PRISM May/June 2013
Bringing food justice to the inner city
Weighing the pro(mise)s and cons of GMOs Plus: Ron Sider retires (come help us roast him!)
Watching our waste
Harvesting Hope in Africa
Indigo Girls at Wild Goose
PRISM Vol. 20, No. 3 May/June 2013
Editor Creative Director Copy Editor Deputy Director Publisher Operations Manager
Kristyn Komarnicki Rhian Tomassetti Leslie Hammond Sarah Withrow King Ronald J. Sider Josh Cradic
Contributing Editors Christine Aroney-Sine Myron Augsburger
GOD, FREEDOM AND HUMAN DIGNITY Embracing a God-Centered Identity in a Me-Centered Culture Ron Highfield 229 pages, paperback, 978-0-8308-2711-4, $22.00
“In this fine book Ron Highfield exposes the false advertising of those who call us to find true freedom and dignity apart from an obedient relationship to our Maker. And he does it with philosophical and theological savvy, charting the complex course that has gotten us to the delusions of ‘modern selfhood’— delusions that can only be cured by accepting the promises of the gospel.” —Richard Mouw, Fuller Theological Seminary
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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
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A Publication of Evangelicals for Social Action The Sider Center on Ministry and Public Policy www.EvangelicalsforSocialAction.org Palmer Theological Seminary of Eastern University
All contents © 2013 ESA/PRISM magazine.
Then God said, “I’ve given you every sort of seed-bearing plant on Earth and every kind of fruit-bearing tree, given them to you for food. To all animals and all birds, everything that moves and breathes, I give whatever grows out of the ground for food.” And there it was. Genesis 1:29-30
Contents 2 Reflections
3 Talk Back Letters to the Editor 4 Music Notes Girls at the Goose 5 Art & Soul Making Christ Visible 6 faithful citizenship Graduation Day 7 May I have a word? Letters from Home 41 Word, Deed & spirit Justice, Filipino Style
42 global positions
Are Food Allergies Primarily a First-World Problem?
43 a different shade of green A Sabbath for the Land
44 Off the shelf
8 Jack & the GMOs
Genetic modification of foods is praised by one camp and demonized by the other. A look at what’s promised, what’s feared, and what we need to be considering.
18 Preaching the Agricultural Gospel
Across the African continent, small farmers are replacing subsistence yields with bountiful harvests, aided by sound science and invincible faith in the Creator.
22 Feeding a Higher Purpose
At the King’s Kitchen, profits feed the poor, staff get a new beginning, and cuisine is based on fresh, local ingredients. No wonder the restaurant’s website can boast, “When you dine, the whole community thrives.”
26 Just eating
Lack of access to fresh food may not be the first thing that comes to mind when listing the concerns of lowincome neighborhoods. But with hunger on the rise, it’s a justice issue that won’t go away.
31 Waste Not, Want Not
Get a glimpse into America’s supermarket dumpsters, where millions of tons of edible food end up every year.
34 Beautiful Minds
Little decisions made along the way are what shape our thinking habits and form our intellectual character.
47 washington watch
38 Sophie’s Story
Joseph and the Empire
48 Ron Sider Farewell
When a woman makes restitution for a crime against a neighbor, the way is paved for reconciliation with her own sons.
May/ june 2013
Reflections from the Editor
It’s Complicated My friend Jenny is a gourmet cook who takes food to a spiritual level, and I don’t mean that figuratively either. She pours her love for people into meals and then watches with delight as they are astounded, elated, comforted, fortified, and healed of whatever heaviness they might be carrying that day. Having experienced the effect her food has on people, I was not surprised to learn that she prays while planning the weekend menu for the women’s retreat group we both belong to and feels genuinely led by the Spirit as to what to prepare. Cooking is both her spiritual gift and her ministry. Jenny has helped transform my opinion of food from simply enjoyable to central, celebratory, and deeply restorative. That doesn’t mean that every night is a feast at our house—to the contrary, we’re as likely to pop a frozen pizza in the oven as the next 21st-century family. But it does mean that I have come to consider fresh food shopping and an afternoon in the kitchen two of the best perks of being a sentient creature. From the Italian street market in South Philly and the nearby Asian supermarket, I can gather such treasures as fresh artichokes, butternut squash, lemongrass, tofu, and coconut, returning home to whip up a batch of roasted vegetables or a steaming pot of Tom Ka Gai for family and friends. I get stuck in ruts, however, and sometimes get so delighted with a successful dish that I repeat it ad nauseum. Not so at the Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, N.Y., which I visited last weekend on a getaway with my husband and some friends. When I asked the wait-
ress what she liked best on the menu, she Don’t dismiss him out of hand, but do beware. couldn’t tell me, because they change their And while I know we can’t go backwards entire menu every day. Every day something (and doubt that anyone really wants to), I do new. Now that’s variety on a divine scale! think we subconsciously yearn to return to the What variety there must have been Garden, to a time before our selfishness and back in the very first garden, when God told shortsightedness earned us this souring of the the first humans, “I give you every seedpre-Fall smorgasbord: “Cursed is the ground bearing plant on the face of the whole earth because of you; through painful toil you will eat and every tree that has fruit with seed in it food from it all the days of your life” (Gen. 3:17). … will be yours for food.” I can see God’s It’s a bummer, but “painful toil” pretty hand gesturing lavishly and lovingly over the much sums up what’s involved in moving into world’s first all-you-can-eat salad bar. Sweet a healthier, saner relationship with our agriculpotatoes and pomegranates, bok choy and ture, distribution, and consumption of food. But boysenberries, maize and mangoes. because we serve a God of joy and bounty, we This issue looks at what we contempocan also count on some good times along the rary humans do with the gift of I have come to consider fresh food shopping food and how we and an afternoon in the kitchen two of the interact with that best perks of being a sentient creature. gift. “It’s complicated” is the fastest way to describe our way. Here’s what I propose: Host a mini film fesrelationship with food. We often feel compelled tival in your home or at your church, interspersto pursue the food that treats us worst. Most ing food justice documentaries such as Dive! of us have so little appreciation of how much and A Place at the Table (see pages 29 and 32) time and sweat goes into bringing food to our with such diverse and deliciously foody films as tables that we are more likely to throw an overBabette’s Feast, Chocolat, Today’s Special, Big ripe apple into the trash than into the blender Night, Ratatouille, and Like Water for Chocolate. for a smoothie. Make sure to serve celebratory munchies, like Our first-world problems—deciding what Maple Pecan Popcorn and Lavender Chocolate to eat for dinner or trying to locate a TupperBars (go to Epicurious.com for ideas on how to ware lid so we can store the leftovers—are spice up the usual movie fare). Getting informed painful only in the stark contrast they provide about and equipped for food justice doesn’t for the real challenges we should be confronthave to mean being bored or ill-fed or lonely. ing. These include getting healthy food to the How do you bring fun and fellowship to hungry instead of letting it rot in dumpsters your cooking, hospitality, and justice work? If (see pages 26 and 31), feeding people who you have ideas, please write in (see contact info can’t cook for themselves because they have no on Talk Back page) and let me know. I’ll share homes (see page 22), and training subsistence them on the PRISM blog. farmers so they can better nourish their families Sorry, gotta go. My husband just called (see page 18). from the kitchen that my Portobello and brie GMOs are a perfect example of just how omelet is ready. Mmmm. Is there anything betcomplicated our relationship with food is. Do ter than a homemade meal served with love? we have Dr. Frankenstein-sized desires to control and manipulate our environment? Absolutely. Do our efforts produce good things? Sometimes. Are our motivations wholesome? Depends on who you talk to. Do we take the long view, carefully analyzing what today’s decisions will mean for tomorrow? Not usually. Kristyn Komarnicki loves to watch her You’ll read about the drama and uncerseedlings sprout each spring, try out tainty in this issue’s cover tale, “Jack and a new recipe every Thanksgiving, use food to decorate the Christmas tree, the GMOs.” You’ll learn to beware the old celebrate female bonds around the man offering magic beans in exchange for teapot, host potlucks, and do pretty your traditional way of feeding yourself, much anything that involves good no matter how alluring a future he paints. food and friends.
Plus: Trash and transformation in Rio de Janeiro Songs from the Martyrs
-Steve Stanley Chicago, Ill.
I write this out of my own experience as one who was involved in the struggle against apartheid. We actually thought that our messiah Mandela would make it all right for us. It did not happen, and the South African government is worse than the apartheid regime. The poor are still poor and oppressed. Only the color of the government has changed. Maybe we should realize that poor people suffer from Stockholm Syndrome and we should be working with them to find healing so that they can participate in their own freedom. I used to call myself an evangelical. Now I simply want to be Christ’s disciple. Evangelical is an oppressive word to many. ESA needs to stop the rhetoric and learn to listen to the people. Maybe a fast from the normal run of conferences and seminars would be a good start. We need to come together in humility, admit that the church is not winning, and begin to ask the hard questions. Some of them might be: Where are the minorities in ESA? How do we work together to really integrate ESA? Why is the church the most segregated place in the US?
Re: Ron Sider’s “Resigning from AARP” in the March/April issue—I don’t see why Ron’s argument should portray seniors Forgiveness in Rwanda—one as selfishly taking away investments for day at a time Saving lives children. AARP is only advocating for post-abortion seniors. They are not trying to deprive younger generations. I also think that we The Immigrant should remember that the narrative of Industrial Complex our “unsustainable national debt” is doStanding against the “Juan Crow” laws that dehumanize us all ing political work on behalf of those who want to limit investments for all Americans. It creates false choices. Our economy, our healthcare, and our safety net need smart investment rather than compulsive austerity.
-Graham Cyster Lancaster, Pa. I have been reading your magazine and following ESA for some time now. The articles are good and thought-provoking. Thanks for that. However, for so many young evangelicals, it is not thought-provoking enough to make us rush out and do something about social issues. I will summarize the reasons for this as follows: 1. ESA still advocates certain “messiahs” as an example to others. In the past it was Tony Campolo, Ron Sider, Jim Wallis, etc. The latest guru is brother Shane Claiborne. This is so sad. There is only one Messiah, Jesus, and he has always been there if only we would take time out and seek his way to get off this evangelical dependence on messiahs. 2. Please note that many of the evangelical messiahs happen to be middle-class white men. What is up with that? 3. ESA is still doing things for the poor and oppressed and sending out a message that we are relevant and involved. Poor folk do not think that, and we seem to continue on this treadmill because it makes us feel good that we are helping. 4. When do we develop a spirituality to help poor people free themselves from their own chains, a spirituality that will heal their wounds of many generations? As one who has grown up poor I had to realize how deeply wounding it was as a poor person in apartheid South Africa. The simple rhetoric of messiahs do not cut it or bring healing to that kind of wounding. 5. I believe it is when simple people like the disciples have a faith and experience in Jesus they are ready and fight their own fight. It is important to note that a person like Martin Luther King Jr. was killed just as he was organizing a poor people’s crusade. Maybe we should find a way to mobilize the poor and the immigrants in such a way that it will put the fear of God into the powers that be (who happen to be rich, middle-class white men).
The open letter to President Obama drafted by the Evangelical Immigration Table and signed by Ron Sider and ESA is a great letter and a great step forward in our advocacy for comprehensive immigration reform. I am so pleased to see this! However, I am also very disappointed to see that no women are listed among the top 10 signatories with influence. Maybe we need a comprehensive gender reform among our ranks! I think we have a general problem regarding this issue. Women are in leadership in many places within evangelical circles but somehow they are not often included in policy issues or other issues where men step up to the plate. It is a problem due both to men being used to stepping up to the plate and women being reluctant or often just way too busy with the multiple things they are balancing in their lives to be able to step up to the plate in a timely fashion. -Grace R. Dyrness Chair, Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace Los Angeles, Calif.
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Girls at the Goose Wild Goose is a Christian summer festival that the Indigo Girls can get behind. The Southern folk duo will headline the third annual gathering of this camp meeting that centers on justice, spirituality, and the arts. “I’m just looking forward to playing a festival that can open minds and hearts,” said Indigo Girl Emily Saliers. “Whenever there’s art involved, it’s something that can transform lives.” In 2011 the first Wild Goose Festival drew progressive mainliners and emergent evangelicals from across the US to a farm in central North Carolina for four days of live music, activist workshops, and campfire camaraderie. Last year the festival expanded to a second site in Oregon. This year the East Coast version will move farther west, near Asheville, N.C., closer to the Girls’ home base in central Georgia. Saliers is the daughter of theologian Don Saliers, professor emeritus at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. Together they wrote A Song to Sing, A Life to Live: Reflections on Music as Spiritual Practice (Jossey-Bass, 2006), an exploration of music that weaves together their two very different genres of music and approaches to spirituality. When it comes to human sexuality, said Saliers, “Christians are giving themselves a bad name. The ones who speak the loudest come out with these bizarre statements against gay people.” Saliers and her musical partner, Amy Ray, are well known for their activism on environmental and foreign policy issues. As some of the nation’s most prominent lesbians, they’ve also been champions for LGBTQ equality. Saliers said a long career of mixing music and activism has taught her the importance of getting divergent groups to talk to one another. That’s a big part of what drew them to play for free at Wild Goose, a gathering which has drawn many in the South’s GLBTQ community. “It’s so grassroots, and that always appeals to us. The Southern Baptist Convention is not going to have a festival that promotes gay rights,” Saliers said. “It’s nice to have that in the context of a faith-based, or faith-inclusive gathering.”
Emily Saliers (left) and Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls
Saliers said Wild Goose has enabled committed Christians to coalesce with non-religious artists and activists around shared values. The festival’s music booking has brought together worship acts like Gungor and David Crowder with other artists whose relationship to faith is more complicated, like Michelle Shocked or Pedro the Lion’s David Bazan. The festival has also marked the return of ’90s CCM star Jennifer Knapp, whose coming out as a lesbian in 2010 cost her much of her former audience. It’s been a long and complex process that has brought us to a place where the same arts festival could embrace both Christian spirituality and gay rights activism. Saliers said just like in the Civil Rights and feminist movements, lots of people labored over many years to bring us to this point. The more gays and lesbians came out of the closet, the more straight Christians had to acknowledge them as living, breathing human beings, not just symbols of a political or moral conflict. “I’m a big believer in dialogue. It’s people working hard and people opening their hearts, and I think some divine intervention,” Saliers said. “I think people are touched by God.” Of course, the Indigo Girls’ music and activism go far beyond gay rights. They played the now defunct Carolina HopeFest a couple of times, raising money for the faith-based African mission Beacon of Hope. Their Wild Goose set list will feature some of their biggest hits, songs that can resonate across religious and sexual identity chasms: “Galileo” and “Closer to Fine” on human frailty, “Shame on You” on ethnic alienation, and
“Power of Two” on faithful love. While she rejects “fire and brimstone” preaching and doubts that only Christians can receive eternal life, Saliers draws much of her wisdom from her church background. “I’m not against organized religion, but I am a proponent of groups that are able to open their hearts,” she said. “My faith is God-centric. It’s mostly private. My faith has provided me with some of the deepest learning experiences of my life. I can see how people want to share the experience of how faith has been positive in their lives.” The Wild Goose Festival will take place August 8-11 in Hot Springs, N.C. Learn more at WildGooseFestival.org. Worth singing for—a shortlist of causes the Indigo Girls support: Justice for retail cleaners Abolish the death penalty Close the School of the Americas Support indigenous people whose environmental health is affected by uranium mining and militarization Go to IndigoGirls.com to learn more.
Jesse James DeConto is a writer and musician in Durham, N.C. His own band, The Pinkerton Raid, is also scheduled to play at Wild Goose Festival. Contact him at jessejamesdeconto.com.
The church has evolved significantly since the Renaissance, but its architecture has not. For a thousand years our most memorable Christian structures have remained the buildings of our distant forefathers instead of new models of building typologies. Additionally, with a steadily growing population and slowly declining attendance,
perforation. Though virtually all of the traditional iconography and frescos are absent from the cathedral, the building still provides the stations of the cross, a beautiful wood organ, chapels for meditation, and small bronze reliefs. The diocese hopes these more accessible elements will get roughened as worshippers touch them, so that over time and generations people can be aware of and celebrate their shared interaction instead of allowing the building to become a barren museum. Built to last through the anticipated 1,000year earthquake with advanced seismic design techniques, the church also aims to leave the lightest ecological footprint possible. Using recycledcontent concrete as the foundation and thermal mass to mediate temperature swings, the entire building works as a natural convection system to
churches everywhere are trying to reconnect with the masses and communicate to postmoderns a perspective on faith that is relevant to their culture. But doing so in a building that harks to an ancient past can hinder the expression of a transformative and hopeful future. While the preservation of these historic buildings is important to our Christian heritage, it is also time to embrace the next generation of architectural modernity. If the church is going to engage contemporary seekers, it needs to set a new precedent and reimagine the buildings it uses to gather people to Christ. In doing so, it should look to the Cathedral of Christ the Light in the heart of downtown Oakland, Calif., as a powerful example of honoring the past while appealing to the future. Like all other cathedrals before it, the Cathedral of Christ the Light uses spiritual metaphors as its design inspiration. But rather than mimicking past examples, lead architect Craig W. Hartman of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill (SOM) reinterprets these metaphors and weaves them into an urban context to tell the city of Oakland a modern version of the story of redemption through Christ.
bounce diffused light into the sanctuary throughout the day. The circular shape of the structure not only redefines the typology of this church building but also symbolically informs its interior programming. Instead of entering the structure like a traditional cathedral on an orthogonal path perpendicular to rows of pews, one enters the Cathedral of Christ the Light at an angle. This path then changes at the baptismal font to represent and emphasize the turning that baptism promises. The journey into the sanctuary is then reoriented through rows of circular seating towards the altar in the center of the sanctuary and then ends at an image of Christ. Instead of the traditional crucifix behind the altar, this image of Christ portrays him as the risen Lord in a series of metal panels 58 feet tall. During the day, worshipers inside the sanctuary see Christ illuminated as light spills in through the 94,000 laser-cut perforations in the panels, while at night the image of Christ is radiated out to the neighborhood through the
move hot air up and keep the glass building cool. In addition to the reduction of energy required to heat and cool the building, natural daylight virtually eliminates the need for electric lighting within the sanctuary. While the church has remained largely silent on issues of the environment, this cathedral powerfully exemplifies biblical principles of resource stewardship and environmental preservation. Christ’s message has never been more relevant to our cities than right now, and it’s time to remove the physical barriers of structure that detract from this message. By embracing architectural innovation, theological symbolism, modern simplicity, and sustainable strategies, the Cathedral of Christ the Light perfectly blends ancient faith practices and contemporary culture.
Photos by Cesar Rubio (left) and Jill Kurtz (center, right)
...Churches are not simply gathering places but signify and make visible ... the dwelling of God with men reconciled and united in Christ. - The Catechism of the Catholic Church #1181
Art & Soul
Making Christ Visible
“The cathedral is our statement,” says Bishop Allen Vigneron, “about how we, through whom Christ dwells in the world, dwell in Oakland and San Francisco’s East Bay.” This perspective birthed a building that allows the diocese to open its doors to all populations in the region’s ever-changing, multiethnic population. In lieu of the traditional cruciform shape, the church is constructed in a unique circular form that rises to the sky like a bishop’s miter. Light, one of life’s most sacred phenomena, is the central feature of the building. To maximize the experience of this light, two intersecting arcs, held in place by a tensile structure of Douglas fir, form the exterior glass skin of the building. This soaring exterior acts as a light box that radiates the reflections of the adjacent skyline but also utilizes horizontal wooden slats fixed to the structure to
Jill Sornson Kurtz is founder of reBuild Consulting in Santa Clara, Calif., where she works as a sustainability and green building consultant. She also serves with reBuild Sudan, leading a team of people doing peace education and building schools in South Sudan.
Pastor Darren Ferguson remembers his graduation from Bronx Community College. Selected as salutatorian with a 3.8 grade point average, Ferguson recalls the day as “wonderful.” His wife, Kathy, and daughter, Naia, attended, along with his brother and father. So, too, came his spiritual mentor, Bishop Houze, along with other family members. He had plans to pursue his bachelor’s degree next, but no funding was available—that was the year New York, fueled by a campaign promise by then-Governor Pataki, ended state and federal financial aid for inmates. This time of year caps and gowns, diplomas and degrees, friends and families all swirl about the countless number of graduates whose commencement exercises signal both great accomplishment and new beginnings. Men and women, youth and adults march lockstep to “Pomp and Circumstance,” “War March,” and other traditional processional pieces in anticipation of hearing their name called to beckon them across a platform peopled with individuals—academic and artistic, professional and political, literary and luminary— to secure that “piece of paper” so pregnant with promise. But a number of graduations will not be held in gyms, halls, or auditoriums—at least not auditoriums you’ve heard of, unless you are familiar with the nomenclature of local, state, or federal correctional facilities. Indeed, selected families and friends may attend, and the sense of accomplishment may even be enhanced, but for the men, women, and youth in correctional facilities who will be graduated with certificates, diplomas, and degrees, the day will go unnoticed by a media world that prefers making sound bites out of commencement speeches delivered by presidents, celebrities, and dignitaries. For these graduates there will be no walking across campus, no academic regalia, no celebration dinner at a local restaurant, nor even the hope of employment that academic advancement promises. These unseen graduations often signal first and foremost a sense of personal accomplishment, often accompanied by a healthy dose of personal transformation. This especially rings true for the select number of inmates who obtain university and, yes, even seminary degrees while incarcerated. The latter category represents a growing edge in theological education, and that’s good news, because most seminaries do little to prepare church leadPRISMmagazine.org
Photo courtesy of Prison Entrepreneurship Program, PEP.org
ers for ministry with prisoners and their families, let alone offer theological courses and degrees behind bars. New York Theological Seminary pioneered this work, negotiating with the New York State Department of Corrections to offer a master of professional studies—the equivalent of a master of theological studies—or master of arts degree at Sing Sing Prison almost 30 years ago. Since that time hundreds of inmates have taken the NYTS degree, and the recidivism rate among those degree-holders is in the single digits. Darren Ferguson was able to attend classes at Sing Sing given by NYTS because the seminary raised its own financial support for the program. Today he is a pastor in New York, working on his doctor of ministry degree. Other schools have followed suit. Drew University Theological School, Duke University Divinity School, Phillips Seminary, and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary all have educational programs behind bars. Angola Bible College serves inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola; served by professors from New Orleans Baptist Seminary, the college was started by Angola Warden Burl Cain as part of his work in reforming one of America’s most notorious facilities, where the average sentence of those not serving life is 93 years. Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion, led by Professor Byron Johnson, is engaged in an evaluative study of the college, along with Southwestern Baptist’s initiative, known as Darrington Bible College. But Darren Ferguson does not need a scholarly evaluation of his theological education to measure its importance. Citing students’ opportunity to “engage the material, interpret and internalize it, and then reflect on it through our
own unique personal lenses,” Ferguson gained a real sense of God’s presence in history “from Saul...to Constantine and the Council of Nicea to Jerome to the events of the Protestant Reformation [to] create exactly what [God] wanted.” Such an understanding of God’s role in history gave Ferguson insight into his own sense of God’s present purposes in events and guides his theological reflection today in ministry, be it as pastor of a first respondent church in Far Rockaway after Hurricane Sandy or as leader of the “Starve the Beast” movement to reduce violence, crime, and mass incarceration in New York City. Indeed, had New York cut funding for higher education in prisons even one year earlier, Ferguson arguably would not have been positioned to do the work he does now. Governor Pataki, along with fellow governors in Massachusetts and Michigan, had argued that prisoners should not receive a “free” college education while poor and working-class families whose children did not break the law had to pay. No matter that the “savings” was not reinvested in those families, perhaps a bigger reason to invest in such education is the number of young people who have avoided incarceration precisely because of the educational preparation of men such as Ferguson, who hit the streets determined to use their education to give back to communities they once hurt. To those whose commencement exercises will be behind bars this spring: Happy Graduation Day! We need you!
Harold Dean Trulear is associate professor of applied theology at Howard University School of Divinity in Washington, DC, and director of the Healing Communities Prisoner Reentry Initiative at the Philadelphia Leadership Foundation (HealingCommunitiesUSA.org).
Letters from Home I pulled an envelope from my campus mailbox and checked the return address. A letter from home. My stomach twisted as I noticed the handwriting. It was a childish and shaky scrawl I recognized as my mother’s left-handed scribble. Years of experience told me what this meant. She was righthanded but sometimes wrote with her left when she was delusional. I tucked the letter into my jacket and smiled
I hope churches will stop implying through silence that our God is not powerful enough to embrace people in psychological pain. my way through a throng of college friends checking their own mailboxes. Letters from home, I thought. I left the building and headed to my dorm, wondering what I would find in that envelope. In the privacy of my room, I pulled the letter from my jacket and opened it to find two folded papers. I opened one at a time: a strange, childish drawing in crayon and a page carefully torn from a children’s coloring book, neatly colored by my mother. My letter from home. Something in me wept. But I had suppressed emotions for a long time, and I had lost the ability to actually cry. I didn’t yet know that Mom had schizophrenia. I just knew something had gone wrong with
through the power of his own suffering and his remarkably redemptive love. God helped me reject the script I had memorized and thought I was supposed to recite—the one suggesting the Christian life should be free of psychological pain. I began to embrace biblical truth about suffering: “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows” (John 16:33). “While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh” (2 Cor. 5:4). God’s “power works best in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). Wounded is the way God wants me. My efforts to wall off my pain had closed parts of myself he wanted to use. So he called me to tell my family’s story and challenge the church. As I’ve opened up, others have shared with me. Turns out that nearly everyone I know is somehow touched by mental illness—which directly afflicts 25 percent of the US population. I had thought my family was alone, but, like others, we were only isolated by shame. So why my family? Why not? All creation groans under sin’s curse (Romans 8:22-28). Someday life will be everything we wish it were now, with new joys we don’t have the capacity to wish for. But for now we’re stuck in a place so dramatically twisted by our own choices that we can’t see straight. If the curse on this world didn’t hurt, we wouldn’t find hope in a sinless future, when our “dying bodies will be swallowed up by life” (2 Cor. 5:4). I hope churches will stop implying through silence that our faith is not big enough, our God not powerful enough, to embrace people in psychological pain. I hope the church will learn to openly discuss mental illness and its questions. Messy faith? You bet. But God is not intimidated by our tough questions—God’s self is the answer. We have great hope—in grace God plants beauty in the soil of sorrow. Like letters from home, these acts of redemption lift the curtain for a glimpse at what’s coming. “For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever” (2 Cor. 4:17).
May I Have a Word?
her mind years before. I was angry, deeply sad, and powerfully ashamed. So I hid that letter, packed it away like the pain I kept hidden from myself and from everyone I was certain would reject me if they knew. I tried to hide from faiththreatening questions, but they persisted: Why did this happen to my family? My parents were faithful, dedicated to serving Christ with their whole lives. What kind of God rewards followers with paranoid delusions and psychotic breaks? The same stigma that kept me silent kept others silent too. For a long time, because I had never heard honest discussion of mental illness in the church, I thought the church had nothing to say about it. And because the church was silent, I wasn’t sure God had anything to say either. I just knew my family’s experience didn’t fit the prevailing picture of the faithful Christian life: You repent and accept God’s grace. You engage in spiritual discipline to welcome the Holy Spirit’s transformative work. You grow in knowledge, faith, and joy. You’re not supposed to be derailed by debilitating emotions, faulty thinking, or paranoid delusions. If you suffer, you’re supposed to find meaning in it, experience God’s healing, and move on. But there is no moving on from the persistent anguish of repeatedly losing yourself or someone you love. So I walled off my confusion and grief. I navigated school, sports, music, youth group, and an active social life. I tried to be normal. I went to college 500 miles away and tried to avoid my grief. I asked God to heal my mom, and when I was with her I tried to heal her myself. Over time, God gradually turned my attention toward the open wound in me that I was pretending not to see. He gave me courage to engage my family in a new way— to challenge the conspiracy of self-protection we had built. He helped me understand that this kind of pain doesn’t stop hurting but can be made beautiful
Amy Simpson (AmySimpsononline.com) is editor of Christianity Today’s GiftedforLeadership. com and a freelance writer living in Illinois. Her newest book is Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission, just released by InterVarsity Press.
Jack and the GMOs: No GMOs
promise peril? Part of a complex system that promises to improve food production, GMOs require more responsible thinking from all of us—consumers, GMO advocates, and anti-GMO activists alike by Rusty Pritchard | Illustrations by Cate Simmons
or over a decade, Americans have been eating food that contains ingredients from plants whose DNA has been engineered to produce proteins from other species. Over 70 percent of processed foods in the US contain genetically modified (GM) ingredients. But most Americans don’t know that, because ingredients derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are not specially labeled. In some cases, these transgenic plants have been manipulated to produce their own insecticides. Other genetically modified plants have genes inserted that allow them to resist herbicides, so that when farmers spray their fields only the weeds are killed, leaving the crops intact. Manufacturers of GMO products claim that benefits to the farmers who use them can include higher and more reliable yields or crops that are produced with fewer inputs. They also claim that GMO products have ecological benefits, including less pesticide runoff where pest-resistant crops like GM corn are planted and lower soil erosion where herbicide-resistant crops like cotton and soybeans are planted directly into unplowed soil. Industry advocates also argue that GMO crops keep food prices low but claim that the real gains to consumers are around the corner. In the future, advocates say, genetically engineered Golden Rice will help combat vitamin A deficiency, benefiting consumers around the world, including the poorest of the poor3; po—Label It WA, state campaign tatoes will be engineered to contain edible vaccines for debilitating for “The People’s Right To Know diseases like hepatitis B4; and GM tomatoes will produce a certain Genetically Engineered Food Act” of peptide that might one day save us from heart disease5 (though Washington State1 surely in this latter case, an ounce of prevention would be more than worth the pound of cure). Those lavish promises of medical and environmental miracles remain to be proven. Like Jack risking the family cow for a handful of magic beans, we are currently at a crossroads, lured by the potential reward of GMOs but unsure what we’ll end up paying for it all in the end. For now, most Americans don’t experience any direct benefit from GM crops, and worse, they don’t know they’re eating foods containing modified DNA, because those foods aren’t labeled, and agribusiness interests are working overtime to maintain this status quo. Under current law, labeling is required only if the end product is not substantially equivalent to the crop precursor. If a food were engineered to contain an unexpected protein known to the FDA to cause allergies, for example, it would require labeling. Likewise, if a food is altered nutritionally or given a new property that causes it to behave differently in cooking or storage, it must be labeled. The oil from soybeans genetically engineered to contain elevated levels
“Labeling genetically engineered foods is about preserving our freedom of choice. ... We have the right to know what’s in our food.”
feel is a warning label on products that they say are safe to eat. Public interest organizations like the American Medical Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science assert that labels “can only serve to mislead and falsely alarm consumers.”8 Consumers themselves, however, believe they have a right to know what is in their food. Numerous polls show that over 90 percent of Americans would like to see mandatory labeling of GM foods. Bills have been introduced in almost 20 states to mandate labeling, with significant and well-funded opposition from agricultural interests and food companies; none have yet been passed. Around the world, 62 countries, including China and Russia, already have mandatory labeling laws, according to the campaign “Just Label It,” a project of the organic food industry —Monsanto, corporate statement group Organic Voices.9 Interestingly, few of the countries requiring manon “Labeling Food and Ingredients datory labeling have laws against GM crops, but labeling itself is enough Developed from GM Seed”2 to keep many GM foods off supermarket shelves.10 Consumers vote with their pocketbooks as well as their ballots; it seems they not only want to know what’s in their food but also want to avoid eating genetically modified foods. of oleic acid, to cite such a case, is labeled “high-oleic soybean While health is often the main (and most motivating) concern about GM foods to oil” to distinguish it from traditional soybean oil, but only the most US consumers, it is far from the only concern and may not be the most important one. informed consumer will know that this is code for “genetically modiJustice issues such as farmworker safety, environmental risks, seed takeover, chemical fied.” toxins, and food monopoly by a handful of corporations are other extremely significant “The FDA has no information that the use of biotechnology concerns. But let’s look at health first. creates a class of food that is different in quality, safety, or any other attribute from food developed using conventional breeding techniques,” says James Maryanski, biotechnology coordinator for GMOs and human health the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and By far, the leading voices behind the movement to label GM foods are those who claim Applied Nutrition.6 The FDA does not have authority to require lathat they may have dramatic impacts on the health of consumers. Jeffrey Smith of the Institute for Responsible Technology (IRT), author of the self-published Genetic Roulette bels based on the process used to produce food ingredients; they are only concerned with the final products. If the process used to and producer of a film of the same name, is one such voice. He suggests that GM crops develop a food can’t be shown to significantly alter its content, no contribute to asthma, allergies, diabetes, obesity, autism, cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinlabeling is required. son’s, birth defects, infant mortality, gastritis, organ damage, and sterility. “Illnesses The California Medical Association and the American Public that weren’t epidemic before are now epidemic,” he pronounces in the film. Health Association support GM labeling.7 But food corporations Smith’s representations portray the road to ruin, but while they may seem extreme, he is not a marginal voice in the GM-labeling movement. IRT is funded by some that use GM ingredients object to being required to put what they
How to avoid GM foods in your diet
Some believe that consuming GM foods can be harmful to your health; others want to support alternatives to the hyper-industrial agricultural system that is pushing GM foods on us and the developing world. For those wanting to avoid GM foods, here are some recommended strategies: •Buy organic food. Under current labeling standards, foods sold as organic don’t allow the use of GMOs. •Look for voluntary “non-GMO” labels. One third-party-verified standard is the Non-GMO Project Verified seal. Sometimes only one ingredient is listed as non-GMO, since other ingredients don’t exist in GM varieties. Whole Foods Market is a grocery chain that has set a deadline of 2018 for its suppliers to indicate whether or not foods contain GM ingredients. •Avoid the “big four” GM food crops as ingredients: corn (and its derivatives), soy, canola, and cottonseed. Also, some sugar is made from GM sugar beets. •Buy fresh produce, meat, and dairy, avoiding highly processed foods. In the produce section, the only GM food you’ll currently find are small amounts of zucchini, yellow crookneck squash, sweet corn, and Hawaiian papaya. No GM livestock or fish are currently available. If you’re fastidious, you can look for 100 percent grass-fed meat and organic eggs to avoid indirectly consuming GM feeds. •Grow some of your own food with non-GM seeds, join a CSA (community-supported agriculture) farm, or inquire at farmers’ markets you support. •Download GM-free shoppers’ guide, tips & iTunes app from the Center for Food Safety or the Institute for Responsible Technology.
(See more of Cate Simmons’ illustrations at flickr.com/steeringfornorth)
“We oppose mandatory labeling of food ... developed from GM seeds ... as it could ... imply that food products containing these ingredients are somehow inferior to their conventional or organic counterparts.”
of the best-known organic food companies, including Nature’s Path, Organic Valley, and others. Some proponents of labeling have latched onto Smith as an expert: He’s regularly featured in the Huffington Post and has appeared on The Dr. Oz Show. IRT is rapidly expanding and is targeting faith leaders with their Faith and GMOs campaign (FaithandGMOs.org). Smith regularly grounds his claims in the work of the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM), an organization also known for questioning the safety of childhood vaccines and water fluoridation. Smith and the AAEM’s views on GMO safety are at odds with most mainstream scientists, who assert that there are no overarching concerns with current GM foods. “There is broad scientific consensus that genetically engineered crops currently on the market are safe to eat,” says Pamela Ronald, a UC-Davis plant geneticist. “After 14 years of cultivation and a cumulative total of 2 billion acres planted, no adverse health or environmental effects have resulted from commercialization of genetically engineered crops.”12 Scientific councils, including The Royal Society of London, the US National Academy of Sciences, the Brazilian Academy of Science, the Chinese Academy of Science, the Indian National Science Academy, the Mexican Academy of Science, and the Third World Academy of Science, have issued statements about the safety of current GM crops.13 Anti-GMO activists rightly point out that a great deal of agricultural science research is funded by agribusiness and that scientific findings may be influenced by that funding, highlighting a question that many conscious consumers wrestle with as they analyze data and make purchasing decisions: “Whose interests are being advocated for here?” Anti-GM-food activists such as Smith, however, who believe that GM foods do cause damage to health, produce guidelines for specifically avoiding GM foods. This is tricky, as GM crop derivatives are found in over 70 percent of foods in the supermarket, particularly processed foods. But it’s not impossible (see “How to avoid GMOs in your diet” on page 10). In fact, the easiest strategy is to eat a completely organic diet, since the USDA organic label specifically precludes the use of GM crops and their derivatives. Armed with some additional knowledge, those who are concerned can avoid at-risk ingredients altogether. In Genetic Roulette, Smith and others make the claim that switching to a GMO-free diet leads to a radical improvement in health, reversing the damage they believe GM foods cause. Of course, the presence or absence of GM ingredients may not have anything to do with improvements in health seen by those who avoid GM foods, since many foods containing GM ingredients are those that are highly processed. “I am not aware of any medical condition that would require a GM-free diet,” says Dr. Jennifer Zreloff, medical director of patient-centered primary care at Emory Healthcare in Atlanta, Ga. “I do think a lot of people would feel better when changing to a diet such as this, only because they
would be forced to eat a lot less processed food and more whole foods. Literature definitely supports that a diet higher in fruits and vegetables and lower in processed foods (which are typically higher in sugar and salt) makes people feel better.” In 2011 a systematic survey was done of 12 studies of up to two years in duration and 12 multigenerational feeding trials of between two and five generations, but no health hazards were identified in animals from a GM diet.14 Smith points out that long-term human trials of GM plant diets are not done, primarily because it would be unethical to limit some set of individuals to an exclusive diet of a single GM crop. In a real-world setting, proposed effects from GM food exposure would likely be swamped by known risks posed by conventional food. In an interview conducted for this article, Smith revealed his gold standard for the length of human feeding trials: 40 years. We are already in the middle of a great experiment with the American diet—coming up on 20 years—and we’ve never been asked to sign an informed consent. At this point, with the crops introduced so far, there is no peer-reviewed, unambiguous evidence that GMOs pose any danger at all to our health, but it is nonetheless an experiment. Labeling would be an approximation for the informed consent we’ve never granted, enabling those who don’t want their families to be part of the experiment to opt out more conveniently.
Just label them Transparency dictates that if experts and corporations aren’t fearful that they’re compromising our health, they should be able to explain the benefits of GM foods if they were clearly labeled. So, why not label GMOs? What do the major food corporations have to hide? Some objections to labeling involve cost. If prices rise because of the complexity of keeping track of where ingredients come from, that’s a cost that will likely be passed on to consumers. Some may consider the information to be worth it, but mandatory labeling imposes those costs on everyone, including those who don’t care to know. Vol-
“If you like GMOs, you think they’re great, okay, label them. You know, label it, buy it, just be proud of it. But we have a right not to buy it. That’s our issue, and we’re taking it to Washington.” –David Bronner, president, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, in the documentary Genetic Roulette 11
“The narrow focus on GMO safety ignores the broader lifecycle impacts of GMO crops.”
sustainability concerns about the entire system of which GM crops are a part.20 There’s a precedent for a broader view. The original motivation for the organic label was not about consumer health but about the land and the people who work it. Some choose an organic diet out of concern for farmworker safety and the health of their nearby families rather than out of fear of consuming minute pesticide residues or in hope of some nutritional advantage. The feature “Tomato Justice,” in the May/June 2012 issue of —Patricia Hunt and PRISM, makes it clear that it is farmwork20 other scientists, ers, not consumers, who suffer most from supporting food the toxic arsenal of chemicals used on labels19 tomato plants. On this broader view, GM crops have to be understood in the context of modern agriculture that is a mixed bag of benefits and impacts. (For a better understanding of this mixed bag, see “What do you know about GMOs?” on pages 16-17.) Genetically engineered crops are a direct outgrowth of the marriage of biotechnology with industrial agriculture in the Global North and with the Green Revolution in agriculture in the Global South. The Green Revolution, you may recall, was a broad research and extension effort in the 1960s and ’70s that produced (through conventional crossbreeding, the kind you learned about in high school biology) new varieties of existing crops that would produce more food. With the right inputs of fossil-fuel-rich fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation technologies, and mechanized equipment, startlingly high yields resulted. The high-yielding varieties put more energy into grain heads relative to stalks, so they matured faster and could be grown over more of the year, extending the growing season and producing more food. By 1995, the Green Revolution had brought better nutrition, more food security, and lower poverty to large parts of Latin America and Asia, although More than health social and political factors limited its success in Africa. Similarly, continuing Some consumers, especially those in the nascent American “food movement,” have broader reasons for supporting labeling. Not everyone wants a label sim- industrialization of agriculture in the Global North led to bumper crops and ply for health reasons. Some want the ability to make food choices based on a thriving agribusiness sector. But the revolution was not without problems. Large farmers with better access to credit benefited more than small farmers did, mechanization created a surge in unemployed landless farmworkers, and lower food prices benefited urban consumers but hurt small farmers. Regions with inadequate rainfall or water supply for irrigation were relatively ignored. Benefits to large corporate farms also included a new ability to influence policies and subsidies in their own favor, leading to more of the same pattern of development, a concentration of resources and power. And like the negative impact that factory farming of animals has had on the environment, these new farming practices also took their toll—waterways and aquifers were polluted by excessive application of chemicals, poorly managed irrigation left good farmland salinized, and rivers and fisheries suffered when they were dammed to create irrigation works. Repeated applications of pesticides led to pesticide resistance in some of the worst crop-destroying organisms. Only now are some of these effects being addressed. Some GM crops were developed specifically to respond to some of the ill effects of agricultural modernization. They are the latest development in the vast self-reinforcing array of technologies that revolutionized agriculture in the 20th century. As such, they tend to be vilified as a scapegoat for all the other ills of modern industrial agriculture. In reality untary labeling, on the other hand, puts the administrative costs onto those who are motivated to seek out more expensive non-GMO foods. The fact that a regulated, voluntary non-GMO label already exists (the USDA “organic” label) might make calls for mandatory labeling feel less urgent. A more robust objection is that GM labeling would provide too little rather than too much information. Does a generalized GM label really tell us anything about the hazards we might face when eating it? “Similar to informing them about whether a fruit or vegetable was hand- or machine-picked, telling them only that a product was ‘genetically engineered’ conveys no useful information,” says former FDA official Henry Miller.15 Merely labeling an ingredient as genetically modified doesn’t say anything about whether the transgenic plant might contain a potential allergen, an insect toxin, an augmented vitamin, or a color enhancer. Writing about California’s recent failed food labeling initiative, Christie Wilcox of Scientific American writes, “If Prop 37 was really about informed decisions, it would have sought accurate labeling of different types of GMOs so consumers can choose to avoid those that they disapprove of or are worried about.”16 Passing legislation demanding an intricate system of labels based on the specific genetic modifications applied to specific crops has never been suggested by the labeling movement, which has struggled against well-funded opposition to pass even one state-level general GM labeling initiative. To some, labeling activists seem more intent on eradicating GM foods than on distinguishing among them. As noted above, in other countries that mandate labeling, retailers have eliminated GM products from their shelves. American activists are confident that will happen in the US as well. “If a company like Kellogg’s has to print a label stating that their famous Corn Flakes have been genetically engineered, it will be the kiss of death for their iconic brand,” said Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers Association, in a New York Times article.17 This has led some observers to claim that the labeling campaigns are commercial ploys for organic food companies to increase their market share.18
they’re just one piece of the same puzzle. Those who emphasize the positive effects of the Green Revolution tend to be comfortable with GM crops, while skeptics of the former are also doubtful about the latter. The impact on farm sustainability from using GM crops is probably positive but requires more study, says a recent report from the National Academy of Science (NAS).21 Some farmers have benefited from current GM crops, although the high price of seeds means that a big bite of the benefit goes to seed companies. Ecological benefits are substantial, and side effects that have been identified so far have been slight. Pesticide applications have gone down with crops that produce their own insecticides, but herbicide applications may have increased with the use of herbicide-resistant crops. Another acknowledged danger from herbicide-resistant crops is overreliance on a single herbicide, leading to the emergence of resistant weeds alongside resistant crop plants and stimulating an arms race of technology versus evolution. (This escalation in chemical use occurs in weed control for conventional crops as well.) Moreover, resistant weeds and insects don’t stay on farms planted with GM crops, so they may cause increasing problems and costs for nearby farmers of conventional crops. Farmers are also concerned, according to the NAS study, about the concentration of power in a few companies and are increasingly worried about the ability to access conventional seed in sufficient quantities. These last two concerns animate many civil society groups and farmer advocates. As the acreage planted in GM crops grows, farmers report that it is harder to find non-GMO seeds.22 Farmers planting a risky second or third crop in less favorable seasons may not want to pay for expensive GMO seeds, but they have little alternative. Conventional crop research is relatively underfunded, and yield increases are slowing. And GM crop research has focused more on plants that can be used to feed livestock or automobiles (through conversion to enthanol) than on plants used to feed hungry people.23 Consumers share these concerns about the structure of the agricultural industry, about its ecological and social impacts, and about how far modern industrial agriculture has diverged from the agriculture of our forebearers. Labeling GM crops would flag certain products as less “natural” or less sustainable, even though genetic engineering is only one piece of the vast unsustainable agricultural industry that has grown up here and abroad. Labeling opponents object that generalized GMO labels are arbitrary—there are innumerable other factors that consumers might claim a “right to know.” A label indicating the fossil fuel used for each ingredient would help consumers interested in energy efficiency. The ecologically minded might want a label indicating the type of natural ecosystem or endangered species displaced by the cropland used in the production. The patent owner of each GM crop could be labeled, so that consumers could boycott ingredients developed by companies whose monopolistic business practices or subsidy-seeking behavior they find objectionable. When labeling doesn’t pertain to the actual content of the food product, it opens up a can of worms. That’s why advocates of labeling are content for now to go with campaigns like Genetic Roulette—for political reasons policymakers will have to be convinced that the content of GM foods might be intrinsically risky to our health for labeling to be approved. Those who object to GM technology are confident that consumers will stay away from labeled food (a belief shared by the food industry). Perhaps they believe that promoting fears about food safety is the only organizing tool for fighting the vast influence of Monsanto and the other seed companies. After all, resisting labeling makes it look as though producers have something to hide. Since GMOs are sufficiently different from conventional
crops to warrant novel patent protections and to prompt Monsanto to repeatedly prosecute farmers who save GM seeds, it is difficult to argue that the FDA and consumers should unquestioningly regard them as “substantially equivalent” to conventional crops. Monsanto and other players have, until now, been able to expand GM seed sales by making their arguments to elites and bureaucrats, by buying access, and by taking advantage of the revolving door, so that former and future agribusiness executives actually operate inside regulatory agencies. Labeling could democratize that conversation, bringing ordinary citizens and their preferences into the process. It would make life more complicated for the food industry and may make food more costly, but Americans already spend less of their income on food than any other country on earth. If over 90 percent of Americans want to know about GM ingredients, and their safety is as certain as the science seems to claim, what would be the harm? The opponents of labeling fear that we are irrational and will reject labeled products out of hand. But is it really irrational to stay clear of new products that don’t bring any demonstrated benefits to consumers, as food writer Michael Pollan has argued?24 Why should a consumer bear even a minor risk? Labeling would provide corporations with the chance to counter anti-GM activists’ claims, to demonstrate that GM foods would be cheaper or tastier or more nutritious, and those benefits would begin visibly accruing to consumers instead of agribusinesses. A useful, desirable product would benefit from market differentiation. Allowing people to control their exposure to GM foods would let us redirect our attention to the aspects of modern agriculture we should most worry about. And there’s a lot to worry about.
More than labeling When pressed to label GMOs, some GM advocates retreat to defending their potential role in solving world hunger, by increasing yields or providing resilience to drought or increasing nutrition. Skeptics point out that those benefits are contested (yields may not be much higher26), elusive (insects and weeds evolve as fast as new crop varieties are introduced to combat them27), or yet to be realized. Even if their benefits were unambiguous, the defense is misdirected. If GMOs could credibly deliver all that, companies would be racing to label their products instead of working to defeat labeling initiatives. Part of the problem is the question of who captures the benefits from genetically modified crops, just as the question in a previous generation was about the beneficiaries of Green Revolution technologies. The pattern has been that urban consumers get cheaper food, agribusinesses get profits, and farmers, especially small farmers and landless farmworkers, get squeezed. GM is a mixed bag environmentally in terms of the marginal benefits it delivers. The environmental benefits are real, but for now GM crops deliver them by propping up the unsustainable systems that led to problems in the first place. Labels are just one step toward recognizing which of the alternative systems of agriculture give rise to our food. Enlightened consumers may wish they had a label that gave them inside information on all the side effects, social impacts, and potential injustices behind the products they consume. The lack of information about practices inside firms or on faraway farms is systemic and not limited to a farmer’s choice of seeds. Our present food system, according to farmer Wendell Berry, depends on “genetically impoverished monocultures, cheap petroleum, cheap long-distance transportation, and cheap farm labor.”28 The ano-
“Industrial agri-investors ... want a big product that can be marketed everywhere. [But] the kind of agriculture ... that leads to food security and land conservation is locally adapted agriculture. And they can’t do that. Industrial agriculture plants cornfields in Arizona; locally adapted agriculture says, what can we fit in this place that will not destroy it? Or what can nature help us to do here? That’s the critical issue.”
critical part of discipleship. And, as all the best questions are, the debate over GM foods isn’t cut and dry, and you don’t have to search far to find passionate advocates both for and against genetic modifcation. It’s a debate that demands rigorous inquiry and one that has broad implications for the way we use God’s creation. As Christians called to love God not only with all our heart and soul but also with all our mind, we must be diligent about using our minds, and all the information available to them, responsibly. Reactionary attitudes and a meansjustify-the-ends mentality—whether in —Wendell Berry, in response to a question about GMO producers’ advocates or opponents of GMOs—will not serve the truth well. Jesus promises claim to want to “feed the world”25 that the Holy Spirit will “guide [us] into all the truth” (John 16:13). Whether we are scientists, economists, farmers, activists, or simply consumers, those of nymity and global scale of our market system brings us ruthless economic us who follow Christ have the responsibility to think and act with integrity. We competition and low prices. To have effective markets and cheap meals, we must trust God to guide us, and we must act faithfully on that guidance as we trade away the richness of our knowledge about our food and the people debate and critically question the issues that GMO use raises for human and who produce it. And we haven’t created bureaucratic regulatory bodies with environmental health around the globe. the power to compel producers to tell us the whole story behind our meals, Like Jack before he knew where the enchanted vine would lead, we curious though we may be about it. hold these magical beans in our hands and wonder which road to take, while Labels would give us a little extra leverage to demand that seed compamore GMO seeds and promises are generated every day. We need wisdom to nies and agribusinesses level with us about how our food is produced. Even know which ones, if any, to plant—and even then, we may one day need the if we mandated labeling of GM ingredients, we who are concerned about hustrength to chop down the precarious beanstalk that our pride and curiosity man flourishing will want to know more about working conditions on the farm, have rendered. the health of farm communities, and downstream social and environmental impacts. Labels necessarily simplify a complex story involving people, animals, industry, history, and culture. If we want to be so involved with our food, A natural resource economist, Rusty Pritchard is the CEO of Flourish (Flourwe have to grow more of it ourselves and to know our farmers and farmworkishOnline.org), a ministry that equips Christians to engage the world of enviers. Voluntary associations and voluntary labels that support our values (see ronmental science and action. “How to avoid GM foods in your diet” on page 10) may be able to earn our trust and our food dollars and to enrich the limited information mandated by regulatory bodies. But in the end, channeling our rekindled cultural concern for our bodies and our food into words on a tag or a box cannot substitute for the bonds of human relationships. Francis Collins is the director of the National Institutes of Health. He said the following about biotechnology, speaking specifically about the revolution in human genetics, but it also applies to the genetic modification of food: Advances in technology, especially biotechnology, have a propensity to stir deep fears of mad scientists and Frankenstein syndromes. … Knowledge is neither good nor evil—it's the uses we put it to that determines whether [biotechnology] will be seen by the public as a godsend or a curse. That means it is up to all of us, not just the scientists, to engage in a meaningful decision-making process about the limits of applications of this new area of science.29 It’s easy to fall into habits, into patterns of consumption, and to forget that even the smallest choices say volumes about who we are and what is important to us. Thinking carefully about what we put into our bodies is a
P rea c h i ng the A g r i cul tural G os p el
Dickson Shuwali rejoices in his rich harvest!
African farmers reap a harvest of food, faith—and a future by Shannon Sutherland Smith
ickson Shuwali’s smile is wide. His crops are high. And his faith runs deep. It wasn’t always that way, however. Shuwali grew up in extreme poverty in rural Malawi as a peasant farmer’s son. During high school his family would often eat one meal every two days to stretch the maize from the harvest. His father used to produce an average of just three 50-kg (110-pound) bags of maize from his one-acre farm, which is a fairly standard yield among small-scale farmers throughout sub-Saharan Africa. But then Shuwali attended training from Farming God’s Way (FGW), and slowly generational poverty no longer seemed inevitable at all. “When I heard about Farming God’s Way, I went and applied straight what I was told,” says Shuwali. “And the following year I got five 50-kg bags from the very same piece of land, and the third year I got 54 bags. Just last year, the fourth year, I got 69 bags for which I give God all the glory and praise.” It was an unprecedented bumper crop in what the Food and Agriculture Organization (FA) at the UN has designated one of the world’s 10 poorest nations, in which about 10 million people rely on subsistence farming. Grant Dryden, one of the pioneering trainers with FGW, says even during Shuwali’s first year post-training, Shuwali’s brother harvested nothing because of a national drought, so there was tremendous evidence that FGW was indeed both sound in practice and blessed by God. “It’s not only about the yield or the great profits. It’s more about bringing the fullness of the promised ‘abundant life’ that Christ promises. Dickson now holds substantial influence in his village and also trains throughout the nation and has been invited to speak internationally as well. I love that the Lord would take the weak to shame the strong and use the foolish to confound the wise.” Back to the garden FGW advocates a fundamental conservation of the soil through no plowing and what they refer to as “God’s blanket”—laying down a weave of dead cornstalks, for example, to provide a protective cover, just as forest floors enjoy a layer of fallen organic matter, which feeds the soil. FGW also incorporates other traditional techniques such as crop rotation, composting, and green manure cover crops (growing crops specifically to feed the soil). “These techniques are not unique to FGW,” says Dryden, “but we combine them in particular ways that are both
relevant and best suited to poor, small-scale farmers.” In some remote areas, Dryden says, farmers have told him, “Hey, my grandfather used to dig planting stations like this!” According to Dryden, many of the traditional ways of farming were lost when plows came into widespread use; conventional practices of plowing, burning, and monocropping can destroy a healthy virgin soil in a matter of just a few seasons. He stresses the importance of minimal soil disturbance, 100-percent mulch covers, and crop rotations, all of which contribute to drastically reducing costs, labor, and annual soil losses. But he is quick to point out that while the science behind FGW is sound, “these are minor elements of a much greater whole of what collectively makes Farming God’s Way work. We are trying to get our farmers back to what God showed Adam in the beginning, not to their ancestral history. We’re looking back to a history rooted before the fall of man, where man walked with God in his own garden as a friend. We’re looking to implement God’s ways in humility and acknowledge God as the master farmer.” In light of the dramatic results FGW has documented, one would think farmers across the continent would be lining up to give it a try. But “pride and tradition,” says Dryden, “are great stumbling blocks. If you watched your neighbor succeeding, and he even offered to help you succeed, you would certainly be tempted to try what he proposes, right? But, in my experience, it doesn’t work like that amongst the poor. It takes years of repeated trainings and commitment, and even with great modeling and success of the few, you will still encounter the frustration of slow adoption. We cannot force farmers—and definitely should not incentivize them—to change; we just have to be obedient to proclaim the good news. That is our responsibility; the rest is between the communities and the Lord. The Bible says that ‘we do not wage war against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers.’ Poverty is a great stronghold.”
Dickson Shuwali and Grant Dryden during a training session with farmers in Malawi
The gospel as applied to agriculture Farming God’s Way is not an official organization—there is no board, no legal status, and no bank account. It is a resource to be freely adopted and implemented. It is led by a stewardship team comprised of five members who are engaged in several different churches,
organizations, and missionary groups. Dryden operates an NGO called Bountiful Grains Trust in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, out of which a team of four trainers reaches out with the principles of FGW full time. Dryden says the six “biblical keys” at the root of FGW were inspired and given to him by the Lord as he traveled through communities in Africa several years ago: 1. Acknowledge God and God alone. 2. Be intentional and consider the impact of your actions. 3. Understand God’s all-sufficiency. 4. Understand that what you sow you will reap. 5. Bring the tithes and offerings to God. 6. Stake your claim. “Each biblical key has a very unique element to it, but they are all interconnected and are directly relevant to agriculture,” says Dryden. “The biblical keys are not there to be all things pertaining to Christian life but rather to bring an understanding of the gospel as applied to agriculture. [They] unveil the mysteries of why Africa is bound under the yoke of poverty and reveal the godly solutions for breaking this yoke.” Dryden says these biblical keys unlock the potential of the land and its people: The trainers truly love ministering with them, he adds, because they lay the groundwork for the Lord to open the hearts of people to the gospel message. He says many people have been saved at FGW trainings, and they are taking the Lord into everyday working life on the farm and into their homes. “Farming God’s Way is a gospel of both Word and deed,” says Dryden. The trainers at FGW believe that its tools are part of God’s solution for Africa. They operate on the principle that agricultural best practice is nothing more than recognizing the way God made the world to work. “Everything about Farming God’s Way is about bringing God his rightful honor and acknowledgement,” says Dryden. “It’s about modeling our farming practice as closely to God’s creation as we can within a manageable system of production.” Wholeheartedness is the key, says Dryden. “Every wholehearted implementation has been extremely successful.” Altering the biotic life of soil takes time and thus patience. Dickson Shuwali’s results were dramatic, with moisture conservation allowing for the turnaround in yields in the first years and then soil structure, fertility, and living health allowing for even greater improvements afterwards. It requires a longterm commitment to see the full benefit of restoring the land to its original “created state.” Dryden’s desire for these farmers to know Christ is fundamental to his commitment to the work. “We have Muslim farmers doing the technological
The root structure of an average stalk grown in the conventionally plowed and burned plot compares poorly to the average stalk grown in the best levels of soil moisture, temperature, and microbiology provided by “God’s blanket.”
A farmer lays down “God’s blanket,” a layer of organic matter that protects the newly planted seeds.
portions of Farming God’s Way successfully, and that is great. But they hear God’s Word during training times. And the fullness of FGW comes when the Lord enlightens the eyes of a man’s heart, when he has his mind renewed and his land redeemed. That is the abundant life of Christ revealed in the agricultural domain. It’s not about full stomachs that last for a day but rather about the fullness of God’s ways which lead to an eternity with God.” The road to agricultural ministry Before Dryden ever had an inkling about FGW, he wanted to be a marine biologist, but during his second year of compulsory military service in 1989, when he was filling out his application for university, he says the Lord literally stopped him and challenged him to set his dreams aside and wait on God’s will. “Over the next month of a Daniel fast, the Lord completely changed my mind and put a call on my life to teach the poor in the agricultural domain with the skills necessary to come out of poverty,” says Dryden. “So with that noble intention, I got a bachelor of science agriculture honors degree, but in four years, I never learned the relevant skills necessary to teach and serve the poor.” He says his education was clearly geared to speak to those engaged in large-scale commercial farming, despite the fact that there are 850 million small-scale farmers in Africa alone. “It is so typical of the world’s systems,” he says. “The poor are never seen as worth considering, and yet we import over 25 million tons of staple grains into Africa every year, and with that the poor are getting poorer and poorer.” Dryden began growing vegetables for a few seasons after he completed university and became involved in Christian education, where he acquired communication and teaching skills. Several years later he was asked to lead the missions department at Harvest Christian Church in Port Elizabeth. That is when Dryden was truly exposed to the dire conditions that so many were enduring in Africa. “During one mission, we were distributing 50 tons of food as relief to the churches in southern Malawi, and I was traveling with the truck ministering the word and administering the handouts,” he says. “It was really an incredible experience but so bittersweet. The presence of God was so tangible through the ministry, but the desperate feeling of knowing that the food aid would only last three months before the same hunger issues were going to be faced again left me dejected. The other side that was disturbing me was that I was sitting on this huge agricultural knowledge base that I had no idea how to apply.” The following year, in Zimbabwe, Dryden met the founder of Farming God’s Way, Brian Oldreive, and was quick to catch the vision. Oldreive first pioneered the Farming God’s Way technology in Zimbabwe in 1984. Oldreive’s farm had
fallen into a desperate situation conditions, riding a bicycle across Bountiful harvests like these are the goal of FGW, who want to turn Africa’s “begging bowl” into the “breadbasket of the world.” at the time, with increasing costs, borders, sleeping on the floor in declining yields, and frequent a tent in the villages, eating local drought. After a significant failure food, getting sick, contracting caused by an especially intense malaria, and all the while seeing African storm in one of the fields, God’s encouragement in the small Oldreive cried out and asked God beginnings. to show him a better way. Oldreive He doesn’t know exactly how says God began to speak clearly many communities he has worked to him about how creation was to in, but he says a fruitful impact be cared for, and after applying can take years, and Bountiful these principles he saw production Grains Trust has a policy to serve begin to grow and thrive despite a community for five or six years the fact that neighboring farms continuously, so it’s not a “flash-inwere faltering. the-pan, in-and-out training.” Soon after Dryden met Oldreive, he began training in Malawi. He says one Dryden says he doesn’t have to worry about attracting donors. “People evening he clearly remembers God speaking. “I heard God say, ‘You light these love the fact that we are doing our utmost to make a tangible lasting difference fires all over this continent, and I will breathe on them and cause them to spread in people’s lives by teaching them to help themselves with what God has put in like a wildfire which no man will be able to contain.’ What an exciting prospect their hands—no handouts, no incentives, just knowledge that can transform to play a small part in God’s redemptive plan for the poor and the land,” says these people’s lives and their families for the rest of eternity,” he explains. Dryden. “People are tired of giving to relief that is not helping. It’s hindering the His local church integrated FGW principles into almost every mission that poor, as they are just getting poorer and poorer. Our current donors are aware Dryden was involved in as he traveled and trained more than four months each of the fact that handouts and even hand-ups stimulate a culture of dependency, year in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Benin, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Mozambique, Malawi, so instead they like to sow into something that is not associated with depenSouth Africa, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. dency creation, but rather into something that brings freedom and life.” Expanding the vision In 2010 it was decided that creating a Farming God’s Way DVD series would be the best way to move forward. The Bountiful Grains Trust, an NGO founded by Dryden to help support FGW, basically put its whole year’s budget on the line to get the series started, and once again the Lord showed up and enabled them to pay their way. The materials have already been translated into many local languages, and all the resources are now available in English, Portuguese, Swahili, and Chichewa. It is hoped that Sesotho, Xhosa, and French will be added next year. Since the standards of verbal translation are very poor, most translators will interpret rather than translate, and important messages can be lost. So Dryden believes that translating the materials into audiovisual format will ensure that FGW extends far beyond his reach and lifetime. There are now a few thousand DVDs in more than 20 African countries and on other continents as well. The trainer’s reference guide can be downloaded for free from the internet and is accessed about 2,500 times a year. “Besides resource developments, I have also been really committed to developing accredited trainers,” says Dryden. “I noticed very scratchy efforts being done by goodhearted, well-meaning people who didn’t have a clue, and I realized that unless we set a benchmark, Farming God’s Way could come into disrepute.” Accrediting trainers doesn’t happen in a weekend or even a series of sessions and in most cases requires being carried out over a two- to three-year period. “This is not to say that people who take the tool can’t train into communities,” he says. “It just means that accredited trainers are the ones we refer people to and who are able to conduct regional trainings that are advertised through Facebook and the web. Since the inception of the accreditation process in 2010, we have accredited 29 trainers.” Dryden has traveled for weeks on end, training the poor in very extreme
God in the details The trainers at FGW have celebrated many great success stories, but Dryden says one that stands out significantly is the story of a widow in Malawi who had no funds to buy fertilizer and no animals for manure and was too weak to make compost. So she decided to use anthill soil as a part of the third biblical key—understand God’s all-sufficiency. Using the anthill soil, she was able to cultivate maize yields of more than 2 tons per hectare, which is seven times the continental yield average. “It shows me that God is really interested and cares for the widows and looks at their hearts in wanting to align themselves to God’s ways and blesses them abundantly,” says Dryden. Translation efforts continue at FGW, and they hope to reach 1.8 million small-scale farmers in Lesotho. They are trusting God for the translation costs of about US$17,000 for each DVD series, trainer’s reference guide, and field guide. “We are also trusting God for a small 2-hectare model farm in Port Elizabeth to teach the nations about this fantastic resource, as well as create a blueprint for many model farms to emulate. At the same time, we are fully committed to having a decentralized but coordinated approach to extension, so I plan to see many comparative and model farms being put in across the continent to showcase Farming God’s Way to the highest standards.” If things continue as they have, those plans are sure to produce even more harvests of high crops, faithful hearts, and smiles as wide as Dickson Shuwali’s. And each season, as the seeds faithfully planted bring healthy harvests, crops go into the storehouse, and the glory goes to God.
Shannon Sutherland Smith is a writer, editor, and columnist based in Alberta, Canada. She works for several metropolitan daily newspapers as well as magazines and NGOs with a special focus on faith and social justice issues. She is also a wife and a mother of five, working to raise the next generation of antiapathetic Christ followers.
Feeding a Higher Purpose by Matt Rogers
he sign above the door of the restaurant at the corner of Trade and Church says “King’s Kitchen.” The large wooden cross standing watch over the kitchen suggests that the “King” here has a name. King’s Kitchen in Charlotte, N.C., is Jim Noble’s third restaurant. He owns one in WinstonSalem and another in Charleston, S.C. But King’s Kitchen is different from the rest, for here, as the website says, Noble’s “passion for food feeds a higher purpose.” “We started a ministry about 15 years ago called King’s Table,” Noble explains. “We’d get area restaurants to provide food for other ministries serving the poor, and King’s Table would underwrite the costs. The whole thing kept growing, and one day my wife said, ‘This still isn’t enough,’ so we started King’s Kitchen.” The restaurant, which opened in 2010, has
Employee Mike Rozycki whips up a plate of Southern comfort food during the lunch rush. (Photo by Brandon Schauf)
Chef Jim Noble created the King’s Kitchen to feed both body and soul. (Photo by Squire Fox)
a three-pronged approach. “First, we’re a public restaurant,” says Noble. “We focus on being a really good restaurant serving Southern cuisine—fried chicken, mashed sweet potatoes, collard greens, corn bread, etc. Second, we take the proceeds and give back to the community to feed the poor. And third, we offer a program to train and employ folks living on the street here in Charlotte. The people you see working in the kitchen and serving tables—they’re a combination of regular employees we hire through traditional means and men and women off the streets who are learning how to live again.” But it’s more than a job Noble is serving up. The King’s Kitchen Restoration Program is a year-long course that offers Scripture-based principles to help those employees who need to rebuild their lives. Applicants must be willing to attend Bible study every day and serve in some capacity at a church every Sunday. In exchange, the program pays participants to work a full-time job at the restaurant and teaches them financial management and social and leadership skills. “We teach them how to walk in victory, how to see themselves as God sees them,” says Noble. “We’re helping them spiritually to renew their minds with the truth. A lot of these folks have been told that they’re no good, that they don’t count, that they don’t matter. They’ve been told they’re stupid and that they’ll never amount to anything. A lot of them have been told negative things their whole lives, and we’re just trying to encourage them with the Word of God and with what God says about them.” Noble and his wife, Karen, started the program after the restaurant opened and they discovered that providing jobs for the homeless was not enough. “We had people that just came in, got a job, made some money, and then went out and got into trouble again,” he explains. “We started the program to help people change their lives, beginning with how they view themselves, and helping them see themselves as God sees them, so that they can get and keep a job when they leave us and not fall back into trouble.”
The King’s Kitchen gives nonprofit work a whole new flavor
Noble says he and his team are learning as they go because they have so few ministries they can look to as examples. He takes some of his cues from the Dream Center in Los Angeles. “They help 50,000 people each year,” explains Noble, “offering everything from foster care intervention to shelter for survivors of human trafficking. We have the restaurant, and we have the program, but there are some other things we want to do as well to help those folks who are otherwise ignored in Charlotte.” Providing housing is at the top of Noble’s list. “We’re looking to buy some places soon so we can stay with folks going through the program 24/7. Right now, when they’re working at the restaurant and going through the program, they’re on their own for where they spend the night, which leads to problems.” Setbacks, Noble says, include falling back into drug and alcohol addiction and abandoning the program prematurely. “We had one guy who fell off the wagon and had to go back to the local addiction treatment center, which he really didn’t want to do, so now he’s back living at an abandoned carwash. We have another guy who’s living in a tent right now. Yes, there are shelters here in Charlotte, but it’s rough in those places, you know? So, I think the next step is finding housing for the folks going through the program so they have a better shot at truly rebuilding their lives.” What keeps Noble upbeat when the inevitable setbacks occur? First, he reminds himself often that he cannot change people—and certainly not against their wishes. “They have to want it. We all have the right to choose life or death, blessings or curses.” Noble also draws strength from the Bible. “The Word of God is our hope. And that hope is not just weak wishful thinking. The word ‘hope’ in the Bible means an intense, joyful expectation. There is no other source of hope except for the truth. Regardless of what someone has gone through or if they trip in the process of getting better, there’s always hope for them to get their life back together, but it will come through faith in the Word of God. If you don’t know what God’s promises are for you, it’s easy to be full of despair in this world. But if we can instill hope—a joyful expectation of good—in the lives of the people who come to us, then all of this is worth it. We all have been through trouble. My problems may be different from these folks’, but help comes the same way—through faith in God through Jesus Christ and through his words.” And for those times when Noble does get discouraged, he reminds himself that serving the poor is not a suggestion. “It’s a command from God,” he affirms. “We’re all expected to do that, whether it’s easy and successful or not. Sometimes people get hung up on who and what to blame for homelessness, and we end up pointing fingers rather than working to solve the problem. People are homeless because they’re out of money. Now they may be out of money because they spent it all on drugs, but is that worse than the guy who isn’t faithful to his wife but has a great job? The difference between us and a lot of other folks is that a lot of us had a better place to start from. Sometimes the guys on the street started life in poverty. They didn’t start with any kind of cushion at all.” Noble thinks the church, at times busy pointing fingers, has too often shirked its responsibility to the poor and left others to tackle the problem. “I think sometimes the church has allowed the government to take care of the poor, when really it’s the church that’s supposed to have been doing that all along. The churches have within themselves the ability to take care of the poor if members would pay their tithes. If every church in this town adopted one or two homeless people, we could clear the streets. God does not will any man to be in the street. God does not will that any man be sick
A member of the King's Kitchen Restoration Program, Tarrah Clyburn prepares dough for the morning bread bake. “Being able to be in this program and work at the King’s Kitchen has given me a second chance at life,” says Clyburn. “I found my smile again and my heart is at peace.” (Photo by Natalie Stachon)
or lost. But there are sick, and there are lost, and there are people in the street, and so the church is here to help.” In fact, Noble is hoping to partner with other churches and ministries to do just that. “We’re starting to give away more than we make each year, so we’re looking to team up with other groups to further this work.” And even though the restaurant opened in 2010 when the economy in Charlotte, which is heavily invested in the banking industry, was just beginning to rebuild after the housing bust, King’s Kitchen has been able to make money, which, of course, it gives away to charities and churches serving the hungry. “So far,” Noble says, “We’ve been able to turn out about $200,000 a year in food and services.” And the success rate of the King’s Kitchen Restoration Program? “I’ll be able to answer that better after a couple more years. The program is just a little over a year and a half old, so the whole thing is still pretty new.” King’s Kitchen is open Monday through Saturday. Learn more at KingsKitchen.org.
Matt Rogers is a classical music radio host for WDAV in Charlotte, N.C., and the author of Losing God: Clinging to Faith Through Doubt and Depression (InterVarsity, 2008) and When Answers Aren’t Enough: Experiencing God as Good When Life Isn’t (Zondervan, 2008). To find one of Chef Jim Noble’s favorite Southern comfort food recipes, go to PRISMmagazine.org/KingsKitchen.
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“A powerful, engaging book about one of the most urgent challenges facing our nation today. Combining moving stories with solid data, Educating All God’s Children is a ringing challenge to provide quality education for all our children. Excellent.”—Ronald J. Sider
“God’s Good World is a major contribution to the growing literature on a doctrine that has been sadly neglected until recently, but it is charged with hope. Anyone who wants to discover the rich resource that Christian theology provides both the church and our world as we face the acute environmental challenges will be grateful for this timely book.”—Peter Harris
“Educating All God’s Children stands as a justice manifesto on behalf of millions who stand crippled by the epidemic of educational disparity. Nicole Baker Fulgham understands that successful movements in America require the engagement of the followers of Jesus. Accordingly, this book serves as a clarion call for the church of Jesus Christ to rise with a prophetic and moral imperative to reform our public schools.” —Samuel Rodriguez
“Wilson offers a piercing diagnosis of the brokenness of contemporary church, academy, and society. He then offers a beautiful corrective in which Jesus Christ is the telos—the ultimate purpose—for person and community.”—Philip Rolnick
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Bringing affordable nutrition to the nationâ€™s food deserts by Emily A. Dause
when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground … and Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat” (Exod. 16: 14-15). For 40 years, in the form of manna and quail, God provided the wandering Israelites with access to food that was not only satisfying but also nutritionally fortifying. Many Americans today, however, live in poor urban areas that lack access to affordable, nutritious food, particularly fresh produce. Known as “food deserts,” these areas are defined as census tracts where 20 percent of residents qualify as low-income and at least 33 percent of the population live more than a mile from a supermarket or large grocery store. (This definition is for urban areas, which account for approximately 82 percent of food deserts. In a rural area, food deserts include areas where 33 percent of the population lives more than 10 miles from a large grocery store). This definition was developed by the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI), which is a coalition of several government agencies, including the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Economic Research Service (ERS). According to the 2009 ERS Report to Congress on Access to Affordable and Nutritious Food, approximately 11.5 million people (4.1 percent of the US population) are low-income, live in low-income areas, and live more than a mile from a large grocery store. To view the locations of US food deserts, visit ERS. USDA.gov/data-products/food-desert-locator.aspx. One question surfaced repeatedly in the process of researching this article: If people living in “food deserts” do not see the lack of access to fresh food as a problem, is it a problem? After all, most urban residents of low-income areas list several other priority issues—crime, education, unemployment, etc.—before mentioning lack of access to fresh fruits or vegetables, if they mention it at all. Keeping in mind that access to nutritious food is far from the only, much less the most devastating, injustice in our cities, we need to decide whether we believe that (1) nutritious food is a luxury that we can do without or (2) that nutritious food is essential to health and therefore a basic human right. According to the above-mentioned ERS report, diets lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and fresh meat and dairy products can contribute to serious health conditions, including obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. This suggests that access to healthy food, like access to healthcare and education, is indeed a justice issue. In Eat with Joy: Redeeming God’s Gift of Food (IVP, 2013), Rachel Marie Stone asserts that feeding the hungry is not a means to the end of evangelization. Instead, our following Christ’s example of addressing the physical needs of the poor, as when he instructed his disciples to distribute loaves and fishes among the crowd, is inseparable from the good news of the gospel. As Stone explains, “Jesus feeds the multitudes physical bread before telling them that he is the Bread of Life … a gospel that isn’t good news for the people who are poor isn’t the gospel.” But seeking food justice is a complex issue. So many things factor into the problem, especially in urban deserts—from zoning laws and lack of space to high levels of racial segregation and income inequality. Even when grocery stores are present, people in the lowest income brackets often lack access to a vehicle and/or cost-effective public transportation. When nutritious foods are available at smaller neighborhood stores, the higher prices are often prohibitive. To
complicate things further, many urban areas have abundant access to fast food restaurants. (Donald Rose of Tulane University coined the term “food swamp” to describe these areas where affordable, nutritious food is not available, High in sugar and sodium, processed foods (above) are readily available at corner stores in low-income urban but high-calorie, neighborhoods, while healthy fresh produce (below) is scarce. low-nutrient food is readily available at low cost.) The availability of affordable, nutritious food does not guarantee that those most affected will take advantage of the opportunity, whether due to preference or a lack of knowledge about nutrition and/or how to prepare fresh foods. The problem of food access has no single, overarching solution. However, there are people and organizations striving towards justice in food deserts. Having acknowledged the various factors at play, this article attempts to focus on the heart of the matter—the lack of nutritious options in low-income areas. What follows are descriptions of common and creative approaches ranging from individuals to large-scale organizations. You will also find a list of straightforward ideas for personal involvement. Hopefully, one of these stories or ideas will connect with you and invite you into Christ’s call to share the gospel in both word and food. Efforts to increase access to fresh foods typically fall into three categories: (1) growing produce within the food deserts (urban farms); (2) bringing fresh foods into cities to sell at affordable prices (farmers’ markets, sliding-scale community supported agriculture [CSA] shares, pop-up markets); and (3) donating and/or redistributing nutritious foods to charitable organizations and individu-
als living in food deserts. To provide a variety of models, the organizations described below include both local and regional examples. See the sidebar list of nationally recognized organizations on page 34 for information about larger organizations and the resources they offer. Growing produce in food deserts The urban farm movement cuts to the core of food access by establishing farms and gardens within the cities themselves. In addition to making fresh foods available, benefits of this approach include the opportunity for residents to learn about growing their own food and to make a personal connection to the food they eat. Urban gardens also open doors for education about nutrition and food preparation. A multitude of existing urban and community farms can serve as models for new programs. One of the best-known examples is Growing Power (GrowingPower.org), which serves cities in Wisconsin and Illinois. Part of the organization’s mission is to assist new urban farmers in getting started. Another model is the Detroit Earthworks Urban Farm (cskDetroit.org/EWG), which was showcased in the July/August 2011 issue of PRISM. Established in 1997, well before the term “food desert” was widely used, Earthworks is a time-tested example of a network of people working to compensate for the lack of fresh produce in their city. The nonprofit Joshua Farm (JoshuaFarm.wordpress.com) was launched in 2006 on land leased from the school district in Harrisburg, Pa., with a founding purpose of providing employment for inner-city youth. It sells its produce at market stands and through its CSA program, but motivating the city’s lowincome residents to purchase this produce is a complex task, according to farm manager Kirsten Reinford. One way is by offering “working shares,” in which individuals or families commit to volunteer at the farm for a certain number of hours in exchange for produce. Another way is by accepting SNAP (Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps) benefits and other government program vouchers. The farm is also hoping to implement a sliding scale at a future farm stand. Bringing in nutritious food at affordable prices When it is even possible to bring an actual supermarket to a food desert, it is at best a lengthy and complicated task. As such, many food justice activists connect with local farms that agree to bring their produce into the city. Farm stands and farmers’ markets are a common urban venue for selling local produce. The farmers’ markets of Santa Monica, Calif., have been offering quality food to city residents since 1981. Inspired by the efforts of the Interfaith Hunger Coalition, officials of Santa Monica established a network of farmers’ markets to bring quality farmers into the city to sell their produce directly to
A Place at the table A Place at the Table is a new documentary that shows how hunger poses serious economic, social, and cultural implications for our nation, problems that could be eliminated if the American public decides that making healthy food available and affordable is in the best interest of us all. Learn more at MagPictures.com/APlaceattheTable.
What you can do: Simple, practical ways to help bring fresh foods to food deserts ØRedistribute food waste. Most, if not all, grocery stores have produce and other fresh food that is either blemished or unfit for typical customer purchase. Grocery stores simply throw these items away. Ask your local stores to set aside these items for you to pick up. You will need to have proof that the items will be given to nonprofit organizations or have established yourself as a nonprofit. You will also need to find nonprofits that accept perishable items for distribution. (See “Waste Not, Want Not” on page 31.) ØDonate produce. If you have a personal garden, take your leftovers to a local food bank or charity that accepts perishable items. You could also expand your garden or invite neighbors to take part in a community growing effort. (Connect with Plant a Row for the Hungry at GardenWriters.org for more information.) If you live in an area with farms or farmers’ markets, ask for permission to “glean” items left in the fields. ØConnect with a local organization. Make contact with an organization in your area that works with food security. If you are unaware of any near you, check the national websites for suggestions. (See sidebar on page 34.) ØOrganize your church. Churches as institutions can be the basis for a church garden, a food-buying club, or a community kitchen that can serve and connect church members with the community in which they live.
consumers. The city now sponsors four grower-only markets in different areas of the city, open year-round in all weather. All of the markets accept CalFresh (SNAP) benefits, WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) vouchers, and government vouchers for low-income senior citizens. Produce from outside a city can also be sold through a sliding-scale, institution-based, produce-buying club. Mosaic Church of Washington, DC, recently began hosting a specific kind of produce-buying club called a “Fresh Stop.” Mosaic Church partners in this endeavor with the Quixote Center (Quixote. org/Fresh-Stops), an interfaith activist organization founded in the tradition of Catholic social justice. The Fresh Stop’s mission is to make produce available to low-income families. Mosaic Church purchases wholesale produce directly from local organic farms. This transaction is mutually beneficial for the farmers, as it gives them a guaranteed outlet for their produce. To cut down on in-house costs, Mosaic volunteers sort, bag, and bunch the produce. Members of the club purchase equal shares ranging from $12 to $30 depending on their income level. Jeremiah John, coordinator of Mosaic’s
Nationally recognized organizations working to bring justice to food deserts ØWhyHunger (WhyHunger.org) was founded in 1975 as World Hunger Year. Since then, the organization has grown to be the leading supporter of grassroots hunger initiatives. Their website provides a Food Security Learning Center, with a section devoted to food deserts. You can also search their Grassroots Action Network and the database of USDA Community Food Project grantees. Their National Hunger Hotline provides emergency food relief and assists struggling individuals and families to access government benefits, including SNAP and WIC. ØThe Food Trust (TheFoodTrust.org) was founded in Philadelphia in 1992. Although focused on Philadelphia, the organization has become a national model for any city lacking access to nutritious food. Their programs include the Philadelphia Healthy Corner Store Initiative, which provides materials and training to small corner stores about marketing and selling healthy products; the Supermarket Campaign, which works to bring grocery stores to areas that lack them; and inner-city farmers’ markets that accept government assistance vouchers. ØJust Food (JustFood.org) has been working since 1995 in New York City, the most populated US city, to connect communities and local farms and bring fresh food to all of the city’s neighborhoods. The group hosts an annual conference to discuss a variety of food issues, including mobilization of justice efforts. ØHealthy Corner Stores Network (HealthyCornerStores.org), led by three national organizations, provides information about community programs across the country that are working towards providing healthy and affordable food at existing corner stores. Their website includes resources for starting healthy food initiatives as well as contact information for program consultants. ØMarket Makeovers (MarketMakeovers.org) is a website led by the privately funded Healthy Eating Active Communities (HEAC) and Public Matters (a group of media professionals and educators). It showcases the before, during, and after phases of planning and implementing a “makeover” of stores in the South Los Angeles food desert. Emphasizing youth involvement, the site creatively presents straightforward information about their model by featuring involved youth in YouTube videos.
Fresh Stop program, sees the sliding scale as an expression of scriptural hospitality and the eucharistic truth that everyone is equal at the Communion table. John believes that participation in a eucharistic alternative economy can spiritually form individuals towards the practice of caring for one’s neighbor and caring for God’s creation. In collaboration with New Roots in Kentucky, the program that pioneered the Fresh Stop model, John is currently chronicling Fresh Stop’s procedures to serve as a model for others. Pop-up markets are a particularly unique way to bring fresh food into the cities. Essentially a mobile grocery store, these “markets on wheels” are trucks or buses filled with perishable products from local grocery stores. Freshmobile (MarketonWheels.com) in Madison, Wisc., is an example of one successful initiative. A nonprofit started by a local grocery store owner, the Freshmobile visits eight of Madison’s produce-lacking neighborhoods on a weekly basis. The mobile accepts WIC and SNAP benefits. Donating and redistributing fresh foods Although food banks provide valuable nourishment to people in need, most are equipped to accept, store, and distribute only nonperishables. A handful of food banks, such as the Southern Arizona Community Food Bank (CommunityFoodBank.com) based in Tuscon, Ariz., have established their own farms. Others will accept produce from farmers and gardeners through organizations like Plant a Row for the Hungry (GardenWriters.org). Marvin Ford of Washington, DC, came up with a creative approach, ingenious in its simplicity. He discovered that farmers and stores alike are forced to waste perfectly good produce and other fresh food they cannot sell because of harmless blemishes. In response, Ford founded the nonprofit Out of the Box and partnered with a Whole Foods store. Several times a week, he picks up
unwanted produce and breads and, transporting the items in his own car, redistributes them to organizations like Martha’s Table, DC Central Kitchen, Bread for the City, and women’s shelters. When possible, he also brings portions to individuals he knows are in need. Marvin especially enjoys the fact that the food he brings is truly good for the recipients—not only nutritious, but also natural and high quality—the same food that he eats. There is no one right way to improve food access, just as there is no typical story of those doing good work in food deserts. None of the people interviewed for this article consciously set out to “combat” the food deserts issue. Kirsten Reinford of Joshua Farm simply wanted to garden in her urban neighborhood, found an unused field owned by a school district, and happened to cross paths with a nonprofit focused on employment of at-risk youth. Marvin Ford of Out of the Box was looking for apples to juice and realized just how much perfectly good produce is discarded because of harmless imperfections while so many go without. Jeremy John of Fresh Stop experienced the equalizing nature of sharing food while participating in an Occupy movement. Regardless of how we come to the issue of food justice, our calling as believers to feed the hungry is the same. Perhaps Marvin Ford summed it up best. When asked how his faith drives his commitment to redistributing fresh foods, he explained that he simply asks himself, “Am I my brother’s keeper? And the answer to that is yes.”
Emily A. Dause is a full-time public school teacher and an emerging freelance writer. She hopes to use her writing to challenge and encourage believers and educators as they engage with the world around them. Check out her blog at sliversofhope.blogspot.com.
All images here courtesy of DIVEthefilm.com
Waste Not, Want Not
American anomaly. We lament the disappearance of Twinkies, but we also diet and obsess over whether a particular food is “healthy” or not. But whether we’re dieting or indulging, one thing is clear: We don’t value food the way it deserves to be valued. The great distance between the farm and our kitchen table, our disconnection from the soil that requires tending and the fresh products that require harvesting—these enable our unhealthy lack of appreciation for the food that sustains us. We’re aware that somewhere in the world children’s bellies swell with hunger and people die of starvation, but we perceive these to be far-off places and situations we can do nothing about. One result of this dysfunctional relationship with food is the staggering amount of food that is wasted every day. As much as 40 percent of all food produced in the US—approximately 100 billion pounds of food each year—goes uneaten and rots in landfills. Each year in Europe and the US almost 2,000 pounds of food are produced for each person, but over 600 of those are discarded between the farm and the consumer’s table. In 2010 alone, Americans wasted close to 34 million tons of food, enough to fill the Empire State Building 91 times. Two billion people could be fed with the amount that this nation alone throws away each year. On an individual basis, the average American consumer wastes 10 times the amount of a person living in Southeast Asia and 50 percent more than Americans did just 40 years ago. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that the food wasted by consumers in
The shocking reality of food waste in the industrialized world by Halee Gray Scott
he history of my relationship with food reads like a bad romance. There are times I’ve adored it, like when our family would gather around my great-grandmother’s table weighted down with heaping mounds of creamy mashed potatoes, roasted corn on the cob, and platters of Southern-fried chicken or when I encountered the strawberry-stuffed crepes served up at Jean-Philippe Patisserie in the lobby of the Bellagio in Las Vegas, Nev. But most of the time, food has been the enemy, my relationship with it warped because of an eating disorder that stretched across the span of a whole decade—from the painful adolescent years of junior high to my soul-searching early 20s. Though my experience is admittedly extreme, it’s by no means an
Two billion people could be fed with the amount that this nation alone throws away each year. industrialized countries (222 million tons) is almost equal to the total net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tons). Meanwhile, food shortage isn’t just a problem for those who live in far-off places. In the US, more than one out of five children—almost 17 million children under the age of 18—live with food insecurity every day. This means they’re not sure where their next meal will come from and often have to skip meals or go a day without eating. High unemployment since the 2008-2009 recession has driven up enrollment in SNAP (food stamps), bringing it to almost 48 million people by the end of last year. In a report issued by the Department of Agriculture, 97 percent of those surveyed said that they ate less or skipped a meal since the recession, and 91 percent said they ran short of food often throughout the year. Food waste isn’t just an issue of distribution in which some have food in abundance while others have little; it’s also an environmental issue. Getting food to consumers makes up 10 percent of the US enDIVE! is a documentary by Jeremy Seifert that reveals how America ergy budget and uses throws away billions of pounds of 50 percent of our land food a year. Follow him and his friends and 80 percent of as they “dumpster dive” in the back freshwater consumed alleys and gated garbage receptacles in the US. This means of Los Angeles supermarkets. In the process, they uncover thousands of that 40 percent of all dollars’ worth of good food — as those resources are well as the ugly fact that grocery wasted, in addition to stores know they are wasting and the waste in energy most refuse to do anything about and the large amounts it. A call to action to help distribute perfectly good food that will otherwise of unnecessary chemigo into the dumpster. Learn more at cals released into the DIVEthefilm.com. environment. Food waste accounts for 25 percent of freshwater
Grocery stores dispose of tons of fresh food that is blemished or close to expiration date but still perfectly edible.
consumption and more than 300 million barrels of oil each year. Further, decomposing food waste emits methane and carbon dioxide, greenhouse gasses that some believe contribute to climate change. Methane is 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, and the amount emitted from food waste rotting in landfills accounts for 25 percent of US methane emissions. Food waste is a deeply moral and theological problem. At least on the consumer level and possibly even on the corporate level, food waste is born of the sin of gluttony. Back when I was a little girl, my grandparents would take me to the Mexi-Teria, a restaurant that served up delicious Tex-Mex food, cafeteria-style. As we would move past the selections, I would always pick out more than I could eat. As he paid the bill, my grandpa would always say, “Halee, your eyes are bigger than your stomach!” He was right—I never finished all my food. That, in a nutshell, is what’s happening in homes across the country—we buy far more—40 percent more—than we can possibly eat. Since we purchase the food, the demand is there, so production continues at those levels. Christians can and should model good stewardship of our resources by analyzing the food they actually eat and making purchases consistent with their level of consumption. There are ways to go even further, such as contacting your local grocer to see what’s being done with leftover food. Food pantries can be stocked with the overabundance of food from individual homes, local restaurants, and grocery stores. The end of food waste begins with a theologically accurate perception of the value of food and what God intended it to be. We’ve got to lay aside our inaccurate ideas about food—food as the enemy, food as an idol—and embrace it thankfully as a God-given source of energy from which to live well. (Editor’s note: Go to PRISMmagazine.org/endnotes to view sources for statistics cited here.)
Halee Gray Scott is an author, scholar, and researcher. Her research and teaching focuses on theology, spiritual formation, and leadership. Her book, Dare Mighty Things: Mapping the Challenges of Leadership for Christian Women, is due out next year from Zondervan.
follow. jesus. july 13-14
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Conversations include: § Kristyn Komarnicki and Tiffany Lubben: Sex For Sale § Adam Taylor: Faith-Based Advocacy § Ben Lowe: Christian Discipleship and the Challenge of Creation Care § Kathy Khang: Developing Multi-Generational, Multi-Cultural Partnerships in Kingdom Work § Tarek Abuata: From Jesus and MLK to You: NonViolence in Your Wallet § Lisa Sharon Harper: Faith in Action for Immigration Reform § Tom Sine: Re-Imagining Life and Mission in Turbulent Times § Mae Cannon: Pursuing Peace with Justice in Israel and Palestine § Sharon Gramby-Sobukwe: How to Work for Economic Justice through Politics § John Franke: Living God’s Love: The Practice of Missional Community in a Postmodern World § Bonnie Camarda: Holistic Ministry in the Inner City § Heidi Unruh: Abortion – Changing Views and Public Policy § Harold Dean Trulear: Prison Ministry § Stephen Mott: The Biblical Understanding of Power and Community Organizing § Jan Johnson: Growing Compassionate Kids § Soong-Chan Rah: Multiculturalism and Reconciliation in the Church § Michael Lindsey: ESA and Evangelicalism in the Last 40 Years, and Why it Matters Now § Lisa Sharon Harper, Adam Taylor, David Gushee, Soong-Chan Rah, and Janell Anema: Looking to the Future: Challenges and Opportunities for Jesus Followers § Shane Claiborne and Mimi Haddad: Our Vision for Faithful Discipleship
Beautiful Minds On the importance of nurturing virtuous intellectual character by Philip E. Dow
"Environ/Mental" by Titus Toledo (TitusToledo.redbubble.com)
ometimes, when I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things, ... I am tempted to think … that there are no little things. — Bruce Barton1
Allegiance to the truth often appears to end where self-interest or the pursuit of pleasure begins.
In 1521 a devout Catholic priest risked his life because of his allegiance to the truth. Armed with little more than the strength of his convictions and a habit of courageous thinking, Martin Luther stood before some of the most powerful men in the world and refused to recant his beliefs, stating, “Unless I am convinced by scripture and plain reason, … I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. So help me God.”2 Less than a hundred years later, an impoverished young math teacher, fueled by a desire to understand God’s universe, began to carefully investigate claims about the cosmos that contradicted the conclusions of much of the scientific community—not to mention the current religious orthodoxy, common sense, and 2,000 years of tradition. Johannes Kepler’s spiritually inspired willingness to consider the evidence fairly and carefully led him to the conclusion that the earth was not the center of the solar system but, in fact, revolved elliptically around the sun.3 This breakthrough, and others by the young Lutheran mathematician, provided the foundation for Newton’s theory of gravity and a host of additional scientific discoveries and unleashed untold numbers of inventions and advances that have transformed our lives for the better. Yet another 150 years later, a small and sickly British parliamentarian, convinced that God had created all people in his image, helped initiate a campaign to end slavery that would last almost 50 years and put him regularly at odds with some of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the British Empire. Dismissed and ridiculed as a religious enthusiast, William Wilberforce responded by earnestly applying his mind to the issue. He read everything there was to read on slavery, actively sought out former slaves and other firsthand witnesses of the trade, and carefully evaluated the mounting body of circumstantial evidence he had accumulated. So thoroughly did he come to understand the issue that, without the aid of notes, Wilberforce regularly produced before Parliament rigorously detailed and carefully reasoned speeches lasting for hours at a time. In an age when oratory was judged by substance as well as style, Wilberforce’s arguments against slavery were considered unsurpassed. If the young parliamentarian’s strength was an honest and careful mind, his thinking was no less tenacious, for it took 20 years of constant labor before the first real breakthrough occurred and another 26 years, just three days prior to his death in 1833, before the practice of slavery was entirely abolished in the British Empire.4 Each of these men risked his life, overcame tremendous odds, and battled through deep personal disappointments because he believed that pursuing the truth was inseparable from his Christian faith. They all believed their minds were a sacred gift, to be developed and used in the service of their neighbor and to the glory of God. Posterity remembers these men, and we admire them, not because of a single virtuous thought or act but because their passion for the truth had, over time, produced in them a set of admirable thinking habits—habits that led them to the wise insights, breathtaking discoveries, and cultural reforms that transformed their lives, the lives of those around them and, ultimately, the course of history itself. Casting our eyes about our communities today, we might be forgiven for asking where all the Luthers, Keplers, and Wilberforces have gone. It is not as though breakthroughs have ceased to occur or that moral reformers have disappeared, but when we honestly evaluate the thinking habits of our culture, the
dominant impression we get is not a pleasant one. Whether it is in the slippery words and deeds of our politicians, the ethical vacuum that is our popular media, or the deceptive advertising and marketing strategies employed by our businesses, instead of thinking that is honest, careful, courageous, and fair-minded, what we find is rampant dishonesty, carelessness, cowardice, and bias. Of course, we are not shocked by the deceit of our political and cultural leaders, and why should we be? The newspaper headlines are only the natural outcome of the same cancer that we see eating away at our local communities, families, and individual lives. It seems that in our communities the allegiance to the truth often appears to end where self-interest or the pursuit of pleasure begins. Recent polls, for instance, indicate that almost two-thirds of American students cheat on exams—a form of intellectual deceit that all too easily spills over into our relationships, as evidenced in other studies that suggest that as many as half of Americans will cheat on their partners.5 It is easy enough to point an accusing finger at anonymous statistics like these, but when we take a brutally honest look at our own lives, we see the same dynamics at work. We may not cook the books or lie under oath, but our thinking habits reflect the same patterns we condemn in our leaders. The consequences may not seem as dramatic, but the subtle habits of deception that we nurture out of the glare of the public spotlight nevertheless carry consequences that are just as painful. There are all kinds of reasons for this apparently widespread loss of virtue, but at its core the crisis is rooted in our thinking habits. By that I don’t mean that we have somehow become less intelligent or even that our education system is falling apart. The problem is deeper than that. The crisis is at the very center. It is a crisis of what some are now calling “intellectual character.”6 What is intellectual character? When we think of character, we usually think of moral character—that is, we think of moral habits that have been repeated so often that they have become inseparable from who we are. Our intellectual character influences our lives just as moral character does, and with at least as much force. The only difference is that intellectual character is concerned not with our actions as much as it is with the thinking habits we are developing as we seek and use knowledge. Put another way, intellectual character is the force of accumulated thinking habits that shape and color every decision we make. Because our minds tend to lead our actions, in a very real sense the quality of our intellectual character even trumps moral character in terms of its power to direct the course of our lives. Take a minute to consider the influence of intellectual character on our decision-making process. We tend to think of our choices as isolated moments of decision in which we reason through the pros and cons before making the best choice we can based on the information that we have. In reality most of the choices we make are not the result of conscious and deliberate reasoning. Whether it is a product of the flood of mental distractions and the frenetic busyness of our modern lives or simply exhaustion, we end up making most of our choices on mental autopilot. We don’t reason so much as react, and in this haste we are usually forced to rely on the mental ruts our thinking patterns have produced. These mental ruts are our intellectual character. If we have trained our minds in the direction of good thinking habits, our mental autopilots will generally produce good choices, and good choices generally produce good outcomes. If we have not actively sought to develop the character of our minds, then the prognosis is less encouraging. If these little decisions never amounted to much, it wouldn’t really matter, but the problem is that in the accumulation of these little choices the trajectory of our lives is set. In other words, the quality of our mental autopilots matters a great deal.
But our intellectual character does not just influence the multitude of small, everyday choices that fly under our mental radar. Whether we are aware of it or not, the big decisions that command our attention in a much more deliberate way are equally shaped by the thinking patterns we have developed over the years. Let’s say I am deciding whether to buy my first house. Over the years, if I had not been practicing virtuous thinking habits such as tenacity (a determination to keep after an idea until I have understood it), carefulness (an insistence on ensuring that important details are not missed), or courage (a willingness to ask questions even when it betrays my ignorance and injures my pride), I would walk into the real estate office with none of the information or intellectual tools I would need to make a wise decision. At that moment I could commit myself to thinking as hard as I possibly could, but the intellectual capital just wouldn’t be there. In that way, intellectual character is like a bank that we can invest in or withdraw from. Every choice we make to train and improve our minds is another dollar in the bank. Every time we decide to be lazy or flippant in our thinking we are taking another dollar out. When we come to make big decisions in life, we want to find an account overflowing with intellectual capital, not one long overdrawn.7 The power of intellectual character to transform every part of our lives should not come as a surprise to Christians. When Paul was urging the believers in Rome toward radical Christian transformation, he said that if they really wanted to be different, if they wanted to stand out as models of Christlikeness, then they needed to start with the renewing of their minds. And why? Because Paul understood that, for good or ill, the habits of our minds trickle down into every part of our lives—from our spiritual lives to our marriages and from our jobs to our recreation. It was because of this that the writer of Proverbs pleaded, “Though it cost all you have, get understanding. Cherish her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you” (Prov. 4:7-8). The development of intellectual character is one of the most important and life-changing quests anyone can embark on. But as the very heart of Jesus’ command is to love God with all our minds, the pursuit of intellectual character is particularly important to Christians. My hope is that every Christian would take up the challenge of becoming transformed by the renewing of our minds.8 The seven intellectual virtues The most important intellectual character traits—possessed by those who earnestly want to know truth—are courage, tenacity, carefulness, curiosity, fairmindedness, honesty, and humility. Here I’ll define each of these briefly. Tenacity: Those who are intellectually tenacious are not willing to give up when they find an idea difficult or boring. They are determined to fight through the difficulty in order to gain a deeper understanding. Curiosity: Those who are intellectually curious are not satisfied with easy and simplistic answers but have a desire to understand what makes it all work— at the foundational level. The intellectually curious person regularly asks questions and actively seeks out and participates in discussions with other demanding minds. Honesty: Those who are intellectually honest consider everything in an unbiased way. If they come to an issue with a preconceived view, they don’t tune someone else out simply because that person’s view contradicts their own. Instead they listen attentively and reconsider their own views in light of the new information. Courage: Those who are intellectually courageous take risks in the pursuit of truth. They are willing to reconsider their own beliefs, even if this scares them. But once they have done so and come to a belief about what is true, they are willing to stick to their guns, even if the majority mocks or threatens them. The intellectually courageous person is willing to take risks in the pursuit of excellence
Intellectual character is the force of accumulated thinking habits that shape and color every part of our lives—from our spiritual lives to our marriages and from our jobs to our recreation. and truth. Carefulness: Those who are intellectually careful make sure not to rush to hasty conclusions based on limited evidence but instead are patient and diligent, careful that they do not overlook important details. Humility: Those who are intellectually humble recognize that they are both sinful and capable of being in error, that they are finite and thus cannot possibly know all things. As a result, they actually rejoice when they are proved wrong because it means they have grown in their understanding of God’s truth. In short, intellectually humble people are subservient to truth, not the other way around. The practical result is that they consistently demonstrate concern for those around them, treating them with respect and dignity in how they ask questions and in how they accept critiques of their own work and thinking. Autonomy: Those who are intellectually autonomous take full responsibility for their own learning. While they value the input of others, they do not lean on the efforts of others to complete their work or prop up their thinking. Intellectually autonomous people understand that for knowledge to be theirs they have to be the primary agent in the process. Thinking sheepishly? On a magically white Christmas in 1981, I was given my first Walkman and a cassette tape—The Keith Green Collection. Of the many powerful songs on that tape, the one that stood out to me as an 11-year-old boy was “The Sheep and the Goats.” In this song, Green recounts the New Testament parable of the final judgment in which those who will spend eternity with God (the sheep) are separated from those who will be eternally apart from God (the goats). Green’s closing words still ring in my ears, “The only difference between the sheep and the goats, according to Scriptures, is what they did and didn’t do.”9 It was a musical prophet’s powerful call for Christians to live out the faith they claimed to have. I was inspired then, and I am inspired now. But today I am moved for a slightly different reason. I have read and reread that passage in Matthew 25 many times since that day and have become convinced that while Keith Green was technically accurate, he missed the central point Jesus was making. My scholarly friends tell me that the point of many parables is wrapped up in a surprise, and the surprise of this story is not who is rewarded and who is punished but how they both respond to the judgment. The sheep and the goats are both genuinely mystified. When God recounts the things they did that earned them their eternal reward, the confused sheep ask, “When did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?” (v. 37). The response of the goats is no different, “But
when did we see you … a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?” (v. 44). I always found their confusion curious until I figured out that their confusion was the point. It was the surprise. What separated the sheep and the goats was not just what they did, but who they had become. The sheep were mystified because they had become the sort of people who naturally did the good and loving thing—it was second nature to them. They represent people whose very core has been transformed and whose character has become a reflection of God’s heart. The sheep were rewarded with heaven not because they did good but because they had become good. At this point the parable takes another interesting twist that further emphasizes Jesus’ concern with our character. In responding to the confusion of the sheep and the goats, God says, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these, … you did for me” (vs. 40, 45). Did God say this because he loves the poor more than the rich? No, Scripture is clear that while God has a special concern for the needy, he loves all people equally and immeasurably. So why does God stress actions done to “the least of these”? The German thinker Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is widely held to have said, “You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.”10 Could it be that our actions toward the poor, the unattractive, and the powerless are a test of who we really are—at our core? I think that is exactly what Jesus is driving at in this parable. The sheep are rewarded not only because they did good deeds, even good deeds done to the neediest. They are rewarded because they had become the type of people from whom good deeds naturally flow—in all circumstances and toward all people. They had become people whose character reflected the character of God. In the same way, when Jesus commands us to love God with all our minds, he is not primarily concerned with the external results of our thinking. His concern is much more fundamental. He wants us to grow into being a certain type of people—people whose thinking habits have become so good and so deeply ingrained that all our choices, both big and small, reflect his character and the pursuit of his truth. Like the sheep, whose moral character had been so completely transformed that they naturally, almost unconsciously, did the good and loving thing, the call to love God with our minds is first and foremost about the transformation of the character of our minds. We are not given a choice about whether we will develop intellectual character. Every day we all make hundreds of choices that build momentum toward either good or bad intellectual character. In that sense, intellectual character is simply a given. It is something we all have and something we are all in the process of developing. However, we do play an important role in determining what kind of character we will develop. The quest for intellectual character will not be quick and painless. Nothing worth its salt ever is. It will require the grueling task of replacing our many bad habits with healthy new ones. It will require the work of the Holy Spirit. And, it will require a lifetime’s worth of perseverance. But as we are slowly transformed into being people of virtuous intellectual character, the fruits of this internal revolution will naturally pour into every area of our lives. Philip Brooks once wrote, “Some day, in the years to come, you will be wrestling with the great temptation, or trembling under the great sorrow of your life. But the real struggle is here, now. … Now it is being decided whether, in the day of your supreme sorrow or temptation, you shall miserably fail or gloriously conquer.”11 In other words, it is the multitude of little decisions that will shape our destinies. That is where our thinking habits are formed. And that is where the battle for our intellectual character needs to begin. (Editor’s note: Due to space limitations, the endnotes for this article have been posted at PRISMmagazine.org/endnotes.)
Philip E. Dow is superintendent of Rosslyn Academy in Nairobi, Kenya. He has over a decade of classroom experience, teaching advanced courses in social studies and history at the high school level and is the author of School in the Clouds: The Rift Valley Academy Story (William Carey Library Pub, 2004). This article is adapted from Virtuous Minds by Philip E. Dow. Copyright(c) 2013 by Philip E. Dow. Used by kind permission of InterVarsity Press, PO Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515 (IVPress.com).
OVERHEARD The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking. —Albert Einstein Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers. —Voltaire If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort, you will not get either comfort or truth, only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair. —C. S. Lewis
The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled. —Plutarch Tis the business of little minds to shrink, but they whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves their conduct, will pursue their principles unto death. —Leonardo da Vinci
He who begins by loving Christianity better than truth, will proceed by loving his own sect or church better than Christianity, and end in loving himself better than all. —Samuel Taylor Coleridge "Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving." — Frederick Buechner It occurs to me it is not so much the aim of the devil to lure me with evil as it is to preoccupy me with the meaningless. —Donald Miller Knowledge is indispensable to Christian life and service. If we do not use the mind that God has given us, we condemn ourselves to spiritual superficiality and cut ourselves off from many of the riches of God’s grace. —John Stott
What happens when restorative justice principles are applied to Christian communities?
Compassionate confrontation” was the term Dave Clark used to describe the style I use with the women at Perpetual Help Home, where I serve as director. Dave, who works with the Christian Community Development Association, toured our facility last year and heard the dramatic stories of three residents who are active in our Center for Peace. The center manages numerous ministries in which the women, many of them ex-offenders, give back to the community, especially in the area of restorative justice. Sophie was one of those who spoke that day, and it was my interaction with her that led Dave to coin the phrase. When the youngest of Sophie's four sons was 14 years old, she and her husband got a divorce, and in her depression she turned to crack cocaine. Her addiction was instant, and she began a dark journey that ended in a very public arrest. As she shared her story, she said, “I just wish people would look past my mistake and see that I am human.” The frustration in her voice bordered on anger. As she tried to continue her story, I interrupted and said, “It was a crime, not a mistake.” Sophie acknowledged that she had committed a crime that had sent her to prison. What she meant was that her mistake was when she started using drugs. I repeated, “It was not a mistake. It was a crime. The purchase of crack is a crime.” I felt it was important that Sophie understood the fact that she was minimizing her behavior—behavior that had caused her to plummet into addiction, prison, and poverty. Realizing the truth, she nodded. It was an awkward and blunt conversation, but part of my job is to bring up tough subjects. Sophie knew that I loved her and was deeply invested in her recovery. When Sophie finished, Dave said, “For most people reconciliation is an option, but here at Perpetual Help Home, reconciliation is a mandate! You are also not afraid to use compassionate confrontation to help people see the truth.”
by Cheryl Miller The meeting ended, but I kept turning the terms “mandated reconciliation” and “compassionate confrontation” over in my mind. Was this really a good way to describe what we do? I intentionally weave the concepts of restorative justice into the fabric and personality of Perpetual Help Home. Infusing restorative justice principles into everything we do has increased and sped up reconciliation and transformation in our women’s lives. The women of Perpetual Help Home know that it is the heart of our ministry. Restorative justice puts a face on crime. Personal accountability to repair the harm they caused to others is the first step in the process. For some reason, I could not get past the comments Sophie had made about her “mistake.” By minimizing and justifying her actions, she was showing a lack of accountability. Sophie was not just a homeless woman in poverty. She had played a role in her situation. Restorative justice processes promote personal accountability, and without it reconciliation is very difficult to achieve. The next day I pulled Sophie aside to address her excuses. Sophie seethed with anger. Her greatest sorrow was that her behaviors had estranged her from her sons, and she was adamant that I understand how devastating this was for her. I acknowledged her pain, but pain did not erase the need to take responsibility for what she had done. Still Sophie continued to minimize her role. Finally I said, “Sophie, I just wonder if God is not allowing you to reconcile with your sons in order to protect them from your excuses!”
Blossoms by Tamara Madden (TamaraNatalieMadden.com)
Sophie was enraged. “I can admit the truth to you and other addicts but not to….” “…to the people you hurt?” I asked. Sophie began to cry. Standing in the warm sun, I gave Sophie a hug. Again I told her I really felt that God might be blocking an attempt at reconciliation until she was willing to take full responsibility for her actions. She had to be accountable to the people she had hurt. “Just think of one or two people in your hometown
whom you can go to and make things right,” I said. Immediately Sophie said, “I know where to start. I took money from a man who owned a local store. I knew he was struggling.” In her addiction, it had been easy to ignore his needs. But now it was not. She dropped her eyes and said, “I am so ashamed.” “Is it time for you to go back and talk to that man?” I asked. Sophie began to tremble. It was one thing to talk about it, but another thing to do it. “Sophie, are you ready to make things right?”
That night I questioned my stern words to Sophie. I thought about the term “compassionate confrontation.” Had I pushed her too hard? Sophie’s reaction made me second-guess my methods. The next morning I asked Sophie what she had decided. “I just need to go,” she replied. Then she began to tremble again. “Sophie, it was for the joy set before him that Christ endured the cross. He saw past the shame and pain of his death to the people he would save in the future. Maybe you were the joy he saw.” If Sophie could face her fears and shame, she might see joy on the other side of her pain. The trip was set for the next afternoon. Sophie had hoped to wait until the following week, but my schedule was booked so that was not an option if I was to go along. Sophie decided to take $500 from her savings to give to the storeowner. This was a personal decision. Five hundred dollars was almost a third of the money she had worked hard to save for the last 10 months. It was also the exact amount of the hot check she had written to him years before. We talked as we drove. Because of my background as a restorative justice mediator, I thought it would be a good idea if we role-played some different scenarios as we drove. “What will you do if he gets angry?” I asked. “What will you do if he tells you to leave or refuses to take the money?” Sophie laughed, “There is no way that will happen! He will take the money.” During the drive she also talked about her four sons. Three were successful professionals, and the youngest was in college. She had contact with two of them, but the other two would have nothing to do with her. She hadn’t spoken to them in years. Someone in her family had told her that her oldest, Joseph, hated her. She was ashamed. We drove past places familiar to Sophie—places she had worked, her former house, and her ex-husband’s home. She hadn't expected anyone to be home at that last location, but his car was there and someone was on the porch. We drove on to complete the task at hand. When we arrived at the store, there were no customers and the owner was outside checking the gas pumps. Sophie trembled noticeably. She swung open the car door and got out. “Do you remember me?” she asked. The man squinted into her face for a long time. Finally he said slowly, “Yes, I believe I do.” “I want to pay you back for the hot check I wrote you when I was doing drugs before I went to prison.” “Didn’t you make restitution?” “No. I was ordered to, but I never paid any money. I just sat it out in jail.” The man looked into Sophie’s eyes but wouldn’t accept the money. Remembering our rehearsal in the car, Sophie continued to insist. “How about you put it in God’s offering plate?” he asked. “Will you make it an offering at your church?” Sophie suggested. “Well, I guess I could do that,” he admitted. After Sophie handed the money to him, they began talking about old times, neighbors, and family members. Sophie looked pleased when he told her how good she looked. Finally he asked, “Why are you doing this? You served your time.” “It’s just right. It has been a burden for so long. I had to do it.” As we drove away, Sophie’s trembling changed to giggling. She giggled like a schoolgirl. Sophie had faced her shame, and the reward was kindness from the one she had harmed. We were both so relieved. Sophie’s joy was proof that compassionate confrontation was the right thing to do after all. As we headed out of town, I had an idea. “Let’s drive by your exhusband’s house again,” I suggested. Sophie wasn’t sure about that, but for
some reason I had an urge to go back. She finally agreed. When we arrived, the person we had seen earlier was still on the porch. Sophie whispered, “It’s Joseph, my son! I have to stop!” As she got out of the car, he glanced up. “Hi, Joseph,” she said. Unsure at first, he finally recognized her and said, “Hi, Mom.” Then he smiled. “I could really use a hug, Joseph.” He raised arms, which were covered in car grease, to show his mother why he couldn’t hug her. He had been working on his car, but Sophie walked right into those open greasy arms. “How are your brothers?” she asked. “Thomas is in the house,” said Joseph. Thomas came out with a bewildered look on his face. Sophie opened her arms to him, and he hugged her. Both of the sons Sophie had not spoken to in years were standing on the porch and smiling. Thomas smiled and said, “I love you, Mom, but I am just not sure what to say.” “Awkward” was the best word to describe the conversation. Sophie understood and graciously retreated. “I love you both,” she stated. Both young men replied, “We love you, too.” The moment Sophie heard those words, her world changed. All the way home she and I marveled at the miracle of reconciliation that had happened. Sophie had yearned for the love of her boys, and today she had heard the words, “I love you, Mom.” The goal of the trip had not been reconciliation with her sons. It had been about personal accountability and making things right with someone else she had harmed. She had gone home voluntarily to make restitution for a crime she had committed years ago, a debt that the State of Texas considered paid. Obedience had led Sophie back to the scene of her crime, and the reward had been phenomenal. The shame was gone. The sorrow of losing her sons’ love had begun to heal. Joseph and Thomas, the two sons who had hated her and not spoken to her, on this day had smiled at their mother, hugged her, and told her they loved her. How had God pulled this off? Though these two sons did not live in that town, they were in town on the same day and time that Sophie and I drove by. We had thought that my schedule had dictated the day, but now we knew it had been God! We were so amazed that all we could say for the next 10 minutes were things like “Wow!” and “That was so amazing!” We recognized that we had just been standing on holy ground. God had allowed me to be present as he demonstrated the gospel to Sophie and her sons by working a miracle of reconciliation for them. Do principles of restorative justice and Christian community development need to be intertwined? Sophie and I think they do. Is compassionate confrontation a good thing? On Sophie’s day it was. Should reconciliation be mandated in ministry? Ask Sophie. As we giggled and cried on the way home, I asked Sophie where she was on the shame meter. “Yesterday’s shame is today’s glory," she replied. “Amen, sister! Amen!” Learn more at PerpetualHelpHome.com.
Cheryl Miller is the author of The Language of Shalom: Seven Keys to Practical Reconciliation (Quantum Circles Press, 2012; foreword by John M. Perkins), from which this article was adapted.
Born in the Philippines but having grown up in America, I have lost much of what it means to be distinctly Filipino. I did return to spend the better part of the 1990s as a community development missionary and while there rediscovered some of my ethnic heritage. Still, I am probably more American than I care to admit—what they call a coconut: brown on the outside, white on the inside. But there is a Filipino trait that I seem to have retained, a trait taught to us in language/ culture school during our first year in the Philippines as “SIR”—the desire for and the capacity to achieve “smooth interpersonal relationships.” Tangible characteristics of this trait would include laughing one’s way out of an awkward situation; resolving conflict through negotiation as opposed to confrontation; liking everyone (or at least pretending to in some cases); making sure other people’s needs are being met; and viewing loud, brash, self-promoting, confrontational people with disdain (with a smile, of course). Now, this is not to say that I’ve never gotten angry (just ask my kids) or that I’ve never confronted anyone (just ask a few members of churches I’ve served). But for the most part, SIR seems to be a part of my nature. At its worst, SIR can devolve into acquiescence, conflict avoidance, a tendency toward being taken advantage of, and an unhealthy need to be liked by all. At its best, SIR can provide the capacity to adjust to diverse situations and contexts, to endure hardship and struggle without too much complaining, and to serve as a bridge between conflicting parties. For better or for worse, my personality embodies both the negatives and the positives of SIR.
In light of God’s outrageously big love (Justice + Reconciliation = Love), from which no one is excluded, shouldn’t our racial justice ministry strive not only to empower people of color, and not only to make white people more aware of the privilege that they have enjoyed, but also to bring healing between black, brown, and white communities? If it doesn’t, we may be inadvertently advocating for the oppressed to become the new oppressors. Biblical justice is not interested in creating a new center of former marginalized peoples and relegating former residents of the center to the margins. Rather, it seeks to reflect what is to come in Jesus Christ—a world where center and margins don’t exist. Practically speaking, when we work against racism, we must take pains not to condemn the white race but rather to keep the vision of all tribes and nations before us. When we work against sexism, we must be careful not to pit woman against man but rather ultimately to see women and men in mutual submission and in equal partnership for the sake of the gospel. When we work against clas-
Word, Deed & Spirit
Justice, Filipino Style
This might explain, at least in part, why I am so keen on reconciliation as a crucial, nonnegotiable expression of justice. Of course, in addition to my Filipino-fueled preference for peace, I also believe the Bible teaches that justice and reconciliation go hand in hand. Based on my read of Scripture regarding God’s nature and actions, biblical justice can be defined as a God-shaped demand of the gospel of Christ that addresses the root causes of social inequity, advocating for those who suffer, as well as challenging the principalities and powers that cause their suffering. This understanding of justice necessarily goes the distance toward a vision of reconciliation, which includes the liberation of the oppressed, the repentance of the oppressor, the restoration of the relationship between them, and ultimately, the restoration of the relationship between God and humanity. I know—it’s a mouthful; but it’s necessary, for no definition of justice is adequate without the love-saturated notion of reconciliation. Justice needs reconciliation, because without it, justice can be exacting, merciless—an eye-for-an-eye, toothfor-a-tooth affair, which, of course, is a world away from biblical shalom. Justice in Christ, in fact, ends with healed relationships between oppressed and oppressor, abused and abuser, the crushed and the crusher. It ends with reconciliation between enemies. No one is on the outs in God’s justice project. I don’t know if SIR informed my read of Scripture on this or if SIR simply resonates with biblical justice; either way, justice, Filipino style, requires reconciliation. This might explain why, for example, I’m against the approach of some diversity and antiracism trainers that seems to foment anger and bitterness toward the white community in general and the white people in attendance at these training sessions in particular. I’ve been a part of such sessions, and I don’t like them. Moreover, I ache when white students come to my office and wish, with clenched fist and streaming tears, that they weren’t white. Don’t get me wrong—as a person of color who has also experienced being on the short end of the stick of white privilege, I understand how one can be angry. And we should express that anger! But to stay there and call it justice violates every SIR fiber of my Filipino being and also violates what I believe the Bible teaches.
As a person of color who has experienced being on the short end of the stick of white privilege, I understand how one can be angry. But to stay there and call it justice violates what I believe the Bible teaches. sism, we must resist condemning the wealthy but rather see the poor and the rich in Christ enjoying the well-distributed blessings of God. And so on. This is justice, Filipino style.
Al Tizon (atizon@eastern. edu) is co-president elect of Evangelicals for Social Action and associate professor of holistic ministry at Palmer Theological Seminary of Eastern University.
Are Food Allergies Primarily a First-World Problem?
When my oldest son started school, I was completely unaware that peanuts had become public enemy #1. When I was a kid, if there could have been an official food of childhood, it probably would have been peanut butter. A peanut butter sandwich was the first meal I ever made myself. It was always the packed lunch of choice when my mom made me mad and I “ran away from home” to go sit in a tree in the backyard, and I’m sure there was hardly a lunchroom in any school across North America that didn’t smell like PB&J between 12 p.m. and 1 p.m., Monday to Friday. Now schools are plastered with huge signs that declare they are nut-free, lunches are scanned by vigilant teachers for offending nuts lurking in granola bars and home-baked cookies, and children are told stories of deadly incidents in which children with allergies have died. And for good reason. Peanut allergies in children more than tripled in the United States between 1997 and 2008, according to a study of more than 5,000 families by researchers at the Jaffe Food Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. The study says the percentage of children with allergies to peanuts or tree nuts soared to 2.1 percent from 0.6 percent in just over 10 years. “These results show that there is an alarming increase in peanut allergies, consistent with a general, although less dramatic, rise in food allergies among children in studies reported by the CDC,” said Scott Sicherer, professor of pediatrics at the Jaffe Food Institute. “Our research shows that more than 3 million Americans report peanut and/or tree nut allergies, representing a significant health burden.” So it is natural to wonder if this is indeed
a phenomenon only in the US or perhaps just the developed world or Global North. More than 170 foods are known to provoke allergic reactions, says Joyce Boye, a research scientist whose study on food allergies in developing economies was published in the Clinical and Translational Allergy journal in 2012. Of these, the foods responsible for inducing 90 percent of reported allergic reactions are peanuts, milk, eggs, wheat, nuts, soybeans, fish, crustaceans, and shellfish. She cautions, however, that due to a lack of published research we can’t jump to conclusions. “There is still only limited work on the prevalence of food allergies in developing countries,” says Boye. “The reason for the lack of data may be due to the assumption that the prevalence of food allergy in the developing world is less than in the developed world. The data available suggests that this thinking may be flawed and that prevalence rates may be similar. The only difference is that the priority allergens may differ for different countries, there may be a lack of funding to undertake such studies, and there are other health demands in developing countries, such as malaria, which are considered to be of greater importance.” Some researchers, however, do believe that food allergies are on the rise at a much more alarming rate in developed countries. One theory for the increase in allergies is often referred to as the hygiene hypothesis. We’ve become so adept at protecting ourselves from infections that our immune systems just aren’t getting the workout they used to, says Sicherer. This could explain why some research in developing countries is showing similar rates of food intolerances or sensitivities but lower rates of allergies. A food allergy causes an immune system reaction that affects numerous organs in the body, while food intolerance symptoms are generally less serious and are limited to digestive problems. A study looking at peanut al-
lergy in Xhosa children in Cape Town, South Africa, showed that, despite a 5 percent rate of peanut sensitization, none of the children was actually allergic to peanuts, according to a 2007 study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. There are also scientists who are researching links between food allergies and higher rates of processed and prepackaged foods in developing countries. Genetically modified (GM) foods have also come under fire as a potential cause of allergies, and some researchers are trying to find ways to explore links between a rise in food allergies and the provision of GM foods as food aid to developing countries. In 2002 Zambia announced it would not accept GM food aid, and other African countries have since followed suit, so this might provide a control group for such studies attempting to link GM foods and allergies. There really is little good research, according to Boye. “The major challenges are awareness of the problem and its scale and importance and funding to undertake the needed research to collect the data,” she says. “The importance of this research is that the scale and impact may be underestimated. Food allergies present with different symptoms that in some instances may be similar to that of other ailments, and without awareness there could be misdiagnosis. “The other important fact,” continues Boye, “is that the consequences of food hypersensitivity in terms of health impacts in the short and long term may be significant, and naturally there are related economic impacts. One of the major concerns is that many of the sources of protein used in food aid efforts targeting developing countries are priority allergens, and not much work has been done to determine if this is of concern or not.”
Shannon Sutherland Smith is a freelance writer based in Alberta, Canada, focusing on faith and social justice issues. She is also a wife, mother of five, and the author of the feature “Preaching the Agricultural Gospel” in this issue.
Thanks to modern technology, we stand today at a precarious point in human history. Never before have we harnessed natural forces so effectively to meet our own needs, and never before has our activity so threatened the world around us. Today we have the capability to seriously damage and permanently change the natural world in which we live through nuclear contamination, environmental degradation, and global climate change. How can we as Christian residents of the planet respond to this situation? I propose that the biblical idea of Sabbath can be a model to help us define our responsibility to the natural world. In his book The Sabbath, 20th-century Jewish philosopher Abraham Heschel describes modern technology as manâ€™s conquest of space. Technology has enabled man to manipulate and control his physical environment in unprecedented ways. But Heschel claims that the Bible is more interested in time than in space. This biblical focus is expressed most distinctly in the idea of sabbath. Sabbath means that humanity must reserve time for rest, reflection, and worship if we are to function in the way God intended. Another 20th-century writer speaks explicitly of a sabbath for the land. In A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems, Wendell Berry writes: Now oaks and hickories grow Where the steel coulter passed. Where human striving ceased The Sabbath of the trees Returns and stands and is. Berry also talks about sowing buckwheat on the land and disking it into the ground in order to give the land its sabbath. Berry thus sees two ways
Different Shade of Green
A Sabbath for the Land
of providing a sabbath for the land: allowing ground that was previously tilled for crops to grow wild, or tilling a crop into the soil to enrich it. Various scriptures address our obligations to the earth. Genesis 2:15 describes how God places humanity in the Garden of Eden to work and care for it. The commandment to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy explicitly states that the Israelites must rest their ox and donkey and all animals on the Sabbath along with children and servants (Deuteronomy 5:12-14). This makes it clear that sabbath has significance for animal as well as human life. The explicit link between sabbath and earth care comes in Leviticus 25. Here God prescribes a sabbath rest for the land every seventh year. No crops are to be planted, and the vineyards are not to be pruned (vs. 1-7). Instead of reaping crops from the land that seventh year, the people are promised that God will enable the land to produce enough crops in the sixth year to provide for two years (vs. 20-21). It is clear that the soil and crops also need a rest. Another important scriptural motif here is the frequent picture drawn by the Old Testament prophets of the renewal of creation in the end times. Whether it is the wolf feeding alongside the lamb (Isaiah 11:6), the Israelite sitting under his own vine and fig tree (Micah 4:4), or the desert flowing with water and bursting into bloom (Isaiah 35), the prophets clearly saw a distant future involving a beautiful restoration of the created order. A rejuvenated creation has an essential role to play in the final restoration. Taking these thoughts into consideration, I wish to suggest three general principles concerning how the idea of sabbath is pertinent to creation care. First, it means
we must respect creation as our God-created partner in life. We were not given permission to rule the earth in such a way as to selfishly exploit its resources or to destroy it in the process, but rather to care for it with as much loving concern as God had when creating it. If sabbath includes rest for animals and plants, this teaches us that we are responsible for finding ways to nourish and preserve the plant and animal species inhabiting our world. Second, we must recognize our dependence on creation. The resources we need to sustain us ultimately come from the land and from the plant and animal species that the land sustains. We need to imagine new ways of giving rest to the land. Are our current intensive agricultural practices with their factory farms sustainable? Can ancient agricultural practices such as crop rotation and allowing land to be fallow for a year be reintroduced today? And can we even conceive of a sabbath of fossil fuel use? The third principle for creation care is the principle of ultimate renewal. This is the renewal pictured in the Old Testament prophets. It seems obvious that we should not be destroying what God intends to heal and restore in the end. Rather we should do our part to preserve the beauty and health of the planet as we look forward to that final restoration. Sabbath, then, suggests that we respect creation as a partner, confess our dependence on it, and look forward with it to our final, joint restoration. Taking these three principles together gives us an effective and meaningful way of caring for creation in the light of global warming and other environmental problems. I propose this sabbath model for creation care in the hope that it will guide and stimulate the Christian community in its efforts to address the serious environmental threats our world faces today.
Daniel Boerman is a freelance writer and the author of The Flying Farm Boy, a memoir about growing up on his familyâ€™s farm in a Dutch Christian Reformed community in Michigan during the 1950s. Learn more at FlyingFarmBoy.com.
Off the Shelf
24/6 by Matthew Sleeth Tyndale Reviewed by Ben Lowe Are the Ten Commandments optional today? Most, if not all, of us would say “Absolutely not!” We’re still not supposed to lie, steal, covet, murder, or commit adultery. We are called to honor our parents and respect God’s name. And we’re certainly not to worship any idols or follow other gods. Yet, even as political battles are waged over where and how the Ten Commandments can be displayed in public, many of us are breaking the fourth commandment regularly and without thinking twice. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy,” it begins. As Matthew Sleeth, author of 24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life, is fond of saying, this is the longest of the commandments, and the only one that starts with the word “remember,” as if God knew we would forget. Matthew Sleeth is an emergencySabbath is a prophetic discipline in a world that room-doctor-turned-prolific-creation-careidolizes productivity. author-and-leader. His first book, Serve God, Save the Planet (Zondervan 2007), was a big hit, and he hasn’t stopped writing and speaking since. Except, that is, on days when he observes the Sabbath. Along with his family, Sleeth sets aside one day every week (it can’t always be Sundays since he often speaks in churches) as a Sabbath or, as they call it, “Stop Day.” And now he has written a book to share what they’ve been learning along the way. Sabbath is an ancient prescription for good and healthy living and one that has almost always been countercultural. We may live in a 24/7 world, but we are called to live 24/6 lives. This rich and powerful principle runs deep throughout the Scriptures and extends to every living thing. Even the land has sabbath rights. And yet it’s also a remarkably simple idea to grasp and apply. So simple, in fact, that the title of this book really summarizes all you need to know in order to get started (or, perhaps more fittingly, all you need to know in order to stop). 24/6 is a quick and engaging read, and Sleeth is at his best as he weaves stories from the Bible with his own experiences as a medical doctor and creation care advocate. This isn’t just a book to be read, however; it’s also an invitation to be lived. I began practicing the Sabbath ever since going through a difficult burnout Continued on page 46
The White Umbrella by Mary Frances Bowly Moody Reviewed by Tania DoCarmo As people of faith become increasingly aware of human trafficking many ask what is being done about it and how they can help. Written by the founder of Wellspring Living, an Atlanta-based ministry assisting women who have experienced sexual abuse and exploitation, The White Umbrella: Walking with Survivors of Sex Trafficking provides insight into their work. In addition to sharing organizational lessons learned in providing care for clients at Wellspring Living, the author places emphasis on the personal journey of ministry caregivers along the way, their motivations, experiences, revelations, and challenges. Mini-chapters throughout the book include narratives written by ministry staff, volunteers, and clients, all of whom share anecdotes about how their interaction with Wellspring Living has shaped their lives. The focus of The White Umbrella is not about the “problem” of sex trafficking (though there is some information provided about its prevalence, causes, etc.), but rather on how “ordinary” individuals can come alongside survivors and assist them through the recovery process. Media coverage about sex trafficking is often focused on over-sensationalized accounts of “rescue.” What this book does particularly well is take its audience a few steps further into reality, outlining the ups, downs, challenges, and misconceptions of trauma and recovery and doing so in an accessible style and language designed for the lay reader. The author doesn’t deliver complicated psychological analysis or outline therapy as a process from point A to point B; nor does she praise Wellspring Living for unending achievements. Rather, perspectives throughout the book provide “real life” scenarios, enabling the reader to better understand how survivors end up in difficult situations, explaining that recovery is not an “island” disconnected from other aspects of the survivor’s life, and providing insight into why recovery can be stressful in and of itself. Clients will run away, some may return to prostitution, legal processes won’t always be straightforward, and many clients may not appear grateful for the care they receive. By providing insight into these complexities, Bowlby allows volunteers, donors, advocates, and other readers to empathize with survivors’ situations, better preparing them for engagement with the cause. Continued on page 46
Moral Minority by David R. Swartz University of Pennsylvania Press Reviewed by Mark A. Noll David Swartz’s thoroughly researched and persuasively argued book focuses on the politics of evangelicals in the non-South United States as those politics were configured in the early 1970s. As a challenge to the conventional story that assumes a permanent, organic link between rightwing Republicans and the nation’s evangelical believers, Swartz documents the moderate and left-leaning character of that early evangelical configuration. While the book does recognize that strong ideological conservativism or political apoliticism has long characterized a broad sweep of American evangelicals, it also explains how and why evangelicals from the center and left led the way in mobilizing this segment of the American body politic. Careful study of the networks represented by the 54 signers of “The Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern” (1973) enables Swartz to make good on his claim that organized evangelical politics in the recent past began as a socially progressive movement a half-decade or so before comparable mobilization on the right. The Chicago Declaration, with its forthright denunciation of racism, materialism, American militarism, and the structural forces reinforcing poverty, drew together a surprising array of leaders: post-fundamentalist neo-evangelical theologians like Carl F. H. Henry, evangelical promoters of racial justice like John Alexander of The Other Side magazine, anti-Viet Nam War protesters like Jim Wallis of the Sojourner’s Community, African American activists like John Perkins, Reformed proponents of social justice like Richard Mouw, Anabaptists engaged in public advocacy like Ron Sider, community-minded veterans of the Jesus Movement like Sharon Gallagher, Latin Americans serving in evangelical parachurch agencies like Samuel Escobar, and more. The blessing of Oregon’s Republican Senator Mark Hatfield, along with positive editorial notice from Christianity Today and a few secular publications, drew wider attention to this coalition. It gained support from students and faculty at several evangelical colleges in the East, Midwest, and West, while also appealing to many participants in InterVarsity chapters at secular universities. Swartz offers a particularly insightful account of how divergent streams of development came together in a common perception of national ills: Anabaptists who began to address public issues as their constituencies became more urban and better educated, African Americans finding an audience in a few white churches for Continued on page 46
Thriving in Leadership edited by Karen Longman Abilene Christian University Press Reviewed by Jo Kadlecek There’s no shortage of books these days on leadership. Whether books that promise 21 indispensable qualities or seven steps to becoming highly effective, today’s shelves are crowded with secrets and tips for creating extraordinary—or at least great—leaders. With so much expertise available, it’s a marvel we haven’t yet ended poverty. Missing from the popular genre, however, is authentic narrative. So it’s refreshing to find a book that actually explores the nuanced struggles and joys of real leaders in real institutions talking about real experiences. Thriving in Leadership: Strategies for Making a Difference in Leading is not easily discovered in formulas Christian Higher Education takes a more inviting approach than the other inor principles, but in life- dustry formulas and gives readers authentic stories. With contributions from 16 long journeys of service, senior leaders in Christian colleges across the US, the book reflects not so much humility, and community. their concern about becoming extraordinary leaders but what they’ve experienced when providing extraordinary opportunities for their respective campuses. Edited with an inspired hand by Karen Longman, professor and education director at Azusa Pacific University, the book feels like a long and thoughtful conversation with some of the most respected provosts, VPs, and presidents (or emeriti) within the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. That might be because the project itself was born in summer gatherings that the Council’s Leadership Development Institutes (LDI) organized. A longtime scholar on leadership trends and the cofounder for the LDI programs, Longman laments that much of higher education has not been good about developing effective leaders. The book, therefore, brings readers alongside, mentor-style, by providing hard-won counsel grounded in actual (and personal) frameworks— leadership examples for Christian campuses that are essential if “the complex challenges facing today’s colleges and universities are to be effectively addressed.” The book is divided into three parts, with the authors exploring tough and sometimes territorial issues, but always with an eye toward “thriving” in their respective leadership roles, that is, living the abundant life to which Christ invites followers. Whether examining the interior life of thriving leaders (Part I) or the social intelligence of thriving leaders (Part II), or discerning how leaders can shape a thriving organizational culture (Part III), these essays combine scholarship and professionalism with Continued on page 46
24/6 continued from page 44
Moral Minority continued from page 45
period a few years back, and it quickly became one of the most life-giving days of my week. The Sabbath is a weekly holiday we get to spend with Jesus (this may sound cheesy, but it fits). And it’s a prophetic discipline in a world that idolizes productivity. The Sabbath reminds us that we are human beings, not human doings, and that we are created to be in right relationship with God, each other, and all of creation. There are many problems in the world, and the Sabbath won’t fix them all. But it does help put our lives into proper perspective. It honors God and renews us for the ongoing journey. And it is a powerful testimony of our faith in a God who is ultimately in control and who invites us to worship him in freedom and peace. Read this book and be encouraged. More importantly, however, remember the Sabbath. And keep it holy.
what had once been their isolated concerns, Dutch Reformed intellectuals testing Abraham Kuyper’s vision of Christ’s cosmic lordship in American and Canadian settings, and maturing Jesus People still turned off by conforming suburban culture. The same coalition also found itself embracing a relatively common conviction that the dynamics of personal evangelical faith demanded a course of faithful public action. For a brief moment it seemed that “evangelical politics” might come to mean social activism and cultural criticism from the Left. The last section of this fine book explains why that possibility did not develop. Disagreements over thorny issues of racial and gender identity fragmented the nascent movement. The educators, church officials, and writers who promulgated The Chicago Declaration never succeeded in attracting the mass constituencies eventually recruited by the Religious Right. The turn by the Democratic Party to embrace prochoice policies alienated evangelicals who otherwise leaned in a progressive direction. And Republican activists successfully portrayed the social agitations of the 1960s as threats to evangelical values. Yet if the evangelical left was, in the title of the book’s last section, “left behind,” Swartz demonstrates convincingly that it never died out completely. A helpful epilogue sketches the continuing political influence exerted by figures like Hatfield, Sider, and Wallis. It also explains the alienation that substantial numbers of evangelicals have always felt toward rightwing politics and the signs that have increased in recent years of a new evangelical openness to progressive policies. But if the book does end with a cautionary note about simplistic identification of all contemporary evangelicals as conservative Republicans, its great contribution is to recover a history that even some of us old-timers who actually lived through those days had never realized was so dynamic, diverse, and theologically well-rooted.
Ben Lowe is on staff with the Evangelical Environmental Network and serves as the national spokesperson for Young Evangelicals for Climate Action. He is also the board chair of the Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies.
The White Umbrella continued from page 44 Unfortunately, Bowly’s realistic depiction of recovery as multifaceted and complex is contradictory to the simplistic, often patronizing language used to repeatedly describe clients as passive, innocent “little girls” (regardless of age). Survivors are not to blame for their abuse and exploitation, and it’s certainly true that many survivors exhibit arrested emotional development because they experienced abuse in childhood. This does not mean, however, that survivors should be seen as helpless children passively awaiting others to rescue them (regardless of how wonderful that rescue may make us feel). In fact, by situating them into such a patriarchal, guilty-versus-innocent dichotomy, she proposes a view that I fear only reinforces a sentimental “savior” mentality that portrays survivors as incapable and pathetic. Don’t get me wrong—survivors definitely need loving caregivers to help them regain safety, trust, and a healthy sense of self, and my impression is that this is what Bowly is attempting to argue. However, by solely framing survivors as submissive and innocent girls, this unintentionally emphasizes survivorhood rather than empowerment, lack of agency rather than resiliency and the potential for recovery. It is for this very reason that the domestic violence movement continually advocates for the term “survivor” over the term “victim.” Assisting volunteers, church members, and donors to better understand human trafficking and the complexities of long-term recovery is pivotal if we truly desire to mobilize the church toward passionate and appropriate action. As long as readers, practitioners, and other advocates collaborate and continue to dialogue about their experiences, concerns, and convictions, I am confident the work to address human trafficking will grow that much stronger.
Tania DoCarmo is Global Learning Community Director at Chab Dai, a nonprofit addressing human trafficking and exploitation through coalition-building, advocacy, and research. She is currently based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Mark A. Noll is Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at University of Notre Dame and the author, most recently, of Protestantism—A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2011) and The New Shape of World Christianity: How American Experience Reflects Global Faith (InterVarsity Press, 2009)
Thriving in Leadership continued from page 45 healthy doses of wit, honesty, and insight. Key topics include resilience and relationships; honoring giftedness; storytelling as a visionary tool; building trust; and embracing failure, balance, and hospitality for creating Christ-centered communities. Regardless of what stage a leader and his/her institution might be in, this book addresses it in one of these interesting and astute essays. The best part of Thriving in Leadership? The brave and vulnerable firstperson narratives from these leaders who are, like many of us, working at becoming faithful Christ-followers, not experts. They seem to know that leading is not easily discovered in formulas or principles, but in life-long journeys of service, humility, and community. Oh, and did I mention each author is a woman? Neither did they.
Jo Kadlecek is the senior writer and journalist-in-residence at Gordon College in Wenham, Mass.
Joseph was the first son of Israel who went to Egypt, sold as a slave by his brothers. In Egypt, Joseph experienced oppression and imprisonment, but he eventually gained access to the privileges and powers of the domination system. Joseph was appropriated by the imperial powers. He also saved the rest of the world from famine as well, but he did it from within the domination system of empire and did not critically interrogate the imperial powers that privileged him. The empire “took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command…and gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-Paneah” (Gen. 41:42-45). Joseph had his neck chained by gold to the structures of empire and received a ring of domination, a chariot of military conquest and control, and a new imperial name. By shrewdly placing Joseph in a position of relative power, the coercive voice and structures of empire empowered the system further by ensuring its ever-increasing potency through the accumulation and sale of resources. “When the famine had spread over the whole country, Joseph opened the storehouses and sold grain to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe throughout Egypt. And all the countries came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe in all the world” (Ex. 41:56-57). Pharaoh assimilated Joseph into the structures of empire and then benefitted financially, effectively ensuring Egypt’s rise to dominance over an even more greatly impoverished world. Let
us exercise a Christological imagination, informed by the Canaanites, and try out a different scenario or two. Joseph’s family lived in Canaan and identified as “from the land of Canaan” (Gen. 42:7). God had promised Abraham that “all peoples on earth will be blessed by you” (Gen. 12:3). What if Joseph, with the years of plenty/famine interpretation of the dreams in hand, had exited the empire and journeyed to Canaan to carry out his plan, storing grain in the land of promise rather than in the empire? In this anti-imperial, eschatologically informed version of the story, Israel and the Canaanites gather their resources for seven years and are then prepared to bless the peoples of the world when they come to the land of promise during famine. Israel blesses all the people of the earth without plundering them into poverty. Or what if Joseph, having interpreted the dream for Pharaoh, then departed to warn those in Canaan of the impending drought so that they, too, could prepare wisely? Of course, that is not how the story goes. When Joseph’s brothers arrived in the empire to buy food for their families back in Canaan, they encountered a Joseph who used power and privilege to inflict further suffering on those already oppressed. Having accepted his imperial position, Joseph imprisoned one of his brothers, framed the others, thus terrifying his father back in Canaan. After revealing himself to them he theologized imperially, “God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt ... God has made me lord of all Egypt.” What if Joseph had gone to his father rather than having his father come to him, reuniting with his family in Canaan? Sadly, the systems of control within the empire exerted powers that made this kind of exit nigh impossible. Joseph was at the pinnacle of success within the system itself, but instead of using this privileged location within the empire for good, he acted imperialistically. This is confirmed by the lengthy
Joseph and the Empire
text of terror describing the economic devastation wrought on Canaan and the wealth built for the empire by the second-in-command. In Genesis 47:13-21 we see both Egypt and Canaan wasting away and their people flocking to Joseph to buy the grain he had stored up. He first collected “all the money that was to be found in Egypt and Canaan in payment for the grain they were buying.” When that food ran out, he collected all the people’s livestock in exchange for grain. When they were once again hungry, they came to him and said, “We cannot hide from our lord the fact that since our money is gone and our livestock belongs to you, there is nothing left for our lord except our bodies and our land. Why should we perish …? Buy us and our land in exchange for food, and we with our land will be in bondage to Pharaoh….” And that is exactly what happened. “The land became Pharaoh’s, and Joseph reduced the people to servitude, from one end of Egypt to the other.” Joseph conquered the Canaanites. Joseph’s multi-great-grandson Joshua conquered the Canaanites again. Imperial wealth/power is a false promised land premised on supremacy and empire building, resource reallocation from the many to the few. It reduces most to poverty and offers the plunder to a few of those who cooperate. In the empire, those who are “other” can occasionally earn impressive positions when their “Godgiven” gifts serve the imperial project. They interpret the troubled dreams of the coercive voice and structures of empire, so the imperial powers increase power and in so doing gain more power. Joseph is a powerful pawn of empire, boasting about privilege, strengthening the grip of empire on the world, and bestowing some of the best stolen land to his own family who have immigrated from Canaan...and they all eventually end up as slaves and require a Moses. Can we who call ourselves Christians get down on our knees and beg God to free us from every imperial tendency in our nature? Can we ask him to protect us from complicity in imperial projects even—especially—when we think we’re doing God’s work?
Paul Alexander is co-president elect of Evangelicals for Social Action and professor of Christian ethics and public policy at Eastern University’s Palmer Theological Seminary.
Farewell I write this, my last regular column for PRISM, with a swirl of mixed feelings: joy, relief, a tinge of sadness, but primarily deep gratitude to God and to all my dear friends at Evangelicals for Social Action. As you know, I’m retiring as president in June after almost 40 years leading ESA. It has been a wonderful journey—sometimes wrenching, regularly stimulating, often exhilarating, and overwhelmingly rewarding. I am deeply grateful to God for allowing this Canadian farm boy to play a small role in many important meetings and movements. ESA has been only one of many players, but we have been privileged to help shape a number of the major changes in the Christian—especially the evangelical—world in the last 40 years. Three stand out as especially important: a growing understanding and embrace of the massive biblical teaching about the poor; a near universal affirmation in evangelical circles that biblical Christians must engage in both evangelism and social action; and a growing understanding that faithful evangelical political engagement must embrace a biblically balanced agenda. Forty years ago, emphasizing the vast number of biblical texts on God’s special concern for the poor could get you labeled a Marxist. Today, evangelical relief and development agencies annually raise billions of dollars to help overcome poverty around the world. And Rick Warren, probably the most influential evangelical leader of the last decade, has talked more about the poor than any top evangelical in my lifetime. Forty years ago, most evangelical leaders declared that the primary mission of the church was “saving souls.” Evangelism was our central focus. Today, virtually all evangelical leaders around the world agree that biblical fidelity demands that we both eagerly invite non-Christians to embrace Christ and vigorously work to overcome poverty, correct injustice, and promote peace. And the change is not just verbal. On the ground all around the world, biblical Christians enthusiastically engage in both evangelism and social action. Thirty years ago, the Religious Right contributed to the notion that evangelical political engagement should be primarily focused on “the moral issues” like abortion, marriage, and sexuality. Today, the emerging evangelical center—witness the National Association of Evangelicals’ official public policy document, “For the Health
of the Nations”—embraces what ESA has been championing for decades: A biblically balanced political agenda must be pro-life and pro-poor, pro-family and pro-peace, pro-sexual integrity and pro-creation care. With deep gratitude to God, ESA can rejoice in the fact that we have had the privilege of playing a significant part in these historic changes in the last four decades. Leading ESA for these years has been a wonderful privilege. But it is time to say farewell. I will be 74 this fall. It is time for younger leaders to shepherd ESA into a new time. After four decades of guiding ESA, I care more than I can express about ESA’s ongoing role and the leadership necessary to guide the organization into even more productive years. Passionate prayer for that
transition has been a regular part of my devotions for a long time. With deep gratitude and great confidence, I can say that God has answered my prayers and those of many others. As you know, Dr. Al Tizon and Dr. Paul Alexander will take my place as copresidents of ESA. I have come to know, respect, and treasure both Paul and Al as they have wisely led important parts of ESA over the past three to seven years. Both are extremely gifted, highly energetic, and deeply committed Christians. Al and Paul are prolific writers, each having published a handful of books and dozens of articles. Both know how to write to a scholarly and a popular audience. Both are activists with a passion not just to analyze problems and define wise, biblical solutions but also to challenge the global church.
Most important, Paul and Al are uncompromisingly committed to Christ and the Scriptures. Christ, not the popular mood, is their compass. Their deepest longing is to be faithful to Christ and his kingdom. Gladly, eagerly, I entrust ESA to their capable hands. As I hand ESA over to them (and the rest of our gifted staff), I promise to pray regularly for them, and I invite you to do the same. My prayers will be rather simple: Please, God, help ESA to stay focused on Christ as the center of everything; to remain committed to the full biblical revelation, whether or not it is popular; to be filled with and guided by the Holy Spirit; to be a bridge-builder; and to be fearlessly directed by careful, rigorous factual analysis regardless of where it leads. In addition to joining me in prayer for ESA’s future, I also invite you to contribute to my last major fundraising campaign for ESA. I want to pass a financially solid ESA on to Al and Paul by increasing our endowment and securing three-year pledges for our annual fundraising. (You can see a marvelous prospectus on this at EvangelicalsforSocialAction. org/EmbracingtheFuture.) I don’t plan to go off and spend all my time fishing (although I do expect to have more time for that, my favorite sport!). I will continue as a half-time senior professor at Palmer Seminary at Eastern University, and as long as God blesses my brain with clarity and my body with strength, I will continue writing, teaching, and speaking. It will, however, be at a somewhat more leisurely pace so that I can spend more time with Arbutus, my wife of almost 52 years, and our six darling granddaughters. Two final words. First, please join me at ESA’s 40th Anniversary celebration on July 12-14. You can see the list of great speakers at ESA40.com. I would love to speak with you personally at this conference, so please come! Lastly, thank you. Thanks to everyone who has contributed to ESA over these 40 years—as readers, activists, donors. The work of ESA would have been impossible without your faithful support. Thank you so very much.
Ron Sider’s most recent book is Fixing the Moral Deficit: A Balanced Way to Balance the Budget (IVP, 2012).
PRISM Vol. 20, No. 3
Editorial Board Miriam Adeney Tony Campolo Luis Cortés Richard Foster G. Gaebelein Hull Karen Mains Vinay Samuel Tom Sine Eldin Villafane
George Barna Rodney Clapp Samuel Escobar William Frey Roberta Hestenes John Perkins Amy Sherman Vinson Synan Harold DeanTrulear
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We do nothing, and slavery continues. Modeling themselves after the courageous women who stoked the flames of abolition some 200 years ago, Kimberly McOwen Yim and Shayne Moore embolden ordinary women to take up this legacy and fight modernday slavery with the resources they have.
“On each page you’ll be saying to yourself, ‘I can do this.’ Thanks be to God.” —Margot Starbuck, author, Small Things with Great Love
R “Way Back” Photo Booth R “Ron through the Decades” Gallery
July 12th 2013
R Pin the Mustache on Ron R Music performed by Glenn Kaiser
Ron Sider Roast
major sports stars, Ron will only retire once.
Join our emcee Tony Campolo with roasters Jim Wallis, Tom Sine, Heidi Unruh, Dean Trulear, Rabbi David Saperstein, Wes Granberg-Michaelson, David Gushee, and surprise special guests. Tickets and Table Sponsorships available at ESA40.com.
Everyone claims God for their side. But who is on God’s side? Jim Wallis thinks our life together can be better. In this timely and provocative book, he shows us how to reclaim Jesus’s ancient and compelling vision of the common good—a vision that impacts and inspires not only our politics but also our personal lives, families, churches, neighborhoods, and world.
Available in bookstores, or by calling 800.877.2665. Audiobook available from eChristian. Follow The Brazos Blog at www.thebrazosblog.com. Subscribe to Border Crossings, the Brazos electronic newsletter, at www.brazospress.com.