Re-reading the post below causes me pause, as I recognize a level of anger in my writing – which continues in the comments on the post. I feel a need to unpack that anger – at least for myself.
Wednesday night, our 17 year old son, Rylan played us an early version of a song he’s writing called Ashamed. The word pictures painted in the first verse are of a North American mother complaining about how annoying her kids are in their life of leisure, juxtaposed against a third world mother who hopes her children die before she does – so that she can be there for them. Beautifully written, the song was like a punch in the gut.
Earlier in the week I’d read Soulpastor’s post on the McChurch of Canada – Gerry unpacks the decadent nature of how we live in the West – and how those of us in the church are no different in our consumption – we just add the church to our menu.
We live in an incredibly rich country. The North American church tries to make following Jesus attractive and we try to get people into the door and tell people it is great, we tell them that we have ALL the programs just for them. “Just come to our church and all your dreams will come true.”
Gerry goes on to detail some of the third world facts we choose to ignore. One of his readers/commenters who we’ll call RSB, suggested that the problems in the rest of the world were the fault of those people; "sometimes*, it is their fault, just like the spread of aids." Over the course of the discussion, RSB wouldn’t be budged from his uninformed, comfortable Western position(s). I responded to RSB and have included most of that response at the end of this post. His position is not unlike many in the West – and fueled my sense of anger.
And then, yesterday I read the joint announcement from Hybels and Warren that they are sorry for not having focused on the HIV/AIDS issue sooner – they don’t understand why they "didn’t get it." My friend, leadership consultant and pastor Ed Brenegar responds:
What an odd mea culpa! It is a confession that carries no consequence, and one that draws far too much attention to confessor, not the issue.
As well meaning as these guys want to be, the problem is that as men who have created a religious enterprise that has made them fabulously wealthy, the only way their confession of ignorance ultimately makes a difference is by their demonstrating some sacrifice that is dramatic and remarkable, and sacrificial.
I don’t believe that Hybels and Warren are bad people. They’ve just been leaders in a system that tells people, as Gerry notes (and I’ve already quoted), "Just come to church and all your dreams will come true." A perfect religious package for the boomer-consumer focused on the "I". The church is about meeting the felt needs of the seeker – and we sell this as the kingdom of god. (If we just seek first the kingdom, then we’ll get everything – Matt 6:33 in some warped paraphrase – from a passage that actually instructs us to not be worried about our lot in life – God loves us and knows our needs. If we can only get our focus off ourselves, he’ll take care of us.)
HIV was first identified in 1983, twenty-two years ago:
Over the past 20 years, more than 65 million people have become infected with HIV/AIDS. More than 25 million have died. Roughly 14 million children have lost one or both parents due to AIDS. By 2010 it is estimated that approximately 100 million people will have been infected and that there will be 25 million AIDS orphans worldwide. (From the Milbank Memorial Fund report.)
My childhood friend, Ron, died of AIDS in the late eighties – but at that time much of the church thought that people in his community deserved their fate. (God forgive us.) Ron wasn’t interesting in talking about my God – he’d already experienced Him through His people.
How many thousands of evangelical/charismatic church conferences have happened in the last twenty years? And what have been their primary foci? Church growth, the Father’s blessing, Prosperity, Leadership, etc, etc. Sure the liberal church was raising the issue – but they’re always looking for issues, right! And I don’t doubt that prayer went up for the HIV/AIDS issue – only God could sort it out, after all. But how exactly does God respond? Aren’t we His hands and feet?
We are wealthy beyond measure – living in the lap of luxury – and there is no doubt that we have issues of our own to face. (Many native Canadians live in conditions that rival those of the third world.) But working on those issues (which the evangelical church hasn’t exactly been the best at) doesn’t preclude our responsibility to the rest of the world.
The Gospel is not about getting your needs met. It’s about getting your eyes off yourself. What are Jesus words, "The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." Perhaps we can begin to teach the truth to people that real freedom comes when we take our eyes off ourselves and our needs, and focus on the incredible work that God has placed before us. This Pilgrims’ progress won’t be easy – but it will be incredibly satisfying – for it is what we have been designed to do.
*note that I inappropriately left the "sometimes" off the original quote when I first posted this.
What follows is my abridged response to RSB from the comments section of SoulPastor’s blog post – The McChurch of Canada
Now as to your response to African issues – I’d like to you to come with me to Naivasha in Kenya. It’s approximately the half way point on the road that runs from the port of Mombasa to Kampala, Uganda. The town is close to Lake Naivasha – one of the prettiest spots in the Kenyan Rift Valley – a popular tourist destination. But the tourists have little impact on the Naivasha economy. This town is the main truckstop on the Mombasa-Kampala Road. The two economic engines of the town – gas and prostitution. Now, your writings would indicate that you have a simplistic solution to the prostitution problem – people should just stop having sex, right? And this should stop the spread of HIV/AIDS for which Naivasha is the Kenyan capital (as a percentage of population).
But RSB, herein lies the rub. For some unknown reason, the Creator has designed us in a certain way. We require food to survive. And the only way to get food in Naivasha is to attempt to grow it (below subsistence farming), purchase it or steal it. The only economic option for the women of Naivasha town is to sell their bodies to provide food for themselves and their families. If they don’t eat, they die – a little quicker than their approaching death from AIDS.
And these same families have to cope with malaria – a disease that is responsible for at least one-fifth of all the deaths of African kids. Africans know when they have contracted malaria – they recognize the symptoms – they just can’t afford the medicine. You see, we westerners used junk science to stop the use of DDT around the world – the only real effective (and cheap) tool against mosquitos, the carriers of malaria. Here’s a stat for you – malaria kills 400 Ugandans a day – equivalent to a 747 crashing each day in that country. Families are decimated by this disease – which further exacerbates the issues of poverty and the social chaos it creates.
Now, RSB, I don’t just know this because of my research on Google. I’ve been on the ground in Africa numerous times. I’ve worked with a medical missions team up country in Kenya – and seen the mothers who’ve walked for three days to get to the free medical clinic the American doctors have provided. I’ve seen the men, women and children who are dying because of the lack of simple medications we take for granted here in the McWest. I’ve shot hours of videotape of these God-loved people – footage that includes people weeping at the gates of the property where the clinic was set up – because the doctors would not be able to see them – time and meds had run out.
SoulPastor – in some ways RSB has hijacked the discussion here. Unfortunately, his ignorance is not atypical of those of us blessed to live in North America. It’s much easier to blame the sick and impoverished for their conditions – and there are huge issues of personal responsibility in these countries. But those issues are put in perspective when you watch adults and children scraping through stinking piles of garbage looking for food.
Jesus responds to the question, "Who is my neighbour" in his story of the Good Samaritan. Perhaps, RSB, you might want to read it. Whether you care about "overseas stuff" or not, they are your neighbours.
And Luke 12:48 reminds us that "to whom much is given, much is expected." We waste our lives on ourselves, living life large in the West – we are professional consumers – yet never satisfied.