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Challenging the Micah Challenge

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There’s a big, fairly new, global effort by Christians to cut worldwide poverty in half by 2015. Just what is this effort? A new giving initiative? A new network connecting churches in the first world with churches in the third world? A new global faith-based NGO?

Sadly, no. The new effort is called the “Micah Challenge,” which turns out really to be a challenge to get Christians to call for government action. The Micah Challenge is described as “a global Christian movement that’s working to overcome poverty by encouraging our leaders to meet their commitments to achieve the Millennium Development Goals – poverty-eradicating goals that all the member states of the United Nations have promised to achieve by 2015.”

So just how are Christians to help the poor? By petitioning government, of course! Here’s a typical example, “Micah Challenge Canada Says Govt. Aid ‘Far Short.'”

Since when did Christian charity get reduced to political lobbying? Is the Church just another interest group? Maybe the Micah Challenge should register as a PAC.

Or maybe the Church should look to its own house. Perhaps the fact that “7% of Protestants tithed to churches” (and how much of that money is spent helping the poor, either domestically or abroad?) has something to do with the fact that the churches feel the need to rely on the government to get things done.

“…what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” – Micah 6:8

Just who is Micah talking to? In focusing almost exclusively on lobbying governments to fight poverty, the Micah Challenge is missing the Church’s main responsibilities in terms of charity (which itself is secondary and derivative of the primary task of the Church, the proclamation of the Gospel).

In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “there are three possible ways in which the church can act towards the state: in the first place, as has been said, it can ask the state whether its actions are legitimate and in accordance with its character as state, i.e. it can throw the state back on its responsibilities.” So far, so good. This is what the Micah Challenge intends to do.

But the Micah Challenge effectively ignores the Church’s corresponding responsibilities, to “aid the victims of state action. The church has an unconditional obligation to the victims of any ordering of society, even if they do not belong to the Christian community. ‘Do good to all men.’…the church may in no way withdraw itself from these two tasks.” The third way that the church can act is “not just to bandage the victims under the wheel, but to put a spoke in the wheel itself.”

What the Micah Call and the Micah Challenge largely miss are the second (and third) activities of the Church, direct intervention to lift up the poor and oppressed. Instead of merely calling nations to be accountable to the MDGs, why doesn’t the Micah Challenge also put forth goals for the Church to accomplish on its own?

In fairness to the Micah Challenge, there is a lot of material on its site, some good, some bad. And some of it focuses on the direct role of Christians in the lives of the poor. But the words of the Micah Call, as well as the action plan for the Challenge, focus almost exclusively on the petition of governments rather than direct Christian intervention. If the Micah Challenge were truly a challenge to the Church to act directly, then it would become a comprehensive call for Christian stewardship. As it stands now, the Micah Challenge is incomplete, inadequate, and irresponsible.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • Another one of the half-silly ways many Christians want to reduce poverty. By pushing governments of rich countries to give more aid to poor countries.

    The goal of reducing poverty is excellent.
    The means chosen, supporting more government force, is terrible. And typical of economically irresponsible/ naive folk.

    The right means is a peace economy. Peaceful, honest trade, and peaceful contracts. With Church activists getting active by …
    CREATING jobs. Fund small companies in poor areas, and help the poor folks by offering them a better job.

    The Church beleivers need to offer the poor both spiritual help, and economic opportunity. Or not, but if not, than certainly NOT ask the gov’t to try to do with force what activists are unwilling, or too lazy, to do with peace.

    I’m so enraged by this. The commies were right about the need for mass employment. The solution must be having concerned people form profit-making companies and expand employment

  • There seems to be this myth that few evangelical churches ever talk or do anything about the poor. In my 30-something years in multiple churches, I have found this to not be the case. I did a little research into some of the more prominent evangelica…

  • Anonymous

    Of course. You’re quite right. The best way to fight poverty is through a flourishing economy that gives everyone jobs that pay well.
    But failing that? And the failures are many. Or in the meantime?
    Why always pose this in terms of an either/or. Any complex problem calls for action from several directions at the same time.

  • Why “either/or”? Because in budget decisions, there is a zero sum element. Someone like Bono or Bob Geldolf can decide:
    a) reduced malnutrition of 100 000 people from 30% to 20%, or
    b) create 1 000 jobs.
    (Hypothetical numbers)

    The fact that the 1000 jobs will be a sustainable increase in development, and provide more jobs and more production and more wealth, seldom looks as “needed” as the much greate immediate reduction in malnutrition.
    But when chosing the obvious important action to reduce malnutrition, all the “aid” is used up, consumed, and there is no real development.

    I think the 5 Talents society, with micro loans ($200) to help the poor start businesses seems among the “best practices”, that should begin to dominate the Development Aid allocation processes.

  • A quote from a speaker at the CRC’s Synod 2005, endorsing the Micah Challenge and the ONE Campaign.

  • *Other negative aspects of the “Micah Challenge”*

    I was a bit surprised at viewing the penetration of this project in the French evangelical churches.
    Besides the fact that the means to “reduce poverty” pushed (statist action) will be inefficient and counter-productive, there is also the fact that this “Micah Challenge” is supporting the policy of the UN, through its MDG (Millennium Development Goals).
    When you examine the detail of these MDG, you find the usual eugenicist and malthusien policy, that is directed against the poor:
    See and the full document of the UNDP in pdf format (
    “It is time for development practice not only to honor those life-sustaining roles, but to promote women’s rights, empowerment, and leadership actively at the center of economic development. This report shows how to do this in practical terms. It argues persuasively for policies and actions _to guarantee universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights_, invest in infrastructure to reduce women s time and work burdens, guarantee women s and girls property and inheritance rights, reduce gender gaps in employment and wages, increase women s political participation, and combat violence against women. Taking Action presents compelling evidence and sound analysis to show that these priorities are essential and achievable.”
    «Guarantee sexual and reproductive health and rights.» is the #2 priority (over 7) of this #3 goal baptised «Gender equality».
    This #2 priority has a more detailled title on page 17: «universal access to sexual and reproductive health services through the primary health care system, ensuring the same rate of progress or faster among the poor and other marginalized groups,»

    And on pages 6 & 7:
    «Interventions to improve sexual and reproductive health and rights must therefore be a priority and should occur both within and outside the health system. At a minimum, _national public health systems must provide quality family planning services_, emergency obstetric care, _safe abortion_ (where legal), postabortion care, prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections (including HIV), and interventions to reduce malnutrition and anemia. Outside the health system _sexuality education programs are needed_ to lay the foundation for improved sexual and reproductive health outcomes. Ultimately, these interventions must be supported by an _enabling policy and political environment that guarantees women’s and girls sexual and reproductive rights_.»

    This is the classic argumentary (and lie) of the eugenicists from planned parenthood and other population controlers to promote the legalization of chemical contraception, abortion and sexual education outside the parents’control, with a vocabulary made up of their familiar euphemisms.
    They even put some “performance indicators” to follow up this goal #3, (see on page 18, with details in page 125):
    «Sexual and reproductive health and rights
    – Proportion of contraceptive demand satisfied.
    – Adolescent fertility rate.»

    This MDG is about promoting abortion and sexual revolution, trough a stupid malthusian argument.

    I wrote to the main French promoters of “Micah Challenge” in France (AEF + SEL) and I am waiting on their answer.

    Besides, through continuing the research on this inappropriate “Micah Challenge”, I found many interesting data. 2 examples:

    1). The documents from the “Micah Challenge” say nothing about this radically anti-christian policy.
    Is it linked to the fact that the main “patron” of it is Ronald Sider, officially pro-life, but still friend and grantee of pro-abortion foundations (Pew, etc.), and colaborator of pro-abortion socialist apostates?

    2) The ideology of the “Micah Challenge” is a carbon copy of the ideology of Sider with his “simple living” and his book “Rich christians in an age of hunger”. I found an excellent refutation of the whole in a book of David Chilton “Productive christians in an age of guilt-manipulators” (, and also the story of this book and of the controversy since the 70s by Gary North in and .

  • I just came across your critique of the Micah Challenge. I believe that your analysis of Micah Challenge is entirely short-sighted and inefficient. In fact, it is *your analysis* of Micah Challenge that is “incomplete, inadequate, and irresponsible” – not Micah Challenge itself, as you claim.

    You claim that the Micah Challenge largely misses the “direct intervention to lift up the poor and oppressed.” You must have spent only a few minutes checking out their website. If you would have looked more closely in your perusal of the site, you would have discovered that the Micah Challenge grew out of and is facilitated by what is known as the Micah Network (

    The Micah Network is described thus:

    “The Micah Network brings together more than 295 Christian organisations providing relief, development and justice activities throughout the world” (
    These include organizations such as World Vision, World Relief, Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, as well as hundreds of local, indigenous NGOs all around the world.

    All of these organizations are committed specifically to meeting the needs of the poor, hungry, destitute, and oppressed of the world. Your critique that The Micah Challenge ignores direct intervention and work with the poor is entirely unfounded and uninformed as the campaign grew out of 300 organizations who do precisely this: the dirty, on-the-ground relief and development work, including microeconomic development, HIV/AIDS care and prevention, maternal and child health, anti-human trafficking, agricultural development, and disaster and conflict relief.

    In quoting Bonhoeffer, you claim that the Micah Challenge 1) fails to do good to all men – even those who aren’t Christians, and 2) fails to not only “bandage the victims under the wheel, but to put a spoke in the wheel itself.” Both of these accusations are grossly erroneous.

    Firstly, not only do a large majority of the member development agencies directly work with the poor of all faiths (perhaps they all do, but I am not familiar with them all…), but the very fact that Micah Challenge deals with the political structure inherently means that the campaign is ministering to all men and women. Please explain to me how Micah Challenge, by advocating for governments to commit to halving global poverty by 2015, fails in its “obligation to the victims of any ordering of society, even if they do not belong to the Christian community”? Certainly the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals are not only for Christians! Micah Challenge advocates for all 1 billion men, women, and children who live on 1 dollar a day.

    Secondly, the most careless overlook of all on your part: you essentially claim that Micah Challenge is not addressing the root issues. Quite on the contrary, Micah Challenge is devoted specifically to the goal of not only bandaging “the victims under the wheel” but also putting a spoke in the wheel itself. For the past 30 years relief and development agencies have been bandaging the victims. The problem is the wheel of political corruption, economic imperialism, and state selfishness. The poor cannot be truly brought out of poverty until the over-arching structure that impoverishes them is fixed.

    Tearfund, an international development organization that is also actively involved in advocacy (and a member of the Micah Network), defines advocacy as:

    “Seeking with, and on behalf of, the poor to address underlying causes of poverty, bring justice, and support good development through influencing the policies and practices of the powerful.”

    For example, in development circles, the analogy of fishing is often used: “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime,” is the common expression to defend development vs. relief. However, the Micah Challenge campaign argues that it is more complicated. What if the man is not permitted by the government to fish in the river? What if a local factory has polluted the river and all of the fish have died? What if the price of a fishing pole is so expensive that he can not afford to by one? What if every time he catches a fish, it is snatched away by the government? What if he also needs to build a house and pay for his children’s education, so he hopes to catch extra fish and sell them, but the problem is that there is a huge company thousands of miles away that is subsidized by their government and can therefore sell fish in this man’s territory at an artificially low price that he can not compete with, and he is therefore left with all this extra fish, but no money to build a house or pay for his children’s education?

    Micah Challenge argues that this world is so much more complex, and that, not only is relief a band-aid, but so is development if the political system is corrupt. You can do micro development work all you want, but if the macro system will continue to crush all of your work, it’s just a band aid. To truly put a spoke in the wheel itself, governments need to be held accountable to their actions and the overarching political and economic structure needs to be one in which the poor have the capability of flourishing.

    World Relief, another Micah Network member who is doing amazing development work, on the ground, all around the word says that “Advocacy is not just responding to individual needs, but influencing policies and structures that create poverty and oppress God’s children.”

    Take the country of Sierra Leone, for example. The country, since it’s independence has been plagued with corruption, war, and inept political leaders. Siaka Stevens, through his almost 20-year rule of corruption and money laundering effectively brought the country to its knees, destroying all infrastructure and economic opportunity. He set the stage for a brutal, inhumane, 11-year civil war in which limbs were hacked off, women raped, pregnant women’s wombs were cut open simply to satisfy bets of the gender of the child, and prepubescent children were captured and drugged with illegal substances, handed AK-47s, and turned into robotic killing machines. Siaka Stevens retired and passed away peacefully just in time to miss the hell that he created.

    President Kabbah rose to power in the middle of the war (1996) and after being pushed into exile twice, effectively ended the war with the rebels (2002). Sadly, despite the fact that corruption was what ultimately caused the war, Kabbah learned nothing from his predecessor’s malevolence. Kabbah simply continued the corruption after the war, as he and his SLPP friends laundered government funds, putting it into their pockets, and effectively destining the people of Sierra Leone to more poverty. Infrastructure remains non-existent. Even the capital of 1.5 million people has yet to experience reliable electricity and running water. Besides one road built by a youthful and politically inexperienced army officer who came to power in a military junta in the middle of the civil war, there remains little efficient access into the interior of the country, as the roads are so bad that it can take hours just to travel a few miles. It is for these reasons that the country has an unemployment rate of 60 percent and is ranked second to last on the UN’s Development Index.

    So what was the response of Micah Challenge? A group representing Micah Challenge traveled to Sierra Leone to be international observers in the 2007 presidential election. It was the first elections run entirely by its own people since before the civil war (before, the UN was very much involved). It was also the first ever elections for the country in which a civilian government handed over control to another civilian government. The concern? Although President Kabbah is not constitutionally permitted to run again for president, his current vice president, Solomon Berewa ran for their SLPP party. There was grave concern that the SLPP would exploit its current political power to rig the elections and stay in power.

    The international observers were warmly received by the people of Sierra Leone. Instead of being viewed as paternalistic westerners trying to impose their democratic values on Sierra Leone, the observers were viewed as an integral part of helping the Sierra Leone people obtain their own power and voice. Without such outside help, the people could easily be plagued and destined to 5 more years of corruption, money-laundering, and lack of development.

    But Micah Challenge didn’t stop there. They also met with various Sierra Leonean Christians, encouraging them to be politically active in advocating for justice in Sierra Leone. Never before has the political system in Sierra Leone allowed for effective advocacy. Now, with this hopefully successful election, the people will begin to have a voice which is not ignored by the Sierra Leone politicians. The politicians are beginning to realize that they work for the Sierra Leone people. These people, their constituents, are their bosses. If these politicians fail to work for the people, they will be voted out of office and lose their job, as might be seen with the current SLPP. This means a beginning to the end of corruption. Very soon the people might receive 24-hour electricity and running water, better roads, lower prices, and monetary deflation (the current rate is 3000 leones to one dollar). THEN the work of World Vision, World Relief, World Hope, and other development agencies begin to make a difference. Why? Because the over-arching, oppressive political and economic structure has been changed. Now THAT’S putting a spoke in the wheel.

    Micah Challenge will also be bringing some Sierra Leone Christians to the US to observe and critique the US elections of 2008. These Sierra Leoneons will be touring Christian campuses, dialoguing with students and encouraging them to make poverty an issue they consider when voting – to vote for a candidate that will help reform these oppressive structures around the world. For example, a president and congressmen who will not fold to the farming industry lobbyists, but who will instead vote to reform the Farm Bill so that subsidies will stop going to million-dollar farm companies who can then export food around the world at artificially low prices, subsequently shutting from the market small local farmers who cannot compete with the low prices, and thus destining them to further impoverishment.

    Micah Challenge therefore is wholly committed to ministering to the poor in a complex way that will truly alleviate poverty more effectively than any band-aids of simple relief or even development. Micah Challenge realizes and acknowledges the need for micro development on the ground (and its members are specifically dedicated to just that), but also realizes the need for fixing the macro situation so that, as it is allowed to flourish, development will truly be development and not just a band-aid.

    Outside of the pro-life lobby, Christian circles have chosen to largely ignore the importance of advocacy and political lobbying. *Christians have failed to remember Proverbs 31:8*: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

    Also, you specifically mention that Micah Challenge is not a “network connecting churches in the first world with churches in the third world.” Again, you are directly wrong, and misinformed. Micah Challenge is devoted to specifically doing just that. Take, for example, the trip to Sierra Leone. Part of the reason for meeting with Sierra Leone Christians was specifically for the purpose of creating an identity of global Christians. Primarily, we are all Christians. Some are Americans, and some are Sierra Leoneons, but our primary identity is through Christ, and we are one body. By obtaining this identity, and beginning to network churches, not only Christians in the global North to those in the South, but also those within and throughout the global South, the Micah Challenge believes that global poverty can be more efficiently fought, and we can better advocate for our brothers and sisters around the world.

    Finally, you make an off-handed comment that charity is secondary to the proclamation of the gospel. I would contest that, too. They are both mutually mandated – we are commanded to do both, and a healthy Christian bearing fruit will be doing both. Additionally, I believe charity IS part of the proclamation of the gospel. They do not need to be mutually exclusive. The Church has been plagued with an unhealthy dichotomic mindset: the conservative, right-winged preaching of the gospel vs. the liberal, left-winged social gospel. Why do we have to have one or the other?

    The Micah Challenge believes in the need for what they call “integral mission”, also known as “holistic ministry.” Micah Challenge believes in both the “proclamation and demonstration of the gospel. It is not simply that evangelism and social involvement are to be done alongside each other. Rather, in integral mission our proclamation has social consequences as we call people to love and repentance in all areas of life. And our social involvement has evangelistic consequences as we bear witness to the transforming grace of Jesus Christ. If we ignore the world we betray the word of God which sends us out to serve the world. If we ignore the word of God we have nothing to bring to the world. Justice and justification by faith, worship and political action, the spiritual and the material, personal change and structural change belong together. As in the life of Jesus, being, doing and saying are at the heart of our integral task.”

    The greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. What is the second? To love your neighbor as yourself. I don’t know about you, but if I lived on $2 a day, I would not want someone who earns $50,000-100,000 a year to come to me and try and tell me that Jesus loves me, and died for me, and that I need to repent from my sins. If they’re not going to help me with my immediate need, than their message would mean nothing to me, and in my eyes would be utterly illegitimized.

    Was William Wilberforce’s work less Christian because he was concerned with the social injustice of slaves? No, instead, after a long inward struggle, he concluded that he would better glorify God by remaining in politics rather than being in formal ministry. Did William Carey dichotomize his social work of trying to ban the practice of suttee (the burning alive of Indian widows)? In fact, when he succeeded in his advocacy, and the edict was given to him to translate into Bengali, he is quoted as having said “No church for me today; if I delay an hour to translate and publish this, many a widow’s life may be sacrificed.”

    I believe that Micah Challenge is leading the way in how Christians should be engaging the world and glorifying God: preaching the gospel and showing it in action, such as fighting for justice and fighting for the poor and oppressed and feeding the hungry.