'We Are Not Commanded To Be a Docent in the Art Museum. We Are Commanded To Love the Poor.'
It's not surprising that the president of World Vision thinks Christians should help the poor. What may surprise some, however, is the degree to which Richard Stearns sees American Christians' limits in doing so as a sinful compromise of the gospel.
Stearns details his journey from the corporate world to the child-focused relief agency in The Hole in Our Gospel, published by Thomas Nelson earlier this year. Senior managing editor Mark Galli interviewed him shortly before its publication.
So what is the hole in the gospel?
We look at the gospel as almost a transaction between God and us. We say our prayer and our sins are forgiven. We get the fire insurance policy and we put it in our drawer.
Meanwhile, we are retreating behind the walls of our churches. Our church bulletins read like the table of contents for Psychology Today: support groups for pornography addictions and eating disorders, Taekwondo aerobics, and on and on. Our churches are increasingly meeting all of our needs but decreasingly going out to change the world.
The gospel was meant to be a social revolution. It began with a transaction between man and God. It began with this exchange we call atonement. But it wasn't meant to end there. It was meant to send us out as the vanguards of the social revolution, the salt and light that Jesus talked about that would transform the world. And my conclusion, after all of my experiences in 23 years in the corporate world, 10 years at World Vision, and visiting 50 countries, is that we've fallen short.
Do you think that's particularly an American problem?
I don't think it's uniquely American. I think what is unique about the American church is the incredible wealth and resources that we possess and control.
While we're going into our huge megacathedrals in the United States, African churches are suffering greatly. Our brothers and sisters in Christ are meeting under trees. They are dying of HIV and AIDS. Their children are dying because of unsanitary water, lack of health care, and lack of nutrition. This disparity in the body of Christ alone is appalling. I am sure it breaks the heart of God that Christians aren't even taking care of Christians as we could, let alone taking care of non-Christians.
It's not that churches are doing nothing. Obviously we all know churches that are doing wonderful things. Most of our churches have missions programs and programs focused on things like Darfur.
The United States is still the greatest missions-sending country in the world.
Most of it is evangelism. It's not poverty reduction. It's not justice. Many missionaries get involved in those other things in the course of their work, but we are doing little internationally. We are not a poor nation. But we don't tithe, so money is always scarce for this work.
What is the most compelling statistic that haunts you?
About 26,000 children under the age of 5 die every day of causes related to their poverty.
That is the equivalent of 100 planes filled with children crashing every day. If one jet liner crashes in America, it makes world headlines. There is an immediate flurry of activity: Why did it happen? What does the "black box" say? Is there a safety issue with the airplane? Was it a pilot error? And we start to learn about the lives of the people that died.
But where are the headlines? Where are the hearings, the acts of Congress, the things that would happen if a hundred jet liners were crashing every day?
If you looked at the death certificates of those children you would probably read words like starvation, respiratory infection, malaria, maybe HIV/AIDS. But you could easily cross that out and write apathy as the cause of death. The deaths were largely preventable, but those who could have prevented the deaths chose not to. I know that's harsh but I've seen and I know that it is possible to change the equation. It's the sin of our generation. The sin of my parents' generation in the United States was racism. The sin of our generation will be apathy.