Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Haiti and the Social Gospel

Today, I read a tweet from a local (rich, white, cisgender, male) youth pastor talking about Haiti. He was saying how we need to see food, clothing and shelter as secondary and that we should view the gospel as what they need the most. To me, this was a rather flawed way to view things.

I grew up in a religious tradition that did not much believe in getting involved in social justice. If there was a hurricane or tsunami somewhere, the people from the associated churches would all create a little fund which was sent to the main organization and they would use the contributions as they saw fit to help whomever they saw fit for a very limited period of time. After that initial contribution, they basically went back to just proselytizing in the usual ways--inviting people to church, preaching to people in public spaces, offering salvation in the form of baptism.

Each year, they raked in millions of dollars from all across the world, yet they never built one school, created one clinic, or ran a single food or clothing bank. This never sat well with me. I have a hard time respecting any organization that would gladly take money from already-impoverished people, but offer them nothing more than intangibles in return.

I love beautiful churches. I enjoy visiting the ornate surroundings of many cathedrals and mosques and synagogues. At the same time, I do feel a bit uncomfortable with all of the froufrou, knowing that millions of people are still dying of starvation each year. I can't help but think that at least some of the money spent on these works of art and wonders of architecture could have been better used providing for the needs of the poor.

There's a chapter in the Bible that I thought about when I read that pastor's tweet today.
"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."
Matthew 25:34-46
Notice who was pronounced righteous in this chapter. If we are not feeding and clothing and putting a roof over the heads of people such as those now living in Haiti, then all of our good intentions are for naught--we will still end up facing eternal punishment. Mohandas Gandhi once said, "There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread". I think that where the youth pastor went wrong was in thinking that providing for the physical needs of others is somehow separate from the gospel of the Bible. Instead, I see it as the very core of what it means to live the gospel and if we are not living the gospel, we certainly can't spread it to others.


Rootietoot said...


Who can even think about their souls if they don't have the food, clothing shelter, health care for their kids, etc.?

I think it's a cop-out. If you don't think you have to do the sweaty, sacrificial work, putting a check in the offering plate is a snap way to make yourself think you're actually doing something. For an entire church to have that philosophy is...I don't know....reprehensible.

Ktrion said...

Thanks for this, Bint!

I can't stand the arrogance of the original tweet you posted about. Sounds like he needs to get the gospel before he can start giving it!

(ignorance if not downright racism)

Haiti has had the gospel for centuries. It came with colonization and slavery.

There are beautiful people of faith in Haiti. many of them died. all of them lost so much.

Yes they will need to pray as they get through this. They will need to reach out to their Creator. That's what God is doing. But now God would say to this preacher and to his particular kind of "Good Christians," what are you doing? Give time, give food, give shelter, give medical aid. Give something that takes some effort, not mere pious platitudes.