Posts tagged with: Micah Challenge

Last Friday I attended a day’s worth of events at the Assembly of World-Wide Partners of the Christian Reformed Church in North America. I was volunteering to write up summaries of some of the elements of the conference. I was assigned three items: the Friday morning plenary address by Ruth Padilla deBorst, “Together in Missions in the 21st Century”; the Friday workshop sessions on “Christian Education in Ministry”; and the Friday evening plenary address by WARC general secretary Rev. Setri Nyomi, “Partnering in a Global Context: Principles and Patterns that will Shape Us.”

In a series of posts through this week, I’m going to add my reflections and analysis to these summaries. Before I get to those events in particular, however, I want to say a little bit about how Friday morning opened.

Before Ruth Padilla deBorst gave her talk, two representatives from the Micah Challenge addressed the packed audience. First was Michael Smitheram, who is International Coordinator for the Micah Challenge. He introduced various folks attending the conference who are involved in the Micah Challenge’s work. He also provided a summary of what he thought the mission of the Micah Challenge was: “In the Micah Challenge, the body of Christ is finding its voice as a global constituency for the poor.” To be clear, by “constituency” Smitheram means a political constituency. We’ll get back to that point a bit later.

The second representative of the Micah Challenge was Rev. Joel Edwards, President of the Evangelical Alliance (UK) and International Chair of the Micah Challenge. Rev. Edwards discussed three “miracles” in the fight against global poverty:

  1. Jubilee 2000, a historic “miracle,” in which God galvanized the world to engage poverty, with the church at the epicenter.

  2. Governments pledging to halve absolute poverty (MDGs)
  3. The Micah Challenge.

Rev. Edwards clarified the genesis of the Micah Challenge, as the result of combined efforts of the Micah Network and World Evangelical Alliance.

Heading toward 2015, the Micah Challenge focuses on eight “covenants” with the poor (corresponding with the eight Millennium Development Goals), which go beyond “checkbook Christianity” to address heart and lifestyle changes (Micah 6:8).

“If we fail our promises to the poor,” says Rev. Edwards, “The world will be in a spiritually catastrophic place in 2015.”

I got the distinct impression that the Micah Challenge is really just the overtly religious equivalent of the ONE Campaign. There’s not much that is identifiably Christian about the aims of the Micah Challenge. The differences really lie in the motivation and basis for the Micah Challenge, which are clearly Christian.

But there needs to be a difference between something like the ONE Campaign and the Micah Challenge not only in the motivation (secular vs. religious), but in the telos. For a Christian, as I’ve said before, achievement of the Millennium Development Goals is not enough: “The service of the body must be done in view of the greater purpose of Christian missions: the salvation of souls. And this is something the government simply cannot do.”

To challenge Smitheram’s idea about the role of the Micah Challenge, the church’s work cannot simply be reduced to that of another special-interest group or political action committee, even if the poor are those who are ostensibly represented.

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.