Micah 6:8 Diaconal Calling & Poverty Wednesday 24 June 2009
At the dawn of the Millennium something of a political miracle happened. For the first time a meeting of world leaders took place in New York for what was described as an “unprecedented gathering” convened by the United Nations. The United Millennium Summit gave birth to a dream in which our nations promised to slash extreme poverty by half by the year 2015. These promises contained eight wide, but measurable goals by which the preventable indignity endured by over a billion people would be brought to an end. This covenant with our extreme poor came to be known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs were more than fiscal promises to the poor. This was a historic and moral contract to “spare no effort…freeing the entire human race from want.” Christians who were already fully committed to the alleviation of poverty and who had stepped up to the plate as full partners in global movements such as Jubilee 2000 and Make Poverty History felt that these promises resonated with the spirit of the Old Testament prophets and the teachings of Jesus. And the growing impulse to respond to the poor which was growing steadily across many sections of the evangelical church felt a call to respond to the MDGs. Micah Challenge is that response. Micah Challenge is a global Christian response to the MDGs. Launched in October 2004 it now has some 40 national campaigns which aim to deepen Christian involvement with the poor and to hold our governments accountable for the promises we made to the world’s poor.
And in our prayers and personal actions, our letters and lobbying we are governed by the penetrating question from the prophet Micah: “What does the Lord require of you? To do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.” The Millennium Development Goals is an invitation to act - not just talk. The MDGs are not perfect tools. But nothing else gives us as comprehensive a yardstick by which to hold ourselves accountable, or provides the universal language with which to talk about maternal deaths or a global response to reducing and reversing HIV/AIDS. When I spoke to medical workers in a remote village in Sinazongwe, Zambia they told me that these were useful benchmarks by which to evaluate their battle against infant mortality and maternal deaths. And when I spoke to the Prime Minister of Australia last October he spoke the same language. But our starting point is not the MDGs: we are involved in this work because we are on a mission and as Chris Wright has reminded us, the church doesn’t have a mission but God has a mission for the church. And the mission of God is almost always carried by what God is already doing in the world. The arrogance of the church is to suppose that we bring God’s mission to an unsuspecting and disinterested world. But mission is invariably God’s response to the pain of a world which as Paul would tell us is often groaning in expectation. It is not that the world initiates mission: it’s more that God awakens a need to which the church is programmed to respond in order to make God known. And timing is critical. God has always used the events in human history to open the doorways for missions. That is why you cannot separate the Reformation from the great explosion of culture and classical languages which preceded it and which we call the Renaissance. And you cannot separate the great missionary movement of the 18 and 19 century from the age of expeditions. The bullet and the Bible went together. And this was also true for the abolition of slavery which was so identified with the revolutions across Europe that Wilberforce was accused of being a revolutionary.
Today the creation is groaning again: from Jakarta to Johannesburg and Japan it’s groaning about poverty, the environment and the need for sustainable values. And incredibly, these groanings have been amplified by the current economic crisis. Our response to the poor, the environment and the urgent need for values is not a side-show: it is central to our mission. And it is a mission in which the call of Micah is so important. What does the Lord ask of you? Do justice. Doing justice is more important than thinking deeply about it. Doing justice is far more than a technical application of the law. What Micah had in mind goes beyond our legal processes and touches the human condition. Doing justice doesn’t need a court room. It’s how we behave as employers, citizens and neighbours. It’s a determination to build cultures and communities where level playing fields exists; where ideas of equality and fairness are written into our customs and values as much as they are reinforced in our statues and by-laws. To do justice is to be in step with God’s heartbeat for the poor. It is not a minority interest for NGOs and policy specialists or the odd-balls in the congregation. Doing justice means righteousness responding to wrong. It promotes justice above our internal denominational priorities so that a movement or congregation realigned with God’s heart for the poor makes justice core business rather than an optional extra. It is only as we do so that we become less willing to hide behind our fear of a social gospel which replaces proclamation with good deeds and which separates the social gospel from the social implications of the gospel. And it opens our eyes to the fact that so much of Jesus’ actions and miracles were in and of themselves acts of kindness which validated the proclamation of good news (Luke 4:18; Acts 1:1; 10:38) Moss Nthla general secretary of the South African Evangelical Alliance and Micah Challenge put it like this: “Is it possible that those who experience our ministry will have the slightest suspicion that God really cares for them?”
This was the radical reversal of evangelical nervousness about social action which was the Lausanne movement articulated in 1974. We affirm that God is both the Creator and the Judge of all men. We therefore should share his concern for justice and reconciliation throughout human society and for the liberation of men and women from every kind of oppression. Because men and women are made in the image of God, every person, regardless of race, religion, colour, culture, class, sex or age, has an intrinsic dignity because of which he or she should be respected and served, not exploited. Here too we express penitence both for our neglect and for having sometimes regarded evangelism and social concern as mutually exclusive.
What does the Lord ask of you? Do justice and love mercy. The call to love mercy is the signature tune of Christian mission. Mercy is best exemplified in the Cross of Jesus Christ. No deed done on earth has ever demonstrated mercy so fully and unconditionally. No one who has received mercy can be exempt from showing it. Mercy executed and exemplified in the atonement of Jesus is the crux of Christian faith and action. You donâ€™t have to be an evangelical in order to love mercy. But if you are passionate about the Cross and the forgiveness of sin, you more than anyone else should know what mercy look like. And you more than anyone else should love mercy. What does the Lord ask of us? To do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. And walking humbly with God is key. It takes a self-consciously powerful person to be humble for humility is usually intentional. But the humility which Micah speaks about is more than personal piety. It is a quality of humility which avoids injustice by acting in the interest of the poor.
Christian NGOs the World Bank, the IMF and everyone who turns up to a disadvantaged person needs humility. Radical humility is likely to do a lot more than listen attentively; it will also seek to shift the balance of power in such a way that those we serve are empowered to lead us. It will always be easier for those of us in the global North to listen and learn from the poor, but we have yet to see organisational policies which actively promote them to lead us at the highest levels of our organisations. A walk of radical humility will lead us to accelerate our investments not just in buildings for poor Indonesians or projects for Latin Americans. It will make us invest to intentionally in shaping people so that global leadership â€“ not just partnership - comes from the South. We will know just how demanding this kind of humility really is if we ask this question: can we conceive of a time when those we now serve will run the organisations which serves them now? Walking humbly with God is demanding for no deed of justice or love of mercy is possible where humility is absence. When humility goes missing the strong feed on the weak. The school boy who bullies in the playground is motivated by the same arrogance as a monarch or prime minister who exploits his people for personal gain. Robert Mugabe is unjust and unmerciful because he suffers from a chronic lack of humility. There is enough wealth in our world to avoid hunger. There is no reason why half a million women should die every year in childbirth; no reason why all children do not have access to full time primary education. There is no reason why women are devalued in the work place and beaten up in their homes and no reason why 30.000 children should die every day from preventable causes. It is a fundamental lack of humility when leaders fails to recognise any greater accountability than their own self interests which is then enforced by force of arms or the ballot box. And this is why ultimately, humility can only be sustained by a walk with God. Humility without God is perfectly possible; but it is not the perfect framework for people who want to do justice and love mercy.
When the Babylonians became the world’s super state and at the height of his power, King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream about a tree. It was large and luscious. Its leaves reached up to heaven and provided a haven for animals and people alike. But there was a celestial decision to cut it down sparing only the root and a modest stump. The king wasn’t happy and couldn’t make sense of his own dream. So he called for the prophet Daniel – a senior minister in his administration who rumour had it was the ‘chief of magicians’ with the spirit of divination (Daniel 4:4-33). Daniel understood the dream and was reluctant to explain what it meant. The tree it turned out was the king who had grown to be one of the most powerful and revered men on the earth. But he was becoming arrogant and lacking humility. So a decision had been taken in heaven: it was that the king would be stripped of his power and turned out to the open fields to behave like an animal for as long as it took to help him come to his senses. But Daniel offered the king an escape clause. “Renounce your sins by doing what is right and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.” Twelve months later the king looked around and began to boast about his wealth, power and influence. And his dream came to pass. What happened to him was important. But what is even more important for us is the relationship between the king’s arrogance and Daniel’s advice. It was the recognition that his lack of humility had a direct link with his treatment of the poor. It was his arrogance and this lack of humility which made the king indifferent to justice. This had been Pharaoh’s problem in the Exodus Event when Egypt ruled the world and made slaves of the Hebrew people. What stood between their oppression and their freedom was a ruthless king whose heart had become hardened (Exod 8:15, 32; 9:7, 12).
Humility without God is possible but it is not Micah’s preferred option. And it is not what the Church of Jesus has to offer a world in search of righteousness. As Archbishop Rowan Williams says, the prophetic role of the church is “obstinately asking the state about its accountability and the justifications of its priorities.” 1 0F
This is the task of Micah Challenge. It is to put this agenda at the very centre of every church and to hold our governments accountable to the 8 promises they have made. • The eradication of extreme poverty with over 1 billion people living on less than $1 per day. • To secure primary education for every child • To speak out against the imbalances between men and women in public and industrial life • To lessen the number of children who die before their fifth birthday • To prevent 600,000 women dying in childbirth each year • To provide cures for people with preventable diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria • To promote a sustainable environment • To promote partnerships for development as we address issues such as governance, corruption transparency, aid, trade and debt. This is no mere theory. We can and do make a difference. Micah Challenge is not a political pressure group: and not all of us are policy specialists. We are a movement of God’s people who are propelled by the spirit of Micah and desperate to see righteousness responding to wrong.
Europe Faith and Culture cited Doing God, Mark Chapman p96
And we know we make a difference when the Governments municipal leaders and Prime Ministers take time to talk to us. We know we are a small part of God’s healing process across the land when the United Nations office in Africa told us that if churches in Africa adopted Micah Challenge it would reduce their job by 50%. And know we can make a difference when the Global Action against Poverty regards us as a key partner in the fight against poverty. But even more importantly we know we make a difference when we tackle injustices at a local level and see people’s lives changed as a result of this. But we have a lot more to do – and very little time in which to do it. That’s why we want to identify at least 10 key campaigns in order to build their capacity to make a real difference in their nation. It is why we are raising the funds to bring together our 40 coordinators in Nairobi next month in order to encourage and build their capacity to be more effective in their own nations. It’s why we are committed to building a small team of professionals who will be dedicated to our campaign leaders, building their capacity over the next 5 years towards 2015 – and beyond.
And this is why we are so excited about the global campaign for 2010 – a third of the way towards 2015. In this campaign we see 100 million Christians praying a global prayer on Micah Sunday 10 October 2010: 10.10.10! And on that day we hope to make a global promise across our nations of how we will do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. With proper resources and through our parent bodies Micah Network and World Evangelical Alliance we think we will be able to raise the level of awareness around these issues to some 10 million Christian. And behind the scenes we will work with specialists in our nations to make very clear and specific demands of our governments as we ask them to walk humbly with God by caring for the poor. There is a groaning in our world. It is a cry for righteousness. And there is a response which we must make now. It is to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God.
And very central to this we will be raising a prophetic voice about the importance of good governance in the global North as much as the South. What has become clear to everyone is that from Africa to Italy, Bangladesh, Jamaica or Indonesia, poor governance is perhaps the single most persistent cause of injustice. Micah Challenge needs you here in Indonesia to help make this vision a reality. We do not have all the answers to all the questions about the poor in our world, but we are keen to have more people asking the right questions of our church and our governments. And we are keen to know what specifically God is asking of the church here in Indonesia. And it is all of faith. For the task we have before us simply cannot be done in our own strength or by our own strategies. It is never enough to do justice or love mercy. It is not even enough to walk humbly. In this work we must walk humbly with God so that any feint measure of success, any policy altered by a single sentence, or a life changed by a morsel of maize will give glory to the God who calls us in the first place. Rev Joel Edwards