Wednesday July 21, 2010
Integral to the Mission of the Church is the Ministry of Justice
Today we began the day talking to Jean Valery Vital-Herne, the national coordinator of Micah Challenge Haiti. Micah Challenge is a world-wide Christian-led movement in 40 countries that are working together to keep their elected officials accountable for the promises that governments from around the world made to cut poverty in half by 2015. These promises are the UN Millennium Development Goals.
The Micah Movement
In January of this year Micah Challenge USA came to New York Theological Seminary, bringing with it a deeply theological vision for justice. Inspired by the Micah Challenge, the Micah Institute at New York Theological Seminary was launched in April to educate the next generation of Christian leaders for ministries of peace and justice.
Through teaching a theology class in Haiti, I hope that new friendships are formed that will begin to establish a restorative network of healing and hope between Christians in the North and South. In our current global moment, we need a new prophetic paradigm of theological education based on a vision of integral mission.
In the past, evangelical theology has emphasized the importance of converting people on the field of mission. The Great Commission in Matthew 28 to go into all the world and make disciples has been the mantra of the movement. Yet, as founder of the Micah movement in Haiti Jean Claude Cerin told us, “Jesus not only gave us a great commission, but also a great commandment—to love our neighbor as ourself.” Thus, integral mission brings together the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. Prophetic Christianity must engage in both evangelism and social witness. It is time for an integral theology—the whole Gospel for the whole people for the whole world.
Integral Mission in Haiti
Prophetic theology today challenges both the church in the North and the Global South. Jean Valery says when he works with Haitian pastors, he encourages them to “re-read the bible” in relationship to the poor so that they can gain a fresh understanding of scripture that is connected to the Hebrew prophet's vision of justice.
Justice is God's Word manifest in a lived context, but what does that mean in post-earthquake Haiti?
Jean Valery said that top priorities for Haitians now are new jobs, good governance, and social services. The needs in Haiti are great. Port-au-Prince is surrounded by tent cities, but when will these families move into homes? When will the Haitians who are unemployed and underemployed find good jobs? When will half of the children in Haiti who are not in school find a school to attend? If the Micah Challenge movement seeks to inspire Christians to do their role in cutting poverty in half by 2015, they have their work cut out for them in Haiti.
Since 193 nations signed onto the MDGs in 2000, gains have been made in primary education world-wide. Yet, the aftermath of the earthquake, a history of neo-colonialism, and deep cultural conservatism provide serious obstacles to the struggle to end poverty in Haiti.
A Challenge to American Christians
When asked what American Christians should do, Jean Valery, said, “I would encourage all American Christians to make a trip to the southern hemisphere. Through these trips they can get to know the ways that the majority of the people in the world who are poor live. Through understanding the challenges of their sisters and brothers in the global South, they will be in a better position to keep their elected officials accountable for justice. Thoughtful, prophetic advocacy for justice in solidarity with the poor is vital for the renewal of North American Christianity.
It is time for American Christians to get out of their comfort zone and join the global struggle for justice. The crisis in Haiti presents an urgent opportunity for American Christians to respond.
Conversations are currently afoot between the Episcopal Theological Seminary in Haiti, Azusa Pacific University in California and new urban monastic groups, to send people into the tent cities to live with the people for relationship building in the short-term and community organizing in the long-term. Father Oge Beauvoir, the Dean of the Episcopal Theological Seminary, is seeking to open the gates of his seminary to be an open space for Haitian religious leaders and leaders from other countries to get to know each other and conspire together for the Kingdom of God. Today we will travel to Sean Penn's tent city to learn of their example. Moving into tent cities raise a host of issues and potential problems, yet doing so opens up the possibility of developing a deeper understanding of the plight of those living on the margin.
The challenges in Haiti are great, so a multi-dimensional approach is vital. Direct advocacy, short-term trips, incarnational living, and prayer are a few of the ways that American Christians get involved.
President Obama has said the UN MDGs are the United States' development goals. What will the American Church do to help achieve these goals? What is our distinct role in the Micah movement for justice?
Director, Micah Institute