Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Choosing Our Battles Redux

(The following is an expansion of an earlier post. If it sounds familiar, that's why.)

"When a sixth of the population of a nation which has undertaken to be the refuge of liberty are slaves, and a whole country is unjustly overrun and conquered by a foreign army, and subjected to military law, I think that it is not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize. What makes this duty the more urgent is that fact that the country so overrun is not our own, but ours is the invading army."
-Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience

"What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun."
-Ecclesiastes 1:9

Things have changed a lot since Thoreau's day. America has abolished slavery, something which many Americans considered impractical in 1849 when Civil Disobedience was written. But old things have a habit of turning up in new ways. Today, a sixth of the population of the earth lives in extreme poverty, having less than a dollar a day with which to attempt to survive.

And once again while this grave injustice goes on, our country busies itself about an unrelated war. Now surely the war on Iraq is substantially different from the war on Mexico. Now we're fighting for "Iraqi freedom." Then we were fighting for the "liberation" of Texas. Maybe it's not that different after all.

The United States has now undertaken not just to be the refuge of liberty but the bearer of liberty to the whole world, but are we living up to this billing?

By one estimate, the U.S. will spend $500 billion dollars on miltary expenses this year. Meanwhile, we continue to fall well short of our 2002 promise (in the Monterry Consensus) to devote 0.7 percent of our GNP to foreign aid. We currently only meet about $16 billion dollars of a $70 billion dollar commitment.

In a recent poll conducted by MSNBC (thanks to Bob at I Am a Christian Too for the link), 90 percent of respondants said that churches should be involved in raising awareness about poverty. I can't imagine who the ten percent were who thought churches shouldn't be involved in this, but they were there.

I would have liked to have seen a follow-up question: how often is the issue of poverty raised in your church? My first reaction was to be critical of my own church. I don't hear the issue of poverty talked about a lot in my church. I certainly don't hear it from the pulpit. But then I thought about what is there.

My church has a food ministry to help the poor in our area. We've sent mission teams to help build a medical clinic in Africa. We regularly have Fair Trade items for sale in our narthex. The work is being done.

Then I thought, maybe the problem is with me. These things are going on. I know about them. I contribute to them financially regularly, and otherwise on occaission. But they don't jump out at me as what's going on in my church.

Then this train of thought reached out and grabbed hold of what I wrote recently about God's field. These things going on in my church are the result of Church happening. I'm even involved, though I didn't see it.

This is the way the Church works. The big institutions are a red herring. The real work gets done from ground swells on the inside. People like St. Francis of Assisi show up and draw people to themselves and together they change the world.

This, as I understand it, is also the Republican model of how social problems like poverty should be handled. People of faith will rise up in our nation and make things happen.

But this is where I want to tie this back to the military issue. Why do we have a national army? Why is our army fighting battles around the world? Is it not because it takes a central power to make something like this possible?

And this is why Democrats want to push social issues onto the government. Faith-based groups can provide islands of help. They can fight off the tide of death. But the governments of wealthy nations, can provide a solution. In a recent article in Time magazine (exceprted from The End of Poverty), economist Jeffrey Sachs outlined what it would take to end extreme poverty in the world by 2025. It's possible, but only if our governments are willing to commit to it.

And what will make our governments commit to it? This is where the ground swell and faith based movements come in. We, the people, must demand it. To quote Sachs, "Great social forces are the mere accumulation of individual actions." This isn't a liberal issue or a conservative issue. It's a justice issue. It's a moral values issue. People of faith must join together and demand that our government do the right thing, do justice.

Click here to see what you can do.

We can fight to end terrorism, or we can fight to end poverty. Will we choose our sense of security over our neighbor's survival?

1 comment:

LutheranChik said...

The other day the whole geopolitical thing was getting to me, and I found myself praying with the Psalmist: "How long, o Lord? How long?"