Magazine article Tikkun

Living out the Great Commission

Magazine article Tikkun

Living out the Great Commission

Article excerpt

LIVING OUT THE GREAT COMMISSION

Excerpted from Letters to a Young Evangelical, by Tony Campólo (December 2006). Reprinted with the permission of Basic Books

WE EVANGELICALS HAVE A LONG HISTORY OF effective charity work in the Third World, but there is a growing sense among socially progressive Evangelicals that something must be done to change the social system itself. This awareness, in most cases, is driving such Evangelicals to become increasingly sympathetic with those indigenous people in the Third World who challenge the legitimacy of not only their own government and business leaders, but also America's policies in the Third World. Increasingly, U.S. Evangelicals return from mission trips asking whether our government in Washington has established trade agreements that serve our nation's commercial interests to the detriment of developing nations such as Haiti.

I am one of those questioning Evangelicals. I think it is our Christian responsibility to ask if the U.S. government has lent support to violent, dictatorial regimes simply because those regimes are friendly to our multinational corporations. It doesn't take too much investigating to discover that our country maintains the school of the Americas, which knowingly trains military officers from Third World countries that too often suppress, with violence, dissident voices in their homelands. Missionary work usually starts as acts of charity, but the more you learn about how political and economic institutions oppress and exploit the poor, the more you realize that charity is not enough. Justice is also needed.

Many socially progressive young Evangelicals in today's world sadly recognize that the church has, time and time again over its history, sided with oppressors- and that, far too often, it still does. They know about the 1960s, when many white church leaders, particularly in the South, stood in opposition to Martin Luther King Jr. and the goals of the civil-rights movement. They've groaned in disdain to tales of leading religious leaders who sought to religiously legitimate the Vietnam War. More recently, they've been dismayed to witness TV preachers giving their blessings to the war in Iraq and supporting a government that establishes secret prisons where people are tortured. These young Evangelicals often express disgust at "Christian" radio shows that nurture homophobia by equating homosexuality with pedophilia and encouraging Christians to crusade for the denial of basic civil rights to gays and lesbians. Those with ecological concerns recognize that, in their efforts to save the environment, their primary opponents are often Evangelical Christians. They wince as Evangelical preachers, writers, and radio commentators label Christian environmentalists as nothing more than a bunch of "New Agers."

Unfortunately, many of these questioning Evangelicals have ended up rejecting the church. Ayoung former Evangelical Christian I know, who has committed her life to social-justice causes, believes that when it comes to the sicknesses of the world, religion is not the cure. Instead, she says, it's often a perpetrator of the disease. She echoes those who call religion "the opiate of the people" and views religion as an instrument that powerful people use to dupe oppressed people into believing that the prevailing unjust social arrangements are ordained by God. Now alienated from the church, she is especially upset when Evangelical leaders suggest that, if people rebel against what she believes are obscenely unfair social institutions, they are actually rebelling against God. …

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