Thursday, January 6, 2011

Go In Peace, Keep Warm and Well Fed...

THIS exemplifies one of the biggest problems that I have with American Evangelical Culture. I just came across this announcement today. Let me try to explain.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Lou Engle and The Call, he spearheads prayer movements and rallies geared at solving what he sees as nations' problems through prayer and fasting. They are not involved in humanitarian, financial, or any other type of aid. Their goal is solely spiritual breakthrough, as they believe that toppling perceived demonic strongholds will cause everything else to fall into place. He gained noteriety in the US when he held a massive gathering in San Diego ahead of California's vote on proposition 8. Speaking from my own personal experience having heard him speak live, his presentations are often tinged with political themes. He is an extremely popular among 24/7 prayer movements and new prophetic circles. In those arenas he is essentially treated as an authoritative modern day prophet binding devils and unleashing God's glory. He spends the majority of his time talking about the nation's need to repent, particularily of legalized abortion and homosexuality.

Well, it looks like the show is going on the road. The next "The Call" rally will be held in Haiti. I won't try to sugar coat it. This really upsets me. Haiti is an American Evangelical cause du jour. It's the trendy place to care about for the moment, even before the massive earthquake hit. Evangelical culture doesn't just like missions, they like missions that allow them to play Superman. They like to go to the poorest, most destitute places where even the most minor services and efforts play out like major accomplishments. These trips usully involve some basic skill construction project, holding Vacation Bible School programs, teaching English, singing Christian songs, and/or performing skits (commonly called "human videos") about the salvation message. When they return home, they give a presentation to the congregation filled with pictures of them clinging to small children of other races, at least one member has some sort of wacky hairdo obtained on the trip, a song in another language, and presentations about how the culture was "SO grateful, because they really didn't have anything." They'll usually profess that it changed them so much, perhaps more than the people they ministered to and with that I would be inclined to agree. Short term missions trips can be problematic in that way, but that's a topic I'll tackle another time.

Haiti is perfect in this sense, because when you say "Haiti" the first word that pops into most people's heads is "poor." For the more charismatically inclined, there is also the long perpetuated myth about the country being founded primarily through a pact with the devil. The more charismatic missionaries are inclined to want to go to places they think to be the most "spiritually dark." I'd be willing to bet that that is where Lou Engle's interest in the nation lies.

As stated in the press release:

"Haiti has been recipient of many humanitarian efforts and projects however destruction and despair continues to loom over this great nation. The Lord wants to raise of the church of Haiti as a bright and shining beacon among the nations. Haiti's destiny will be shaped through fasting and prayer. The prophet Joel tells us that response of the people of God after a crisis (Joel 1:13) and before a crisis (Joel 2:15) is solemn assemblies with fasting and prayer."

I believe that God loves and values Haiti? Without a doubt. So why does this bother me? There are a number of reasons.

1. The arrogance that the only way for Haiti to realize its destiny is if Americans come and show them how to claim it.

2. The idea that prayers done outside of the borders of the nation they concern are less effective.

3. Telling people within a nation of such widespread poverty where many are going hungry and even before the earthquake people were resorting to making mud cakes (yes, out of actual mud) just to have something to fill their stomachs that they ought to be fasting.

4. Taking a group of Americans that will need to utilize scarce resources to a nation where infrastructure is still lacking, over a million people are still without homes (leading to a rape epidemic), security is lacking, clean water and sanitation are hard to find, medical facilities are being stretched to their limits, and thousands of people are dying from a normally easily preventable disease.

5. The audacity to leave an entire nation with the impression that their problems are reulting from their own lack of faith.

6. Assuming that Haitians haven't been praying for their own nation. I know of very few people that wouldn't pray as their world literally crumbles around them.

7. Assuming you have the solution for poverty without looking at the root causes or cultural/historical circumstances.

The founding of Haiti wasn't like that of the US. When Haitian slaves gained their freedom from France, they were forced to pay for that freedom. They began with massive debt that only kept growing. Combine that with political corruption, hurricanes, being located on a faultline, massive deforestation, etc and you have the elements that have created the nation we know today. Haiti doesn't need more western nations telling them what to do. They don't need people that have no medical or humanitarian training complaining about cold showers & eating the same food everyday, looking for photo ops and a reason to pat themselves on the back. They need a re-established centralized government lacking in corruption. They need a viable jobs market. They need people will to establish trade with them. NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recently had a great piece about this. They need people who value them, their culture, and the potential they have to contribute to the rest of the world. They need people that not only want them to realize that potential, but also to empower them to do so.

If a group like The Call goes to Haiti, knowing of their specific needs but doing nothing to tangibly meet them, I'm not sure what they are bringing, but I'd be willing to argue that it's not the gospel of Christ. I can't help but think of the words of James 2:14-17:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

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