Christian Starvation

In the book The Next Christendom:The Coming of Global Christianity, Phillip Jenkins notes how Christianity is in the midst of a huge global shift where the majority of believers now reside in the Global South and not in the West. Theology is changing…Missions is changing…the Church is changing. Within the discussion, he discusses several issues surrounding the Global South. He writes concerning the impoverishment of the new center of Christianity:

The grim fact of Christian impoverishment becomes all the more true as Africa assumes its place as the religion’s principal center. We are dealing with a continent that has endured countless disasters since independence, measured by statistics that become wearying by their unrelieved horror, whether we are looking at life expectancy, child mortality, or deaths from AIDS. Africa contributed less than 2 percent of the world’s total GDP, although it is home to 13 percent of world population, and the GDP for the whole of sub-Saharan Africa is equivalent to that of the Netherlands. Since the 1960s, Africa’s share of world trade has all but disappeared. Overall, “the continent is slipping out of the Third World into its own bleak category of the nth world.” Matters are made infinitely worse by the unravelling of several African states, a process attended by unbelievable bloodshed…

African and Latin American Christians are people for whom the New Testament Beatitudes have a direct relevance inconceivable for most Christians in Northern societies. When Jesus told the “poor” they were blessed, the word used does not imply relative deprivation, it means total poverty, or destitution. The great majority of Southern Christians (and increasingly, of all Christians) really are the poor, the hungry, the persecuted, even the dehumanized. India has a perfect translation for Jesus’ word in the term Dalit, literally “crushed” or “oppressed.” This is how that country’s so-called Untouchables now choose to describe themselves: as we might translate the biblical phrase, blessed are the Untouchables.

Knowing all this should ideally have policy consequences, which are at the least as urgent as redistributing church resources to meet the needs of shifting populations. Above all, the disastrous lot of so many Christians worldwide places urgent pressure on the wealthy societies to assist the poor. A quarter of a century ago, Ronald J. Sider published the influential book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, which attacked First World hypocrisy in the face of the grinding poverty of the global South. The book could easily be republished today with the still more pointed title RichChristians in an Age of Hungry Christians, and the fact of religious kinship adds enormously to Sider’s indictment. When American Christians see the images of starvation from Africa, like the hellish visions from Ethiopia in the 1980s, very few realize that the victims share not just a common humanity, but in many cases the same religion. Those are Christians starving to death.

Wow…those guilt-bringing pictures of poor African children, women, and men starving are Christians. Ouch. How does that affect your Christianity? Let it. It is good to test your own love and lovelessness. As my pastor David Platt said when he was preaching through the book of James, “People who claim to be Christians but fail to help poverty-stricken fellow believers are in fact NOT SAVED!”


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