When Helping Hurts, Chapter 8 – “Yes, In Your Backyard”

Synopsis

  • The poor are all around us, even in suburban neighborhoods.
  • “In summary, poor people in North America could benefit from all of the following: (1) the ability to work at jobs with living wages, (2) the capacity to manage their money, (3) the opportunity to accumulate wealth, and (4) a greater supply of quality education, housing, and health care at affordable rates. Moreover, like all of us, poor people need highly relational ministries (delivered through the body of Jesus Christ) that help them to overcome the effects of the fall on their individual hearts, minds, and behaviors.” (Fikkert and Corbett (F&C))
  • Training for the new job opportunities needed as our society changes is a key to getting out of poverty.
  • Training should include soft skills such as living out a biblical work ethic, working on a team, having a good attitude, personal integrity, respect for authority, conflict resolution and and strong communication skills.
  • Training should include hard skills  that may be specific to a particular job, like a mechanic learning how an engine works. Hard skills might also include learning how to manage money so the materially poor can build wealth.
  • Christian businesses must be brought onboard and see their business as a vocation to expand the kingdom of God.

My Thoughts

The American way is one of individualism. We are supposed to, “Pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.” I’ve never quite understood where that saying came from, but I know what it means. It means that in America, we have the power to fix our own problems and we shouldn’t need anybody else to help us. American individualism is politically best expressed through the Republican Party, which many Bible believing Christians claim as the political party that best represents their beliefs. In many areas, I think that’s true. However, I think we need to shed our identity in a political party and find our identity in Christ alone.

Is it the government’s job to fix poverty? No. I don’t think it is. Where the government has tried, it has failed spectacularly and done so using our money. The government isn’t prepared to fix poverty because it is a spiritual problem that manifests itself physically. Most Bible believing Christians recognize this and thus tend to vote for the party that curbs “social spending.” So, many Christians understand that the government isn’t responsible for the poor, and that’s good. However, where we go off the Biblical rails is when we provide an American answer for an issue that requires a Biblical response.

“Pull yourself up by your bootstraps!” is not a Biblical response. The scriptures teaches us that we should work and be responsible for our families. However, it also puts tremendous emphasis upon the church coming alongside the poor.

“During the seventh year, let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what they leave. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.” Exodus 23:11

“However, there should be no poor among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you.” Deuteronomy 15:4

“If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother.” Deuteronomy 15:7

“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.” Matthew 25:35

Cornelius stared at him in fear. What is it, Lord?’ he asked. The angel answered, Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.'” Acts 10:4

“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:17-1

Chapter 8 of “When Helping Hurts” provides American Christians with some concrete, biblical ways that we can not only bring relief to the poor help them pull themselves out of poverty. Training gives the poor skills they can use productively, and Christian business owners can provide a place for them to put their skills to work. At the end of the day, everybody is better off. The poor get jobs that help them be responsible toward their families, they stop relying on government handouts that are funded by the rest of us, Christian business owners get good employees with a biblical view of work that will help their businesses flourish, and all of it comes through obedience to God.

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When Helping Hurts, Chapter 7 – “Doing Short-Term Missions Without Doing Long-Term Harm”

Synopsis

  • Short-term mission trips are an a growing event in American church life. “There were 120,000 in 1989; 450,000 in 1998; 1,000,000 in 2003; and 2,200,000 in 2006. The numbers reflect a tsunami of epic proportions, a tidal wave of American short-term “missionaries” flooding the world. The cost? Americans spent $1.6 billion on short-term missions (STMs) in 2006 alone. (From Roger Peterson, Short-Term Missions Long-Term Impact? 28 September 2007, Minneapolis. Via Fikkert and Corbett (F&C))
  • Short-term mission trips can cause long term damage while doing short-term good.
  • Problems arise because of different cultural understandings of time and the roles of individuals versus groups.
  • North American short-term missionaries are often very concerned with time and getting the greatest amount of projects completed in the shortest amount of time possible (time is money, this is the monochromatic view of time). Those who are on the receiving end of the assistance are more concerned with how a job is done, the relationships that are involved, and how the group participates than individual effort and when the job gets done. Time is viewed as endless and relationship building is more important than efficiency. This is the polychromatic view of time.
  • “The core problem with STMs to poor communities is that STMs tend to reflect the perspective of “poverty as deficit,” the idea that poverty is due to the poor lacking something. North Americans often view the “something” as material resources, but a lack of knowledge or spirituality is also commonly cited.4 This conception of poverty leads to poverty-alleviation strategies in which the materially non-poor are necessarily in the position of giving the “something” to the materially poor, since the non-poor have the “something” and the poor do not have it.” (F&C)
  • Most targets of short-term missions provide a short term poverty relief, but what they need is long-term development. Short-term relief strangles long-term development.
  • Short-term missions are often focused on the spiritual growth and needs of those providing relief. The trip becomes about us and not about those who are in need.
  • The money spent to take a dozen Christians from the first world to the third world could be better spent by investing in indigenous talent within struggling communities to kickstart development.
  • Short-term trips, if they are taken, should require participants to have a long-term commitment to encouraging development.

My Thoughts

I’ve always been suspicious of short-term mission trips. Sure, they may get a lot done, but isn’t it really a vacation? Isn’t it really getting out of the familiar and experiencing something? Isn’t it really about doing something good and feeling good about doing good even though we don’t have to travel thousands of miles to do good? Aren’t there poor, homeless, hungry people in our own cities that need assistance? Short-term mission (of course I’m generalize, not all of them) tend to be more about the person going than the person being helped. The real, hard work of ministry is the work that is in your neighborhood. The drug addicts, the sex addicts, the mentally ill, in our neighborhood are real people with real long-term needs. But, those long-term needs require long-term commitment, and a short-term mission trip absolves us of the guilt we feel for being so fortunate and not doing much with what we’ve been given.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think people who go on short-term mission trips are bad people. I think that they do want to do something worthwhile that honors God, but I also think that most of us want to serve God in the most comfortable way possible. Jesus didn’t call us to comfortably serve him, but to pick up our cross and follow him.

Kinism – A Critique of, “A Biblical Defense of Ethno-Nationalism” – Part 3

In the second installment of my critique, I will be looking again at David Opperman’s essay, “A Biblical Defense of Ethno-Nationalism” which can be found here:

http://faithandheritage.com/2011/01/a-biblical-defense-of-ethno-nationalism/

This post will address subsection, “The Purpose of National Distinctions.”

More on Babel

Opperman goes back to the Babel narrative in this section saying, “The first observation that we must make is that national distinction based upon heredity already existed at the time of Babel.” I’m not sure why Opperman insists that any national distinctions existed because according to his own definition there was only one nation. According to Opperman’s definition of a nation, nations are, “…based on common ancestry, language, culture, religion, and social customs.” Yet, there was only one nation at Babel, and there was only one nation between Noah and Babel.

Here’s why. Genesis 11 begins with a strong statement of unity. “Now the whole earth had one language and a common speech.” This makes sense coming after Noah. Noah spoke a language that he passed on to his descendants. That one language existed for five generations, from Noah to Peleg. In Genesis 10:21-31, we read about the descendants of Shem. Four generations after Shem, Peleg was born. As Opperman rightly notes, it was during the time of Peleg that the earth was divided. So, Babel was contemporary with the life of Peleg, at a time when all the people of the earth spoke one language, were the descendants of one person (Noah), and given that they were all in one geographic region, we can imagine that they all shared culture, religion, and social customs. Hence, between Noah and Babel, there existed only one nation. Opperman’s assertion that national distinctions already existed based on heredity is plainly false. The existence of family trees that continue as nations after Babel does not prove the existence of distinct nations before Babel.

So, what happened at Babel? Humanity had not learned the lesson of the flood: obey the LORD! The LORD told humanity to fill the earth, to be fruitful and multiply, but humanity stubbornly stayed together in one geographic region as one people leaving the earth without human stewards. What one people were they? They were the descendants of Noah. Miscegenation wasn’t the problem at Babel. There was no miscegenation because there was only one people. Rather, it was humanity’s stubborn refusal to obey the LORD and go into the world and fill it.

Of course, the text provides us with two practices of the people that the LORD found troublesome. First, they were as one people, descendant from one person. That particular situation is one that we should never see again in human history due to the LORD’s promise never to wipe out mankind again. Second, they spoke one language. By changing the language, the LORD caused them to become many nations. He caused them to do as he commanded even if they did it for reasons other than obedience. Do we need to be concerned that miscegenation will lead to one world nation? I would say there are a number of other social and cultural issues that we should be more concerned with if we are truly worried that one world nation is a possibility. I’d begin with language.

Kinism is very concerned with maintaining national distinctions based on race in part because of this text, but ignores language. We never hear Kinists express concern that people learn multiple languages. We never hear them complain that there are too many Spanish or French classes in our schools because learning such things could cause humanity to unite into one idolatrous nation. Yet, unity in language is clearly an essential component of nationhood. If a white man marrying a black woman puts us in danger of forming one global nation, then surely learning other languages (which happens much more often than interracial marriage) must also put us in danger. Many Kinists insist that marriage outside of one’s race is a sin, yet they do not complain that learning Spanish is a sin. Inconsistency is the sign of a failed argument.

Boundaries of Nations

Opperman goes on to discuss God’s sovereign setting of the boundaries of the nations, specifically citing Deuteronomy 32:8 and Acts 17:26-27. Deuteronomy 32:8 reads, “When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when he divided all mankind, he set up boundaries for the peoples according to the number of the sons of Israel.” Acts 17:26-27 reads, “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.”

Much of what Opperman affirms in this section I also affirm. God did sovereignly make many nations. He did so that people would seek him and reach out to him. The existence of many nations is a blessing to the world and it is a means by which the LORD sovereignly brings a people unto himself. I also affirm that many nations will be represented in the hereafter. We will see every nation and people.

However, Opperman seems to believe that all national boundaries are set in stone for all eternity. Certainly, the LORD didn’t just decree which nations would exist, but how long those nations would exist. Acts 17:26 clearly speaks of nations have an appointed time. Nations are not statically decreed, but they are decreed to rise and to fall. We no longer worry about the Edomites or the Assyrians or the Babylonians because those nations no longer exist. Their appointed time has ended. Yet, at the same time we will see people from every nation represented in the new heavens and earth because saints from every time will be represented.

Kinists would have us believe that miscegenation destroys the God-given diversity, but the only way this could happen would be through guided reproductive manipulation through many generations. Most people tend to be drawn to people of their own race. Culture and religion and social norms and language are all strong forces that tend to bring people of the same backgrounds together. Therefore, the appeal to the extreme of “one world of people colored light brown” is not something we should be concerned about. Additionally, miscegenation tends to increase diversity. If a black man and a white woman have a child, diversity is increased. The baby is neither black nor white. If an Asian man and a black woman have a child, diversity is increased. The child is neither Asian nor black. Diversity can only increase outside of forced reproductive manipulation, so we do not have to be worried about a homogeneous humanity.

Kinism – A Critique of, “A Biblical Defense of Ethno-Nationalism” – Part 2

In the second installment of my critique, I will be looking again at David Opperman’s essay, “A Biblical Defense of Ethno-Nationalism” which can be found here:

http://faithandheritage.com/2011/01/a-biblical-defense-of-ethno-nationalism/

This post will address subsection, “Racial Pride, Loyalty, and Responsibility.”

Opperman rightly points out that all salvific merit comes from Christ alone. If we are to boast of righteousness, then we boast of the righteousness of Christ for it is in Him and through Him that we are reconciled to the Father. All of our good deeds stand as filthy rags before the righteousness of the LORD.

Opperman goes on to say, “Even Christ demands that our loyalty to himself exceed our loyalty to our immediate families and spouses! It would be a severe mistake however to conclude that attributes such as ancestry or even marriage are meaningless!” I do not know exactly what Opperman is attempting to communicate in these statements. Is he accusing non-Kinists of taking the position that ancestry and marriage are meaningless? Given the tenor of the entire essay, I’m inclined to believe that he is setting up an appeal to extremes strawman. I want to make it clear at this point that my position is not that ancestry or marriage are meaningless. However, given that I do not have an ethnocentric hermeneutic, I obviously do not attribute as much weight to ancestry as Opperman does.

Opperman then starts to build his case for the righteousness and even the importance of racial pride by referencing Romans 9 saying, “Indeed, the very same Apostle Paul who spoke those words to the Philippians also said that he was “willing to be accursed from Christ” for his “brethren, his kinsman according to the flesh.” The New International Version renders “kinsman according to the flesh” as “race.” This is a clear and unashamed expression of racial pride and loyalty.” Opperman’s case is that since Paul was willing to be accursed from Christ that his brethren according to the flesh would be saved, that Paul has racial pride and that he is endorsing racial pride. Opperman’s interpretation is flawed in two ways.

First, Paul is not expressing pride but love. Opperman conflates pride and love but the distinction between the two in scripture could not be clearer! Love is not pride. Paul loves his brethren, and why shouldn’t he? They are the people he’s been close to his entire life. They share his language, customs, and history. “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ.” (Romans 9:4-5) Paul’s lament is that of the loss of a loved one who should not have passed away! Everything was given to Israel, yet they reject the fulfillment of all that came before them. It is a tragic story, but it is the theocentric reading of Romans 9, which continues to note that in Christ blood lineage does not define who our ancestors are. “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.” (Romans 9:6-8)

Second, there are very few instances in the scriptures where pride is condoned. Where pride is condoned it is theocentric. A few examples are:

  • “In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God.” (Romans 15:17)
  • “Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”(Jer. 9:23–24)

Where pride is condoned, it is pride in the LORD. It is pride in His work through us, and that we are His people. There is no hint that pride in one’s color or ancestry is acceptable. In fact, pride in the accomplishments of ancestors was exactly what Jesus warned about in Luke 3:8, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.” Elsewhere, we read that pride brings disgrace (Proverbs 11:2), that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5), that the proud are among those who are lovers of self, money, arrogant, and abusive (2 Timothy 3:2), and that pride deceives the heart of the proud. (Obadiah 3)

Though Opperman attempts to give Biblical warrant for sinful pride, he quickly switches to another argument. Opperman supports white pride because he feels white people are condemned for pride in their race while other races are patted on the back for having pride in their race. Is that unfair? Perhaps, but as Christians we shouldn’t want what the world wants. Instead of craving the right to be proud of his race like others, Opperman should be condemning racial pride altogether as there is no Biblical warrant for it. Love for our fellow white people? Absolutely. However, Paul’s lament for his fellow Jews does not tell us that Paul loved Jews more than any other group. It simply tells us that he loved his fellow Jews and hoped for their salvation. We should love our fellow white Christians, and black Christians, and Asian Christian, etc., because we are all adopted into God’s family as brothers and sisters.

Finally, Opperman states, “What Paul is teaching here is that people have familial obligations that radiate outward in concentric loyalties. Our responsibilities to humanity at large are extraordinarily small in comparison to our responsibility to our immediate family. This again demonstrates that family, clan, tribe, nation, and race have meaning in the Biblical paradigm of society.” To begin with, nobody is arguing that race is insignificant. Opperman seems to love the fallacy of appeal to the extremes by repeatedly constructing strawmen that are obviously out of a well informed Biblical worldview. If race weren’t important, the LORD wouldn’t have made us different races. This question isn’t if race is important, but how important is it?

Similar to many Kinist arguments, this one contains a half-truth. Opperman is absolutely right that Christians have concentric circles of obligation. However, Opperman’s circles of responsibility look something like this:

Family -> clan -> tribe -> nation -> humanity at large

Notice that church isn’t explicitly in this line of responsibility at all. According to Opperman’s definition of nation, church would likely reside in nation. Given Opperman’s ethnocentric hermeneutic, it’s no surprise that the first three spheres of responsibility are simply blood based.

Given the discussion above and the importance given in the scriptures to caring for those within the church, I would propose that the concentric circles should look like this:

Family -> church (local) -> extended family -> church (national) -> nation -> church (worldwide) ->humanity at large

Preeminence is given to the church and those around us that we are able to help.

In summary, pride is in our relationship with the LORD alone, which He initiated and brought to fruition, not in our race. We certainly are to love those of our own race, but not at the expense of or in the place of other brothers and sisters in Christ.

Kinism – A Critique of, “A Biblical Defense of Ethno-Nationalism” – Part 1

As half of an interracial couple, and the father of interracial boys, the last few weeks have been very difficult for me. In a world where we don’t have to look far to see extreme evil, where there are plenty of bad actors to call to repentance, in a land where people have turned their backs on Christ and happily follow the pied piper of idols like sex and money, our American culture has decided to work itself up into a frenzy over race. Really? Race? Sorry. Isn’t race a trivial issue compared to the problems facing our world? Apparently not.

Race has become the latest idol in America’s pantheon of paganism. It’s not a new idol, but it’s an idol that many of us (mostly white people) thought died with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. When discussing the racial atmosphere of the US with my ten-year-old son he asked me the same question that I think many Americans are asking right now, “Dad, didn’t Martin Luther King Jr. take care of all that?” Unfortunately, he didn’t. As long as human nature is fallen and sin lives in our flesh we will continue to struggle with race.

One manifestation America’s sinful infatuation with race is found in the last place we should expect it: the Church. A heresy called Kinism, which purports to set the record straight on proper, Biblical racial relations, has emerged to stoke the flames of racial animosity by exaggerating the “otherness” of non-white races and minimizing the unity of the church in Christ. One of the main tenants of Kinism is that race mixing or miscegenation is contrary to God’s will. Most go so far as to say that miscegenation is sinful and open rebellion against the God of the Bible.

I believe that just as feminist theologians make women’s issues their primary hermeneutical principle and liberation/socialist theologians make class struggle their primary hermeneutical principle, Kinists make ethnicity their primary hermeneutical principle. That is, they read the entirety of scripture, not through a theocentric lens, but rather through an ethnocentric lens. Their devotion to ethnocentrism rears its head in Kinists’ interactions with other Christians. Instead of joining hands with other Christians to share the good news of the gospel, making Christ the focus of their efforts, they instead preach the gospel of racial separation and purity. Race, not Christ, is the engine of their zeal.

I fully expect that this post will bring plenty of fury my way. In every interaction I’ve had with Kinists I’ve been labeled as a Marxist, an emotional, unthinking drone of the socialist world order, brainwashed by the “Jewish media” and called names like “dill-weed” and told that I’m a self-loathing white man. My wife has been referred to as a “negress” and my children referred to as “half-breeds” and “mongrels.” In my experience thus far, Kinists do not hesitate to hurl slurs. Name calling is the go to response to any criticism of their views.

I’m not saying this as an ad hominem attack against Kinism. Their incivility and in-your-face shock tactics tell us nothing about their truth claims. Rather I’m mentioning it because I believe such behavior is not in keeping proper interaction among Christians. As the LORD told us, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35) The apostle Paul encouraged us to, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.”(Romans 12:10) I would not expect such name calling from anyone who is so sanctified that they happily stand in judgment of others who claim Christ. It is in a spirit of love that I present a case against Kinism. It is my sincere hope that those who have adopted this theology will come to a fuller understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ and cease worshiping at the altar of their ethnicity and embrace the LORD of all.

The blog is entitled “Reading Synopsis” and that is how I will critique Kinism. I’ve asked a “lite-kinist” to give me what he considers to be the best arguments for Kinism. He directed me to two articles. The first one, A Biblical Defense of Ethno-Nationalism, can be found here:

http://faithandheritage.com/2011/01/a-biblical-defense-of-ethno-nationalism/

Given the length and density of this article, I will divide my synopsis and critique into several parts and will break from my normal format of synopsis and response. This first post will be concerned with the following sections of the article:

  1. Introduction
  2. The Meaning and Usage of the Word Nation in the Bible

Introduction

         In this section, Opperman establishes a few definitions for us. They are:

  • Ethno-Nationalism: “Ethno-nationalism is a belief system that affirms a traditional Christian understanding of families, tribes, and nations. Ethno-nationalism holds that nations are defined and rooted in common heredity, and that the foundations of a nation are based on common ancestry, language, culture, religion, and social customs.”
  • Propositional Nation: “A proposition nation is supposed to be a group of people who are united by a common ideology rather than by common heredity…”

After establishing some definitions, Opperman then goes on to ask the questions, “What are the primary factors that bind a nation together? Is it common ancestry or common ideas?…Does the Bible endorse a more traditional definition of a nation? Or does the Bible promote the idea of a propositional nation, the proposition being Christian faith?”

Besides the fact that his questions present false dichotomies according to his own definition, Opperman’s definition of nation is flawed. Isn’t religion a set of common ideas related to one’s belief in deity? Don’t these common ideas concerning the nature of God and proper worship result in culture and social customs? Doesn’t religion influence the formation and usage of our language? Aren’t these common ideas passed down through generations from parents to children, resulting in common ideas among members of a family group? Ideas are essential to the founding of any group of people, the most preeminent idea being how people believe in God. Religion, not ancestry, roots the language, culture, and social customs of a nation.

Despite Opperman’s earlier definition of nation that incorporates ancestry, language, culture, religion, and social customs, his thesis statement for the essay states, “It is my goal to demonstrate that the Bible in fact promotes the traditional concept a nation as an aggregation of people who share a common lineage.” Indeed, what is clear from the essay is that Opperman has elevated ethnicity as the primary component of nationhood.

The Meaning and Usage of the Word Nation in the Bible

Again, singling out ethnicity as his primary concern, Opperman notes that the Greek word for nation is ethnos. The definition of ethnos does include common lineage, but also a number of other ideas. BDAG defines ethnos as, “a body of persons united by kinship, culture, and common traditions, nation, people…people groups foreign to a specific people group.” There is no question that ethnicity is a component of how we should understand nations.

Where Opperman goes off the rails is his insistence that nations are mainly defined by human ancestry. Jesus dealt a fatal blow to the idea that blood ethnicity is preeminent when he said, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.”(Luke 3:8) While this text isn’t explicitly about race relations, Jesus makes it clear that ethnic descent takes a back seat to the sovereign power of God. Are we to believe that those Gentile born descendants of Abraham should not in some way fit in with his blood born children? Was Paul incorrect to say that those who belong to Christ are the true descendants of Abraham? (Gal. 3:29)

The good news of the gospel is that we have been become children of the Most High (John 1:12), sons and daughters of God who are predestined to adoption and can hence call out to Him as our Abba, Father (Romans 8:14-17, Gal. 4:6, Eph. 1:5). Hence, Christians refer to each other as brothers and sisters. Are we to believe that this is merely a spiritual adoption, that it has no earthly impact upon our relations with one another, and that racial lines are preeminent over the LORD’s sovereign adoption of a people? Heaven forbid! The idea borders on gnosticism. Kinists cheapen the theology of adoption by making it a ghettoized adoption. Yes, the kinist says, you are a child of God, but don’t come into my house! May we never treat our brothers and sisters with such contempt.

Next on Opperman’s agenda is the Babel narrative. He contends that, “The people under Nimrod set out to build a city and a tower as a monument to their commitment to political unity…This is a strong passage that demonstrates that national boundaries and divisions are commensurate with the natural order that God has ordained.” Opperman, by reading the text through his ethnocentric lens, has unsurprisingly made ethnicity the focal point of the text and missed the point of the Babel narrative. This text is most certainly not about the importance of national boundaries. The LORD did establish the nations and their boundaries, and He did so that humanity may seek after Him (an issue that will be discussed in my next response) but that is not what He is communicating in this text.

A theocentric reading provides us with a very different understanding and application of the text. These men were building a tower to the heavens out of a desire to be like God and to rebel against His commands. If they could only reach the heavens, they would make a name for themselves. However, it is God alone who makes a name for Himself and for others. If people are to have a name, it will come from the LORD. The LORD promised to make a name for Abraham (Genesis 12:2) and David (2 Sam. 7:9; 2 Sam. 8:13). It is God alone who makes a name for Himself. This is not a right given to humanity. (Isaiah 63:12, 14; Jer. 32:20; Neh. 9:10)

The builders of the tower violated one of the very few commands given to humanity at this point. This tower would keep them unified in one place on earth. By staying in one place humanity was thumbing their nose at God’s commands. He told humanity be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth. (Genesis 1:28; 9:1) The problem that this text presents is the depth of humanity’s idolatry, constantly attempting to make ourselves God. Like Adam and Eve who were thrown out of the garden, those who gathered around the tower of Babel were scattered throughout the earth.

It’s important to note that in their sin, humanity’s language was confused. Yet, at Pentecost, in righteousness, the LORD removed the language barrier between his people. It was not unity or homogeneity that the LORD objected to at Babel; rather, it was humanity’s idolatry.

As this text relates to the topic of Kinism, Opperman is barking up the wrong tree. Given that in Christ we are adopted brothers and sisters of Christ, we have to ask why we would desire national divisions within the body? Perhaps we may desire divisions outside of the body of Christ, but what warrant is there to make such divisions within the body, all adopted children, and all part of a nation not determined by ancestry, but by holiness (1 Peter 2:9)? How are national divisions among God’s children relevant? Certainly, at Babel, divisions occurred between lines of descent, but in Christ the church traces its ancestry to Abraham. Thus, Opperman’s point is pointless.

When Helping Hurts, Chapter 6 – “McDevelopment: Over 2.5 Billion People NOT Served”

Synopsis

  • In the post-World War II era, the Western world has spent over 2.3 trillion dollars to reduce poverty. Yet, despite the tremendous spending approximately 40% of the world’s population lives on less than two dollars a day.
  • Despite a vast increase in anti-poverty spending since LBJ, the poverty rate in the US continues to hover at around 12%.
  • In a quest to be as efficient as possible, relief groups have sought to systematize an one-size-fits-all approach to addressing poverty. The problem is, since no two communities are the same or have the same causes of poverty, this approach is destined to fail.
  • Alleviating poverty requires that outsiders not do something to or for poor communities, but look for solutions together with them. When poor individuals and communities have ownership over programs, they bring knowledge, expertise, and a desire to see the work be fruitful. When outsiders impose solutions upon communities, the community has no stake in seeing it succeed because they know it won’t work and if it doesn’t those outsider rich folks will just pour more money into the project.
  • “Participation is not just the means to an end but rather a legitimate end in its own right.” Fikkert and Corbett (F&C)

My Thoughts

This chapter presents an intriguing irony. I would state it like this:

1. Rich people are good at making money. They have a particular set of skills, insights, and best practices that help them be successful at taking a little bit of money and making it into much more money.

2. In taking care of material poverty, we desire to take a little bit of money and equip poor communities to make much more money. Rich people should be really good at this! Let’s use their methods!

3. The skills, insights, and best practices that allow businesses to be successful are not the skills, insights, and best practices that make for successful poverty alleviation.

Ouch.

Profit requires streamlined approaches that minimize material waste and maximize profits. Business is all about efficiency. A successful business will always put the best person on the job. Successful franchises use standardization, speed, uniformity, etc. These practices reduce uncertainty (which dampers expansion) and maximize predictability. These practices help rich people get richer because they minimize their risk by helping them to invest in those places where their money is most likely to grow. The best way to build a profitable fast food restaurant is to build them all exactly the same. The best way to build a car is on an assembly line. Standardization and uniformity are the lubrication that keeps our modern capitalist economy humming. Standardization and uniformity mean efficiency, lower costs, higher returns. If you want to be a successful entrepreneur you standardize, then provide a product cheaper and faster than anybody else.

Yet, these practices implemented in poverty alleviation mean certain failure. A poor community in the Appalachians will not climb out of poverty the same way a rural Chinese community will.

The skills, insights, and best practices that allow for robust poverty alleviation are slow and inefficient. They require us to build relationships with the communities. They require us to give over control for projects to people that may not be the best educated or the fastest workers, but who know things that we can’t possibly know – the community.

When Helping Hurts, Chapter 5 – “Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, and Their ASSETS”

Been off on Thanksgiving vacation. Sorry for not posting in a while. Here’s the latest installment!

Synopsis

  • Alleviating poverty doesn’t start by asking the questions, “What’s wrong with you? How can I fix you?” Alleviating poverty starts by asking, “What gifts do you have?”
  • Asking, “What gifts do you have?” is the starting step in ABCD – “asset based community development.” ABCD is the process of reconciling people to God, creation, and others.
  • “Once the assets have been identified, it is appropriate to then ask the poor individual or community the questions: “What needs can you identify that must be addressed? What problems do you see that must be solved? How can you use your assets to address those needs and to solve those problems?” Fikkert and Corbett (F&C)
  • Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) – “…a mind-set and an associated set of tools developed by community development workers in the Majority World…uses a variety of group-based exercises to engage and energize community members in thinking about their community’s history, assets, survival strategies, and goals…designed to affirm the community members’ knowledge and skills in order to empower them to take greater ownership of their futures.” (F&C)
  • Appreciative Inquiry (AI) – focuses on what is right and good in a community’s past as a means of creating a more positive future. Based on a postmodern perspective that says that humans construct their own reality, AI argues that we should facilitate a process in which poor communities narrate what has worked well for them in the past. Once the community has constructed this positive understanding of its history, it can then use this narration to imagine how life can be even better in the future…AI can help shift the focus from all that has gone wrong to all that has gone right” (F&C)

My Thoughts

I was particularly struck by the process of Appreciative Inquiry (AI). History is tremendously important. It’s important, not just so that we understand current events in the proper context, but also so that we can understand ourselves. The LORD’s continual charge to Israel was to remember. Remember that I am the one who created you in my image. Remember that I am the one who brought you out of Egypt. Remember the covenant I made with your father Abraham. Remember the covenant blessings and curses. Jesus continued calling his people to remember. In the Lord’s Supper, we are to, “do this in remembrance of me.” The LORD calls his people to remember who we are, and who we are is defined by our relationship with him.

Storytelling, narrative, is a powerful means of communication. No wonder we celebrate great storytelling! I have yet to discover a list on the Internet of “The Best 100 Essays Ever Written!” but dozens of such lists exist for novels, short stories, comic books, and films. Narrative is so important that no religion is founded or sustained without stories. As Christians, the vast majority of our scriptures are narrative, from the story of creation all the way to the story of the end of time. Elijah Muhammad, founder of the Nation of Islam, recognized the tremendous need within the African-American community to tell a new story. He attempted to change the narrative of history for African-Americans by making the black race the creators of a civilization that was millions of years old. According to Elijah Muhammad, a black man named Yacub created the inferior race of white people. Muhammad promised that one day soon the black community would be restored to their rightful place as rulers and gods. As amazing and ridiculous as that story seems, huge numbers of African-Americans believe it because it is a powerful story of their greatness, which contradicts the prevalent narrative as a race of former slaves.

What stories are we telling others? When we interact with the poor, are we telling them that they have the proud heritage of people made in the image of God, or are we telling them that they are children that need to be cared for by those of us who have material blessings?