Sunday, September 17, 2006

Social Justice for the Poor

By Reverend Wong Fong Yang
Text: Deut 23:19, 24:6, 10-22

Malaysian Christians and churches are getting more and more affluent. We now have the capacity to spend millions of dollars to build physical structures that are architecturally superior even by commercial standard. Churches in the Klang Valley are packed with people. One can tell how rich the worshippers are by looking at the branded cars parked at the church compound. Of course, we do not need to feel guilty of being wealthy, unless the wealth comes from ill-gotten gain. It is a poor theology to condemn wealth.

But wealth often brings along wih it the sense of power and domination. Both the rich Christians and money-loaded church will face this temptation.

God's laws forbid us in using our wealth and position of authority to deny the poor of justice. Christians are called to show compasion to the poor, the marginalized.

Three groups of people are singled out in the OT (Deuteronomy 23:19; 24:6, 10-22) as most vulnerable for exploitation and marginalization - The foreigners, the fatherless and the widows. We read of news how the immigrants (domestic helpers & laborers) are being treated poorly. Some employers withheld wages that are due to them. Many have to work excessively long hours without proper food and rest. It is a shame if Christian employers treat these immigrants as if they are slaves.

It is even a greater shame if the fatherless, the destitute widows in our church have to borrow money from loan-shark to tie them over. It's a scandal for the modern church. God's words teach us how to help the poor and the destitute among us. When we loan the money to the needy brothers or sisters, we are not to make life difficult for them (we do not charge interest, we are not take collateral that deprives the debtor of their livelihood). We are not to rob them of their dignity (Deut 24:19-22). When we reduce people to begging for money or mercy from us, we are in fact taking away the most precious thing that God endows them with dignity of being made in the image of God.

The first century church took care of the poor and needy among them. We are told they did 'crazy things' like selling their lands and houses and brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need (Acts 4:34-35).

The first century Christians were also noted for caring for the poor in their society. Tertullian, the North African theologian, writing at the end of second century, remarked that: "The Christians gave to the fund which goes to support and bury poor people, to supply the needs of the fatherless, and of house bounf old people..." What they did is not new. They merely stood in the tradition of the OT prophets who called God's people to uphold social justice by sharing their food with the hungry, to provide the poor wanderer with shelter, to cloth the naked and not to turn away from their brothers and sisters when they are in needs (Isa 58:3-7).

There is a theological basis why we are to show compassion to the poor and oppressed (economically and in other ways) and to respect their dignity when we help them. Our kind actions are rooted in the memory of God's redemption and deliverance in our lives (Deut 24:18, 22). We were once poor and needy (financially and spiritually) but God has blessed us richly. We are now in a position to help, to share our financial resources. We must do so with thankfulness and gratefulness of what God had done for us. Exploitation, domination of the vulnerable and needy people put us at odds with God ((Deut 24:15). Worst, we betray ourselves as God's covenant community which is suppose to be faithful to God's commands


alwyn said...

Thanks for the announcement and the post.

The social justice theme is one the church certainly needs to 'elevate' on its agenda. it also aligns very well with a study on spiritual disciplines I'm presently facilitating at my church, especially the discipline of simplicity.

I think a lot of social in-justice occurs by our acqueince with much of society's values (e.g. conspicious consumption, wasteful spending, buying products which 'breed the oppression of those in the 3rd world', etc.), which in turn is a result of us failing to internalise the graciousness of God in providing for us (despite having attended hours of bible study over the years).

Only two weeks ago, we had a speaker from Klang tell us about the thousands of Indonesian, Nepalese, Bangladeshi and Pakistani immigrants in our country, the struggles they face and how the church can help by providing simply English and computer classes, in addition to being a community sensitive to their needs (physical, vocational, even worship neeeds).

Bryan Walsh's Colossians Remixed has a fabulous third section on how the Christian community can model social justice.

On a similar note, i think World Vision is organising some kind of 30-hour fast, right? (or i may have missed it on the blogs)

p.s. Good stuff about ACE, Alex...will chat more with you on that soon.

Dave said...

Amen, indeed! Social justice and integral mission (like the one in Micah network) ought to be 'elevated' - great convergence here. Simplicity is a tricky notion - a reebok t-shirt may be simple to some teens.

So one way of describing simplicity is to live a warfare lifestyle... live as though you live in WW2 only this time, we're living for the mission to reach all nations with the gospel and compassion of christ.

Imho, perhaps the failure to internalise the graciousness of God in providing for us is not caused by the number of hours spent on bible study or in reading richard foster books. Both have their place and not 'de-levated'.

One of the many reasons is also due to the possibility that those hours are spent on a 'name it claim it' theology which equate wealth as a gauge of blessedness.
Wrong theology leads to wrong praxis :)

Meng said...

Political apathy in our nation and sadly among Christians is one reason why the poor are robbed. The latest Auditor General's Report is out and has openly declared the misappropriation of funds by some Menteri Besars.(details in my blog) In a Corporate Environment, those responsible would have been sacked.
We must move from political apathy to simply empathy. As Christians... charity.

Truth speaker said...

Adolf Hitler's Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels said: "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the state can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the state to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the state."