I count Zach Hoag as a friend and, at times, a mentor. Recently, Zach published a demand: “In 2015 I’m demanding better from our leaders in the fight against extreme poverty and for equality.” He posted this as part of the ONE Campaign he recently participated in. While Zach is convinced that compassion and justice are local concerns, he is calling for “leaders” to think globally as well as act locally.
Zach’s piece reads a bit like a commercial for the ONE Campaign – which, in a sense, it actually is. Nothing wrong with that. But it leaves me with a couple questions. Zach doesn’t get specific with regard to the “demands”. Is it for more money? Different policies? More effective partnerships? It’s all of the above and those kinds of demands are easy to make. The specifics, both in terms of defining them and suggesting how they will be brought to fruition – that is another matter.
Zach writes: “The church should be a prophetic voice for moving the resources of governments toward promoting human flourishing (instead of so often contributing to destruction).” Amen to that; but “resources of governments” are the collected resources of individuals. In our own state of Vermont, revenue shortfalls have left our legislature scrambling to reduce budgets, and social services loom in the foreground as large targets for such cuts.
When the church – and other faith communities – use their “prophetic voice”, there always needs to be intense soul-searching.
Hoag joins eminent voices like that of Charles M. Blow who writes: “Raising an issue to the point where it can no longer be ignored is the grist for the policy mill. Visibility and vocalization have value.” (See “Beyond ‘Black Lives Matter.'”) Blow uses the Occupy Wall Street movement as an example, writing that it “forever elevated that concept of income inequality”. Perhaps. But what has the OWS done to actually make a difference? The “Haves” continue to gain ground while the “Have-Nots” continue to be left in the dust. For my money – literally and metaphorically – “visibility and vocalization” get their traction more from “boots on the ground” in the neighborhood than policies aimed at those who live in penthouses.
If we take our cue from the Nazarean, the work of the “Kingdom / Kindom of God” is played out one soul at a time. The seeds of new policies will not grow absent the soil of transformed hearts. Perhaps the question is; Which needs to come first? And here is where my faith in the visibility and vocalization of activism and advocacy gives way beneath the heavy burden of love – for our neighbor and our adversary.
As we push Zach and ask: What exactly is the “better” you are demanding from leaders? – We also need to push ourselves. What is the ‘better” Christ demands from us? This isn’t to beat up on ourselves just for the purpose of giving busy people more to do. Rather, it is to plumb the depths of our own faith. Does the joy we get from the unconditional love of Christ inspire us to express itself in personal acts of sacrificial generosity?
When a local Day Station was flooded, First UMC Burlington opened the doors to our Victorian parsonage to help the community take up the slack in service to our homeless neighbors.
When a neighborhood church sustained damage, First UMC Burlington welcomed in the pastor and his family and provided living accommodations.
When a low barrier shelter opened in a facility where showers were not available, First UMC Burlington was challenged to come up with a plan so our showers could be available.
In each of those situations, individual Christians jumped up – individuals who are employees of various local non-profit organizations. Members of the church made the needs known, and then … what? Did they invite the church to respond, or did they expect and demand the church to respond?
ONE is a great organization. The agencies serving my home community are doing a fantastic job even as financial resources shrink. In the final analysis, however, it’s not our leaders who have to measure up. It’s me. And it’s you, too, Zach.
So I make a counter demand, not exclusively to leaders, but to anyone choosing to read this. What are the sacrifices you are willing to make to be in a community and to give generously of your resources? What inconveniences are you willing to bear in order to spread the physical and material blessings you enjoy?
I am not inclined to make demands of anyone else. There is plenty being demanded of me that I haven’t yet lived up to.