Political advocacy for the goal of the Micah Challenge to halve global poverty by 2015 finds little action among worldwide Baptists, save those in Australia.
The Baptist World Aid-Australia is “the lead agency for MC, being among the largest funding bodies and providing office space for MC national office,” said Rod Benson, director of the Centre for Christian Ethics at Morling College, an Australian Baptist school.
“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,” Benson said in an email interview with EthicsDaily.com.
The Micah Challenge is an ambitious initiative that presses governments to keep their pledges to support the United Nation’s millennial 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.
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 resolution called on nations “to take seriously the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations in the desire to halve current levels of world poverty by 2015 and upon the richest nations to take urgent action to ensure that at least 0.7 percent of the national GNP is used to this end.”
The BWA council agreed to cooperation with 270 evangelical Christian relief, development and social justice ministries around the world and commended the leadership involvement of Baptist World Aid “to make a biblically shaped response to the needs of the poor and oppressed.”
When global Baptists gather next week in Mexico City for BWA’s General Council meeting, one topic of discussion will be the Micah Challenge, which receives little attention from Baptists outside of Australia.
Alistair Brown, general secretary of BMS World Mission, said, “UK Baptists have not really engaged with MC in any serious way.”
In an email interview with EthicsDaily.com, he cited the lack of promotion in churches for the reason the lack of support.
“If we are serious about the Micah Challenge we need to get the attention and support of the local gatekeepers to the churches—the pastors. That has not yet happened,” said Alan Stanford, pastor of Clarendon Baptist Church in Arlington, Va., and general secretary for the North American Baptist Fellowship, one of the BWA’s regional bodies.
John Baker, pastor of First Baptist Church of Columbia, Mo., said he wished “more Baptists, and more Christians, would take the physical-world agenda of the Micah Challenge more seriously.”
BWA’s director of evangelism and education, Brazilian Fausto Vasconcelos, said Brazilian Baptists were reluctant to engage their government.
Despite the lack of church action in many countries, Baptist leaders understand the divine imperative to pursue justice for the poor.
“The cry of the oppressed cannot be ignored for much longer. God will call into account those with opportunity to alleviate suffering and injustice and yet choose to ignore his call to act responsibly,” said Brown.
“God’s call on people to speak out against the injustice of poverty and to take action to aid and defend the poor, are clear themes throughout the Bible,” he said.
“If any nation needs to regain the moral high ground, it is the U.S.,” said Brown, leader of the oldest Baptist mission-sending organization. “The church in the U.S. cannot ignore its contribution to global injustice and its power to change the status quo.”
Benson said, “Without the active support of the U.S.A. the MDGs [Millennium Development Goals] will not be achieved.”
The Australian Baptist ethicist said: “The U.S. needs to move beyond rhetoric on poverty to reality. Contrary to their impression that they are a generous people, the U.S. is among the bottom three developed country donors in the world when aid is considered as a proportion of GDP, and contrary to their advocacy of free trade, agricultural subsidies they pay to their farmers are devastating to poor country farmers.”
Benson, who writes a regular column for EthicsDaily.com, challenged American churches, Baptists in particular, to press their government to change practices that harm billions of poor people around the world.
“The American church desperately needs a wakeup call that will see them move beyond harmful patriotic myths to affirm their divine calling to be Christians first and Americans second,” he said. “Baptists in America have a great opportunity to lead their nation in this demonstration of Christian discipleship.”
Stanford said, “For rank and file North American Baptists to get serious about the Micah Challenge would require a radical shift in our real priorities which would mean that we would need to challenge our people from the pulpit Sunday after Sunday with the radical teachings of Jesus Christ and the implications of those for our lives.”
Another American pastor, John Baker, said that Baptists are a large, powerful and wealthy group who, if they could be mobilized, would “work wonders to advance the Millennium Goals.”
He said, “It’s disheartening, however, that a large portion of Baptist mission work has focused solely on spiritual evangelism in recent years.”
Vasconcelos, who also directs BWA’s study and research division, regretted the split between evangelism and ethics.
“The old ‘split’ or ‘division’ between evangelism and social action/ethics is really disastrous because, as I perceive it, it is not a matter of ‘either/or’ but ‘both/and,'” he said.
Citing a Brazilian saying, Vasconcelos said, “Sometimes the best John 3:16 you can give a person is a slice of bread.”
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.