On the Side of the Angels
Justice, Human Rights, and Kingdom Mission
Dr. Joseph D'Souza and Benedict Rogers
Authentic, 2007, 201 pp., ISBN 978-1-932805-70-3
Dr. Joseph D'Souza is president of The All India Christian Council, international president of the Dalit Freedom Network, and associate international director of Operation Mobilization International. Benedict Rogers is a human rights activist and journalist. He works for Christian Solidarity Worldwide.
"On the Side of the Angels argues that human rights and justice need to be reclaimed by Christians, and that human rights work should be seen as central to Kingdom mission, not just regarded as a secondary activity and labeled 'political.'" (back cover)
Essence of the book: Kingdom mission requires justice. (83)
[Christian young adults in the U.S. seem to have compassionate hearts and interests. Justice is a big issue. Is it a cultural concern, a spiritual concern, or both? I trust their concern for human life is growing alongside a vital concern for eternal life. I read this book with several questions in mind:
£ What do the authors say needs to be done?
£ Who do the authors suggest must do more? The national church in other countries? National evangelists, believers, and local congregations? Individual expatriate missionaries? U.S.-based mission organizations acting as an organization? Individual U.S. Christians? U.S. churches? The U.S. government?
£ What kinds of actions do they recommend?
£ How do they see justice issues related to missions and to The Great Commission?
£ What Scriptural basis and models do they suggest?
£ What relationship do they see between personal salvation and liberation from injustice?
I have just finished reading Warriors of Ethiopia, a story of Ethiopian evangelists taking the gospel where it was not known in southern Ethiopia over the past 50 years. Captives were released, the hungry were fed, prisoners were visited, and governments were confronted through the revolution of changed lives in these areas. dlm]
"Each person facing abuse of their own human rights is a fellow human being of eternal value, created by God in his image. Each one is our neighbor." (3)
"Jesus was all about changing communities. In this respect, Stott argues, 'his whole ministry was political.' Jesus never started or tried to influence a political party or organization--he was apolitical in that sense--but in the broader definition, his agenda was entirely political." (5)
"…the church has to a large extent lost its vital impact on the world, which often views Christian mission in terms of proselytism and fails to see its relevance to the whole human being--to his freedom, to her dignity and welfare, and to their spiritual well-being." "But the church faces two dangers. In addition to neglecting justice, there is an equal threat that it could become so focused on human rights advocacy in this world that it loses sight of the eternal kingdom. Human rights advocacy is a core activity in the church's mission, but it is not the only one." (6-7)
Primary theme. "There is too much injustice in our world--injustice that is imposed by individuals or by popular culture or by the state or by an ideological system. Mission is incomplete when it fails to confront injustice." (9)
Chapter 1. Who Cares? Taking It Personally
Luke 4 presents Jesus' life direction and personal mission statement. Jesus came to bring freedom to the oppressed and his earthly ministry was characterized by reaching out to people who were broken, spiritually sick and disadvantaged. His purpose must inform our purpose. "…we too are called to 'proclaim freedom' and to 'release the oppressed.'" (14)
[I've seen this passage referred to elsewhere as Jesus' personal mission statement, but I wonder if other passages might also be considered as candidates for his personal mission statement. dlm]
Jesus says he will separate the sheep from the goats based on whether we fed the hungry, provided hospitality to the stranger, clothed the needy, and visited the sick and imprisoned. (Matthew 25:35-36) (14-15)
These two passages in Luke 4 and Matthew 25 "provide a model--a standard--for those who would follow his example and be called by his name." (16)
"Unless and until Christian life and witness actually become involved in individual lives and society, we cannot authentically carry out kingdom mission in this world. When our mission efforts fail to address the serious injustices all around us, evil people and destructive ideologies will step in to exploit the vulnerable." (17)
"The spiritual dimension of a kingdom perspective challenges unjust systems, structures, and philosophies that affect the eternal destinies of people." Totalitarian governments in many countries do everything they can to bind the church, restrict its ministry, and persecute believers. "It is our responsibility to challenge any totalitarian system that impinges on the freedom given to man when he was created in the image of God." (19-20)
"At the moment, it seems as though the church is too much like the world." (23)
"Human rights as a term can sound lofty, or militant, or political. But ultimately, for each Christian, it means simply respecting and promoting the human dignity of our fellow men and women." (25)
"..one characteristic that distinguishes a kingdom approach to justice and human rights from the world's approach is that we begin with prayer. Prayer is not the end but the beginning. And without it our efforts are futile. Prayer is the fuel of action." (27)
Chapter 2. What's It Matter? Making the Difference
"The church cannot be silent when blatantly unjust economic and trade structures exploit the poor of the world. We cannot be silent when the good life in one part of the world comes at the expense of the wanton exploitation of the environment in another area." (34)
"Os Guinness, in his book Unspeakable, argues that a Christian understanding of human rights is based on the personal nature of God…. God is not made in our image; we are made in his. There is no other ground for justifying the value and dignity of each human being." (38)
"Fundamental to human rights is the question of what it means to be human. Since the Bible focuses on the divine purpose for human beings, it has much to say on this topic. Three words seem to summarize its teaching--dignity, equality, and responsibility." (39)
"A Christian understanding of human rights finds its inception in our basic belief in creation itself. God created human beings in his own image." (41)
In the U.S. 1.3 million babies are aborted each year, 1 every 24 second. Every third child conceived is aborted. "The right to life is the most fundamental of all human rights." (46)
Other examples of human rights violations include forced sterilization, child rape and forced marriage, mass infanticide, child labor, and child prostitution. (46)
"…we must not forget that frequently the church has been a victim of the mores of the dominant cultures in which she has been placed. When these larger societies have allowed for racism, exploitation, and discrimination, the church also has participated in the social sins of the day." (49)
Chapter 3. Good and Evil. The Reality
"Evil schemes to displace God as the power behind the universe, and it does so through a concerted attack on divine order and harmony, on creation and humankind. It penetrates the heart of every person, and our choice, our struggle, is whether to respond by yielding to it or crushing it." (54)
Kingdom Mission: Both/And
Kingdom mission consists of both preaching and social action. "The Word preached and the Word expressed in social action are completely compatible, integral, and mutual." (57)
"While churches have increasingly embraced an involvement in helping the poor, the homeless, and the rich through outreaches to street sleepers at home or through donations to relief organizations…abroad, the prospect of speaking out against injustice or lobbying for the rights of the oppressed unsettles them." (57)
"Yet Jesus was perpetually acting out on behalf of the oppressed. As Chalke and Mann argue, 'At one and the same time Jesus' kingdom model enraged the establishment and delighted the ordinary citizens of Israel.'" "The real message of Jesus is found on every page of the Gospels. Jesus demonstrates love and redemption as he embraces the untouchable, feeds the hungry, eats with the socially and religiously unacceptable, forgives the unforgivable, heals the sick, and welcomes those on the margins to be his closest companions." (57-59) [These kinds of activities seem to be the heartbeat of a great many pioneer missionary stories. dlm]
"…we are called to provide an integrated message, starting with the central truth of Jesus' sacrifice for us on the cross…." "But he also died to destroy evil." (58) Jesus died both for the individual and for the world. (John 3:16-17) (59)
"Kingdom mission, then, is not only about my personal, eternal salvation; it is also about the defeat of evil and the ultimate, unchallenged rule of God over his redeemed creation. Kingdom mission is incomplete without the practice of justice and righteousness among the people of God and in the larger society." "Authentic kingdom mission invariably results in the Christ-transformation of our individual and social lives." (59-60)
The core components of Kingdom mission are proclamation, service, community, justice, and reclamation. Proclamation is communicating the good news of the gospel. Service involves practical, tangible expressions of compassion. Community has to do with fellowships but also fighting to preserve communities that are being destroyed. Justice involves proclaiming freedom for prisoners, sight for the blind, and releasing the oppressed. (61-61)
"Kingdom mission also involves krisis, the work of discerning what is evil and what is good, and acting on behalf of what is determined to be good. And it involves reclamation or stewardship of all of God's creation--including the environment and animal life." (63)
Combining these five components with a clear personal relationship with Jesus Christ makes for living out biblical kingdom values. (64)
"If we have no reference to personal faith in Christ, and justice becomes the sole 'cause' we pursue, we are no longer engaged in kingdom mission." (65) Stott "cautions against 'political correctness' that waters down the gospel and leads to a politicized theology." (70)
"…in our integral mission our proclamation has social consequences as we call people to love and repentance in all areas of life. And our social involvement has evangelistic consequences as we bear witness to the transforming grace of Jesus Christ." (71, quoting Justice, Mercy and Humility: Integral Mission and the Poor")
"How we go about confronting evil is key,…it is our methodology that distinguishes a Christian approach." "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:21). "In short, we are called to be fierce in doing good." (75)
Chapter 4. Salt and Light. The Response.
Kingdom mission requires justice. Justice is love and we are to love our neighbors. We must speak up for all downtrodden human beings.
Here are some ways:
On behalf of the persecuted church, Speak up. Advocate. Protest. Intervene. Cry out. Campaign. Stand in solidarity with. Vigorously defend. (85-6)
Set up camps and provide shelter, food and other humanitarian assistance and comfort for the vulnerable and displaced. (87)
Host a human rights conference. (89)
"Peacemaking is a costly activity; those who engage in it risk being misunderstood by both sides, and in many contexts the danger of death is all too real." (94)
The church has sometimes produced 'good Samaritans' (like Corrie ten Boom) but it has also walked by on the other side of the road. (95)
Chapter 5. For the Record. Word and Deed--Then and Now [Examples]
John Wesley visited the poor, attended the sick, and befriended the imprisoned. Granville Sharp pushed for liberation of the slaves in England. Wilberforce campaigned 20 years to end the slave trade. (99-100) In the modern era many brave church leaders on all continents have dared to speak out, to stage protests, marches, and press conferences.
"When the church fails to act in truth, justice, and courage at historic times of evil against humanity, it signs its own death warrant for subsequent generations." (122)
Chapter 6. What Next? Responding to the Need
"A shout in the mountains has been known to cause an avalanche." (125, quoting Alexander Solzhenitsyn)
Jesus told us the greatest is the one who serves. "The inheritors of the kingdom are those who stand by Jesus in his trials--and that means standing by our neighbors in their tribulations." (126, referring to Matthew 25:31-36)
The vast new frontier of justice advocacy is occasioned by those who are suffering because they have an oppressor. (127)
Ways to fulfill the call to be advocates:
Advocacy. Public and private. Engagement and protest. Pray, protest, and provide. Guiding principles: authenticity, aid, and accountability.
Private engagement. "Prayer … is the most effective method for confronting oppression." (131)
Professional Engagement. Attempt to hear both sides of a story and seek reconciliation. "[Some should] sit down with the accused and try to help them find a way to stop abusing their people." (133)
Private engagement works better if there is public pressure.
"Before undertaking any form of engagement, Christians should strive to become well-informed. Read authoritative books, watch documentaries, subscribe to magazines, join the mailing lists of reputable human rights organizations, attend human rights conferences, invite speakers to your church and home groups, and above all try to meet people from the countries themselves, either those in exile in the free world or by visiting the places of persecution." (135)
Public Protest. Letter-wiring to people in positions of influence such as representatives or senators, foreign ministers or secretaries of state, the embassy of the country of violations, government officials in these countries, officials of international organizations, etc. Start with your elected representative. (137) Write to companies doing business with brutal dictatorships. (139)
Demonstration. March. Protest outside an embassy. Do a candlelight vigil. Stage an action in a country troubled by persecution. (142-45)
Provision. Provide time' finances; material assistance such as books, clothing, medicine, and supplies; professional or technical expertise. Pursue a career within a system of influence or public service in order to use your positions for advocacy. Mediate by persistently raising cases of oppressed individuals and communities.
Values of Authenticity, Aid, and Accountability.
Advocacy must be grounded in the authenticity of firsthand evidence, seeing and knowing for oneself, being with the people in their difficulties. (151)
Aid. Do something about it yourself. Help out with finances, training, and other kinds of help.
Accountability - for the actions taken and expenditures made. (153)
"As you reflect on this, ask God to show you which countries he wants you to especially advocate for, and in what specific ways he is asking you to pray, protest, and provide." (154)
Chapter 7. Never Give Up! The Root and Fruit of Freedom
"If, like the persistent widow, we continue, praying and working ceaselessly, we will see results." (161) "When consciences are awakened and people act in unity, unexpected change can indeed result." (164)
Chapter 8. Faith in Action. A New Beginning
"The key word for our purpose is integration. Kingdom misison integrates all areas of life with the life of an individual human being or community. The poor, the disengranchised, and the oppresseed appeal to us, 'If you really care about us, why don't you do something about the conditions and systems that cause our poverty, our dehumanization, our oppression?'" (173-74)
"The critical part of the Great Commission is the discipling of all peoples." That includes teaching and obeying the Great Commandment, which is "deeply linked with the need for involvement in the lives of those who are being oppressed, persecuted, abused, and dehumanized." (174)
Evangelicals have focused on personal sin to the neglect of corporate sin. Evil is present not only in individual hearts but also in structures and sytems. We must be intentional about bringing transformation into both individuals' lives and societies. (176)
"Godless secularism, violent religious extremism, and despotic dictatorships in our day are ideologies and systems that degrade human beings and bring about profound harm." "Involvement in justice and human rights is one key way of fulfilling God's mission in this world." (178)
* * * * *
Your comments and book recommendations are welcome.
To discontinue receiving book notes, hit Reply and put Discontinue in the text.