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Compassion, Justice, Needed to Fight Poverty, Ethicists Say

While Christians can do much to fight global poverty through compassionate ministries of relief and development, ethicists agree the long-term solution is economic justice.

“Charity is feeding people when they are hungry, giving people clothes when they need clothes,” said Joe Haag of the Baptist General Convention of Texas Christian Life Commission. “Justice, I think, is more about the systemic causes of poverty.”<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
“The Bible is all about justice,” Haag said. “It’s all about teaching the people of God that if we’re going to follow Jesus faithfully, we have to work for justice in the world.”
A worldwide campaign called “Micah Challenge” aims to deepen Christian engagement with the poor and urge the international community to fulfill promises to reduce poverty by half by 2015 with a series of initiatives approved unanimously by the United Nations called the Millennium Development Goals.
The Baptist World Alliance has endorsed the Micah Challenge. The <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />BaptistCenter for Ethics devoted a special section to the campaign on, including a Baptist pastoral letter supporting the Micah Challenge.
“As Christians, wouldn’t it be great if we were the leaders and not the followers in this fight?” Suzii Paynter, director of the Texas CLC, said in a segment about the Micah Challenge in “Always … Therefore: The Church’s Challenge of Global Poverty,” a DVD and study guide resource produced by the BaptistCenter for Ethics.
“The Hebrew prophet Micah asks, ‘What does the Lord of us,'” said Robert Parham, executive director of the BaptistCenter for Ethics. “The answer is that the Lord requires that we do justice.”
“Surely it makes sense to provide food to children, to provide education to their mothers, to provide many other issues that are covered in the Millennium Development Goals, which have been approved by the United Nations,” said Paul Montacute of Baptist World Aid. “So one of the first things the Micah Challenge is saying is that in the name of Christ we want the United Nations to work with the countries who are members of the United Nations in bringing about these improvements to peoples’ health and welfare around the world by achieving these goals that have been set and which have been mandated.”
“I think the Bible’s most compelling mandate about hunger of justice is simply that God requires it of us,” said Alistair Brown of BMS World Mission. “Justice isn’t an optional extra. Act justly, behave rightly toward your neighbors, because with God life is holistic. There isn’t a spiritual bit and then the rest. With God the whole package matters. It’s 24/7 discipleship, and as Christians seeing an unjust, unfair world we have to act.”
The Millennium Development Goals call for eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, including halving the proportion of people whose income is less than one dollar a day between 1990 and 2015.
Others goals involve universal primary education, women’s rights, child mortality, disease, the environment, fair trade and sustainable debt.
“We can halve global poverty by 2015,” Parham said, “if American Christians will tell their Congressmen and Senators that they expect the American government to keep its word. The American government pledged its support to halve global poverty by 2015. People of faith are critical in the effort to apply political pressure on our government to keep its word.”
“We have so many skills, in terms of feeding the world, so many lessons in terms of feeding the world,” Paynter said. “There is the ability for us to come together and be leaders in this. I hope we have the political will to do that.”
“Always … Therefore: The Church’s Challenge of Global Poverty” is directed and produced by Cliff Vaughn, culture editor for and a documentary filmmaker.
The 28-minute film includes footage and photographs of hunger relief and development efforts, as well as interviews with Baptists addressing global poverty.
Accompanying the DVD is an online, four-session Bible study with separate student’s and leader’s guides. The DVD can be viewed independently or in tandem with the Bible study sessions.
The DVD and online study guide were underwritten in part by Baptist General Association of Virginia; Baptist General Convention of Missouri; Baptist General Convention of Texas; Baptist World Aid; Cooperative Baptist Fellowship; Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Arkansas; Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia; Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Oklahoma; First Baptist Church Endowment Fund, Richmond, Va.; Faith Baptist Church, Georgetown, Ky.; First Baptist Church, Griffin, Ga.; First Baptist Church, San Angelo, Texas.; First Baptist Church, Wilmington, N.C.; and St. Matthews Baptist Church, Louisville, Ky.
Bob Allen is managing editor of

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