The situation in the Darfur of Sudan has been on my mind recently, and for a number of reasons that don’t obviously fit together: political campaigning, preparations for the Olympic Games, and genuine Christian charity. I don’t pretend to understand the conflict, which has been underway since 2003, but I recognize the need to do what we can to intervene.
On the political front, the ongoing conflict in Darfur, often described as an ethnic cleansing or genocide, has resulted in the deaths of as many as 400,000 Sudanese by some estimates, and the displacement of more than 2.5 million from their homes and traditional tribal lands. The human costs are not lost on U.S. presidential hopefuls who are frequently asked what they would do to help resolve the conflict if elected in 2008.
Even while embroiled in an increasingly difficult and horribly mismanaged war in Iraq, political support seems to be building for the United States to involve itself militarily in Sudan – and we may need to do just that. Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Sam Brownback, Senate colleagues and presidential candidates, wrote of the conflict for the Washington Post in 2005 suggesting a course of action to increase economic and international political pressure on Khartoum and to materially and logistically do more to support the African Union peacekeeping troops. Obama and Brownback continue to speak out about Darfur in their campaigns, and others have been forced to address the issue, to the point of having personal financial investments scrutinized for any holdings with companies doing business in Sudan.
Just this week in Congress resolutions were introduced to put pressure on China to use its influence with the Sudanese government to help bring a halt to the killing. China will host the Olympic Games in the summer of 2008, and it is hoped that the threat of a boycott may spur Beijing into action, that the billions of dollars China is spending to buy influence in the oil-producing nations of Africa, including Sudan, might also be used to influence the Sudanese government to address the issue and bring something akin to peace to the Darfur region.
The death of Jerry Falwell on May 15 also brought to mind our responsibility in Darfur. Bear with me on this one, but a few weeks ago while browsing through sermonindex.net I came across a sermon by David Wilkerson of “The Cross and the Switchblade” and Times Square Church fame. Wilkerson’s message was blunt: Christians in America need to examine their lives and priorities from the perspective of those living abroad, and especially in areas of the world like Darfur, where the notion that God wants His followers to be rich rings hollow.
Flipping through the channels on any given day, one can encounter numerous televangelists waving enormous bibles and whose resplendent dress and pulpit accouterments loudly suggest that God is pleased with them, and that giving to their ministry will help a sinner find favor in God’s eyes. Believe in Jesus, they say, and you can enjoy the good life – even the best life. I can’t stomach Benny Hinn, and Joel Osteen’s sermons are more pep talk than gospel, but Pat Robertson is a particular burr in my saddle.
Robertson’s political meddling, such as calling for the assassination of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, doesn’t bring to mind the Sermon on the Mount, and his 700 Club empire has devolved into something more akin to the Home Shopping Network pimping holy pancakes than Christian ministry preaching repentance. Then there’s the matter of his occasional prophecies, of which he says he has a “pretty good” track record. I’ve got news for Mr. Robertson: God’s track record is better than “pretty good,” and false prophets aren’t regarded well in the Bible.
What I detest most of all is that people see the insensitivity of Robertson and Falwell, they see the hypocrisy of Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart and Ted Haggard, they see the charlatanry of Hinn and others, and they hear the constant appeal for money from all of them, and then they hear that I’m an evangelical and they immediately lump me in with that crowd. I can defend what I believe, but I can’t defend those guys and their money-hungry message known derisively as “prosperity gospel.”
Wilkerson’s stark admonition of prosperity gospel is to the point.
What you hear is God wants you to be rich. He wants you to go first-class. C’mon, get in on the game.
Do you know that there are six billion 500 million people on the Earth today? One billion 200 thousand live on 23 cents a day. Two billion people have no electricity. Eighty percent of all the people on earth now live in sub-standard housing. One billion people have no safe drinking water. Every 16 seconds someone dies of hunger. Fifty-seven million people died in 2006. Ten million 500 thousand of these were children less than five years old. Fourteen million children orphaned in the last ten years of HIV-AIDS. Two million children have died as a direct result of conflict in the past ten years.
And then we have those that stand in the pulpit and say ‘God wants you to be rich.’ And I heard a man tell me just today from Israel editor of a magazine in Israel, Israel Today. And he said ‘I don’t understand what I see on your television here, Jesus is all in gilded gold.’ While the world is starving, Christianity, evangelical Christianity is depicted as gilded in gold!
What does that say in Darfur? What does that say in Africa? What does that say in front of ten million babies that have been orphaned? What does it say to the billions of people living on 23 cents a day or less? God wants you to be rich?
I’m challenged by those words, and have begun to re-evaluate my responsibilities as a citizen of this country and world as a result of that sermon. I don’t plan on joining a commune, or selling everything I have in order to help the poor; I’m not headed for a leper colony on the other side of the world to live and serve in humble squalor, but I do think I have, as a Christian attempting to live a responsible life reflective of the example and guided by the words of Christ, an obligation to be more selfless, and to give more of my time and efforts on behalf of those less fortunate than I.
And I will do what I can to ensure the government that represents me at home and abroad does the same. As an American, I should be willing to give no less than my best in service, and I should expect no less from those who choose to serve.