The Baptist Center for Ethics has released a pastoral letter calling on Baptist clergy to support an international Christian campaign asking world leaders to keep their promises to reduce global poverty by half.
The Micah Challenge, launched officially in October 2004, has been endorsed by the Baptist World Alliance. Baptists from Australia and the United Kingdom are leaders in the campaign, but it has until now received scant attention among Baptists in the United States.
On Tuesday the Nashville, Tenn.,-based BCE released an open letter by Baptist clergy supporting the challenge to hold the U.S. accountable to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, subject of a 2000 U.N. resolution, which include reducing global poverty by half by 2015.
“Global poverty produces chronic hunger, ill health, high child mortality, gender inequality, unsafe drinking water and the lack of educational opportunities,” the BCE letter says. “In turn, these maladies breed even more poverty, marring the image of God in an unfathomable number of human beings and keeping them from experiencing the goodness of God’s creation.”
The problem, the letter says, isn’t a lack of sermonizing–a July survey by the Pew Research Center found that 92 percent of Americans report that they hear their clergy speak out on hunger and poverty–but inaction.
“We believe Baptists must do much more to address global poverty and all its manifestations,” the pastoral letter says. “We recognize the biblical reality that the poor will ‘never cease’ to be with us and the biblical mandate that we must ‘open wide our hand’ to them (Dt. 15:11). We understand that the scriptures teach us that deep-rooted poverty is no excuse for indifference and inaction.”
One way to be faithful to the Bible, the letter says, is support of the Micah Challenge, which draws its name from Micah 1:6: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
“We believe that encouraging our own government to keep its promise and to support fully these goals is a way to love our neighbors and to do justice,” the letter says.
“We back the Baptist World Alliance’s endorsement of the Micah Challenge and give thanks for its leadership in this global campaign.
“We hope Baptists in the United States will join the Baptist family around the world, which is working to meet human needs and to remove barriers that keep others impoverished.”
Evangelical leaders from around the world are scheduled to meet Sept. 11-16 in Chiang Mai, Thailand, to assess how their governments are doing in achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
One of them, Paul Montacute of Baptist World Aid, endorsed the Micah Challenge and the BCE letter supporting it. “The Micah Challenge is giving us a relatively simple means of working together to help the poor throw off the shackles of poverty in our world,” Montacute said.
Montacute said Baptist clergy “can make a difference by signing this letter of support for the Micah Challenge, and also going on line and signing the Micah Challenge.”
Signers of the BCE letter pledge to:
–“Pray publicly that the hungry might have bread and that those of us who have bread might have a hunger for justice.”
–“Preach and teach this fall about the biblical mandate to feed the hungry, to provide water the thirsty, to clothe to the ill-clad, to offer a hand up to self-reliance and to seek justice.”
–“Provide educational opportunities in our churches to raise the level of awareness about the Micah Challenge.”
–“Communicate with our U.S. Representatives and Senators in this election cycle, encouraging them to support the non-partisan Millennium Development Goals.”
–“Challenge our ministerial colleagues to embrace the Micah Challenge and urge their state conventions and fellowships to speak up for the Micah Challenge.”
–“Call on Baptist clergy in the United States to add their names to this pastoral letter.”
The seven initial signatories were: John Baker of FirstBaptistChurch in Columbia, Mo.; Chris Caldwell of BroadwayBaptistChurch in Louisville, Ky.; Henry Green of HeritageBaptistChurch in Annapolis, Md.; Robert Parham of the BaptistCenter for Ethics; Joseph Phelps of HighlandBaptistChurch in Louisville, Ky.; Robert Walker of Peachtree Baptist Church in Atlanta; and Philip Wise of Second Baptist Church in Lubbock, Texas.
Other Baptist clergy are invited to add their signatures by e-mail. E-mails must include first and last name, organizational affiliation, and city and state.
By day’s end on Tuesday, a total of 49 individuals had signed the letter. They include executive directors of two Baptist state conventions: Jim Hill of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri and Charles Wade of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
EthicsDaily.com will feature a special section, “Micah Challenge Resources,” carrying news stories and columns; contact information about U.S. Representatives and Senators; and Micah Challenge Resources.
A new DVD/online study guide by Acacia Resources, “Always…Therefore: The Church’s Challenge of Global Poverty,” includes educational material about the Micah Challenge.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.