You may have noticed lately that I’ve been “going in”‘ on the American church. Since evangelicals are the largest Protestant group in America, I’ve particularly taken aim at them. I’ve highlighted its indifference to human suffering, racist roots that helped foster that indifference and questioned how the evangelical church can act this way when it claims to be lead by and filled with the Holy Spirit. So why am I doing all of this? I haven’t written these things out of my hatred for the church but my hope for it.
The church might be the one institution that truly should and can do something about the miserable conditions on this planet. Whether it’s hunger and slaughter in Sudan or child molestation and homelessness in St. Louis, the church can and should have an answer. Full disclosure: I have very little faith in or expectation of the political system to do anything about the problems of the world. In the first place, politicians don’t control very much; the people who finance their operations do. Looking at a century of data, a political scientist by the name of Thomas Ferguson concluded that the best predictor of public policy is campaign finance. Whether Democratic or Republican, the primary goal is not to make things better but to stay in power.
I don’t think business will ultimately be helpful. Business has plenty of resources but they’re not intended for malnourished children or communities in distress. Rather, businesses exist purely to maximize profit. That simply means that if firing full-time employees who require benefits and replacing them with temporary/contract workers who are cheaper and don’t require a benefit package will increase the amount the company can return to stockholders, that’s what they will do (I vividly remember working for a subsidiary of Nationwide Insurance that fired an entire department before my arrival, replacing them with contract workers- right before the winter holidays). In fact, companies have gotten in trouble for not doing every ruthless thing possible to maximize profit. Just take a look at the Dodge vs. Ford Motor Company case.
As political institutions and businesses pursue their interests, the interests of people are tossed aside. While the great economist Adam Smith would tell us that individuals pursuing their own self-interest will ultimately benefit society, the question is, if everyone is acting in their self-interest, then who’s looking out for the interest of society? No one. Meanwhile, as politicians seek power, the church should heed the words of Dr. King and be, “not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.”
The church exists to, as Jesus said in Luke chapter 4, preach good news to the poor, proclaim liberty to those who are captive and set free those who are oppressed. People of faith are to, as the prophet Amos said, “let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” The people of faith are to, as the prophet Micah said, “do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God.” In his sermon, “Guidelines For A Constructive Church,” Dr. King asserted that if the church doesn’t do these things, it isn’t the church; and I would ask, if the church doesn’t do it, then who?