Will Baptists in the United States join global Baptists in active support of the Micah Challenge? Will we do our own thing? Will we do anything at all?
Symbolic launch of the Micah Challenge last October, with a goal of cutting poverty in half. (MicahChallenge.org)
The Micah Challenge is a movement determined to make the 191 member states of the United Nations keep their 2000 pledges of support for Millennium Development Goals to halve global poverty by 2015. Specific goals include reducing child mortality, providing for universal primary education, advancing environmental sustainability, promoting gender equality and combating AIDS/HIV.
These goals are achievable, if governments keep their pledges. Regrettably, government leaders too often make promises they fail to keep. The U.S. government will more likely keep its pledge if it hears a call for action from people of faith.
This is not a partisan issue. It's a human rights issue, the right to improved human well-being. At its heart is the Christian mandate of neighbor love—love that means more than occasional charitable donations to relief efforts from high-visibility natural disasters such as tsunamis, earthquakes and hurricanes.
Love for neighbor pursues what the prophet Micah said that God requires: "Do justice" (Micah 6:8).
Sadly, white Baptists in American tend to ignore the Bible's mandate. We have severed social justice from what it means to be an authentic Christian.
Perhaps justice got severed during the civil rights movement, when justice meant equality and integration. Maybe it got lost in the therapeutic movement, when personal affirmation replaced moral accountability. Possibly justice got washed away in the contemporary worship movement, when phrases of adoration replaced words of responsibility.
Certainly the biblical mandate to do justice got distorted when fundamentalists read justice to mean punishment and not the empowerment of the poor, delivery of freedom of the oppressed, protection for the downtrodden and fairness in the marketplace.
Whatever the reason, we need a reformation that restores social justice as a defining characteristic of what it means to be Christian and a central aspect of the church's mission. One way for this to happen is through involvement in the Micah Challenge.
In addition to biblical faithfulness, joining the Micah Challenge would advance solidarity with global Baptists, some of whom are at the leadership front of the Micah Challenge.
One of the founders is Doug Balfour, a member of London's Ashford Baptist Church and then the general director of Tearfund.
He said that a motivating factor behind the launch of the Micah Challenge was to harness the "passion in the churches," which had motivated the British government to take a stronger stand to ease Third World debt.
Another founder was Stephen Rand, a member of London's Teddington Baptist Church.
"Christians hold the key to doing justice in a complex world," Rand said. "If Baptists are Bible people, then they can lead the way in encouraging Christians to behave biblically and bring good news to the poor—materially and spiritually."
The international coordinator for the Micah Challenge is Michael Smitheram, a member of Canberra Baptist Church in Melbourne, Australia.
Accompanying Baptist leaders are Baptist organizations.
At the 2004 Baptist World Alliance general council meeting in Seoul, the body endorsed the Micah Challenge.
Then the president-elect of the BWA, David Coffey told council members of his support for the Micah Challenge. He said he wanted to work with others "to make poverty history."
A year later at the 2005 Baptist World Congress, Coffey, general secretary for the Baptist Union of Great Britain, urged support the Micah Challenge.
"To make poverty history is the duty of every Christian, and we should not need the world to tell us so," he said. "It is an acid test of our obedience to follow Jesus when he says, 'in as much as you did it to the least of these you did it to me.' We cannot strive to be more like Jesus if we have a lifestyle less like Jesus."
In the United Kingdom, Alistair Brown, general director of BMS World Mission, said, "I think the responsibility of those of us who have so much is to take sides with those who have so little, to be a voice for the voiceless, to act for the powerless."
Addressing the Micah Challenge, Brown said: "Those who suffer the most deprivation—the victims of unfair trading conditions for example—don't have a powerful voice. But we do have a powerful voice, and we can at least challenge some practices and hopefully see things change."
"There is evidence that this sort of campaigning really does change policies," Brown said. "It makes a real difference to people who probably don't even know we're speaking for them. But we must do it. It is part of bringing God's love to bear on those situations."
In Scotland, the Baptist Union of Scotland "warmly" endorsed the Micah Challenge, urging rich nations to allocate at least .7 percent of their gross national product toward the goals of halving poverty.
The Italian Union of Baptist Churches, Canadian Baptist Ministries, Baptist World Aid Australia and the Baptist Union of Australia signed on as supporting bodies.
Meeting in Prague, Czech Republic, the European Baptist Federation passed a resolution calling on member unions, churches and members to support the Micah Challenge.
The resolution said: "Despite the commitment of world leaders to agreed United Nations Millennium Development Goals, including halving global poverty by 2015, the achievement of these goals remains a distant dream. But it doesn't have to be this way."
Indeed the future doesn't have to be more poverty, more misery, more environmental degradation, more ill health.
So, will U.S. Baptists sign on?
God expects justice. What better vehicle do we have than the Micah Challenge?
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.