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.
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.