Lively Ministry Forum topic: How far does outreach need to reach out?
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
The most powerful discussion Monday in Grand Canyon University’s Ministry Forum, for students in the College of Theology, was sparked by this passage written by Christian activist Shane Claiborne:
“It is much more comfortable to depersonalize the poor so we don’t feel responsible for the catastrophic human failure that results in someone sleeping on the street while people have spare bedrooms in their homes. We can volunteer in a social program or distribute excess food and clothing through organizations and never have to open up our homes, our beds, our dinner tables. …
“I’m just not convinced that Jesus is going to say, ‘When I was hungry, you gave a check to the United Way and they fed me,’ or, ‘When I was naked, you donated clothes to the Salvation Army and they clothed me.’ Jesus is not seeking distant acts of charity. He seeks concrete acts of love: ‘You fed me … you visited me in prison … you welcomed me into your home … you clothed me.’”
That strong opinion went right to the heart of a session titled, “The Church: Bread of Life or Opiate of the People?” The point was whether religion is simply a way for people to feel better about themselves and their relationship with God or is a call to action for social justice that all Christians must answer.
The latter has become a common theme in most churches in recent years as more people have come to the conclusion that while they can’t solve the world’s problems, they need to start somewhere.
“It’s never been a private faith. That’s a 20th century mistake,” said Dr. Shawn Bawulski, one of the three COT panelists.
Another panelist, Dr. Pete Charpentier, reacted to Claiborne’s declaration with a powerful experience that his wife had when she talked to two homeless people on a street corner and asked one of them what they needed most.
“Outreach,” the man told her.
When she asked him what he meant, the man said, “If what you proclaim in your building is not powerful enough to move you out of your building, why is it powerful enough to move me into your building?”
Bawulski picked up the thought process by telling a story of fishing from a boat in a river. If you saw one drowning person floating by, you would be alarmed, of course, but what if you kept seeing more and more as time went by?
“At some point you’d have to ask yourself, ‘What’s going on upriver?’“ Bawulski said.
Chip Lamca, the third panelist, said, “We take it as an either/or, but we have to start with where we are.”
Dr. John Frederick, manager of GCU’s Center for Worship Arts and moderator for the session, told the story of the brokenness he sees daily when he rides his bicycle to work. “You know there’s a need,” he said, “but you have no idea where to start. … Writing a check to World Vision is one thing. But is that enough?”
The session drew its unusual title from a Karl Marx quote: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”
Frederick started the discussion by saying, “We don’t want to be an opiate. We don’t want to be complacent in Jesus Christ.”
Charpentier brought up the famous quote by St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel. Use words if necessary.”
“I’m on a mission with God. It’s not something that lulls me to sleep. It’s something that sets me on fire to preach the Gospel,” Charpentier said. “It’s not about just doing works. It’s telling people why we’re doing them rather than making them figure it out.”
Another declaration that was part of the presentation was from “The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism,” by Carl F.H. Henry: “Justice is due to all because a just God created mankind in his holy image, and he knows that all men need justification because the Holy Creator sees us as rebellious sinners … to do nothing about social wrongs is to do the wrong thing.”
Bawulski said the American church had “amnesia” about social work in the 20th century. That no longer is the case, all agreed, but the question now is how to go about doing something that goes far beyond writing a check — and will never be forgotten.
Contact Rick Vacek at 602-639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.