UNITED NATIONS—British and Australian Baptists are among leaders spearheading a global alliance of churches and faith-based aid organizations intent on mobilizing the Christian community to eradicate extreme poverty by 2015.
Today marks the international launch of the Micah Challenge, which kicks off with a gathering at the United Nations headquarters in New York City.
The global coalition includes the World Evangelical Alliance, representing some 3 million churches, and the Micah Network, with some 270 Christian relief, development and justice organizations.
At the campaign’s leading edge is Doug Balfour, general director of Tearfund, the largest evangelical relief organization in Great Britain with annual revenue of $65 million.
Balfour, a member of London’s Ashford Baptist Church, began a conversation several years ago with Stephen Rand, who worked 25 years at Tearfund before becoming co-chair of the Jubilee Debt Campaign in July, and Joel Edwards, general director of the British-based Evangelical Alliance. The three discussed a new holistic and inclusive way for evangelical Christians to address poverty issues.
They wanted to harness “passion in the churches,” which had motivated the British government to take a stronger stand to ease Third World debt, Balfour said.
From the founders’ initial moral vision and organizational initiatives came the Micah Challenge. The movement is named after Micah 6:8, a biblical passage describing God’s desire for justice, mercy and humility.
Today Balfour and Edwards sit on an 11-member Council for the Micah Challenge.
Among the Micah Challenge’s goals are the provision of universal primary education, the promotion of gender equality, reduction of child mortality, combating AIDS/HIV and ensuring environmental sustainability, as well as the advancement of the Millennium Development Goals, which all 191 members of the United Nations support.
Balfour said the movement has two objectives. First is the “deepening our Christian commitment to the poor.” Second is “for churches to hold governments accountable for the millennium goals.”
“We are the first generation in the world who could eradicate poverty, if we have the political will,” Balfour said. “I believe it is doable. I’m not pretending this is easy.”
Balfour said small-mindedness about national interests, shortsightedness about the impact of poverty, mean-spiritedness and a lack of vision hinder the political will of evangelical Christians.
“Something as big as the abolition of slavery … is doable for our generation,” Balfour said. “God is looking to our generation of Christians to lead this [the abolition of poverty].”
Rand, while a member of Teddington Baptist Church in England, is currently working at a mission church, Wimbeldon’s Kairos Baptist Church.
“Christians hold the key to doing justice in a complex world,” Rand said. “They have resources of hope because of their faith in God. They have resources of insight through the Holy Spirit. They have resources of global reach because of the fellowship of the church—the church is the first exponent of globalization.”
“If Baptists are Bible people,” Rand continued, “then they can lead the way in encouraging Christians to behave biblically and bring good news to the poor—materially and spiritually.”
A number of other Baptists have also joined the Micah Challenge.
One is Michael Smitheram, who is the international coordinator for the Micah Challenge and a member of Canberra Baptist Church in Melbourne, Australia.
Supporting Baptist bodies include the Baptist World Alliance, which endorsed the movement with a resolution adopted in July at its general council meeting in Seoul.
At that meeting, David Coffey, general secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain and president-elect of the Baptist World Alliance, promised delegates of his commitment to the Micah Challenge. He said that he would work with others to “make poverty history.”
One of the most visibly active national initiatives is in Australia, where Baptist World Aid Australia is the lead agency for the campaign.
Australia’s “panel of reference” includes Gwyn Milne, national president of the Baptist Union of Australia; Les Fussell, national director of Baptist World Aid Australia; Graham Paulson, chairman of the Aboriginal and Islander Baptist Conference of Australia; and Tim Costello, former pastor of Melbourne’s Collins Street Baptist Church and now director of World Vision Australia.
Micah Challenge Australia is sponsoring an Anti-Poverty Sunday on Oct. 17, according to www.micahchallenge.org.au.
Australian church leaders are being asked to encourage church members to sign the Micah Call, to set aside 10 minutes during the worship service “to remember God’s heart for the poor,” and pray “for justice in world affairs and for our national leaders.”
The organization hopes that 50,000 Australian will sign the Micah Call before Christmas.
Graham Sparkes, head of the faith and unity department for the Baptist Union of Great Britain, told EthicsDaily.com that British Baptists “are at the early stages in linking up with the Micah Challenge.”
Noting the complexity of international trade agreements, Sparkes said, “Our distinctive contribution as Christians is to maintain a clear hold on basic gospel values, and refuse to allow these to be submerged beneath the weight of argument from those who try to tell us what is and isn’t possible.”
He said, “The truth is that poverty is a scandal. It is a denial of the gospel. Micah’s call to ‘do justice’ is as urgent as it ever was.”
In addition to Britain and Australia, national campaign launches are expected in Brazil, Peru, India and Canada.
The Micah campaign is largely unknown within the American Christian community, however.
Today’s launch will be the first major introduction of the initiative to many American Christians, whose leaders have been increasingly drawn into the highly negative, partisan presidential campaign.
Speakers at the launch include Njongonkulu Ndungane, the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town; Katherine Marshall, representative of the World Bank; and Salil Shetty, representative for the United Nations Millennium Campaign.
Robert Parham is the executive editor of EthicsDaily.com.