Hot Topics Make Up 'Sweet Justice' Series
The justice element was already out there. The "sweet" was added when an idea sprouted over a lot of coffee and a lot of chocolate late one night.
Thus, Second Baptist Church of Little Rock, Ark., dedicated Wednesday nights during the summer to a Sweet Justice series of presentations and dialogue on prominent and often controversial societal issues.
After a formal presentation by local experts on "hot-button" topics, participants gathered for informal conversation enhanced by a buffet of mostly homemade desserts. Not only did the programs furnish information or fodder for discussion and a sweet excuse to stay around and chat, participants were given opportunities and information on how to become further involved with issues on which they were most passionate.
A race relations element was added as members of the new and predominantly African-American New Millennium Church joined the predominantly white downtown congregation for each session.
"We didn't set this up to solve all the world's problems," said Matt Cook, pastor of Second Baptist. "But we wanted to provide some first steps people could take on the issues they were passionate about. The church should be a place of light rather than heat. We wanted to give opportunities for people to listen to the voice of God through the voice of another person's passion."
"Peace happens when the hungry can feed themselves," said Dr. Rex Enoch, manager of the adult education program of Heifer International, an organization headquartered in Little Rock that has as its goal the elimination of global hunger. "When people can take control of their lives, it's empowering. If people's basic needs are being met, most will be able to dwell on higher needs."
Enoch said ending hunger is a doable goal. "We know how to do it," he said. "The question is whether we have the will to do it. Even if it's impossible, we ought to try to do it."
Janet Nye, a local environmental activist, listed a number of basic things people can do to help environmental sustainability – from using excess condensation from air conditioners to water plants to recycle everything possible.
"Our society has been dependent on consuming," she said. "When we consume, we are not helping our neighbor. We should ask ourselves how does my action today affect someone else in the world?"
In a poignant demonstration, she took an apple, as an example of the Earth, and divided it into slices to indicate how much is water, inhabitable, populated and sustainable. She came down to only a small sliver of a peel that she said represents the portion people have to produce food.
"One thing that we must do is not forget God," she said. "You cannot talk about the environment and leave God totally out of the picture."
In an emotional story of how she adopted her daughter in China, rescuing her from an almost certain life of slavery, Shannon Avra, a professor of sociology at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, noted that more slavery exists in the world today than at the time of the Civil War.
Avra noted that human trafficking and all the forms it takes (slavery, prostitution, child soldiers, domestic workers, child laborers) is a $9 billion a year industry, according to estimates of international agencies.
"So many times children in orphanages become completely invisible," Avra said. "This is a day-to-day reality that should be brought to our attention day to day."
Millennium Development Goals
In explaining the United Nations' eight Millennium Development goals, Chris Ellis, minister of missions and outreach at Second Baptist, noted that a child in the world dies every three seconds of preventable and treatable causes.
Ellis provided several statistics and observations, including "115 million school-aged children are not able to read. Women compose 51 percent of the world's population, do 66 percent of the work, but earn 10 percent of the income and own less than 1 percent of the property." He noted that malaria can be treated successfully with a 50-cent dose of medicine readily available in the United States, and one bed net in a home can reduce malaria by 90 percent.
He said the goals are focused on brokenness, the poor in the world. He noted that most of the goals, developed by secular agencies, can be accomplished with a Christian perspective and passion.
He encouraged participants to find the goal "that you are passionate about and get involved," he said.
Consistent Pro-Life Ethic
Ray Higgins, a former seminary ethics professor who is coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Arkansas, outlined two major political philosophies (liberal and conservative) and how each is inconsistent and polar opposites on the four major pro-life issues (abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia and war).
To be consistent, Higgins said, a person can be realistic and say yes to all or idealistic and say no to all. The issues are further complicated by dozens of peripheral issues such as the environment, gun control, stem cell research and cloning.
Higgins said, whatever the viewpoint, there is both scriptural comfort and discomfort.
"But there is no question that Jesus was pro-life," Higgins said. "That is God's preference, but God also gave us freedom of choice.
"There are other issues that affect being consistently pro-life," Higgins added. "But if pro-life was the ultimate priority, Jesus would have not sacrificed himself on the cross. He placed love as the highest ideal."
A five-person panel with expertise in various areas of homeless issues had a discussion, addressing the changing face of homelessness, which is different from the stereotype, and how Christians can address the complex issues.
"Homeless folks have a whole range of knowledge and skills, but so do people in churches," said Dennis Beavers, who tries to coordinate secular and church programs for the homeless. "Churches need to fit into the larger picture and see what they can do to contribute to the overall picture."
David McCollum is a contributing editor to EthicsDaily.com