Evangelical Christians in the United Kingdom didn't need convincing that it was their responsibility to advocate with the poor when the G8 came to Scotland. In the words of the Micah Call, the campaign echoed 1
Film-director Richard Curtis and the NGOs got the slogans and symbols right, Mandela set the stage, Geldof and Bono played their part and the famous 'clicked' the knowledge of ‘a preventable death every three seconds’ into the hearts and minds of many. These were all good things.
However, my sense was that the movement among Christians was more like the mobilization of a ready reserve. They had mobilized on a similar scale before, most clearly in the Jubilee 2000 debt campaign and the peaceful encircling of the G8 in Birmingham. Many church-based networks have practiced the drills frequently recent years.
Biblically and evangelically it was a ‘no-brainer’ to witness to the love of our Lord in Edinburgh, to wrap churches in white bands, to send campaign postcards and to pray. Evangelical Christian families had booked their tickets and buses before the mainstream hype. Why?
The beautiful concept that many evangelical Christians in the UK seek to live out is integral mission. As stated in the 2001 Micah Declaration:
Integral mission or holistic transformation is the proclamation and demonstration of the gospel. It is not simply that evangelism and social involvement are to be done alongside each other. Rather, in integral mission our proclamation has social consequences as we call people to love and repentance in all areas of life. And our social involvement has evangelistic consequences as we bear witness to the transforming grace of Jesus Christ. If we ignore the world we betray the word of God which sends us out to serve the world. If we ignore the word of God we have nothing to bring to the world. Justice and justification by faith, worship and political action, the spiritual and the material, personal change and structural change belong together. As in the life of Jesus, being, doing and saying are at the heart of our integral task. (http://micahchallenge.org/Christians_Poverty_and_Justice/)
The wordscome from Latin America and closely echo the idea of holistic mission. A Spanish-speaking friend reminded me that it is similar to pan integral (wholemeal bread). The importance is not that separate ingredients have been brought together (integrated), but rather that nothing has been taken out!
Consensus and social capital: a powerful combination
In relation to global poverty, the political landscape in the UK has been re-shaped. Perhaps the turning point came in the late 1990s and the Jubilee 2000 campaign, but the roots may go even deeper. During the May 2005 British Election campaign, parties focused on global poverty and development for a full day. Global poverty was indeed a significant domestic political issue! The Conservatives committed themselves to implementing Labor’s promise to increase overseas aid to 0.7% of GDP by 2013, while the Liberal Democrats said they would do it by 2011. Chancellor Gordon Brown, often quoting Isaiah, was nearly prophetic by applying the message of God to the situation of our times. Had he been a U.S. Secretary of State or an Australian Treasurer this would have entailed political risk. But in the UK, politicians speak out on global poverty and have it make a difference.
Investment organizations like the Evangelical Alliance of the UK, Tearfund, the Baptist Union and Christian Aid have made great efforts to empower, encourage and equip networks of pastors and volunteers. This has created a depth of social capital (http://micahchallenge.org/prayer_resources/documents/388.doc). Social capital reflects trust. When information and calls go out, they are received as being trustworthy.
More importantly, a critical mass of Christians in home groups, youth groups and other church gatherings discuss the biblically-grounded advocacy materials they receive. Many will then take action together. This type of movement-building cannot be overstated. Church-based campaigns are operating counter to the predominant direct mail to individual mode of secular campaigning agencies—and they are building social capital where it has been lost in Western societies. This is part of the everyday transformational work of the church in the community. What makes it even more valuable is that Christians create trust across social boundaries.
In the weeks prior to the G8, the media tested possible weaknesses in the extraordinary consensus that had emerged behind the Make Poverty History campaign. They questioned the value of giving additional aid and debt cancellation to corrupt or poorly governed countries in Africa. My initial reaction was that a complex and real issue might be exploited in a simplistic way, giving G8 leaders a way out. But those involved were not only able to see through the simplicities, but also were able to deal with the complexities of the issue. The debate in the media was transformed into a positive discussion of (1) the conditions applied to aid; (2) the rights of countries to set their own economic direction within the bounds of human rights and accountability to the poor and; (3) the question of trade justice.
Many more people went to Edinburgh than the organizers had expected. Many waited hours to join the band of people encircling the city. Christian churches, groups and families were abundantly represented. Most knew that (1) the deals on debt and aid had been done prior to Gleneagles; (2) these were enormously worthwhile but incomplete and; (3) they required continued vigilance both in the North and in the countries of the global South. They knew gains made would not be fully realized and sustained until poor communities were treated fairly in international trade.
From Make Poverty History to Micah Challenge
Micah Challenge was one of the international networks that birthed the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP), which is designed to coordinate civil society campaigns in 2005. Micah Challenge national campaigns are also involved in national platforms under GCAP, one of which is Make Poverty History.
Micah Challenge was created by the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) and the Micah Network to fight poverty long-term. One of the founders, Ann Persson, recently reflected on the mission of the Micah Challenge at St. Paul’s Cathedral just before the G8 Summit. According to Persson, it was the job of Micah Challenge to “re-sound the voices of 2005 from now until 2015.” We intend to do that and far more.
Micah Challenge has two aims: to deepen Christian engagement with the poor and to challenge leaders to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Our hope is to cut in half absolute global poverty by 2015. At the core of both goals is a desire to amplify the voices of economically-poor Christians. We do this by making our own direction as a global community of Christians and through national and international economic and political forums.
Our inward aim involves achieving the type of consensus we have described in the UK, through indigenous paths. The consensus has various dimensions. Theologically, we have spoken of integral mission as a basis for consensus on how to follow Christ’s example and his mission to bring good news to the poor. Christian leaders are choosing to facilitate the Micah Challenge in North America, Europe and the global South because of the richness and relevance of the challenge.
We must also engage with other dimensions of consensus, including the institutional and cultural dimensions. Discussions and relationships among European evangelical Christian alliances and agencies exploring Micah Challenge – and indications from Christian leaders in the United States—have been extremely positive. Micah Challenge USA has begun its work with a broad cross-section of evangelical Christian groups represented in the Steering Committee and their intention to foster inclusion of evangelical Christians. Rich Cizik, Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, Jim Wallis and Ron Siders are prioritizing global poverty. Southern Baptists also participated in the Inter-faith Convocation on Hunger this past June in Washington.
Micah Challenge USA joins campaigns already fully operational in ten countries and other campaigns in various stages of exploration and formation in twenty-six additional countries. (http://micahchallenge.org/index/National_Campaigns.asp)
There is more in the integral mission paradigm to explore—and equally profound discussions are still to emerge. Deeper engagement with poverty must go hand-in-hand theologically with a deeper understanding and realization of the Body of Christ. Vinoth Ramachandra has written about the politics of the Body of Christ as a positive Christian response to globalization. South American theologians are calling us to overcome the objectification of the poor within the Body of Christ. In the UK, some feel the next step for Christians who have embraced integral mission is to add integral living.
The focus of Micah Challenge’s outward aim is the MDGs. These are eight time-bound and measurable goals, often described as a roadmap agreed upon by leaders of major international institutions. If these goals are achieved, half as many people will be hungry, all children will get a primary school education, girls will have equal opportunity as boys and infant and child deaths will be cut by two-thirds. Also, women dying in childbirth will be reduced by 75%, the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases will be reversed and the sustainability of the environment, access to safe dinking water, sanitation and urban poverty issues will all be addressed—all this by 2015. (http://micahchallenge.org/millennium_development_goals/)
This will depend on the quality and accountability of governments in poor countries and the willingness of rich countries and international financial institutions to implement the plans. We all can contribute wherever we live by creating and sustaining a willingness to deliver on these promises right now.
On September 14-16 the largest meeting of world leaders in history will occur at the United Nations in New York City. The Millennium+5 Summit (or World Summit 2005) will include prime ministers, presidents and leaders from across the globe. Micah Challenge is calling for leaders to deepen their commitment towards achieving the MDGs. We are also hoping issues such as poverty, security, human rights and governing will be addressed holistically and from the perspective of the poorest and most marginalized communities.
Visit the Micah Challenge website at http://www.micahchallenge.org/. Please download the Micah Challenge Season of Prayer and Advocacy Kit for materials focused on the Summit. Please sign the Micah Call and scan the Christians, Poverty and Justice area.
1. The text of the Micah Call, Micah Challenge’s global petition, is at www.micahchallenge.org/home/default.asp.