Australia may be known as the nation "down under," but Australian Baptists are on top of the Baptist world in terms of advocacy for the Micah Challenge.
Symbolic launch of the Micah Challenge in October, 2004, with a goal of cutting poverty in half. (MicahChallenge.org)
The Micah Challenge is an ambitious initiative that presses governments to keep their pledges to support the United Nation's millennium development goals, one of which is to halve global poverty in the next nine years.
Other goals include universal primary education, gender equality and empowerment for women, fair trade and debt forgiveness, reducing child mortality and ensuring environmental sustainability.
The Baptist World Alliance's General Council adopted a resolution in 2004 supporting the Micah Challenge. The resolution said, "Christians everywhere must be agents of hope for and with the poor, and to work with others to hold our national and global leaders accountable in securing a more just and merciful world."
The European Baptist Federation adopted a resolution in 2005, endorsing Micah Challenge.
But few Baptist bodies and churches match Australian Baptists' strong advocacy for the Micah Challenge.
In an email interview with EthicsDaily.com, Rod Benson, director of the Centre for Christian Ethics at Morling College, an Australian Baptist college, pointed to range of actions.
Benson said, "All state Baptist unions, to my knowledge, have adopted a Micah declaration, and a reasonably large number of churches support for MC within their church ministries,"
Baptist World Aid-Australia is the leading Micah Challenge agency and provides office space of the Australian Micah Challenge offices, he said.
"BWAA has appointed its first ever advocacy officer (AO) to take up issues related to global poverty," said Benson.
With a strong focus on the millennium development goals, the advocacy officer has lobbied members of parliament "and coordinated a letter writing campaign," said Benson. "In addition to this advocacy, groups are in the process of being formed in Baptist churches across Australia."
Benson, a regular columnist for EthicsDaily.com, said the goal is to add advocacy groups in 20 churches a year for five years, starting in 2007.
At the 2006 convention of the New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory, the Social Issues Committee "will launch a state-wide initiative to facilitate indigenous reconciliation in Australia," said Benson. "The SIC also supports the ecumenical Micah-related program 'Make Indigenous Poverty History' aimed at encouraging the Australian government and community to apply the Micah Challenge's MDGs to our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities."
The chair of the Social Issues Committee is Scott Higgins, who is also advocacy officer for Baptist World Aid-Australia.
The state union of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory has some 330 Baptist churches.
Benson said Australians have the perception that teenagers and those in their 20s have embraced the Micah Challenge more readily than older Australians and have become advocates for it.
He identified three reasons for the Micah Challenge youth movement.
First, "younger people are often more idealistic and respond better to radical challenges (political as well as spiritual), sometimes in contrast to what they see as their parents' values," said Benson.
Second, "most younger people have less to lose financially by adopting the kind of discipleship advocated by MC, i.e. they are less financially encumbered and less dependent on certain lifestyle requirements," he said.
Benson said that the third reason was that "younger people often have more discretionary time and energy to devote to MC (older people are not necessarily more self-focused, but are often already committed to various ministries and causes)."
He acknowledged that many older Australian Baptists were also tireless advocates of the Micah Challenge.
The fact that Micah Challenge's international director, Michael Smitheram, is an Australian Baptist might help explain some of the high level of interest. He is a member of the Canberra Baptist Church located in the capital city of Australia.
Contrasting Australians and Americans, Benson said that American Baptists need to go beyond "harmful patriotic myths" to understand that they needed to be "Christians first and Americans second."
He said, "While it is true that most Australians do not express an equivalent love (or idolatry) for nationalism, Australians also need to recognize the economic blind spots that they possess, and Australian Baptists would do well to pursue a more authentic Christian lifestyle in a wide range of areas."
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.
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