Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Faith at work

A new movie being released next Friday, Feb. 23, chronicles the life and mission of William Wilberforce (1759-1833). Wilberforce was a member of parliament who was inspired by his Christian faith to bring an end to the great evil of his day - slavery. It's good to see more movies where Christian faith is not only prominently featured, but portrayed in a positive light; as the remedy to evil rather than its cause.

It also got me thinking. What is the great evil of our day? And what is our responsibility as Christians in addressing it?

Terrorism? Insurgents are killing hundreds of Iraqis every week. Worldwide, Islamic terrorists are killing thousands from Africa to Indonesia. And Groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, and Al-Queda are planning the death of thousands more.

Slavery? The statistics show that there are more slaves today than in 19th century! Much of the slavery is associated with the worldwide sex trade industry, and most of them are children.

Genocide? Ten years ago, 600,00 people were murdered in Rwanda. Not long after, at least 8,000 Bosnians were killed by ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia. Today, Islamic militias are slaughtering black Africans in Darfur (Sudan).

Abortion? 1.3 million per year in the U.S. (48 million since Roe v. Wade 1973) and 46 million per year worldwide. Thankfully, partial birth abortions were banned in 2003, but horrifying procedures such as live birth abortions are still performed in the U.S.

Good arguments could be made for all of these and other evils I haven't mentioned. But do we have responsibility beyond simply denouncing these evils? I tend to be skeptical of government as the answer to our social problems. So when Jesus spoke about giving to the poor, I don't think he intended for government to redistribute income and ensure social justice, in part because I don't believe God is interested in compelling us to act. Having said this, I do believe we have a responsibility in building communities that respect and embrace human life and human dignity. This is necessary to any civil society. And this means, in part, working through our government. So just as we create laws that prohibit murder, it follows that we ought to have laws that prohibit slavery.

So again, what is the great evil of our day? And how does our Christian faith move us to act in response? Do we pray and trust that God's justice will be served as we spread the gospel? Do we become active participants and fight if necessary to defeat evil?

Its a tough question, with thoughtful arguments on both sides. But it seems to me history as shown us that standing by as evil grows has only resulted in personal and civil ruin.

We remember William Wilberforce as a giant because his faith wouldn't allow him to stand by while evil went unchallenged.

“Is it not the great end of religion, and, in particular, the glory of Christianity, to extinguish the malignant passions; to curb the violence, to control the appetites, and to smooth the asperities of man; to make us compassionate and kind, and forgiving one to another; to make us good husbands, good fathers, good friends; and to render us active and useful in the discharge of the relative social and civil duties?”

--William Wilberforce


everyday.wonder said...

Thoughtful piece, Jake.

I've heard some good reviews of this film, too; some say it is better than Amistad, which is saying something. That, combined with the potentially accurate portrayals of the period's faith, make for a compelling reason to go out and see this film. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised to see my faith maligned by a culture that has rejected it, but it's nice to see the exception that proves the rule once in a while.

Good thoughts in your post regarding the role of our faith in the world around us. That's one of the most lucid statements about a conservative position on social problems: compelled giving really isn't generous or healthy either for the giver or for the system that develops around it. We end up with heartless, enslaved citizens who hate the poor while pouring money into programs that do little to help them, instead employing thousands more unhappy workers in a bloated beauracracy.

And as for the great evils of our day, you've named several. Trying my best to think broadly, I think there are a lot of folks out there who might add the damage being done to the environment (though I'm not one to go in for anthropogenic global warming quite yet). While practices have improved somewhat in recent years since it's been on the radar, the total impact worldwide of human industrialization isn't boding well for this creation to which we have been named stewards. I have only to look at the streams and rivers where I live to know that to be the case. Wanna go for a swim in ol' Mill Creek? Or, heaven forbid, my daughter should play in the Willamette River?

Going back to your candidates for worst evil, though, you name some good ones. I find it interesting upon reflection that they are all ones which involve inflicted violence from one human to another. I also wonder at the conservative tendency to think that social problems like poverty cannot be cured by application of government compulsion and power, but that others like those you name can.

Ugh. It's way too early in the morning to be thinking this hard.

Great post, keep 'em coming!

everyday.wonder said...

But seriously, dude: 4:33 AM? No blog article is worth those kind of hours...

Jake Shore said...

Good point, Jason. Poverty, or perhaps more specifically, starvation. The fact that people go hungry in this world really is a crime, especially since the U.S. alone has the capability of feeding the rest of the world. I don't pretend to know how to tackle the problem, but our failure to do so surely isn't because we can't.

James Wood said...

I've been getting beat up by prophets lately. I've been hearing about how I ought to continue Jesus proclamation of good news to the poor on Sunday morning. On Monday I hear about the 8th century prophets. Now this. Thanks.

Last night as I was praying about this it occured to me that perhaps I don't need to concern myself, primarily, with preaching good news to the poor people, but to a poor person. What I mean is this: the injustices in the world are overwhelming and make me want to hide. But I can bring hope to one person at a time. I need to faithfully be among the poor so that I can speak/act out against injustice. But I cannot attempt to solve the evils of the world, not on my own.