LOS ANGELES (RNS) Many of today’s evangelical Christians seem to be taking to heart the words traditionally attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”

Or at least they were at the recent Q Conference here, a gathering of more than a few of the most influential and innovative mover-shakers of the evangelical world.

Girl at a U.S.-funded project called Empowering New Generations to Improve Nutrition and Economic Opportunities (ENGINE) that compliments the Ethiopian government's food safety net program in Lalibela, a rural district about 150 km from the urban center of Bahir Dar in northwest Ethiopia. Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Orange County Register

Girl at a U.S.-funded project called Empowering New Generations to Improve Nutrition and Economic Opportunities (ENGINE) that compliments the Ethiopian government’s food safety net program in Lalibela, a rural district about 150 km from the urban center of Bahir Dar in northwest Ethiopia. Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Orange County Register


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Over the course of two days in a format similar to the popular TED talks, the speakers spoke passionately more about what they were doing to make the world a better place than they did about getting more butts into pews on any given Sunday.

From human trafficking and global hunger to religious freedom and homelessness, the Q presenters painted a vivid picture of what the good news of the gospel means in practical, human terms.

“If you think the gospel is about getting people to say the ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ so they can get their ticket to heaven, then your gospel has a hole in it,” said Richard Stearns, CEO of World Vision and author of the 2010 book that expounds on his theme, “The Hole in Our Gospel: What Does God Expect of Us? The Answer That Changed My Life and Might Just Change the World.”

“Jesus sends us to restore and renew our broken world. The great commission was a sprawling vision … of a new kind of human flourishing that would take the world by storm. It was an invitation for all to come in and to live differently.”

While money alone can’t fix everything, taking an honest look at our checkbooks and how we spend our money isn’t a bad place to start, he said.

For instance, the Bible teaches the financial principle of tithing – that is, giving 10 percent of our incomes away. Yet among America’s 350,000 churches, the nation’s self-identified Christians on average give away only 2.4 percent of their income annually.

That 2.4 percent is hardly chump change, amounting to $125 billion per year. Yet most of it, Stearns said, is spent on running our churches and paying church staff.

Stearns is savvy enough to realize that guilting or cajoling Christians to give the full 10 percent is likely a quixotic endeavor.

But what if American Christians gave away just an additional 1 percent of their income — by Stearns’ calculations, an extra $52 billion.

“I don’t want to sugarcoat this,” he said. “Tackling human suffering on this scale is a massive, daunting and exceedingly difficult task. The challenge is huge, but so is the church in America.”

Multiplied over a generation of 20 years or so, that extra $52 billion would give us a bit more than $1 trillion with which to change the world. “So,” Stearns said, “let’s go shopping.”

World Vision estimates that the cost of providing clean, safe water to every person on the planet would be about $70 billion.

“This one intervention would drastically reduce child mortality, it would allow tens of millions of children to attend school, it would free up millions of hours of productive time for women, and it would change life in rural communities dramatically,” he said.

Global hunger is a bigger ticket item, but it would be imminently doable.

“The UN estimates it would take an investment of about $300 billion over 10 years to increase food production enough to eliminate virtually all malnutrition on our planet,” Stearns said.

So for $370 billion, we’ve covered food and water – and we still would have more than $670 billion left.

  • For $86 billion, we could wipe malaria, one of the biggest killers of children under the age of 5.
  • For $30 billion over 10 years, we could give microloans to start new businesses to 100 million potential entrepreneurs and that would create 250 million new jobs.

We could, as Stearns says, “effectively decimate extreme poverty and human suffering” and we’d still have $454 billion in the pot.

“With the money left over we could plant thousands of new churches, finish translating Scripture into every known human language, attack homelessness in our own country, work toward the adoption of all foster children in the United States, and maybe even cure cancer,” he said.

“Do you begin to see what would be possible if the church really took seriously the call of Christ to show the world a different way to live?” The trick is for Christians to “move from apathy to outrage.”

And what should Christians be outraged about?

  • How about the hundreds of millions of children who go to bed hungry and don’t have access to clean water.
  • Or the more than 25 million people who are trafficked in our world as slaves.
  • Or an estimated 2 billion people who live in grinding poverty.
  • Or the staggering 20,000 children under the age of 5 who will die today – and every day – of preventable causes, such as malaria and tuberculosis.

“I have to ask why we haven’t had the same energy, passion and outrage about these issues as we’ve had opposing gay marriage. As far as I know, no one ever died of gay marriage,” Stearns told the rapt audience.

“We’ve got to get outraged about the right things in our world. We’ve got to see the world as God sees it. We need to love what Jesus loves, we need to value what he values. And we need to let our heart be broken by the things that break his heart.”

(Cathleen Falsani is the faith & values columnist for the Orange County Register.)

 

5 Comments

  1. I see a big error in your blog. You said, “For instance, the Bible teaches the financial principle of tithing – that is, giving 10 percent of our incomes away.”

    The Bible teaches no such thing. The Biblical tithe was never money, and it never came from anyone’s income. Your statement comes from common false teaching in today’s church services.

    The Biblical tithe always came from GOD’S INCREASE of food from crops and animals and never from man’s earnings (Leviticus 27:30-33). Man can cultivate the land, plant and water the seed, but only God can give the increase (changing the seed into fruit). In other words, the Biblical tithe came from God’s labor, not man’s labor.

    The tithe had NOTHING to do with finances.

  2. Raymond Takashi Swenson

    The tithe that Malachi teaches about combined donations to support the operation of the temple in Jerusalem with a promise by god to “open the windows of heaven” to pour out a blessing that would be overflowing.

    While some people don’t like to feel an obligation to make a specific sacrifice of their “increase” or income to God’s work on earth, other denominations teach that God’s words to Malachi are still in force. The US denomination that most closely conforms to that standard is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“Mormons”). Not only do they voluntarily donate one tenth of their income to support their church (which covers all church construction, maintenance, and utilities), they also donate to funds to provide humanitarian aid around the world (including water supply projects and relief from disasters in Haiti and Japan), to provide educational loans in developing nations, to support full time missionary service by 80,000 young men and women (about $400 per month per missionary), and they fast from food for the first Sunday of each month and donate the money saved to help the needy. Additionally, Mormons donate all services, including all leadership and teaching positions in every congregation, so there is no cost for pastors, as well as donating service in growing food on church owned farms to help feed the poor, and retired members donate their time and expertise, including as engineers, educators and attorneys.

    On top of that, the University of Pennsylvania found that Mormons donate just as much money and time to causes outside their church as do people in other denominations. As an example of this, last Christmas the Mormon congregations in my city donated boxes of food to the local Salvation Army food warehouse, each of the standard boxes costing about $40. In each congregation of about 300 people (including families with children) there were about 75 such boxes donated, and they constituted the primary source of this food for the Salvation Army in our area.

    Mormons have served as young adult missionaries in most of the nations of the world, living among them and learning their languages and cultures, so the people there are not abstractions to them, but personal friends. A colleague of mine who served with me as a missionary in Japan has been living in Tokyo and administering aid to the people hit by the tsunami of 2011. Another friend was the bishop of the Mormon congregation in Kobe when that city was devastated by earthquakes in 1994. The Mormons form a global network of personal relationships that identify needs and focus resources. They have proven that a real tithe is not unrealistic, and indeed many donate as much as 15% of their incomes, plus more through their labor.

  3. Raymond Takashi Swenson

    Let me add one other point. The LDS Church has consistently been growing at a rate that doubles its membership every twenty years or less, including children of members and converts. By the year 2100, it is likely that the current 14 million Mormons in 150 nations will become around 250 million Mormons worldwide, with perhaps 100 million in the US. That expanding force of self-sacrificing Mormons will provide the funds to accomplish all of the things you spoke about, and more.

  4. There’s a catch-22 to this argument: if Christians tithe an additional 1% of their income, and give it to the local church, the vast majority of that money will go to operating expenses, staff salaries, etc. Very little will make it out into the mission field. For the $52 billion to have an immediate impact, it would need to go directly to relief organizations, and only those whose administrative expenses take only a modest percentage of contributions. The problem with that, however, is the church doesn’t consider that a tithe- they don’t even know the money is being given. I know many people who give much less than 10% to the local church, but more than make up for the rest by giving to other charitable organizations.

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