Thursday, December 15, 2005

saving the world and solving it's problems

My friend Quinton and I meet once a week for accountability and just to talk through stuff in life. Usually it's also a time where we know we'll be able to hang out with each other with our hectic, modern lives. A prime example is in that we haven't been able to meet for two weeks due to work schedules and a musical I was in this past weekend.

Anyways, we met earlier today to talk about what life has dealt since we last met. Each of us had joys, struggles, and strange happenings (me moreso than him...I wonder why that is). We talked about our respective relationships, work, church and stuff.

Eventually, when we were done "venting" to and encouraging each other, the conversation somehow steered towards government, a government's role in everyday life and the United Nations (which led to me poking fun at dispensationalists--all in love, though, I assure you!). We both agree that the government is not the one that is supposed to be doing social work and "ministry", but that the church is to be the one meeting the needs of people in need.

There's a problem, though. Most churches aren't doing it. Many have food pantries for the families who ask...but what about the many who don't? In addition, I'm a selfish Christian and I don't think I'm the only one. I want my money for the "things" I want and need instead of giving it away. How far many of our churches have strayed from the model in Acts where "all things were common" among the believers.

As the church is not doing what it is designed to do, the need is there and not being met. Therefore the government takes the role--at least, that was the point I made. If the church is not offering education, etc, either the government must or it won't be done. This isn't the only area where another organization is picking up the church's slack. Para-church organizations are abundant because local churches are either not doing what is necessary or are not networking together to accomplish these things.

Look at the world before mandatory education or social services. If one was poor, they stayed poor--along with most of their descendants. You would not be educated. If you couldn't work, you begged, depended upon charity or starved to death. There was no hope of advancement...only hope of survival and more hard work if it could be found. A government funding education, mandating education and funding social services has created a bloated bureaucracy, yes, but it also has created SOME upward mobility and hope to many. (I'm not going to talk about how bad the education system is in the U.S. or the lack of upward mobility for minorities...that's for a rant for another day.) The government, because of the need not being met, has become necessary.

We land at that same problem as before, though. Should the government be collecting taxes and dispersing our "wealth" to those without? My Southern mind says "Absolutely not!" but the compassionate person in me wars with that statement. Christ does not desire starvation for people. He desires for needs to be met and has designed the church to do so (as part of reconciling the world to God through Christ) and if the church is failing to do so....should the government?

Our first thought to solve the problem was for the government to stop all the pork barrel projects from Congress...then we decided that wasn't going to happen. Then we thought the government should just stop collecting those taxes, and let people volunteer their money to help others. That would be the ideal situation. Man helping man out of love, compassion and empathy.
The problem with that, though, is that we're fallen. We're selfish. We desire to do nothing good--unless it serves us in some way. many would voluntarily give twenty percent of their income to help another person? Greed is a mighty enemy to fight, especially when selfishness has his back.

Then we decided to offer tax incentives to entice people to give. (I also thought about just guilting people into it, but that sounded too much like legalism and how most churches encourage tithing!) If we could get something out of it...sure...then we'd give generously...well, maybe just give.

That, though, leads to yet another problem. Corruption in the church (yes, I did say the church) and other humanitarian organizations is a disease that plagues the poor and any aid given to help them. How much of the "donations" and "tithes" would be either misspent or embezzled? Just look at the UN's Oil for Food scandal! SG Kofi Annan won't say anything because he's up to his waders in the crap! Or look at debt relief and poverty relief to developing nations. They money rarely gets to people who need it because it's stolen by corrupt governments, officials, agencies, or companies. I wholeheartedly support the ONE campaign, but my question is this: how does it get to the people?

That's where Q and I arrived at in the end. All of our solutions just led to more problems. The solutions to poverty, disease and hunger all are combated and overcome at times by sin--even within the church! What is the answer? Perhaps the person who solves this riddle is the most deserving of a Nobel Prize...or perhaps will be the Anti-Christ in the Left Behind books ( a joke...a joke).... Seriously, though, we need to think about this problem. People are dying of starvation and malnourished every day across the globe. We MUST help, but at the same time...are we helping when giving to organizations that will just squander the money? That's yet another question.

Let me offer some hope, though. There are some organizations which are financially accountable to groups beyond themselves. World Vision and The World Hunger Fund of the International Mission Board are two organizations I trust and would recommend. The ONE campaign also has promise, but, I think, has serious issues with how to disperse the funds. Seriously, though, if the problem of world poverty, hunger and disease are to be tackled, these two groups will not be enough. Financial accountability? Spiritual accountability?

until Christ is formed in us...


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