“Our task must include conflict with political and social structures on behalf of clients who in Bible terms ‘cannot speak f”or themselves’.AGENDA FROM THE FAITH
Much can be achieved in co-operation with friends who don’t necessarily share the same faith or any faith at all. As a Christian group, Concern Australia gladly partners with people of other worldviews to provide relief and justice programs. If you’re homeless, who cares whether an atheist, a Christian or a Buddhist provides you shelter? There can be no discriminatory franchise on who does good. Certainly, there can be no discrimination in the delivery of care. The unconscious, battered body confronting the Priest, the Levite and the Samaritan was their brother or sister made in the image of God. Every person is sacred. Christian agencies must protect, nurture and foster all in need, irrespective of belief, class, sex, race or behavioral history.
There are some distinctly Christian traditions, based on the life and teaching of Jesus that Christian agencies must protect, nurture and foster all in need, irrespective of belief, class, sex, race or behavioral history, that we are obliged, even sacredly compelled to uphold, to emulate, and even to propagate in our daily works. Here are some significant marks of a faith-based, holistic program of communication and caring organisation, as expressed in Mark 6:7-13 (The Message translation).
He sent them off with these instructions: ‘Don’t think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. You are the equipment. No special appeals for funds. Keep it simple.’ And no luxury inns (6:7-10).
The Christian tradition calls for personal commitment, personal restraint in lifestyle, resistance to exploitation, integrity in our professional dealings with others, and the recognition that it is the people rather than the programs that are the greatest agent for care and transformation. Dedicated, trustworthy, compassionate workers even outweigh technical professionalism. William Booth built a global empire of carers from the transformed converts of the streets, rather than from the professionals in the Seminaries. While scholarship and qualification are a bonus, at CA we believe the integrity, the faith, the love and the dedication of our staff have been a key to effective communication and welfare.
He gave them authority and power to deal with the evil opposition…right and left they sent the demons packing…(6:8, 13).
Unfortunately, there are forces of greed, of exploitation, of violence and marginalization in our world, producing human tragedy and suffering. Our task must include conflict with political and social structures on behalf of clients who in Bible terms ‘cannot speak for themselves’. We often fail not because they lack ability but because systems, circumstances and structures restrict their opportunity. Bullies, dictators, corrupt officials, abusive husbands, drug pushers, ill- informed policy makers, politicians, and religious leaders require censure! Most social reforms in Western history (abolition of slavery, prevention of cruelty to animals, the Trade Union Movement, racial desegregation) were initiated by people of faith. A sense of divine love empowers courage to confront tyrannies.
Then they were on the road. They preached with joyful urgency that life can be radically different…(6:12).
It matters what we believe. What we believe we live. Our beliefs are greatly shaped by what we hear (Romans 10:14-17). As Paul asked, how will they hear without a preacher sent to tell? Some of us have responded to that need and seen thousands changed by the power of the spoken and written word. This task is achieved quietly, by staff responding with truth to requests by those they are assisting in social care, housing, educating and training.
They brought wellness to the sick, anointing their bodies, healing their spirits (6:13).
Speaking our message of hope and love is not enough. Without loving, caring, practical demonstration of care, our faith statements are dead and lack validation (James 2:14-22). Jesus said to the Pharisees that religion without justice, mercy and love is hypocrisy (Matthew 5:7; 9:13; 22:19; Mark 12:31-33). In the afterlife, our feeding the hungry, healing the sick, clothing the destitute, visiting the imprisoned will outweigh pious words of religiosity (Matthew 25:31- 45). John says, if we do not love our people, expressed in practical compassion by providing material possessions for the needy, we don’t even know God (1 John 3:10, 14, 17 18).
But it is the liberating message that life should and can be different that marks faith-based human services of CA at a strategic time when much good, caring welfare has conceded defeat, settling only for harm minimization. Something is terribly wrong when free, prosperous, societies are marked by pandemic depression and social injustice. There has got to be a better way.
Extraordinary breadth and depth of ministry is being carried out by small ministries, mostly without public awareness. A program I began in the late 1960s, now called Values for Life has developed outstanding follow-up materials for teachers. Requests for visits to schools are at a high level.
God’s Squad is having outstanding impact around the world, from the Ukraine and Finland to Hobart. Weddings, funerals, serious accidents, and family problems provide an amazing flow of ministry to people who would never otherwise encounter the Christian message of love and hope. In Manchester, our UK president has established a Garage Church that has succeeded such that the Anglican Bishop wants to embrace it.
In recognition of our Mission experience and formal training in missiology, I was invited to provide an intensive unit on Urban Mission theology and practice for Adelaide’s Tabor College. My Doctoral work on the Jesus Movement has been recognized by a new academic unit investigating the history and significance of Revitalization Movements throughout history, and I provided the plenary presentation on modern/postmodern revitalizations to the international academic gathering in the USA in October 2010.
Opportunities to speak in Anglican, Uniting Church and Baptist congregations from Brisbane to Adelaide have kept the preaching fire alight. Walter Brueggemann states:
‘If consumerism is destroying the human spirit among us and crushing the values of family and community, and if consumerism produces a pathology of abused persons in inadequate relations, then there is no remedy within that system. Remedy requires breaking with that system for the sake of a different set of relations … requires a deep intentional break … in order to be healed. There is no cheap, easy healing, but there is healing.’
Jesus combined healing with declaration of a new way of living that he called the kingdom of God. He began his ministry by a public, spoken declaration of the causes and consequences of humanity’s ills. Preaching, teaching and public proclamation are not tax-relief activities in Australia. It is therefore easier to obtain support for welfare than for the spreading of the message.
Few agencies maintain the balance of human relief with faithfulness and effectiveness in disseminating a transformational word, cross- culturally, and cross-generationally. I hope with God’s squad & other colleagues to continue to speak the great message with urgency and compassion in festivals, rallies, schools, and conferences.
We will continue to show and tell faith and love through street level contact and communication. I believe we have the right program, in the right places, with a right message, at the right time, with the right holistic outcomes.