Lausanne Global Analysis
July 2015 · Volume 4 / Issue 4
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The Earth is the Lord’s!
How taking a stand against corruption can be gospel work
How is it possible that taking a stand against corruption could be seen as gospel work—even evangelism? Let us consider this question by telling two important stories. The first is a global economic challenge. The second is a Christian story.
A global economic challenge
Could you survive on less than USD $2 a day? The USD $2 threshold is regarded as the extreme poverty line across the world. The reality is that 1.2 billion people (approximately 1 in 6 people) in the world live in extreme poverty (that is, on less that USD $2 a day), while 870 million people worldwide are undernourished.1
In the face of this reality, leaders from all 189 nations in 2000 endorsed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).2 The intention was to halve global poverty by 2015 through the achievement of eight specific goals that ranged from universal primary education, adequate health care, environmental sustainability, to addressing poverty and hunger.3 While a great deal has been achieved since then, the reality is that we are nowhere near reaching the target.4
Initially substantial strides were made towards goals such as universal primary education and addressing mother and infant mortality. Other goals such as environmental sustainability, gender equality, and global partnership for development were less easy to address. By 2010 it became clear that a lot more would need to be done if we were to reach the MDG of halving extreme poverty by 2015. The early ‘victories’ were over and now some of the tougher challenges remained.
It was time for the global economic powers to start facing the truth. What were the sources of poverty around the world? Why was it that wealthy individuals and societies grew richer, while poor individuals and societies were becoming increasingly poor? One of the startling realisations was that a significant contributor to global poverty was corruption.5
While most of us may associate corruption with despotic leaders in Africa, Latin America, and Asia, it soon became clear that the largest contributors to corruption in an increasingly globalizing world are not corrupt majority world politicians,6 but rather the economic and political leaders from the nations out of which, and to which, most of the world’s money flows. Global poverty was largely a result of global corruption, and global corruption was largely sustained through unfair, unjust, and illegal business practices.7 In the context of this discussion we understand corruption to be the abuse of power by individuals or groups (which might include the abuse of economic or political power) for unjust gain for themselves or their group/community.8
Poor nations, and the citizens of those nations, remained in poverty in large measure because they were enslaved by international debt, their human and natural resources were exploited and exported to enrich other nations, and they did not have access to opportunities for sustainable development and growth. Many of these nations were also trapped in a cycle of ‘toxic aid’.9
There is no doubt that poor leadership, inadequate management, and petty corruption also contributed to this cycle. However, it became clear that illicit money flows, tax havens, unjust mineral extraction, and oppressive economic policies were far more destructive contributors to global poverty. In many ways, multinational businesses and unjust foreign policies are significant contributors to corruption in our age.
A Christian story
The matter of poverty is of great significance within the Christian faith. We are a people who serve a loving and just God. We believe that God’s love extends to all people and all of the earth—‘the whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world’.10
This is beautifully captured in Psalm 24:1: ‘The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein’ (ESV). Indeed, God’s goodness is not just for our spiritual lives; it is intended to be good news for all of how and who we are. Neither is it only good news for part of the earth, or only for some persons on the planet.11
The Christian Scriptures focus significantly on issues of social justice. As a result, most churches, ecumenical movements, and communions show a strong commitment to issues of social justice in their work and witness.12 Prominent Christian theologians, such as Jurgen Moltmann13 and Stanley Hauerwas14, contend that the very nature of the Christian faith, with its emphasis on justice, has clear social, economic, and political ramifications. These have been embodied over the past century in the church’s active engagement in social movements such as the civil rights movement in the USA and the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. When people flourish, God is honoured.
Evangelism and social justice
Theologically, the debate has at times been polarised between evangelism and social justice in the ministry and mission of the church.15 Some have contended that the primary role of the church is to bring persons to faith (evangelism), while others have contended that it is to work for a world that reflects the values of the kingdom of God (such as justice, equality, peace, and flourishing).
The latter position contends that the Christian faith (which still is the world’s largest religious grouping) is more credible when the church has a consistent witness that fosters the good of all humanity across the world. Surely if the planet is substantially Christian, the world should reflect the will and values of God?
A notable example of such an integration of evangelical commitment and social justice is to be found in the life and witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.16 Living as a Christian in Germany during the rise of the Nazi regime, Bonhoeffer found it increasingly important to take a stand against injustice, particularly that meted out to Jews, as a witness to the core of his faith conviction. This ultimately led to his imprisonment and death at the hands of the Nazis. Bonhoeffer followed in a long line of martyrs who have sacrificed their lives for the transformation of society because of their faith convictions.
Perhaps these two foci should not be binaries, but go hand in hand. It might just be, as Tim Keller suggests, that a true encounter with God’s grace makes us more just, and that as we become more just, people are attracted to the God of grace.17 We read the following direct command in Isaiah 1:17: ‘Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause’ (ESV).
EXPOSED – Shining a light on corruption
It was into this context that the Christian anti-corruption campaign ‘EXPOSED – Shining a light on corruption’ was launched in October 2012:18
EXPOSED is a global call to action against corruption which is both a cause and consequence of poverty. It is a response of the Christian church inspired from the Bible and is committed to promote practical steps for ethical behaviour in business, government, the church, and society as a whole. It aims to position Christians as advocates and practitioners of justice and transformation in the nations we are called to serve.19
Jim Wallis, one of the supporters and endorsers of the campaign, summed up the understanding that shaped the campaign’s intentions:
Many of us feel that our faith has been stolen, and it’s time to take it back. In particular, an enormous public misrepresentation of Christianity has taken place. And because of an almost uniform media misperception, many people around the world now think Christian faith stands for political commitments that are almost the opposite of its true meaning . . . That rescue operation is even more crucial today, in the face of a deepening social crisis that cries out for more prophetic religion.20
In order to achieve this goal, the EXPOSED campaign aimed to engage with Christians in 100 countries, enabling them to take public action against corruption during the campaign week in October 2013.21 The stated intention was to involve approximately 100 million people in these 100 countries to:
- sign the Global Call to End Corruption that was presented to the G20 meeting in Brisbane, Australia, in November 2014;
- organise or join a Global Vigil against corruption; and
- take personal or collective action against corruption (for which three ‘toolkits’ were developed: for youth, Christians in business, and Christians in general society).
The founding members of the EXPOSED campaign were the American Bible Society, the British and Foreign Bible Society, Micah Challenge International, the Salvation Army, Unashamedly Ethical, and the World Evangelical Alliance. They, and millions of others, continue to engage in the work of bringing the whole gospel to the whole world.
It matters to God—it should matter to me
If we believe that the earth is the Lord’s, everything in it, and all who dwell in it (Psalm 24:1), then we need to take issues such as poverty and corruption seriously. It is clear that they matter to God (see for example Micah 6:8); so they should also matter to us.25
The challenge for evangelical Christians around the world is not only to preach good news, but to be good news in our communities, in our places of work, and in the church.
You can start by taking some time to read what the Bible has to say about poverty and corruption—download and read 30 Pieces of Silver, a resource produced by the Bible Society and used throughout the world. Also take the time to see where your nation ranks on the Transparency International or Tax Justice Network global rankings. Pray and ask God to show you what you can do in your local community, and then bring together some other sisters and brothers in Christ and act. Together God can use us to make a significant difference in the world. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, ‘Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.’
1 Karen Charlton, ‘Life below the poverty line: lessons from eating on $2 a day’, 2014, http://ro.uow.edu.au/smhpapers/1874/. And Greg Thompson and John Langmore, ‘Global Poverty: The Challenge Remains’, St Mark’s Review, no 214, 2010.
2 In 2000 there were 189 nations represented at the United Nations. There are currently 193 nations. You can read more about the eight commitments at http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/. The original resolution can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_Millennium_Declaration.
3Editor’s Note: See article by Joel Edwards and Geoff Tunnicliffe entitled ‘Micah Challenge International: A voice of evangelical advocacy’ in the March 2015 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis.
4 Jennifer Requejo and Jennifer Bryce, ‘Countdown to 2015 decade report (2000-2010) with country profiles. Taking stock of maternal newborn and child survival’, 2010, http://www.popline.org/node/210295.
5 Sanjeev Gupta, Hamid Davoodi, and Rosa Alonso-Terme, ‘Does Corruption Affect Income Inequality and Poverty?’ Economics of Governance, vol 3, no 1, 2002.
6 This does not mean that these forms of corruption are insignificant or unimportant. Corruption in all forms is unacceptable and must be addressed and eradicated.
7 Gupta, Davoodi, and Alonso-Terme, ‘Does Corruption Affect Income Inequality and Poverty?’
8 The Oxford English Dictionary defines corruption as ‘dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery’. However, within the context of the EXPOSED campaign, we adopted a broader view of corruption which we believe is more in keeping with a biblical worldview: that corrupt activities arise from a corrupted nature. For example, greed may lead an individual or group to exploit others to gain excessive wealth or power. In particular we understood that even if something is legal in a certain country, it does not necessarily mean that it is not corrupt.
9 Sebastian Edwards. Toxic Aid: Economic Collapse and Recovery in Tanzania (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).
10 Lausanne Movement, ‘Calling the Whole Church to Take the Whole Gospel to the Whole World’, 1989. And Christopher J H Wright, ‘Whole Gospel, Whole Church, Whole World’, Christianity Today, vol 53, no 10, 2009.
11 James H Cone, ‘Whose earth is it anyway?’ Cross Currents, vol 50, no 1-2, 2000.
12 Michael D Palmer and Stanley M Burgess, The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Religion and Social Justice (New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2012), 64.
13 Jurgen Moltmann, The Politics of Discipleship and Discipleship in Politics: Jurgen Moltmann Lectures in Dialogue with Mennonite Scholars (Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2006), 24-29.
14 Stanley Hauerwas, Approaching the End: Eschatological Reflection on Church, Politics, and Life (United Kingdom: SCM Press, 2014), 80-83.
15Editor’s Note: See article by Steve Haas entitled ‘All of Me: Engaging a world of poverty and injustice’ in the January 2015 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis.
16 Palmer and Burgess, The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Religion and Social Justice, 64-65.
17 Timothy Keller, Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2010), ch 1, 7.
19 Amanda Jackson, Tom Baker, and Dion Forster, ‘EXPOSED Policy and Campaign Overview’ (2012), 1.
20 Jim Wallis, God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get it (Oxford: Lion Hudson, 2006), 3-4.
21 Jackson, Baker, and Dion, ‘EXPOSED Policy and Campaign Overview’, 5.
25Editor’s Note: See article by David Bennett entitled ‘Integrity, the Lausanne Movement, and a Malaysian Daniel’ in the January 2015 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis.
26 Rachel Rounds, ‘Christians are being encouraged to take a fresh look at corruption and justice throughout Lent’, Bible Society, 6 March 2014, http://www.biblesociety.org.uk/news/thirty-pieces-of-silver/, accessed 16 April 2014.
* Editor’s Note: Featured image is modified from ‘On the Top of the Hill, San Martin de Porres, Lima’ by Geraint Rowland (CC BY-NC 2.0).
Dion Forster teaches on the faculty of the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa, in Systematic Theology, Ethics, and Public Theology. He serves as the international chairman of ‘EXPOSED – Shining a light on corruption’. For more information, please see http://www.dionforster.com.
09 Jul 2015