|Two statements about global hunger appeared a month apart. The latter statement will test the depth of commitment of the former.
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship declared last month its commitment to the Micah Challenge, a global campaign to pressure governments to keep their pledges to halve poverty by 2015, one of the United Nation's Millennium Development Goals.
An official with U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization said this week that the world food crisis was only beginning and linked the food crisis with the fuel crisis.
Noting that 850 million people experience chronic hunger, an FAO official said, "Now rising food prices are hitting entirely new sections of societies….The pressure is enormous."
When asked in an interview with Der Spiegel, a German publication, why food production was not keeping up with the demand for food, the official answered: "Various factors, including very significantly the rising oil price. Traditional agriculture is itself very energy intensive: It needs oil for fertilizer, pesticides, tractors and transport. To get away from that, many governments are promoting fuels made from agricultural products. This is turn links the price of bread to the price of oil."
He said that "20 to 50 percent of the hike in food prices is the result of the demand for biofuel plants."
Asked if the food crisis had peaked, he replied: "Quite the opposite, we're only at the beginning."
With other non-governmental and governmental organizations, CBF claims a commitment to halving extreme global poverty in the next seven years at the very time the situation is worsening.
Fuel prices drive up food prices. Alternative fuel sources--biofuels--lessen the availability of food. The impoverished and the working poor get bruised by the downbeat of the cycle of systemic injustice.
While commendable on its face, this statement will be a hollow commitment if for CBF leaders, churches and organizations it is only "resolutionary" Christianity, that which resolves to do good but doesn't follow through after the meeting is over.
If we are to be faithful to authentic Christianity, what then shall we do?
Maybe we ought to stop wandering around in the comfortable fog of spiritual discernment, a place where middle-class, well-educated white Baptists can display their piety in public.
No spiritual discernment is needed to hear God's crystal-clear action word in Scripture: feed the hungry, care for the widow and orphan, welcome the stranger in the land; do justice.
The Bible speaks definitively: "For the poor will never cease out of the land; therefore I command you, You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in the land" (Deut. 15:11).
That text is straightforward. It's rooted in the realism about social structures and the divine assignment to care for the poor.
Jesus speaks definitively about his moral vision: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Lk. 4:18-19).
That text is straightforward. It's rooted in the prophetic justice tradition and the divine expectation that disciples will be doers of justice.
Given the clarity of the biblical witness and the Baptist commitment to the Bible, we can make a significant contribution to achieving the Micah Challenge. But it's going to require more than annual statements. It's going to require every church to engage in intensive Bible study about hunger and how global Baptists are working together to face the challenges of poverty, environmental degradation, ill-health and economic injustice.
One CBF-related church has prioritized hunger education and offers a model for others to emulate. Columbia Baptist Church has order 35 copies of "Always…Therefore: The Church's Challenge of Global Poverty," a 28-minute DVD, to use this fall in faith-formation sessions through the church in Falls Church, Va.
The four-part DVD explores biblical realism and moral responsibility; relief efforts; rehabilitation and development projects; and renewing justice commitments, such as the Micah Challenge. It centers of what goodwill Baptists are doing through Baptist World Aid. It includes an undated, online student and leaders guide.
Goodwill Baptists have made a pledge. We have a system for the distribution of relief and development aid. We have a compelling congregational model. We have available educational resources.
The only remaining ingredient is the moral will. Do we have the will to act? Will we deepen our commitment as things worsen, as the oil price adversely affects the bread price, even the availability of bread?
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.
"Always…Therefore: The Church's Challenge of Global Poverty"