicked is cruel.” The Bible is replete with instrucsearch for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and tions for Israel’s responsible consideration of animals, awe for God’s creatures, and depictions of a peaceable kingdom where things are set right: “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call lead them.” to Mercy by Matthew Scully (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2003) Then there is God: the sacrificial Lamb, the hen longing to gather in her brood, the baby born The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them by among barnyard animals, and the King establishing Wayne Pacelle (William Morrow, 2011) his gentle rule from the back of a donkey’s colt. Although animal welfare is hardly a common The Friends We Keep: Unleashing Christianity’s Compassion for Anisermon topic today, Christians throughout the mals (Baylor University Press, 2010) centuries have taken these biblical foundations for animal welfare seriously, often considering mercy Visit for information and inspiration from a toward animals indicative of strong Christian charChristian perspective. acter and submission to God’s will over our own. In the early centuries of Christianity, Basil of Visit (> About > Departments > Faith Outreach) Caesarea and Irenaeus of Lyons encouraged mercy to learn more about the issues facing animals and what people of faith toward animals. “These creatures minister to our can do. needs every day,” Irenaeus wrote. “Without them we could not live, and through them the human race greatly offends the Creator.” Francis of Assisi, the Catholic patron saint of animals, is renowned for his gentleness toward animals and his occasional efforts to communicate with them and encourage them to worship God. Known less for their animal-whispering skills than for their theological leadership, John Calvin and John Wesley both affirmed the preeminence of humanity and its deliverance into God’s kingdom, while also considering the possibility of a respective

Dig Deeper

20 PRISM Magazine

restoration for animals. For both acknowledged that “creation waits with eager expectation for the revealing of the sons of God” and that God has mercy on what he has made. C.S. Lewis’ books clearly display his affection for animals. His fictional villains are easily identifiable by their cruelty toward animals, and in his nonfiction he wrestled with the question of animal pain and argued against the practice of vivisection. Practicing what he preached, he once directed a foxhunting party in the opposite direction of where the fox had run. William Wilberforce, in addition to his contribution to the abolition of the slave trade, supported a Parliamentary bill against the sport of bullbaiting—setting dogs to attack an angry, tethered bull—declaring, “Wretched indeed must be the condition of the people of England, if their whole happiness consists in the practice of such barbarity.” William Wilberforce and his Clapham community “understood that [animal cruelty] was a reflection of the general coarsening of society,” explains Mark Rodgers, principal of the Clapham Group (named after the original) in Virginia. “They thought of that as a continuum: If you can beat your dog, you can also turn a blind eye towards slavery... It was a Christian obligation to treat life humanely.” Christians’ role in animal welfare has always come down to this obligation and the virtues of a Christlike life that support it: humility, sacrifice, submission to God, responsible dominion, respect for and awe of God’s creatures, and compassion for those at our mercy.

Animals’ best advocates gone missing

Unfortunately, advocacy for the care of animals has often diverged from the source of such virtues, alienating Christians in the process. Explains Duke, “You’ve got some people arguing that animals deserve the same level of rights that human beings

At the table “Everybody—everybody—can have one vegetarian meal a week,” says Christine Gutleben. Even this small step, can impact the way the industrial agriculture system does business and treats animals. If you are able to go a step further in altering your eating habits out of mercy for farm animals, consider purchasing only eggs labeled as “cage-free,” grass-fed beef, or meat from a local farmer who can vouch for the integrity and ethics with which animals were raised and slaughtered. Visit to find humanely raised meat near you.

deserve. Part of...evangelicals’ concern is simply that In the church we don’t want to be part of that camp. We think those folks have gone to extremes and have blown it all out of proportion.... That’s probably affected some be involved.” That animal rights conversation drives much of the public impression of animal protection issues today. Although animals are, at minimum, sentient beings capable Low-income community of anticipating, feeling, and members will often go remembering pain, equating without food in order to them with human beings and feed their pets. Include demanding their equivalent a request for pet food in treatment denies the Godyour next food drive and given exceptionalism of huhold free pet vaccination mans and can even counterclinics both to assist your act the demands of dominion. community’s poorest resiWrites Scully, “Those who dents and show mercy to construct elaborate theories their pets. based on rights or liberation A church is also a risk pulling animals out of the great location for a pet world where affection and adoption event—an easy creaturely goodwill are posway to increase opporsible.” tunities for compassion Wayne Pacelle, CEO and decrease pet euthaand president of the HSUS, nizations. Visit Flourisexplains why it encourages (at tinyurl. animal welfare instead of com/3jnsvjv) for a howanimal rights: “I think it’s a to. Download or request recognition that we are spe“Animal Protection Miniscial and exceptional,” he says. try: A Guide for Churches” “All these creatures are at our at the Humane Society mercy... The rights language suggests that there’s something inherent in them, and I think it’s more about us.” Charity toward animals cannot be justified by a system of right or merit, and, for Christians, should need no such justification. The command to it, and the example of God’s own charity toward us, is sufficient. Still, it is challenging to be charitable, especially when suffering is hidden in CAFOs or puppy mills and when the busyness of daily life distracts us from the pain of those who can’t speak for themselves. It is particularly difficult to acknowledge their suffering when it is repeatedly excused and justified by an economic system and cultural ethos that demand it and demand we accept it, all the while obscuring the ethical implications of our participation in it. Karen Swallow Prior, associate professor of English


and chair of the department of English and modern languages at Liberty University in Virginia, has written about animal cruelty for evangelical publications. She says, “I think we have, as a culture, Among the animals become accustomed to living a certain lifestyle and having “There are plenty of reseasy, cheap access to lots of cues out there that need things such that we consume help,” says Elaine West and shop to the point that we of Rooterville. “People really don’t consider the imneed to help their local plications of the choices we organizations. The local make.” rescues are really strugAn economic system ready and willing to provide gling in this economy.” any kind and number of widContact your local gets at any cost, accompaanimal shelter, animal nied by a cultural ethos that control, or humane soencourages demand for those ciety, and ask how you widgets, necessarily capitucan get involved. You lates the Christian virtues may be able to play fundamental to animal welwith and care for shelfare to a quite different set of ter pets, bring animals values: the immediate gratifito convalescent centers cation of lust, gluttony, and as part of a pet therapy vanity; submission to one’s program, or adopt a pet into your home. own will and desire; the reduction of life to possessions and beings to “production units.” In Dominion, Scully’s condemnation of the animal-dependent excesses of our age chastens believers who should know better than to indulge them: “A regard for animals requires actually giving up a few things, be it a fine fur, a trophy-hunting safari, a coveted building site, or a pristine lawn unsoiled by noisy geese... Maybe the problem here is that too many people have made too many compromises, so many that we can hardly tell the compromises we make from the principles we hold.”

More than just a cause

In one important respect, insisting that animals not be beaten, broken, and abandoned at our whim is distinct from other worthy calls to compassion. “The one unique aspect of animal welfare,” says Rodgers, is “that it touches most Americans.” Pet ownership crosses racial, ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic lines. Even those of us who don’t own pets still eat, and most of us eat meat. The issues touch us directly and without discrimination, providing the opportunity to address them just as directly across the board. And yet, animal welfare is more than just a cause. Wilberforce didn’t support the anti-bullbaiting bill because

22 PRISM Magazine

advocates convinced him In the it was a worthwhile cause. public Animal welfare—like the square education of girls, child laAdopt instead of buying pupbor laws, and disapproval of pies. Tell local lawmakers you all that was lewd, violent, oppose efforts to restrict the and debasing—fell into recording of what goes on inwhat Wilberforce called the side factory farms. Sign peti“reformation of manners”— tions against baby seal cluba call for the moral regenbing and puppy mills. Don’t eration of an entire society. buy fur. A concern for animal welfare is a natural outYou can play an important growth of a life governed by role in reprioritizing the Christian virtues and may, concerns of politicians and because it touches so many, corporations by advocating be capable of multiplying against animal suffering with those virtues across society your voice, your votes, and in a similar sort of “reformayour purchasing power. To tion.” stay up to date on current “On a basic level, we issues and find out how you would be reflecting God’s can impact them, visit Huvision for the world and (> Issues > all that he created and in Campaigns). that sense be a witness to society for the world God intended and the world he hopes to restore.” So says Ben DeVries, founder of Not One Sparrow, which encourages Christ-driven mercy towards animals and is, as a relatively young organization, a bellwether for evangelical participation in the animal welfare movement. Christians have a unique testimony in exhibiting compassion for animals. It doesn’t result from the demands of animals’ rights or from an arbitrarily constructed morality. It results from faithfulness to the first and most fundamental privilege we are called to by the Creator. That is why it spreads. Elaine West marvels, “[People] say, ‘You care more about animals. Why aren’t you helping children?’... But having compassion for animals definitely makes you more compassionate all around. And that compassion extends to people, too. Compassion is not a finite quality.” At Rooterville, West’s days are filled with compassionate stewardship and our other calling: to name the creatures delivered into her care and to call the most emaciated and wounded, the ones who struggle back into right relationship with their caretakers, beautiful names like Stella, star. Kendra Langdon Juskus writes and edits from Illinois. She is the managing editor of Flourish, an online publication that explores issues of faith and environmental stewardship (, and poetry editor for A Prairie Journal (

Sowing Justice

Farming builds food security, community in inner-city Detroit by Mike and Denise Thompson

the nation that convert vacant property in poor neighborhoods into thriving oases of agriculture—and hope. A good number of the groups involved, such as Detroit’s Capuchins, openly describe themselves as faith-based. Other groups are more secular in how they present themselves, but many of the individuals involved see their work as an expression of their faith. Rick Samyn, a brother with the Capuchins, explains that Earthworks seeks “to restore our connection to the environment and community in keeping with our spiritual patron, St. Francis.” The Capuchins were ahead of their time when they established Earthworks in 1997. But in the past few years, the “Motown” to “Growtown” phenomenon has experienced a tremendous flourishing. According to spokespeople for Mayor Dave Bing, the number of Detroit’s urban farms will soon approach 800, although few are the size of Earthworks. Many consist of a single vacant lot, or several combined, used to grow food.    People involved in urban farm work— whether as modestly paid staffers, volunteers, or work-study agricultural students—are usually motivated by social justice issues. They note that Detroit no longer contains a major supermarket chain within its boundaries, which means that residents pay more for food, either at small local shops or through transportation to the suburban megastores. If they lack the transportation to get to the suburban outlets, their meats and produce are far less likely to be fresh and appealing. Lack of healthy food contributes to today’s rise in obesity, especially among children. Urban farm gardens provide a means to break this harmful cycle.

Praying with dirty hands


rom Old Testament gleaning laws to the gospel story of Jesus multiplying loaves and fishes to feed a hungry crowd, a key biblical theme involves providing food for those in need. Responding to that theme is Detroit’s Earthworks Urban Farm, a program of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen. The farm is one of a growing number of back-to-basics ministries across

23 PRISM Magazine

Patrick Crouch, Earthworks program manager, feels that working the soil is a form of prayer. “It’s definitely a deeply spiritual event for me,” he explains. “I think of it as being more of a meditation. One of the beauties of working in the garden is to do the task at hand.” This doesn’t prevent Crouch from seeing the political and social justice issues involved in the urban farm movement. Like the vast majority of urban farmers, he avoids chemicals and pesticides; Earthworks is a certified organic farm. He says that people are beginning to understand the ills of massive erosion of soil on corporate farms, as well as the horrors of packing animals into cramped and unsanitary stalls and cages. Crouch believes that farming malpractice is so severe that the entire food chain is at risk. He notes with irony

Preceding page, top to bottom: The EAT program’s farm stand; lettuce aplenty in the green house; students plunge in to pick potatoes.

that if a “food crisis” eventually occurs, poor people involved in urban farm gardens may be in the best position to cope. Crouch grew up in Salisbury, Md., along the Atlantic shore, in a family that grew vegetables and showed concern for ecology. When he arrived in Detroit to serve with Earthworks, he took time to study the city’s history.    “Throughout American history, growing in urban areas has waxed and waned,” he explains. “Detroit has a history of farming in the city, going back to the 1880s, before the auto industry emerged. I don’t necessarily think of this as something new. It’s getting publicity nowadays because of the internet.”      Lisa Richter, Earthworks outreach coordinator, is a Michigan native who recruits neighbors and organizes activities, including a community prayer to bless the garden each spring. But they do more than bless the attractive green sprouts.     “We also bless the compost,” Richter says. “We spread the leaves down, and in the dying of the leaves we are blessing new lives within ourselves. We demonstrate how some-

24 PRISM Magazine

This page: Honey from the Earthworks hives will be enjoyed at the Capuchin Soup kitchen and sold at market; volunteers de-cap the beeswax so the honey will spill out.

body may express their values and faith through how to live and how to treat the earth.” The majority of the produce grown by Earthworks is served up fresh to patrons of Capuchin Soup Kitchen, which serves about 2,000 hot meals each day at their two locations.

Growing new agriculturalists

The Earthworks Agricultural Training (EAT) program is designed to develop the skills that adults 18 and older need to create their own community-based food enterprises or to enter the quickly developing urban food system. For nine months participants work hands-on in all areas of the food system, learning about everything from production to processing, from marketing to distribution. “We started this program because economic insecurity is often suffered by those suffering from food insecurity,” explains Shane Bernardo, who helps coordinate outreach. “In this way, we move from simply offering social services (in the

form of serving meals) to providing opportunities for folks to provide meals for themselves.” Among the widespread Earthworks projects are a pair of intensive youth programs. Open to kids living within a two-mile radius of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, Youth cooking spinach for an artichoke dip Growing Healthy Kids is geared to elementary students while Youth Farm Stand serves middle and high school students. The first teaches the basics of gardening, nutrition, cultural awareness, environmental stewardship, and healthy living. The latter takes these same issues a step further, engaging the kids in farming and then marketing the produce at local farm stands.    “The kids can learn how what they eat relates to their faith,” Richter says. “What they eat affects the quality of life for other people.” The students learn about self-sufficient agriculture, cooperative work, and the environment. They are connected with adult mentors. They engage in physical exercise and learn about healthy foods. And as they reap and sell their harvest, they learn about running a business. The program has seen the birth of a spin-off program in Saginaw County, 90 miles north of Detroit. Bakari McClendon is coordinator of the Saginaw County Youth Farm Stand Project. In 2008, vandals destroyed the gardens the day after they were featured in the local Saginaw News. When the newspaper published a follow-up story, hundreds of residents

from the city, the suburbs, and the rural outskirts donated everything from seeds to garden tools to cash.    “The way that the gardens were ruined seemed terrible, but the community response was so overwhelming that the overall result was positive,” McClendon says, explaining that the students gained more appreciation for the importance of what they were doing. As the young farmers grow up, McClendon hopes urban farm gardens will create “green” jobs, just as alternative energy industries such as solar and wind power have done. Learn more at Mike Thompson was a reporter at the daily Saginaw News for 31 years. Denise Thompson works in food service at a nursing home and is a part-time writer.

What can you do to be a food justice advocate?

Get involved with your community. Investigate if there is a community garden in your area. If not, organize one.

Question why there is enough food in the world to feed all people yet many experience hunger. What systems are in place that create this dynamic? Ask how racism has played a role in determining who has access to healthy food and who does not.

The Garden Resource Program at the soup kitchen teaches attendees how to can fresh produce.

Buy food that respects and values all people, creatures, and features of the world. Farm work is some of the most dangerous work due to exposure to pesticides and demanding schedules. Buying local and sustainable whenever possible can help to ensure that your food and food workers were treated with care.

Research where your food comes from and how the people, the land, and all the creatures were treated in its production.

Buy local food and products from locally owned businesses or ask your favorite businesses or restaurants (even your school’s cafeteria!) to source more produce and products locally. Shop at your local farmer’s market and ask your farmers questions about their food and growing practices. Talk with your friends, family, and coworkers about issues of agriculture, race, and equality. We cannot move forward without having these conversations.



or the last 40 years, the long-term mission of the Barefoot College, located in the small village of Tilonia in Rajasthan, India, has been to work with the marginalized, the exploited, and the impoverished. Our goal is to help them lift themselves, with dignity and self-respect, over the poverty line. It is the first and only rural college in India built by the poor and exclusively for the poor. The “barefoot” approach reflects Mahatma Gandhi’s central beliefs that the knowledge, skills, and wisdom found in the villages should be used for their own development; that technology should be demystified and decentralized into the hands of the rural poor; and that marginalized women should be given equal opportunities to learn. The idea is to apply the knowledge and skills that the rural poor already possess for their own development. Living conditions at the college are simple so that the poor feel comfortable. Everyone sits, eats, and works on the floor. Everyone earns a living wage rather than a market wage. The spiritual atmosphere at the college reflects a working relationship that is totally dependent on mutual trust, religious harmony, patience, compassion, equality, and generosity. The college believes that the very poor have every right to access, control, manage, and own the most sophisticated of technologies to improve their own lives. Just because they cannot read and write is no reason why very poor and illiterate men and women cannot be water and solar engineers, designers, communicators, healthcare providers, architects, and rural social entrepreneurs. To date, several thousand trainees have accomplished extraordinary things, confirming the wisdom of Mark Twain’s proverb that we should never let school interfere with education.

26 PRISM Magazine


Grannies The world’s poorest women spark change as “barefoot” solar engineers by Bunker Roy The target constituency has been rural poor families living on less than US$1/day. In families like these, the women spend much time and money fetching kerosene, wood, candles, and, These women when they can afford them, from several African nations flashlight batteries for lighting, learn about solar which is their highest expendicookers at the ture after food. They often have Barefoot College in India. to travel vast distances on foot to buy heavy 10-liter containers of kerosene. They walk miles to gather firewood from the already vanishing forests across Africa. A rural family in Africa burns around 60 liters of kerosene a year to light their home, and the average kerosene lamp in Africa spews out more than a ton of carbon dioxide every decade. Most families also cook indoors over wood fires. The health effects of burning kerosene, coal, and wood are devastating: Toxic smoke causes respiratory diseases that kill 1.6 million women and children per year and causes severe respiratory problems for tens of millions. Solar power is not only clean, it is also sustainable, and there are tens of thousands of villages across the African continent that can benefit from being solar electrified. The Barefoot College is taking it one village at a time. Our Village Energy and Environment Committee will first visit a village to help the people understand that, while the hardware (such as photovoltaic panels and deep cycle batteries) will be funded by various international organizations, they

themselves must commit to regular payments that will cover replacement components and payment of the monthly salary of the barefoot engineer, which incentivizes her to maintain and repair the units. Each household agrees to pay a fee (generally $5-10 a month) for the solar lighting, roughly what they now spend on kerosene, candles, and flashlight batteries. To date, close to 180 rural grandmothers have solar electrified 11,000 remote rural houses in 31 African countries. As a result of their collective efforts, they have managed to save 1.3 million liters of kerosene per month, a saving of enormous proportions for a population that is hardest hit by fuel and energy crises. What’s more, these women are reducing the drudgery of women all over Africa, and they are doing it while setting an extraordinary example for females across the continent. When these women, for the most part grandmothers who are considered useless in rural African society, return to their villages as empowered, bonafide solar engineers, they quickly become role models who go on to train other women in their villages and surrounding areas.

The least of these lead the way

It is now a policy of the Barefoot College to train exclusively illiterate or semiliterate middle-aged mothers and grandmothers from villages all over the world. The concentration since 2004 has been on training women from Africa. For our purposes, we have found men to be virtually “untrainable.” Overall, they are restless, impatient, ambitious, and compulsively mobile. They all want certificates after training, but as soon as they get one they very quickly leave


Partners and funding sources Organizations that have supported the barefoot approach in Africa include family foundations, banks, and international donor agencies, including the following:

❂ Stichting Het Groene Woudt (a private Dutch family foundation) provided funds to solar electrify villages in six African countries ❂ Skoll Foundation USA provided funds to solar electrify 30 communities in five “least developed countries” around the world ❂ Fondation Ensemble (a private French family foundation) funds solar electrification for villages in Mali and Malawi ❂ Norwegian Church Aid funds solar electrification of villages in Rwanda, Mauritania, Mali ❂ The GEF Small Grants Programme, hosted by the UNDP, has supported the hardware costs in Benin, Uganda, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Namibia, Rwanda, Cameroon, Niger, Chad ❂ The Government of India, under the ITEC Programme, has provided free visas, airfare, and sixmonth training costs to train nearly 180 grandmothers from all over Africa. In all these African countries, indigenous grassroots organizations have helped to identify villages, mobilize and sensitize the communities to make major decisions, identify the women trainees, prepare their passports and medical certificates, and get the governments of the host country to agree to send them to India. For their enormous efforts and financial output we are truly grateful.

ting and with each other, and begin to enjoy both the work and the camaraderie. One remarkable outcome we’ve noticed from the women living together for six months is the tolerance they show to each other’s cultures and religion and how easily they exhibit mutual respect, living and working together, celebrating Muslim and Christian festivals together, exchanging gifts and showing curiosity to learn more about each other. This type of openness would never be possible—indeed it is almost un-

their village to take any job they can find in the city. The issuing of certificates by training institutions is one of the major reasons for migration from the villages to the cities. In contrast, middle-aged rural women are on the whole solid, grounded in the villages, patient, persevering, tolerant, and not in the least bit interested in hanging certificates on their walls. They have no interest in leaving their villages, and even if they did their illiteracy means that no government or private agency will ever lure them away. Therefore these women represent the best long-term investment for the training provided by the Barefoot College, one that will be passed on to others in the village and passed down to future generations. Since 2004, we’ve welcomed these poor, illiterate/semiliterate women, selected by their remote villages, to study at the 80,000-squarefoot college complex, which is itself exclusively powered by solar panels. We train 36 women at a time over a six-month period. For women who have rarely left their village, it requires undeniable courage and patience to leave their homes and families. The first month is a period of A rural Indian woman learning to weld and fabricate a solar cooker at the many adjustments in their life, but slowly the Barefoot College. women become more comfortable with the set-

28 PRISM Magazine

Here and left: Women from Gambia and Sierra Leone learn hands-on how to build and maintain solar equipment to electrify their villages.

thinkable—anywhere else in the world. But I’ve observed it myself: Removed from their traditional setting, conservative Muslim women from Jordan have eagerly asked to go into a church to see how their Christian friends from Africa worship. This type of thing happens during their training time together, as if it is the most natural thing in the world. It’s a kind of miracle! While the presence of so many nationalities creates a positive environment of cultural diversity, it also creates

many challenges, the most pressing of which is communication. With the help of the women, we have developed a unique combination of hand gestures, signs, and some terms and phrases (expressed in broken English) that allow the trainers and trainees to communicate in a common “language.” It’s also interesting to note that the women, in their own inimitable way, record what they are learning in rough drawings, color codes, and scribbles that they alone can understand. These tatty notebooks serve as their manuals when they return back home and need to review what they’ve learned. “Learning by doing” has long been the philosophy adopted by the Barefoot College. Practical demonstrations, “handson” experience, and regular repetition help trainees become familiar with terms, tools, equipment, and components used in solar technology. With each passing day, their level of hesitancy decreases and their confidence and technical dexterity increase. They return home as “barefoot” solar engineers who will fabricate, install, maintain, and repair residential solar lighting systems in their villages.

A future so bright

A “barefoot revolution” is sweeping the world. Ordinary people—once written off by a society that labels them “poor,” “primitive,” or “backward”—are doing the extraordinary. What

Solar lanterns fabricated by women solar engineers in Mauritania provide clean light at night, eliminating the smoke of kerosene that damages the eyes and lungs of children in particular.


Supporting Our Sisters These community-based organizations send Christian women to be trained as solar engineers. Contact them to offer your individual, small-group, or church support. Benin Abed Ong

Malawi CCOD

Cameroon Rural Women Development Centre

Mali Aide de l’Eglise Norvegienne

Congo (DRC) The Gorilla Organization

Mozambique Catholic Mission

Ethiopia Chancellor Mekele University

Namibia OIKE

Kenya World Concern

Rwanda Norwegian Church Aid

Green Forest Social Investment Trust

Senegal TOSTAN

the Barefoot College has effectively demonstrated is how sustainable the combination of traditional (barefoot) knowledge and demystified modern skills can be when the tools are put in the hands of the rural poor. Just as the sun—for which rural communities around the world already have great rever-

Barefoot Women Solar Engineers Association of Sierra Leone Tanzania International Child Support Uganda MIFUMI Project Zambia Norwegian Church Aid

ence—shines on the poorest of the poor, so now its power can be captured to illuminate their lives. The beauty of our solar program is that it is easily replicated in the most inaccessible, neglected, and underrated communities of the world, from Gambia to Afghanistan and from Bhutan to Bolivia. And when the ideas, knowledge, and skills of the marginalized poor are used by them and for them, self-worth increases as dependency on longterm handouts decreases. The dream is that one day the world’s most marginalized populations will stand on level ground with the rest of the human race.

Badakshan is the first Afghan village to be solar electrified by Barefoot College trainees.

30 PRISM Magazine

Sierra Leone Ministry of Finance and Economic Development

To see the African women in action, watch the 10-minute video, narrated by Bunker Roy, posted at Watch a recent CNN report at tinyurl. com/49fvr8e. Learn more at

Reaching for the Sun A modern-day Prometheus empowers the poorest of the poor interview by Kristyn Komarnicki and Janell Anema

photo: KRIS KRÜG

Bunker Roy is the founder and director of the Barefoot College in Rajasthan, northwestern India. In February he flew 8,000 miles to speak for eight minutes at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, where he addressed 500 women ministers and civil society leaders of developing nations on how his school is helping illiterate, middle-aged women light up their rural villages using solar technology. We caught up with him in New York City, where we gladly gave him as many minutes as he needed to share his remarkable vision. PRISM: You’ve been running the Barefoot College for four decades, but you’ve only been internationally recognized for your work in the past handful of years.

the creation of livelihoods for the poorest of the poor, among other things. What can you tell us about the evolution of your thinking?

Bunker Roy: Yes, but the recognition is not important. It’s nice to be endorsed, but I’m not in favor of personal recognition. I’m nobody without the Barefoot College, so please don’t recognize me, recognize the unique process and impact of the college.

BR: When you come from an elitist background where everything goes 100 miles per hour and all of a sudden you are in a village where everything goes zero miles per hour, you have to adjust. If you don’t, the people don’t take you seriously. You have to do things very, very slowly and carry the people with you. All we’ve done with the Barefoot College is to innovate slowly. You’re never really sure that an idea will work until you’ve tried it. You look at the pros and cons, put it on the ground, and then you see the results. I’m a great believer in the evolutionary way and not the revolutionary way. The slow way forward is a very good way of seeing if an idea is grounded, if you’re carrying the people with you, if you are actually being understood, whether your sensitization process has had any impact. You have to give all your innovations time. Churchill said that success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm. We’ve had several failures over the years—wind energy, some of our night school efforts, but even when something fails, it’s not necessarily the idea that has failed, it’s only the conditions around it that have contributed to the failure. It is so important that you try again and not accept failure.

PRISM: You went to elite schools and grew up in privileged circles. So when did you understand that you wanted to devote your life to empowering the poor? What turned the light on for you? BR: I visited the very poor state of Bihar during a time of famine. Hundreds of thousands of people had died of starvation. It was the first time I had ever been to rural villages, and it affected me deeply. When I went back and told my mother I wanted to work in a village, she looked shell-shocked—“You were all set to be a diplomat or a banker and now you want to live in a village?” She wouldn’t speak to me for many years, and it was only when the Prince and Princess of Wales came and spent a day at the Barefoot College that she decided to break the silence. PRISM: Did anyone else in your social set at the time understand your desire? BR: No, this was something totally out of the box. In the 1970s this was beyond their comprehension. There was no money, no security, no future living and working in the villages. But I was drawn to the challenge of it, and I wanted to give back to society. I had the best of education and now I wanted to give back. PRISM: The college is involved in innovative ways of promoting education, healthcare, access to clean water and energy, and

PRISM: What is the biggest challenge you face in your work? BR: The biggest threat to what we’re doing is the “literate person”—that is, you and me. Generally speaking, we can’t see beyond what we’ve been conditioned to see. We just can’t think beyond the box to see that there is often a low-cost—sometimes even a no-cost—way to do a thing. Where is it written that a person who can’t read or write can’t become a doctor, engineer, or architect?


Literate people in the rural areas where we work believe in the status quo; they don’t believe in change. They are often corrupt, don’t believe in transparency, and don’t want the poorest to develop. They are the ones who always get in the way of our work, because they cannot accept for instance that a poor illiterate rural woman can become a solar engineer. They cannot accept something that they know will fundamentally change the man/woman relationship in the village. They know the effect it will have. We expect objections. In fact, when we go into a village and find that everyone is for the project, we know that something is wrong—someone has to object. If the right people object—if the moneylenders, politicians, bureaucrats object—then we know we’re on the right track. As an organization, we have to have the staying power to counter all that resistance and hostility. When we go to the poorest part of the village and start doing work, as we always do, we generate a lot of flack. The literate people ask, “Why them? Why not us? Why aren’t you going through the proper hierarchy?” And we answer, “Because we’re not interested. We’ve been going through the proper hierarchy for years and nothing’s changed.” In just that one act—bypassing the literate folks—we shortcut years of discrimination, exploitation, and injustice. In a village of 100 houses, 30 households will be very poor. The Barefoot College will only work with those 30 households. I will make sure that they get the visibility, that they stand out and are treated as equals. That is the big step—to get the resources and confidence to the very poor so that they are able to stand eye to eye with the others in the village. They can’t do it without the backing of the Barefoot College. The poorest people may be illiterate, but they are just in need of direction, leadership, support. If you’re fighting bonded labor, injustice, exploitation, corruption, and there’s no one to support the people, you won’t see any change. When they feel that the Barefoot College will support them all the way, then they get the confidence to take on these things. But that sort of spark must come from the village, not from the college. They have to take the first step—we can’t push them. PRISM: You dealt exclusively with Indian villages until 2004, when you decided to begin working in Africa. How do you find villages to work with? Please describe your process of selection. BR: We looked at the United Nations Human Development Report and started with the country at the bottom of the list— Sierra Leone—and worked our way up. Since 2005 we have covered Chad, Niger, Rwanda, Mozambique, Benin, Mauritania, Djibouti, Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, the Gambia—all the African countries we work in come from the bottom of the poorest nations on the list. We partner with about 22 indigenous grassroots NGOs that are already working in the rural areas. They are our eyes and ears; they identify the villages for us and do the sensitization before I arrive. They tell the people that the following week I will arrive in the hopes of taking one or two of their grandmoth-

32 PRISM Magazine

ers to India. They think it is one big joke, and they have a big laugh. The village is supposed to do a preselection in that time. Then I show up and have to confirm that the person is genuinely very poor, illiterate, etc. This first round is very important. PRISM: Are the women who are selected very excited? Is there fierce competition? BR: Oh, no! No one lines up for this. They hate the idea. They think, “What a crazy thing to do! I’m so happy here with my grandchildren, my dogs and cats, my family, my land. Why would you want to take me to a strange place and make me into a solar engineer?” They’re 50 years old, most of them— they want to relax. When the village sends the women off, it’s as if it’s the last time they’ll ever see them again. It’s a very somber, sad occasion. The women go screaming onto the plane. But what guts they have! They’ve never been out of their village before, let alone on a plane, and now they are going to a strange country with strange people, strange clothes, strange food. The first month it is very difficult for them to settle in, but after that they really get into it. They start to laugh and joke; they talk to each other, even though they don’t understand a word of each other’s languages! PRISM: Tell us about some of your most memorable students. BR: I went to a village in Gambia where all the prepa-

Do What Works: Rethinking the Millennium Development Goals In 2005, the New York Times published an op-ed by Bunker Roy titled “Why the Millennium Goals Won’t Work.” Here’s a bullet list of his proposed solutions, all of which the Barefoot College has already proven to be both feasible and effective: Goal 1 Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger: Get every government to embrace a Right to Information Act (like India’s). Ensure transparency and accountability by allowing rural communities to pressure government to disclose how money has been spent (see Goal 2 Achieve universal primary education: Since 60 percent of the poorest rural children miss school because they have to help with domestic chores, train literate but unemployed rural youth as part-time “barefoot” teachers who then run schools at night. Goal 3 Empower women: Train illiterate rural women as solar and water engineers—to repair hand pumps, build rainwater tanks in schools, solar electrify villages. Goals 4-6 Reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, and combat disease: Upgrade the skills of traditional midwives, improve their confidence, and build on their knowledge. Goal 7 Increase access to safe drinking water: Collect rainwater from the roofs of schools by the billions of gallons, for drinking and flushing toilets. Goal 8 Develop partnerships: Rather than focus on global trade partnerships, strengthen partnerships between poor communities so that they learn from one another and share traditional, practical knowledge and skills.

ratory work had been done, and they had come to the stage where they were supposed to pick a grandmother to send. About 100 people were at the meeting, and I just observed initially, but I had already spotted the woman that I wanted to take. After about two hours’ discussion they announced the two women they had selected, but I said, “No, this woman will go,” pointing to the person I had already decided was the best to take. They were very surprised, and asked how I could possibly have decided on her when I didn’t know the language or who she was or whether they had already ruled her out for some reason I couldn’t know about. I explained that I liked her humility, her body language, how she responded to the others, and could tell that she was the one to take. They informed me, “Well, in fact, we want to send her, but she has a difficult husband, and he won’t let her go.” I said, “Bring me the husband,” and here comes this swaggering, cocky, typical male chauvinist West African, with a mobile phone in his hand. I said, “I want to take your wife to India.” He said, “It’s not possible. Look how beautiful she is. What happens if she runs off with an Indian man?” I said, “I promise that if you send her to India she will ring you up every week on your mobile and tell you she is happy, she hasn’t run off with any man, she is working hard at the Barefoot College.” So at that point the whole village piled onto him and said, “Look, you must say yes—he’s given his assurance.” So very reluctantly he agreed. This woman was definitely battered, very badly treated. She came to us like a grandmother, but she went back to her village like a tiger! She walked off the plane like a veteran, and handled the Gambian press as if she’d handled it her whole life. She went and solar electrified her whole village. The only casualty was the husband, because he couldn’t recognize the woman who returned to him. What a success story she is! PRISM: These women are your heroes, aren’t they? BR: Oh yes. I just give them an opportunity, that’s all. They find within themselves a way to capitalize on this new skill they have. PRISM: So when these women return to their villages empowered for the first time in their lives, what happens? What are some of the social consequences of this work? BR: I’ll tell you about the first women we trained from Afghanistan. When they went back and solar electrified the first Afghan village ever, one of the women went and sat down with the men. “What do you think you’re doing sitting here with the men?” they asked her. “You should be sitting with the women over there.” And she very quietly answered, “Today I am not a woman. Today I am an engineer. I have solar electrified the whole village, so I have every right to sit here.” And the men didn’t have any answer, because they had never seen a woman engineer in their life. This is how change happens. The men changed the opinion they had about women by seeing that they can also be engineers

and not just work in the kitchen and produce babies. It had a fantastic effect. Those three women have gone on to train 27 more women in Afghanistan. Once you give them a skill that the man doesn’t have, you open up opportunities and the sky’s the limit. They will fly with it. Their whole position in society has now changed. We have this mother from Jordan with us now. She was at the college for one month when all of the sudden she got a telegram saying she had to return home because her children were ill. So she went back and found that her husband was not looking after the children properly and had sent the telegram just to bring her home. So in front of the whole village—and this is historic—she said, “You will not stop me from going back to India now. I’m coming back here as a solar engineer. Then I’m going to train all the women in this village to become solar engineers, and none of you are going to do anything about it.” That required tremendous guts. In a traditional society no woman gets up and starts challenging and questioning men like that. She’s back at the college right now, training. She says that when she goes back to Jordan she’s going to tell everyone, “If I can become a solar engineer, even though I don’t read or write, all of you can become something, too.” She’s a very powerful ambassador—there is so much fire in her eyes when she speaks. PRISM: What kind of donors do you look for? How can our readers partner with the work you’re doing? BR: We look for donors who understand that this work takes time. We have a lot of Christian organizations working in Africa and they’re all success stories. Out of 194 grandmothers, about 90 of them are Christians, and we’d love to have your readers connect with some of these local organizations that are open to scaling up, for example in Malawi. Since the Indian government has agreed to pay airfare and six months’ training costs for as many grandmothers as we can train—currently we’re limited by our size to training 72 a year—we need support to help the women who have trained in India train others in their native areas. And we need funds for hardware—it costs about $40,000 for the solar panels for a village of 100 houses. That’s the kind of thing churches can help with. PRISM: Thank you, Mr. Roy, for serving Jesus by serving the most vulnerable members of the human family. Thank you for adding so much light to these women’s lives and, by extension, to our lives as well. Kristyn Komarnicki, editor of PRISM Magazine, is telling everyone who will listen about Bunker Roy and the solar grannies, some of whom she hopes to meet one day. She is thankful every time she flips a light switch. Janell Anema is an adjunct professor of community development at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pa., and while much in the field of international development leaves her feeling cynical and disillusioned, in a few hours Bunker Roy managed to electrify her hope and passion for community development again!


We Were the Least of These

Discovering how the Bible can speak freedom to survivors of sexual abuse by Elaine A. Heath


was the middle of summer, and I was preaching through a series titled “Men, Women, and God.” While the congregation was accepting of me as their pastor, they still tended to have patriarchal views about gender. Our church was in the Ohio River Valley, a region with unusually high rates of sexual abuse and domestic violence.1 My goal in the sermon series was to introduce the congregation to deeper levels of the healing and liberating power of the gospel. As part of the larger goal, I wanted them to experience a reading of several biblical texts that could help to prevent and heal the sexual abuse and domestic violence in our city. On this Sunday, several weeks into the series and after I had established a biblical foundation for gender equality, I preached

34 PRISM Magazine

about the sin of child sexual abuse. I talked about its presence even among Christians, its relationship to patriarchy, and how the church could help to prevent and heal this form of violence. My biblical text was the story of the woman at the well in John 4. The congregation was unusually quiet, listening intently as I preached about the woman’s worth in God’s eyes and how her series of rejections as an adult could very well have been the outcome of the wounds of sexual abuse. There were aspects of her adult life, I said, that are sometimes found in survivors of child sexual abuse. Instead of looking at her story as just one more example of an immoral woman, what if we thought about the kind of childhood experiences that can move a person toward this

Elena Ray

Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is a living power that lifts us out of the black hole of shame and heals our wounds. much chaos as an adult? This familiar story from the gospels was a way to ease into a very difficult subject as we considered some of the consequences of child sexual abuse for adult survivors. As I spoke of survivors’ struggle with perfectionism and anxiety, and other consequences of sexual abuse, I noticed several people had tears in their eyes. Bringing the message to a close, I briefly mentioned the systemic layers of oppression that faced this woman and further isolated her from her own people and religious community. In short, I was linking the sin of child sexual abuse to the larger systemic issue of patriarchy. The good news, I said, is that this unnamed woman became the first evangelist. Jesus saw beyond the surface of her dysfunctional relationships to the misery of her

life. More than that, he saw the person she could become. Jesus trusted her, wanted to drink from her cup, was willing to be seen talking to her. Jesus did not shame her. When Jesus met her, he saw someone who wanted to be a true worshiper. This woman was not doomed to live in the shadow of her abuse forever. Because of Jesus, she found her own voice and with it led others to the one who set her free. After the benediction, I followed custom and greeted people as they were leaving the church. An older woman, Laura, lingered at the edge of the sanctuary. Her husband, Marty, had already gone out to the car. They were usually there on Sundays but kept to themselves and rarely came to fellowship events. I always thought their reticence was because they were new in town,


Elena Ray

I saw Jesus with me and in me, suffering everything. I saw his love for me, his unwillingness for me to suffer alone... having moved there just a year before I did. When we passed the peace, Laura stood still instead of moving into the aisle. She stared ahead and only greeted others if they first spoke to her. Marty was a little more outgoing, but not much. They were both tall and dignified. Nearly 80, Laura was still strikingly beautiful, with her shoulder-length white hair and stylish clothing. When the last person had left the sanctuary, Laura approached. Taking my hand, she looked into my eyes and was silent, searching for the right words. Finally she spoke. “Pastor, what you preached about really touched me. For the first time in my life, and I have been going to church my entire life, I actually understood every word of the sermon.” “Thank you, Laura!” I said, surprised by her comments, because she had been listening to my sermons for nearly two years. Why would she understand this sermon and not the others?

36 PRISM Magazine

There was something more that she seemed to want to say, so I waited. With no change in facial expression or tone of voice, Laura matter-of-factly continued, “My neighbor and his friend raped me. Two of them, together, one after the other. They were in high school. I was 7 years old.” The words came out with no more emotion than if she were telling me what she had for dinner the night before. “I hadn’t thought of it in a long time. Your sermon made me remember it.” The faintest glimmer of pain began to show in her eyes. “I’ve never told anyone before,” she whispered. That sermon marked the beginning of Laura’s healing. Today Laura experiences the love of God, laughs freely, and participates in Bible studies and outings with friends. She and Marty have become favorites of many of the younger adults at the church, who are often dinner guests at the couple’s home.

Although she is still reserved by nature, Laura has found her voice, and she is a blessing to everyone around her. She is compassionate, a deep thinker, a joy to her friends.

Why survivors disconnect from the church


s Laura explained in one of our many conversations after the disclosure of her abuse, prior to the advent of her healing, she had never been able to experience prayer or spiritual feelings the way other people seemed to. Although she is bright, she did not understand the Bible very well or desire to read it. When pastors stood up to preach, she disconnected. There was an internal block that she could not comprehend. Deep within her heart she longed to know God more fully, and she wanted to experience the love of God that others described. But doing so was not possible until she heard her own story of suffering within the biblical text and experienced a pastor who could validate her story and speak of it in terms of healing and redemption. She had to experience the gospel interpreted by a survivor. Laura is only one of many survivors of abuse I have been privileged to know over the years in my roles of pastor, spiritual companion, retreat leader, professor, and friend. Her story is unique, yet in some ways Laura exemplifies people everywhere who have survived child sexual abuse. Often they are internally if not outwardly disconnected from Christianity, the church, the Bible, and clergy. Much of their alienation has to do with how the Bible is read and interpreted in the church. Some of it has to do with excessively gendered language for God in hymnody, prayers, and the liturgy. The church’s obsession with sexual sin coupled with its poorly developed theology of sexuality only compound the alienation. Laura had been in the church for a lifetime, carrying the painful secret of her abuse, not knowing how it shaped the rest of her life, how it filled her with shame, how it erected barriers between herself and the love of God, how it prevented her from feeling safe and loved even with trustworthy people. No one ever spoke from the pulpit or anywhere else in the church about sexual abuse and its consequences. Laura experienced decades of patriarchal biblical interpretation that reinforced the message that men and their desires and needs are what matter the most. She had internalized the belief that the Bible teaches that women and girls exist to serve men, no matter how painful and dehumanizing that might be. All the God images that had been given to her were male. Inwardly, without knowing exactly why, she shut down whenever a man stepped into the pulpit and spoke of a male God, especially one who is all powerful. The Bible held no attraction to her, for it was the voice of a male God protecting male interests. Even though Laura was a moral person, she spent a lifetime feeling defective—feeling like an outsider in church and community because of her hidden shame. Once Laura heard the good news of the gospel for survivors, once she realized how relevant the Bible was to her own story, her heart opened wide to the healing love of God. What then happened to her and what has happened to me and so many others I have known is nothing short of miraculous. Laura has come home to God and to herself. Laura’s healing has taken time and

has included many resources such as therapy, the cultivation of healthy friendships, and pastoral care. But the turning point for her was when the Bible was interpreted so that she could locate her specific suffering in its story of redemption. Laura was evangelized when the Bible was read through the eyes of a survivor.2 Her evangelization was holistic, a process of initiation into a life of wholeness and wholehearted discipleship. How many women and men are walking among us today bearing the wounds of sexual abuse, alienated from the God who longs to heal them, not knowing the power of the gospel because pastors and church members have not learned to read the Bible with survivors of sexual abuse? Imagine what it would mean if seminary curriculum required students to learn about sexual abuse and presented them with a hermeneutic of Scripture that was healing and liberating. Think of the impact the church could have in preventing and healing sexual violence. Think of the missional potential in introducing hurting people to the love of God. Could it be that one of the reasons the church is failing to evangelize people today is that we are not taking seriously the pervasive reality of sexual abuse and its consequences for survivors—that we are not offering them the good news they need to hear?

Waking up


y vocation in ministry and as a theologian has emerged from my own journey of sexual abuse. The awakening for my healing took place when one of my daughters was in the fifth grade. She brought a note home from school asking for parents’ permission to allow students to see a film warning about the dangers of sexual predators. Parents were invited to come to school and preview the film before giving permission for their children to see it. I went to the school on the appointed night and watched the film along with other parents. The main vignette was about a little girl whose next-door neighbor, an older man, groomed her for sexual abuse. Because her parents were not paying attention and the child was vulnerable, she was victimized by the man next door. The film was vague enough to be appropriate for fifth-graders but deeply disturbing to the other parents and myself. As I walked home with a neighbor, she asked what I thought about the film and whether I would allow my daughter to see it. All of a sudden the words rushed out, surprising me with their stark truth. It was as if I were listening to someone else say, “I was that child. That is what happened to me.” The woman looked at me, horrified, and didn’t know what to say. I myself didn’t know what to say. I could not believe I had told this neighbor, whom I scarcely knew, the darkest secret of my life. As soon as the words were uttered, a wave of shame engulfed me. I was glad for the darkness of the night so that she could not see my embarrassment. It would take years to come to terms with that shame and to be delivered from the feeling of uncleanness that had been put in me by my perpetrators. Until then I had never given a name to what I had experienced as a child. One of the offenders was a pastor. His abuse damaged my view of Christianity and God in ways that would


take decades to heal. The words abuse, molested, and raped were not words I used to describe my own experience to myself as the years went by. In fact, I did not articulate my own story of abuse to myself or other people. I remembered it at times but quickly moved those memories to the back of my mind and busied myself with the work at hand. Like many survivors, I was active in my church and a devoted mother to my children. I tried to be a “good person.” I did not know how deeply anxiety and shame controlled my daily life, because my eyes had not yet been opened to how the abuse had affected me. That night as I walked home from my children’s school, I woke up. It was the beginning of my healing journey. It was the first time I honestly named what had happened to me when I was a child. The major turning point in my spiritual healing came several years later. By this time I had been a Christian for 20 years and had experienced a measure of healing from the residual effects of the abuse. I had just begun seminary. One day I was doing some homework for one of my classes, having to do with Matthew 25. It was a familiar passage that I had practically memorized over the years, the parable of the sheep and goats. I came to the King’s shocking words to a surprised humanity on the Day of Judgment: “Whatever you did to the least of these brothers of mine, you did to me” (Matt. 25:40). 3 And conversely, “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matt. 25:45). I thought about the “least of these” and the male language saying that the least were “brothers.” I wondered if sisters were included in that group. I thought they were, but the language specified brothers. Did “the least of these brothers of mine” mean that male disciples who were imprisoned, hungry, and naked were the least of these, or was the King talking to “the brothers” about their relationship to those who were imprisoned, hungry, and naked? The footnote in my Bible said the Greek was “the least of these brothers.” The meaning seemed more open-ended in the footnote. “What about babies and children?” I wondered. Did they count as the least of these, or did a person have to be old enough to know Jesus to count as a disciple? Just who were the least of these? I read the passage over and over, recalling images I saw daily on the news and in the city where I lived, people who were hungry, sick, strangers, lonely, and in need. I saw all kinds of people, male and female, young and old. I saw people of different ethnicities. As I envisioned the people, I heard the words “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.” Inside me the voice of Jesus said, “I am in the least of these. All of them.” Something shifted in me, as if I had been wearing someone else’s glasses and I took them off and now could see clearly. This text was not about gender. It was not about religious insiders and outsiders. It was about the love of Jesus for all the “little ones.” All of a sudden I saw Jesus in the suffering people, hidden with them in their obscurity, loving them and experiencing all their pain, even when they did not know he was there. The least of these were male and female, young and old. They were “neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free” (Gal. 3:26–28).

38 PRISM Magazine

Jesus was somehow in all of them, his presence determined not by faith choices on their part but by his infinite love for people. Then without warning, right in the middle of seeing Jesus profoundly present in “the least of these,” the memories of my abuse surfaced. The images flooded my mind, but this time, to my astonishment, I saw Jesus with me and in me, suffering everything. I saw his love for me, his unwillingness for me to suffer alone, and his judgment against the abuse. I felt his promise for a new life for me in the future, his determination to heal my wounds, his “no” to the shame and sin that scarred my life. It was my own experience of having Jesus say, “Talitha cum! Little girl, arise!” (Mark 5:41). I felt like Lazarus rushing out into the light of day, his grave clothes trailing behind. I had been among the “least of these”! This text was not just for the “brothers” but for all the little ones, all who are vulnerable and at risk, who are confined and at the mercy of others. Jesus was with me, in me, for me, long before I could know it! Recognizing my identity as the least of these changed my life. It set the trajectory for so much that would follow as I continued to live into God’s call, move through my graduate education, ordination, and my ongoing endeavor to become the woman God created me to be. This experience opened me to a new way to read Scripture, one that was increasingly liberating and empowering as I learned to read Hebrew and Greek and completed doctoral studies in theology. We were the least of these, all of us who suffered abuse, neglect, violence of every kind. Jesus was with us; Jesus was in us; Jesus is for us. The stunning fact of Jesus’ presence is the key to our healing and to understanding the biblical narrative of salvation. We were not alone. We are not alone. Jesus’ experience of the cross has everything to do with our wounds and our sorrows. His resurrection from the dead is more than a creed we recite. It is a living power that lifts us out of the black holes of our lives, that heals our wounds, that removes our shame, that gives us “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, a garment of praise instead of a spirit of heaviness” (Isa. 61:3). Because of Jesus the wounds of sexual abuse can heal. Elaine A. Heath is McCreless Associate Professor of Evangelism and director of the Center for Missional Wisdom at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, in Dallas, Tex. An ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, she is a frequent retreat speaker and has experience as a pastor and spiritual director. This article was excerpted from chapter 1 of We Were the Least of These: Reading the Bible with Survivors of Sexual Abuse (© 2011), just released by Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group ( Reproduced here by kind permission of the publisher. (Editor’s note: due to space limitations, the endnotes for this article have been posted at:


W ashington Watch Christian Faithfulness and Government Policy God’s preferred way of relating with the world is the church—people following Jesus in community and seeking to live the way God desires. The church is meant to be the inbreaking of the desires of God where God’s will and way are most visible. The community of the faithful should—right now—be experiencing and revealing the ultimate future of all humanity, as if we are stories from heaven being told here on earth. Although we often fail at this, the church must seek to be the present embodiment of God’s heaven, an embodied politics that is more powerful than the politics of any nation. The church, as embodied in local churches, can seek to do this since we claim to understand some things more clearly because we learn from Jesus. For instance, we learn that peacemaking is blessed while war-making is not. We learn that forgiveness is God’s desire while vengeful or violent retaliation is not. We learn that when someone has an economic need, we provide for that person, not turning away from anybody who is in need. We learn to love our enemies rather than kill them. We learn not to be prejudiced against other ethnicities but to dismantle racist structures in our churches. We learn not to discriminate against women but to empower women in leadership. We learn that God is love and that God’s empowering grace enables followers of Jesus to be more patient, more forgiving, more generous, and more truthful than any earthly government could ever be. Governments are not the church, and the church can get things “right” in ways that governments generally cannot. Not only are governments not the church, but governments are also less than the church. Jesus’ kingdom is international, and since Jesus is the King of all kings, President of all presidents,

40 PRISM Magazine

and Prime Minister of all prime ministers, our citizenship in his kingdom should certainly trump our citizenship in any other nation. This means that when Christians speak to nations about their better and worse practices—their policies—Christians are not addressing institutions that are preferred by God over the church. In other words, there is more potential in faithful churches than in all the governments of the world put together. My threefold approach to church engagement with public policy starts with the church, rather than with the government. Regarding any particular “policy,” we must first discern the most faithful ways followers of Jesus should live related to that “issue.” We must discern the most faithful perspectives and actions for (1) churches—who we are and what we do regardless of whether others join with us; (2) individual followers of Jesus—who I am and what I do, regardless of whether others join with me; and (3) policy recommendations to the nations (emerging from our Christian attempts to be faithful to God)—who they are invited to become and what they are invited to do. Often step three will not be anywhere near Christian and church faithfulness, and Christian faithfulness should not be expected of the nations; step three is usually suggesting practices that are simply a bit more just than what is currently practiced. This method could be applied to every policy issue, but let’s explore immigration. First, we learn from the Scriptures, and especially from Jesus, that we should welcome any strangers or foreigners into our lives and make sure they are treated well, for we too are immigrants whose primary citizenship is in Jesus’ kingdom. And since churches should be communities of character that create people of integrity who live generously, churches can work with any and all immigrants in their area in structured ways to help with the difficult issues of residence change, such as language learning, legal assistance, citizenship processes,

Paul Alexander childcare, living wage jobs, medical attention, educational assistance, and exploitative employers. Second, I can work with my church in the above ways and also provide food, shelter, and friendship in my own home. If this is against the law, Christian love and faithfulness sometimes necessitates civil disobedience. If Christians treated immigrants as Jesus would (or as if they are Jesus, in a “whatever-you-do-to-the-least-ofthese” fashion), then our public policy recommendations would be informed by God’s life-changing politics that we already embody. Therefore, third, the US should make the pathway to citizenship easy for anybody who arrives, whether documented or not. This country is wealthy enough to accommodate those who want to immigrate, and much of that wealth was (and still is) extracted from their countries of origin to begin with. So if immigrants arrive in the US to share in the wealth that their countries produce for accumulation here, then the least the US can do is help them become citizens easily, without fear of deportation. As Esperanza for America (Esperanza. us) suggests, “All undocumented immigrants must register, pass a criminal background check, pay unpaid back taxes, learn English, and remit fines for illegal entry and overstay.” Esperanza’s recommendations are not as Christian as Christians can be, but they’re better than the immigration policies currently in place. Both churches and governments are broken, but Christians have Jesus’ example and the Holy Spirit’s empowerment to help us live faithfully and to help governments do un poquito mas de justicia—a little bit more justice.

Paul Alexander is ESA’s director of public policy and a professor of Christian ethics and public policy at Palmer Theological Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa.

Cherise Bopape

M aking a Difference

Singles Ministry without Holes In January 1997, Nancy Tucker was force-fed a lifestyle that was nearly too big to digest. After 14 years of marriage, she became a single mom to two young children when her husband succumbed to cancer. Several years later, Tucker’s pastor revealed one of his concerns: The church had holes in its ministry. Because of their unique emotional, financial, and childcare requirements, single parents were not having their needs met. He asked Tucker to start a ministry for unwed moms. She rejected the idea three times. After all, she had been widowed (not divorced), had since remarried, and was dealing with the challenges of her new blended family. But she eventually accepted the challenge and for the past decade has led the single moms’ ministry at First Baptist Church Woodstock (FBCW), a congregation of over 10,000 in Woodstock, Ga. Commenting on James 1:27, which reminds us to “look after orphans and widows in their distress,” Tucker says, “The modern-day widow is the single mom who has been abandoned and left to raise her children.” According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2010 Kids Count Data Book, 36 percent of children in Georgia are being raised in single-parent families—one of the highest rates in the country. Such statistics confirmed the necessity of Tucker’s new role. Her ministry started as a 13-week Sunday school class. Although the focus of the class was to provide biblically based lessons with life applications, Tucker was careful to carve out time for the women to pray with one another, share their concerns, and build relationships. Today the ministry also includes social events such as retreats, movies, chili cook-offs, and picnics. Tucker started a community-based, single-parent Christmas party famed for offering kids a chance to visit FBCW’s Christmas store, where they can select and wrap a gift for

their parent confidentially. The most expansive of Tucker’s efforts has been the annual single moms’ banquet, at which folks like Russ Lee, Angela Thomas, and Anita Renfroe have been featured speakers. She invites nearby churches with similar ministries to join in the teaching and fellowship the banquet offers. Tucker says she’s blessed to be part of a church that has so much to offer. FBCW’s CARE ministry provides service to single mothers through a benevolence team, an on-campus thrift store, food bank, job assistance, financial counseling, and beyond. When a mom asks repeatedly for help with utilities or rent, Tucker refers her to an in-house team that helps her draft a household budget. Armed with a customized financial plan, a single mom can exhibit better stewardship and gain independence. Since FBCW is a megachurch, it has sizable funds to work with, but according to Tucker, its leaders’ hearts are even bigger. “Our ministry has been embraced by Pastor Johnny Hunt and our minister of education, Allan Taylor,” she explains. “Both men were raised by single moms who held three or more jobs to support their kids. I think their hearts are a little softer toward what we do.” At a time when ministries vie for budget dollars, they ensure that single moms and their children are equipped spiritually, physically, and emotionally. FBCW’s generosity doesn’t end with its leadership. Each October, thousands

of members take part in a threeday local mission trip they call Love Loud. During this time, they assist single moms, widows, and the needy in the community. Unwed mothers have gotten haircuts, car detailing, medical assistance, and more—all for free. Philip Caldwell, a church member who has assisted single moms during Love Loud, appreciates Tucker’s ministry. His sister rears three children as a single parent. He sees value in the godly advice, encouragement, and life guidance the ministry provides. He describes Tucker’s service as magnetic and challenging. “I’ve seen women walk in so bewildered, depressed, and sad,” says Tucker. “They come back a few weeks later holding their heads up higher.” She has seen women become less dependent on the church, more dependent on God, and ultimately, focused on serving others. One of her moms led another woman to Christ during Love Loud while waiting for her car to be serviced. Others have remarried and grown their families. Two women who have left FBCW have started similar ministries in their new church homes. Whether an unwed mom commits her life to Christ while waiting for an oil change, a divorcee receives special attention at a banquet in her honor, or a widow hears the Word of God in a Sunday school class, FBCW’s ministry to single mothers is making a difference in a lot of lives. “I make [single moms] feel special because most of them feel like they’ve been thrown away,” says Tucker. “Once they feel like they’re special to me, I can tell them how special and valuable they are to God.” Cherise Bopape is an author, freelance writer, and seminar leader who’s passionate about healthy parenting, work-life balance, and domestic violence awareness.


O ff the Shelf The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose Grand Central Publishing Reviewed by Joshua Cradic The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University is, according to its author, an “amateur ethnography.” Kevin Roose’s goal was to experience Liberty University, considered one of the most conservative Christian colleges in the US, for one semester, taking on the role of participant observer in order to gain insight into his peers on the religious right. The discoveries he made on Liberty’s campus included the following: a general strand of homophobia, mainly among his male dorm mates; a pervasive idolization of Liberty University founder Jerry Falwell; a rigorous academic demand, with which he struggled despite having had a measure of success at an Ivy League institution (Brown); and a legalistic atmosphere which, at its best, bred into its army of Christian soldiers the sin-management doctrine (to use Dallas Willard’s term) which has become common within the evangelical right. Roose learned a valuable lesson in confession during his time at Liberty—a lesson which prompted him to come clean about his true identity as an “outsider” 11 months after transferring back to Brown. He returned to Liberty and reunited with his closest friends for the big reveal, which garnered a mixed response, from laughter to concern for his salvation. He spoke of his discomfort with deceiving his peers, some of whom he had come to love and respect. I have my own confession to make: I wanted real scandal about what goes on at Jerry Falwell’s “Bible Boot Camp,” and instead I got a rather tame and unsurprising account of a people group and the experiences of one outside observer as he acclimated to their habitat. The challenges Roose faced had less to do with the fact that Liberty is a university accustomed to controversy and scandal, particularly from the late Jerry Falwell, than they did with the fact that Roose was simply grafted into a new environment. In other words, Roose experienced culture shock, a phenomenon typical for new students at any university, even if the content of that experience varies from one campus to another. My greatest disappointment, however, was with the authenticity of the author’s Liberty experience, which was necessarily affected by his decision to maintain journalistic distance. While understanding why he might need to do so, I feel it ultimately hindered him from having a completely genuine experience. An example of this was when he decided to end a budding romance primarily because he thought it would compromise his research. One valuable contribution the book makes is the light it sheds on how culture influences religious experience. Given that Roose was raised in a liberal Quaker home where he enjoyed a particularly close bond with his aunt and her same-sex partner, it comes as no surprise that he finds the attitude on Liberty’s campus toward gay people to be offensive and perplexing. It is

42 PRISM Magazine

Book Reviews likely, however, that a majority of Roose’s classmates did not have the same exposure to same-sex couples as he did. Therefore, to most Liberty students, gay people represent “the other” just as much as the evangelical right does to Roose. All things considered, I would recommend The Unlikely Disciple to anyone who is a professing member of the evangelical right and to anyone interested in—or harboring some trepidation toward—the experience of the other. Roose’s exposé is a socio-anthropological experiment that reveals the range of human emotions—fear, love, anxiety, anger, and even hate— that are common to all of us when faced with the challenge of acclimating to a way of life to which we were previously unaccustomed. Joshua Cradic is a musician and freelance writer who blames his wife, a cultural anthropologist, for his propensity for considering culture alongside faith. Somebody’s Daughter by Julian Sher Chicago Review Press Reviewed by Francesca Nuzzolese From the investigative eye and pen of journalist Julian Sher comes Somebody’s Daughter: The Hidden Story of America’s Prostituted Children and the Battle to Save Them, a sobering picture of underage girls being trafficked across the US. Sher takes us from the drug-infested alleys of New York City to the flashy casinos of Las Vegas, tracking “runaways and throwaways,” children escaping the brutality or neglect of their own homes only to find themselves caught in the vicious business of sexual exploitation. The business, to be clear, is for the pimps who prey on these girls’ vulnerability and powerfully manage to get them hooked into selling their young bodies in exchange for a false sense of protection and care. Night by night, girl by girl, “trick by trick,” the sexual exploitation of children builds up the pimps’ empires, deprives the girls of their right to a dignified existence, and washes away any illusion that our country has progressed beyond, and learned from, its sad history of slavery. Defying the myth that human trafficking is mostly a “foreign affair” involving only girls in developing countries, Sher provides a detailed and gruesome account of the violent, dehumanizing, and often fatal conditions in which these girls end up living—in our very own cities, neighborhoods, and jails. Woven into the fabric of the girls’ tales of horror (and occasional redemption), is Sher’s exposé of the glorification of pimps (who often get away with little or no punishment) and of a justice system which is too coarse to provide constructive solutions and more often than not ends up revictimizing the victims and absolving the offenders. Particularly informative (albeit disturb-

ing) are the sections in which Sher painstakingly describes the complex task of prosecuting “the untouchables,” those pimps who have constructed mafia-like criminal operations, with sophisticated and extremely lucrative networks of trafficking. Just as complex, multifaceted, and long-term is the task of breaking the psychosocial grip such pimps have over the exploited girls. Having endured so much trauma and emotional manipulation, they often struggle to fit into any other kind of lifestyle than “the street life.” Scarcity of rehabilitation centers, halfway homes, and safe environments to welcome them compounds the problem for prostituted children, who remain trapped in the system and then become prostituted adults. While the picture Sher depicts is brutally honest, with horrifying and mind-boggling stories of torture and abuse, the book also offers a clearly redemptive picture of some unlikely characters, such as lawyers, judges, police officers, and those who have escaped prostitution. Their work to change policies, to resist stereotypes, to educate, and to challenge notions of choice and responsibility when it comes to the lives of vulnerable girls has contributed to making a substantial impact on the lives of many girls. By arguing that sexual exploitation of minors is an issue of slavery and victimization that impacts our own sense of a civil society, these folks are transforming the way Americans see these girls. It is thanks to the often heroic work of such protagonists, and the instrumental role they play both inside and outside the juridical system, that we glean a more hopeful perspective on the battle against children in prostitution. I believe Sher’s book is a must-read for anyone ready to take a hard look at the world at our doorstep—whether in our streets or hotel chains or on our favorite social networking sites. By pointing to the cracks in our culture, our moral lives, and our courts, the book offers plenty of ways to get involved in the battle—from walking the streets in search of runaways to advocating for more just laws to reeducating our communities about the power structures behind modern-day slavery. Francesca Nuzzolese is associate professor of pastoral care and spiritual formation at Palmer Theological Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa. Her research on human trafficking recently took her to Southeast Asia, where she visited rescue efforts such as the New Life Center in Thailand and Caring Hands in India. How I Changed My Mind about Women in Leadership edited by Alan F. Johnson Zondervan Reviewed by Mimi Haddad How did more than 20 thoughtful Christian leaders change their minds on such a highly entrenched, divisive issue? Opening the conversation, Alan Johnson notes a

primary concern: Christians have absolutized cultural patterns in Scripture, confusing the moral teachings of Scripture with Bible culture. As believers did with slavery in the 19th century, Christians today are concluding that patriarchy—male-only authority—is not essential to a God-ordered society. Though slavery and patriarchy are part of Bible culture, both are at odds with the moral teachings of Scripture. In How I Changed My Mind about Women in Leadership: Compelling Stories from Prominent Evangelicals, 11 men, four women, and six couples discern whether patriarchy is integral or injurious to authentic Christian community. In nearly every case, passages like 1 Corinthians 14:34-36, and 1 Timothy 2:11-15 are considered alongside the legacy of gifted and godly women. Unwilling to dismiss either women’s contributions or biblical passages that seem to limit their service, contributors press to understand Scripture within a wider biblical, historical, and cultural context. Provocative questions are consistently raised. Alice Mathews ponders the mixed messages she received as a child: Why was the prominent evangelist Amy Lee Stockton—recipient of an honorary doctorate from Wheaton College—not a sufficient model for evangelical churches to open more pulpits to women? Ruth Barton questions the wisdom of excluding godly women, well acquainted with the challenges of parishioners, from decision making in churches they nurture each week? And why are so many gifted women humiliated, told that their motives are selfish and their actions like those of Eve when they exercise their gifts? Cornelius Plantiga calls it “embarrassing” that males somberly discuss “whether we ought to ‘allow’ women into church offices…as if the church belongs to males.” Underlining the gender debate is the assumption that males are superior to females, Tony Campolo observes. To insist that women may not use their gifts simply because they are female is to imply that there is something inherently inferior in females. Having survived the Armenian massacre, Nazi rule in France, and violence in Lebanon, Gilbert Bilezikian challenges self-arrogated leadership based on birth—whether ethnicity or gender. Though gender devaluations are untenable, contributors also observe that the teachings of male hierarchy are impossible to implement consistently. For example, in some denominations women are permitted to teach and preach abroad—but not in the US. Women may write hymns, books, and curriculum that profit everyone yet are not permitted to lead worship, classes, or book studies with males present. If men are God’s appointed leaders, why do we permit women to lead men in any situation, be it secular or sacred? Citing the feminist scholar Virginian Vanian, John Stackhouse suggests that “small slights can constitute large-scale social patterns of repression.” Unless women work to collapse sexist structures, they will remain in a prison impoverishing everyone. While Stackhouse suggests that women, keenly aware of sexism and gender injustices, are those who must speak out, this undertaking is best pursued by the whole church—an endeavor that empowers all its members. The journeys build momentum, like many hands on a large


broom sweeping the floor of an ancient sanctuary. Each sweep carries away years of patriarchal debris, revealing a biblical mosaic of human mutuality—male and female, created in God’s image and destined for a shared dominion, integral to Christ’s new covenant community. Despite many hands sweeping, it is unfortunate that the book did not include more women, people of color, and believers from the majority world. Other omissions include Christians from the charismatic, Catholic, and Eastern traditions. A few younger voices would have enriched the conversation, too. Despite these weaknesses, the power of personal story cannot be contained. Just ask the vendors at the recent Evangelical Theological Society Convention—they sold every copy they brought within 24 hours! This book offers much wisdom on a primary issue facing the church. Mimi Haddad is president of Christians for Biblical Equality (

Abundant Simplicity by Jan Johnson InterVarsity

Many of her suggestions do cover the areas usually associated with the call to simplicity: frugality of ownership, generosity of spirit, unhurried living, and simplicity of appearance. Having read many books in the past that discuss downsizing and simplifying, I learned little that was new to me in this section, but the way she handled these topics helped me review my commitment to simplicity and served as a reminder that most of us cannot hear too often. The chapter I enjoyed most was the last—on worry, something I, as a worrier, really need to let go of. Her statement that “Worry is clutter of the mind that doesn’t go away” certainly spoke to my own condition and gave me encouragement to take stock of what I worry about and why. Johnson’s easy writing style and highly practical approach to everyday problems, paired with her obvious depth of relationship with God and the fact that she practices what she preaches, make this book a worthwhile read. I heartily recommend it to those considering simplifying their life, but it is also a good read for those ready to reevaluate their commitment to simplicity and to take some new steps into God’s abundance. Christine Sine is executive director of Mustard Seed Associates ( and the author of several books, her latest being To Garden with God. She blogs at

Reviewed by Christine Sine Jan Johnson’s call to retreat and reflect and her encouragement to enter more deeply into the presence of God and live more as Jesus lived have always challenged and strengthened me. And her latest book, Abundant Simplicity: Discovering the Unhurried Rhythms of Grace, does not disappoint. Her invigorating invitation to see simplicity as “an organic part of an interactive life with God” hit me exactly where I needed to be hit, in the midst of my busy and sometimes distracted life. Her call to step away from our preoccupations and deliberately follow God may resemble something we’ve heard many times before, but Johnson’s pragmatic and instructive approach makes the message both fresh and worth hearing again. I particularly enjoyed the practical suggestions for abundant simplicity offered in the second half of her book. She starts not by talking about the unnecessary goods we accumulate and the need to simplify our lifestyles, but rather with our need to listen much and speak little. Simplicity of speech is not something most of us consider when thinking about ways to simplify our lives. For people like me who love to talk and write, her call to use fewer and more meaningful words is particularly compelling—and difficult. What immediately sprang to mind were some of the inane “tweets” I see every day—short in length but equally short on meaning and, as Johnson so keenly observes, more often than not intended to highlight our own importance rather than to draw others closer to God. This chapter alone made the book worth reading for me.

44 PRISM Magazine

More Than Good Intentions by Dean Karlan and Jacob Appel Penguin Reviewed by Amy Spaulding Zimbelman How can individual American donors—who give three times more money to charity than do corporations, foundations, and bequests combined—channel support most effectively? Should we give more money, or improve existing antipoverty programs? Authors Dean Karlan, a Yale economics professor and president and founder of Innovations for Poverty Action, and Jacob Appel, a Colombia-educated field researcher in the developing world, attempt to shed light on these questions. More Than Good Intentions: How a New Economics Is Helping to Solve Global Poverty is an important contribution to the field, although not a panacea in the fight against poverty. Although dealing with philosophical questions, More Than Good Intentions is more than speculative—it’s founded on field reports of what development looks like on the ground to the teachers, doctors, or business owners of the Philippines, Bolivia, Ghana, India, and a host of other countries. The question doggedly asked throughout is simply: “What’s working and what isn’t?” And the lens through which projects are analyzed

is behavioral economics, an economics that tries to be true to the fact that a person’s real-life financial decisions are at times impulsive or inconsistent or may put other priorities ahead of money. In other words, we function more as humans and less as machines perpetually calculating cost-benefit analyses. The book is well-researched and is especially insightful on microfinance, the analysis of which comprises over half the book. However, the authors’ too narrow definition of poverty and development work is problematic. In chapter 3, Karlan and Appel argue that people in the developing world who could benefit from programs will not automatically buy in—they need to be convinced. In other words, we in the West need to literally market development programs to the poor overseas. If poverty is simply a lack of material resources, and programs are the way out, then the logic of these economists rings true—’We Rich’ should sell programs to ‘You Poor.’ However, Christian economists Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett hold a wider view of poverty, as outlined in their book When Helping Hurts (Moody, 2009). Poverty is more than a lack of material resources; it is instead a breaking down of right relationships—those between self, others, God, and creation. In interviews with the financially poor, the lack of stuff was oftentimes not cited as the crux of the problem; it was instead the corresponding sense of powerlessness and worthlessness, the lack of purpose and hope. Therefore, if we in Western societies parachute into a developing country with the attitude that we need to sell the poor

“An important new book.” —Ron Sider, Prism

Sex and the iWorld Rethinking Relationship beyond an Age of Individualism

Dale S. Kuehne 978-0-8010-3587-6 240 pp. • $19.99p

I Available at local bookstores,, or by calling 1-800-877-2665. Subscribe to Baker Academic’s electronic newsletter (E-Notes) at

45 PRISM Magazine

something (a program, a loan, etc.), we may do more harm than good. We may reinforce the idea that white Americans solve problems while the poor stay worthless and powerless. In giving the poor stuff, we may rob them of the stuff humanity is made of. In addition, when our attitude is one of paternalism, we rob ourselves. We deny our own poverty, perhaps not financial, but of community, faith, or concern for creation. As Australian aboriginal Lila Watson put it: “If you’ve come to help us, you’re wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with ours, then let us work together.” We must, therefore, understand our mutual need for redemption in our work with the poor and financially support programs that do likewise. The authors of More Than Good Intentions are neither anthropologists nor missionaries, but they should partner with those folks for their future research if we are ever to see right relationships and holistic change in the lives of humans suffering from poverty worldwide. Amy Spaulding Zimbelman studied English and cultural anthropology at Gordon College in Massachusetts and has spent time in the Middle East, the South Pacific, and a year in rural Zambia, working on health and educational development programs. She now works in a refugee resettlement in South Dakota, connecting people from around the world with their new neighbors.

K ingdom Ethics

Letter from a Grateful Son Dear Mom and Dad, I have become convinced that the milestone you are marking today stands as perhaps the greatest personal accomplishment that anyone could achieve in their lifetime. It matters more than any professional achievement, any financial success, any honor or award. I have also come to believe that this achievement— to be happily and successfully married for 50 years—is perhaps the greatest contribution to society that anyone could make in our era. And so I say: Congratulations! Happy 50th anniversary! As you well know, during the course of your lifetime marriage has weakened dramatically as a social institution in America. It was during the early days of your marriage that the divorce rate doubled in the United States (between 1964 and 1975). I know that you both witnessed the collapse of many marriages among your friends and colleagues. But it is now 2011, and you are still going strong. You made it through all the stresses and strains of raising four challenging kids, coping with very limited resources, dealing with frustrations at work, facing illnesses and family crises, and handling all the other things that I will never know about. And you ended up welded together as the most inseparable of lifetime partners.

46 PRISM Magazine

By just being who you are, you have taught us character qualities such as steadfastness, covenant fidelity, forgiveness, compassion, and resilience. You have also modeled the power of Christian faith to anchor human beings through the storms of life and to empower us to be and do far more than we can on our own. As for the contribution that your rock-solid permanence and love have made to my own life, here I can only say that this has been an unspeakable gift to me. I once read that parents are like the scaffolding that children climb to build their own lives. That image continues to make a lot of sense to me, and even though I am now a child of 48 years, I still feel the benefit of the scaffolding that you represent in my life. When I was a little boy, I could know (not think, not hope, but know) that at the end of each day Dad would always come home from work and have me fire fastballs into his catcher’s glove, no matter how sore his hand got. I could know (not think, not hope) that when voices were raised between the two of you it would not be long before you reconciled and all was well again. I could know that, amidst the brutalities of the outside world that I was experiencing personally and learning about in school, there was a place called home that was a safe haven for a sensitive kid like me. I could know that, in spite of the broken relationships I was witnessing among my friends’ parents, yours was just made of firmer sounder stuff. And when I was a mere lad of 22, and I had found my own true love, I could know (not think, not hope) that it is possible to love someone and stay married to her for a lifetime. So, unlike many of my generation and even more in this one, I could marry Jeanie with confidence and

David P. Gushee without undue fear of the fragility and transitory nature of human love. I knew that we would have to work at it, as you did—but I also knew that such work could be successful. In fact, I fully expected that it would be successful, because I had seen that in you, and she had seen that in her own parents. On our wedding day, we had an intact married couple on one side of the aisle, and another intact married couple on the other side of the aisle, and the symbolism of this loving “intactness” must not be underestimated. It is certainly not the experience of many of the couples whose weddings I have performed. I have a current student whose parents divorced when she was a baby. She told me the other day, “I have never personally known two adults who love each other and are married to each other.” What a staggering statement. This makes the very concept of a permanent, lifetime marriage covenant almost inconceivable for her, though she does appear to hope for it one day, with that dreamy, faraway hope with which a girl might dream of Cinderella’s castle. I pity a generation whose experience of family is marked by such profound absence at its very center. I fear for a society in which this is everyday reality. I tremble in gratitude that my own experience has your love at the center of it. On this, your golden wedding anniversary, take a few moments to know what a blessing your love has been in the lives of each of your children, including this very grateful little grown-up boy. Your loving son, David

David P. Gushee is director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University, Atlanta, Ga., where he is also a professor of Christian ethics. His latest book is Religious Faith, Torture, and Our National Soul (Mercer University Press, 2010).

M usic Notes

Al Tizon

Sacred Steel

bum Colorblind, Dylan’s “Shot of Love” Pentecostal tradition that introduced stands out in Walk. Some may find it the pedal steel guitar for worship. I love It is already unfair that God endowed strange that a Dylan song is even in this the sound of that already, but when I Robert Randolph with extraordinary collection, but let Walk’s history teach discovered that the House of God introtalent, but talent and wisdom and spiri- us: The best of Dylan’s music has roots duced it in the 1930s as an alternative tual sensitivity? That is exactly what was running through my mind as I This album is a history of spiritual subversion in spent time with We Walk This Road, the fourth release of Robert Randolph the black gospel tradition, as told by the best and the Family Band since 2002. Walk is a smart, energetic album, pedal steel guitarist on the planet. engaging both head and heart. It’s a history lesson on black gospel, blues, in traditional black and spirituals. Organized into six sec- gospel, blues, and folk, tions, each of which begins with a mu- so of course there’s a sical segue (a snippet of a song from Dylan song included. the archives that provides background Randolph takes the for Randolph’s 21st-century interpreta- title cut from one of tions), the record makes a case for the Dylan’s lesser-known comeback of the concept album. Rather “born-again albums” of than simply slapping together the latest the 1980s and resur12 to 15 catchy pop songs for iTunes rects it powerfully. It’s sales, Randolph and the band prove my favorite on Walk, that artists still exist who desire to say not only because I like something thematically important. The Bob but also because careful selection, arrangement, and per- Randolph is at his best formance of the songs inspire listeners here. In his hands, the to tap their feet all the way to the li- notes emanating from brary to find out more about Mitchell’s the guitar are crisp and Christian Singers, Blind Willie Johnson, clear, making them and other pioneers of the music we all almost visible as they have come to know and love. swirl and dance around It’s a history lesson, but thanks the room. He puts his to what Randolph can do with a pedal signature on the song while remaining to the pipe organ, which expensively and steel guitar, as well as what producer true to the spirit of the original. I imag- gaudily adorned the churches of white T-Bone Burnett can do with old songs, ine Dylan here being proud and jealous America, I understood more profoundly why it came to be called “sacred steel.” it is the most exhilarating history class at the same time. That’s what this album is about— you’ll ever take. It’s a smart album— Producer T-Bone Burnett, known but not at the expense of high-energy to steer raw talent into intriguingly new a history of spiritual subversion in the rock and roll, which, if you are so prone, directions, does this very thing with Ran- black gospel tradition, as told by the will have you playing air guitar in front dolph. He is able to draw out of Ran- best pedal steel guitarist on the planet. of thousands of imaginary fans in no dolph something authentic from the time. Randolph plays the pedal steel depths of who he is, even while challengwith abandon but not without purpose, ing him to venture out to yet-unexplored Al Tizon is associas if he knows by each riff which of the musical territory. I don’t think anyone ate professor of holislisteners’ emotions he’s toying with. So could have predicted that Walk would tic ministry at Palmer the album is intensely fun, too. have followed Colorblind, a raw if not Theological Seminary I do appreciate the covers of the wild offering that, yes, shows Randolph’s in Wynnewood, Pa., diold songs, such as “Traveling Shoes” wares but not necessarily his person. Unrector of ESA’s Word and “If I Had My Way,” but my favor- der Burnett’s direction, Walk introduces & Deed Network, and ite cut on the album is Randolph’s in- listeners to the inspiration of Randolph’s regular columnist for terpretation of Bob Dylan’s “Shot of passion as it explores the spiritual muLove.” Just as the Doobie Brothers’ sic that he grew up on. Randolph was PRISM Magazine, but he believes that “Jesus Is Just Alright with Me” was the raised in the House of God Church, a without music none of these things high point of Randolph’s previous al- denomination in the African American matter very much.


R on Sider America’s Historic Choice The budget deficit for the 2011 fiscal year is $1.65 trillion. For 2012, President Obama proposes a deficit of $1.1 trillion and the Republican House a deficit of $995 billion. We dare not continue year after year that kind of ongoing federal deficit and growing federal debt. It would be economically disastrous, and it is morally outrageous to keep putting our current purchases on our grandchildren’s credit cards. How should we reduce the deficit? Some want to do it on the backs of the poor. Under the House proposal, two-thirds of the budget’s savings over the next 10 years (totaling $2.9 trillion) would come from significant cuts to programs targeting low-income individuals. The food stamp program would be reduced by $127 billion and Medicaid by $1.4 trillion. Each year 1.4 million low-income college students would lose their Pell Grants. Effective programs begun by President G.W. Bush that now save millions of lives in Africa are also slashed, along with other foreign assistance. At the same time, the Republican budget includes more tax cuts for the richest Americans and increases the defense budget. Last year we spent $815 billion on defense—nearly as much as all other nations combined! Large numbers of evangelicals, including those in the Tea Party, think those are the right priorities. Is there any way to transcend the furiously partisan debate that currently rages and to identify fundamental biblical norms that can guide us? Underlying the current debate, I believe, are four crucial questions, and the future of America will be profoundly shaped by how we answer them. I do not claim that there is any one simple biblical answer to our budget crisis, and I respect Christians who disagree with my conclusions. But I do think there are foundational biblical answers to these four questions that provide crucial guidance. In each case, I also believe we can see two one-sided extremes. 1. Who are persons? Some (including the libertarian atheist Ayn Rand) see persons as essentially isolated individuals with little need for others. Others (including Marxists and members of traditional societies) see persons as primarily members of a group that provides the basic worth and decisions for individuals. I believe biblical faith teaches that every individual has special worth, dignity, and responsibility and deserves personal freedom. Equally clearly the Bible teaches that every person needs wholesome community to enjoy all that God intended. 2. To what degree are we responsible for our neighbors? Very influential today is Ayn Rand’s claim that the “good” individual has no responsibility for neighbors. The other extreme so strongly emphasizes communal responsibilities and decisions that the individual loses personal responsibility and choice. Jesus’ summons to love neighbor as self rejects a radically individualistic ethic without ignoring that this responsibility has limits. 3. What is the role of government in empowering the poor? Libertarians deny that government has any legitimate role, and statists place the primary responsibility for the poor on a powerful government. Both are profoundly wrong. Limited government is essential if we want to avoid totalitarianism, but the

48 PRISM Magazine

Bible clearly teaches that the king has a responsibility to empower the poor. Although government should not displace or weaken other societal institutions in reducing poverty, it has an important, albeit limited, role. 4. What kind of concern for the poor and distribution of wealth does justice require? For many conservative thinkers (especially libertarians), justice prevails if the legal system and procedures are fair, regardless of whether poverty exists alongside great extremes of wealth. On the other extreme are those who demand economic equality and make the elimination of poverty the primary goal of a good society. Biblical faith says respect for life and freedom are essential aspects of justice, but God also measures societies by what they do to (or for) people at the bottom. When we link these biblical norms to essential facts, a basic direction becomes clear. America has the highest poverty level of any industrialized nation. We also have the highest extremes of wealth and poverty since just before the Great Depression. The richest 400 Americans hold nearly as much wealth as the bottom 50 percent combined, and the richest 1 percent owns 50 percent of all investment assets. The richest fifth in our society receive half the total income while the poorest fifth receive only 3.4 percent. One other point is important. Americans pay a far lower percentage of their income in taxes than Europeans. In fact, the percentage of income that Americans pay in taxes is lower in recent years than it has been in decades. So what should we do? We must cut ineffective programs of every sort (including some anti-poverty programs) and reduce the defense budget by at least $100 billion a year. The tax burden on wealthy Americans must increase some, not drop further. But we cannot balance the budget simply by increasing taxes, as the president proposes, on only those making more than $250,000 a year. Everyone must sacrifice a little and contribute some. Although the wealthy should have the largest tax increases, all of us should pay a little more and even poorer folk can have small co-pays for Medicaid and Medicare. What we dare not do is slash effective programs that prevent disease and starvation abroad and empower the poor here. America faces a huge decision. In future columns I plan to discuss in more detail the key issues and choices, and I will suggest concrete proposals. If you disagree with me, don’t call me names. Show where I have misunderstood biblical norms or failed to understand the economic data. We desperately need honest, civil debate—including principled, respectful disagreement. Our future and the well-being of our children and grandchildren are at stake. Ron Sider is the founder and president of Evangelicals for Social Action, author of dozens of books, and professor of theology/holistic ministry/public policy at Palmer Seminary of Eastern University.

PRISM Vol. 18, No. 4  July-August 2011

Editorial Board

Miriam Adeney Tony Campolo Luis Cortés Richard Foster G. Gaebelein Hull Karen Mains Vinay Samuel Tom Sine Harold DeanTrulear

George Barna Rodney Clapp Samuel Escobar William Frey Roberta Hestenes John Perkins Amy Sherman Vinson Synan Eldin Villafane

Editorial/Advertising Information

Help Change


It’s Easy to Help End Hunger Every Month of the Year Start your monthly gift at

PRISM Magazine offers affordable ad placement for organizations and businesses. To receive our ad placement form or to submit your ad art please contact us via email. Ads email: Editor email:

Unsolicited submissions will not be returned unless they include an SASE.

Subscription Information

Renewing your subscription? Visit Regular PRISM Subscription Only $30 a year. Type: US/Canada Via air mail

International Subscription Receive PRISM internationally for 1 yr. electronically. Only $15 a year. Library Subscription Order PRISM for your library! Only $45 a year. 6 E. Lancaster Ave, Wynnewood PA 19096 484-384-2990/ Note: Standard A mail is not forwarded; please contact us if your address changes.

A Publication of Evangelicals for Social Action The Sider Center on Ministry and Public Policy Palmer Theological Seminary of Eastern University All contents © 2011 ESA/PRISM magazine.

UN Photo/Logan Abassi

Good Stewards Subscription (PDF) Receive the same PRISM as everyone else but in your email box and save big! Only $15 a year.

For every dollar you donate, Bread helps win more than $100 in poverty-focused assistance that is directed to hungry and poor people in the U.S. and around the world.

You can end homelessness for a single mom & her children.

Be a friend. Create church-based mentoring experiences.

The Environment Issue  

PRISM Magazine Issue