While drafting a statement against racism is praiseworthy, we must push on past rhetoric and achieve progress.
Over the past several months, a group of black and white Christians has been trying to address the problem of racism in American evangelicalism (CT, March 5, 1990, p. 35). Representatives from the largely white National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and the all-black National Black Evangelical Association (NBEA) finally hammered out a statement calling for the white church to “repent of its sin of racism,” and for the black church to “commit itself to constructive protest of racism.”
The statement, including the process that led up to it, is unprecedented, and it deserves praise from Christians of any color. For all our talk about this nation’s tragic failure to live up to the ideal of “liberty and justice for all,” much still needs to be done. While deliberately meeting face to face may seem as if it is an awfully small step, it is movement. We applaud that and praise the social-action commissions of both groups for providing the kind of visionary leadership not always seen in evangelical circles.
At the same time, we must raise a few questions, and the first has to do with the absence of key NAE leaders at the joint session that formally approved the statement. For once, black and white evangelicals were making progress on a very delicate and complex issue. While we recognize the problem of busy schedules, it seems to us an occasion of this importance should have compelled everyone involved to set aside other plans and join in a symbolic display of unity and cooperation.
Another question revolves around the very nature of publicly issued statements. Does the statement actually bring black and white Christians closer together? How will the statement change 11 A.M. Sunday from being the most segregated hour of the week?
It will not make much difference in the short run, and that is what makes us impatient with statements. They sound nice to those who draft them, offend many who were intended to benefit from them, and confuse the rest. When will we ever get past fixing blame? That is too easy. How can we move from protest to progress? That would be a truer measure of sincerity.
Black Christians understandably carry wounds from a long history of injustice. They have been victimized, oppressed, and exploited. We know that. Many—we suspect most—within the white evangelical community feel deep regret over the past and are eager to take positive steps toward reconciliation. And we also suspect there is a growing generation of black evangelicals that is just as eager to get on with this task. But we fear that once the statement is read and affirmed, both groups will continue on their separate paths.
The NAE has taken a cautious first step by accepting the statement as a working paper at its annual convention (see p. 52). We trust the NBEA will follow suit at its convention later this month. Beyond that, we urge both groups to do something tangible to demonstrate their desire for reconciliation. Why not send a team from both groups to South Africa to worship, minister, and learn? Why not hold their conventions at the same time and place next year? Why not make NAE and NBEA officers ex officio members of each others’ organizations?
These and other efforts to work together are not easy. They require additional time, energy, and resources. In some cases, they will reveal further problems that need to be faced. But doing the hard thing will model the kind of reconciliation the American church needs so desperately.
By Lyn Cryderman.
Not only does the Invisible Hand work in market economies, as Adam Smith suggested, it also seems to work among economists. The Providential event of which we speak is a recent gathering of Christian economists that produced the Oxford Declaration on Christian Faith and Economics (CT, March 19, 1990, p. 52).
The meeting was a genuine attempt to draw together thinkers from a variety of backgrounds, nationalities, and theoretical understandings. Representatives came from Latin America, Thailand, Yugoslavia, Kenya, and, of course, North America and the British Isles. They also came from varied ideological orientations, although conservatives initially felt outnumbered.
Yet something important happened during those five days in January. A month before the conference, a draft of the document was sent to the participants. It was, according to one self-confessed conservative, “replete with knee-jerk criticisms of capitalism … uncritical endorsement of radical environmentalist ideas, systematic blame of the poverty of less-developed countries on the prosperity of other countries, and general adoption of the notion that civil government is the great cure-all of economic ills.” Much of that changed through group interaction, Bible study, and prayer. We are pleased that they came to agreement on normally divisive issues—agreements substantial enough to fill 17 pages.
Fortunately, the Oxford Declaration stresses evenly all the major economic concerns: the practical effectiveness of market economies; the obligation to provide not only food and shelter for the poor, but productive work as well; the need to protect the environment and the quality of life from the technological imperative.
Such a balanced document was possible because the theological foundations were carefully laid, explicating the concepts of creation, stewardship, and justice (carefully and biblically defined).
Beyond the careful balance of biblical priorities, several important statements are worth noting:
• There was a distrust of any system that concentrates economic power in the hands of a few (whether large institutions in a democracy, a totalitarian state, or transnational corporations effectively unaccountable to any state). “Corruption almost inevitably follows from concentrated economic power,” says the declaration, recognizing that such corruption “so undermines society that there is a virtual breakdown of legitimate order.” Widespread and diverse ownership is seen as likely to protect against corruption as to stimulate production.
• There was agreement that investment in small-scale enterprises run by and for the poor was more likely to relieve the effects of poverty than are large-scale state-sponsored programs. In the Third World and U.S. cities, small-scale enterprises have already shown their ability to open wider the gates of enterprise to the poor. The group felt so strongly on this issue that it drafted a separate statement urging credit be made available to the poor for “micro-enterprises.”
Conference statements are typically written in the grammar of grandiosity: the bigger the problems addressed, the more bloated the prose. The architects of the Oxford Declaration avoided such pomposity, yet one wonders: Will what happened there feed the poor? As one church leader recently wrote: “It is one thing to say with the prophet Amos, ‘Let justice roll down like mighty waters,’ and quite another to work out the irrigation system.”
By David Neff.
The writer of Ecclesiastes, in a fit of despair (which, significantly, comes near the end of his own writing project), penned the oft-quoted lines: “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness to the flesh.” But we cannot consider this the full counsel of Scripture on the matter. For in Joshua 1:8 we hear God’s early endorsement for literacy: “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night” (NIV).
It is this latter sentiment that has marked the people-of-God’s relationship to the written word. Where would we be as a church without the written guidance of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, and Jude? As the late Klaus Bockmuehl has written, “In a conspicuous manner the book has become a prominent tool for God’s plan of salvation with the world.”
Try to think of a movement of God that has not been breathed into life without the help of words carried on paper. The writings of Justin, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Athanasius shaped what we today call “orthodoxy”—which was eventually expressed in the form of written creeds. The library-filling works of Augustine and Aquinas shaped and sustained the medieval vision of Christendom. What Martin Luther pounded onto the Wittenberg door became a best-selling tract whose reverberations shook the foundations of the church. The constant flow of words from John Wesley served to awaken the church even in the rural and distant comers of this country. More recently, many cite Carl Henry’s The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism as heralding the birth of modern evangelicalism.
At the same time, one does not need Ecclesiastes-colored glasses to see the weariness in much of contemporary Christian publishing. Books without ideas, books with bad ideas, books with false ideas and lies—there are whole shelves we could do without.
Still, there is plenty of nutritious wheat amidst the chaff. The weariness comes from winnowing. We at CT have attempted to ease some of this burden by publishing reviews of works we feel contribute to the kingdom of God.
In this issue (see p. 31), we debut still another labor-saving device: the CHRISTIANITY TODAY Book Awards. With the inauguration of what we plan to be an annual event, we hope to highlight those works that best uphold the fine tradition of Christian literature. And so, like Augustine in the garden, we too should heed the call, “Take up and read!”
By Michael G. Maudlin.
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