Please read this:
Where are local Christian community development efforts on issues like this? It seems that their focus is on helping local churches more wisely distribute benevolence funds. Great. Or maybe training a handful of people to navigate a job interview or manage their personal finances. Great. All of that is needed, but what about incentivizing businesses to provide jobs in locations that are accessible to residents of poor communities? What about addressing unjust structures and policies that inhibit home ownership by the poor? What about investing in schools attended by large numbers of poor children? Or CCDA’s justice initiatives (immigration, educational equity, and mass incarceration)? Are we are convinced that chipping away at the problem through microfinance is the solution? Are we content with the result – that generational poverty grinds on for decades or centuries?
It seems that, for many Christians, everything is limited to the small, the private, the alternative universe of the evangelical subculture. I’m convinced we’ve bought into a worldview shaped by market (worldly) values and divorced from historical realities. There seems to be no public dimension or public expression of Christian faith. The funding mechanisms of faith-based organizations depend on private funders, and they are thus intimidated from addressing institutional poverty and social justice issues.
Many say that only “church-based” efforts really work. But, for them, church is defined as a building; its property, patrons, and pastoral staff; its lay leaders and the budget they steward. Are those budgets (or even those of their non-profit spinoff organizations) really big enough to put a dent in the huge problem of poverty in a city like Chattanooga? Where is the research to back that up?
We need to return to a parish model of church life. Are the people who show no interest in attending our worship services or our Christian schools no longer our neighbors? Are they hopeless naves from whom there is nothing to learn? With those attitudes, it is no wonder that there is no serious evangelistic engagement with them.
For centuries, western secularism has taught that religion is be tolerated only if it is privatized, confined to the private realm. Some Christians have rightly pointed out that Christianity cannot be so confined. It has a vital voice worthy of being heard in the public square. They have plunged themselves into the world of electoral, party politics. They have also tried to do a better job of connecting individual Christians through small groups, racial reconciliation, Christian networks, and alternative institutions.
We have heard that, while individual, personal piety is a priority, the Christian faith is not strictly private. Personal relationships are equally important. One’s relationship with the person of Jesus Christ is central and pivotal to our faith. Relationships among fellow believers are an essential means of God’s grace and our spiritual development. We must continue beating those drums – to ourselves and to the world.
But there is a third “p” that describes an essential feature of the Christian faith, but it is often either ignored or distorted in our understanding. That word is “public.” Some Christians have sensed the need for sustained engagement on moral and policy issues that affect large numbers of people. These Christians have immersed themselves in the world of media-driven electoral politics. Just elect the right politician, pass the right laws, appoint the right judges, and our obligation to public service is complete. But there is more to it than that, and our failure to adequately serve the poor (particularly, their educational and housing options) in Chattanooga is but one piece of evidence. To be continued …