Session One – Ron Sider
I think I’ve learned the first lesson of live blogging. We left a little late from home and got almost all the way here before I realized that I had forgotten my power supply. I turned back home to get it. I called Charlene in the other car on the cell to let her know but she never got the message; she called me back but my phone was on vibrate. We eventually got here but not without feeling a little frustrated, but we’re here and it’s nothing that a coffee and cookie from the FRWY cafe won’t fix. Lesson number one: Don’t forget the wires at home. The first session began with a video clip from Tony Campolo, who’s been in the news following an appearance on CBC this week. Tony talked about the dichotomy that’s developed between gospel and social action, and reminded us that this dichotomy hasn’t always existed. The gospel is not just about an individual’s reconciliation with God; it includes that but it’s more. Christians have always been concerned with issues of justice as well. There is, Campolo says, an interactive relationship between individuals and society. We must not only preach a gospel that gives people freedom from sin. We also proclaim a gospel that transforms society. It’s not one or the other; it’s both. The first session is Ron Sider. Ron described three realities: One – In the next 24 hours, 35,000 children will die from conditions we know how to fix. 1.2 billion people try to survive on a dollar of day. Another 1.8 billion live on two dollars a day. Two – There are thousands of biblical verses about God’s concern for the poor. Jesus said if we don’t care for the poor, we go to hell. Three – What Christians are doing. Stats show that Christians give about a quarter of a tithe to the church. People who live in the richest countries are getting richer, but are giving less toward the gospel and the poor. The bad news is really bad. So what do we do? Ron developed three biblical themes: One – According to the Bible, God is on the side of the poor. God is not biased; he cares about everybody. But he has special concern for the poor. He lifts up those who are oppressed and victims of injustice. It’s all over Scripture. Jesus included this as a key part of his ministry Two – God also acts in history to pull down rich powerful people. This shows up in the Magnificat, the prophets (Jeremiah 5, Isaiah 3, Ezekiel 16). Is God a Marxist? No! But God deals with those who become rich by oppressing others, or who are rich but don’t share with others. Three – If you and I claim to be God’s people but don’t share God’s concern for the poor, we’re fooling ourselves. That sounds like works righteousness. Where does it say that? Passages like Amos 5; Isaiah 58; Jeremiah 32, Matthew 25. There is more to the gospel than this – worship, etc. – but it’s an important theme. This isn’t works righteousness. John Calvin said that if we claim to have saving faith but don’t do the things that people do who have saving faith, then we don’t have saving faith at all. According to Scriptures, sin is both personal and social. Evangelicals have focused on personal sin; liberals have focused on social. In the BIble, God focuses on both. Examples: Amos 2. Robbing workers of a fair wage is just as evil as robbing a bank. Unjust laws are evil. Some of the nastiest words in the Bible are spoken by Amos to the wealthy women of his day (Amos 4). They didn’t see the connection between their wealth, their connection to a system that was unfair, to the poor. Sin is both personal and social. We need to think about sin in personal terms and in terms of structure and justice. What is justice? If you look at biblical teaching on land, every family in the Old Testament owns land. Every 50 years, land reverts to its owners. Justice means that every person and family has access to productive resources, so that if they act responsibly they have access to what they need to live. So what do we do? We have to ask what causes poverty. It would be nice if there was a simple solution. Some people are poor because they have made bad choices. There are many reasons for poverty: personal irresponsibility, sinful behaviors, structures of injustice. The market economy includes many areas of injustice. How to change: Personal – Live more simply so that others my simply live. We can use our money, time, and skills to empower the poor. Become unconditionally committed to the God of the poor. Church – We don’t need more glass cathedrals in an age of hunger. But it’s not jsut about church construction. We need to learn to support each other to live counter-culturally. We can’t do this alone. Small groups are an important part of this. Society – One vote in the Canadian parliament can wipe out as much money as all churches give in a year. We need to get involved with politics and economics. “When I feed the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they’re poor, they call me a Communist.” (Dom Helder Camara) A way to tell if someone is crazy is if you tell them to empty a bathtub with a spoon and they don’t turn the tap off first. We do this – try to help individuals, but we’re not so good at dealing with the source of the problem. The good news: We are making some progress in health care, the population explosion, micro-loans. We face a fundamental choice. We know what to do. We can focus on ourselves and get more and more rich, or we can decide that we know what God says about justice and the poor, and give our lives and resources to doing what God cares about, including poverty and the gospel. What are you going to give your life to? More and more gadgets, or people? Will you respond to God’s invitation and care about the poor the way that he does? If no, you can’t call yourself a biblical Christian. If yes, he will use you. Q&A We live in a society with a lot of injustice. A lot of our clothes and food is part of that system. How do we deal with that? The answer is not to refuse to purchase anything and withdraw. But we do need to distinguish between relative kinds of injustice. Some systems are more unjust. We can also study to find out what’s going on, and boycott the worst. Don’t feel overwhelmed with guilt. Do what you can as one finite person and keep working at it. How do we talk about this in our churches in a consumer society? Don’t feel completely bad about guilt – it is sometimes appropriate to feel guilt. Preach biblically and allow people to experience what you are. Selectively expose your people to what’s happening around the world. Most of the questions Ron answered were on micro-loans – an important issue but I didn’t take many notes. Lots of reasons for hope. For the first time, the most famous evangelical in the United States is talking about poverty. God is working!