Stephen Mattson of Sojourners has written a scathing article accusing “White evangelicals” and more broadly, American Christianity, of failing to do what Jesus has commanded relative to the poor, needy, and refugees. Like many liberal writers who lambast conservatives or Christians, Mattson has painted American Christianity with a broad brush of condemnation based upon what is not only a foundationally flawed thesis, but a fundamentally false one at that. According to Mattson (and presumably, Sojourners), “Mainstream Christianity in America has failed. It looks nothing like Jesus.” He goes on to challenge Christians by saying, “What benefit are Christians providing their communities, and what good are they contributing to the world around them? Because in America, it appears that the sole purpose of Christianity is to selfishly protect people’s own self-interests instead of sacrificially serving others.” This charge is patently false. I can only hope that Mattson is simply ignorant of what Christianity in America brings to society and to the world. He seems to write through a jaded perspective of what Christians in America actually do. So, in rebuttal, let me answer Mattson’s rhetorical and asinine charge that American Christians are providing nothing of value to “their communities” and “the world around them.”
According to the website, Minnesota Atheists, “Christians have a lock on charity work…[I]mages of soup kitchens, food shelves, homeless shelters, Habitat for Humanity, even sandbagging ahead of a flood are all things churches are known for.”(1)
Consider just how much American Christians give to support homeless shelters, church benevolence work, and community services. Many homeless shelters nationwide are run by Christian organizations and receive help in funding from churches in their communities. And Christians don’t just do this in the US, they do it worldwide. According to authors Michael Twaddle and Holger Bernt Hansen, “Christian professionals from Western countries act as members of humanitarian NGOs in Third World countries and as monitors of human rights infringements worldwide.”(2)
The fight against human trafficking? It’s being lead by Christians and Christian organizations to help free victims of sex trafficking and modern-day slavery. Groups like International Justice Mission are leading the way in this effort, especially in problem areas in parts are Asia where they assist police and government officials in bringing human traffickers to justice and help their victims return home from where they were taken or get job skills. IJM regularly works with churches, which help fund their efforts.(3)
One of the most fundamental ways that Christians in America help both American communities and global communities is through its missions efforts. While, admittedly, the central thrust of missions is to tell people about Jesus Christ, the reality on the ground is that Christian missionaries are the central force behind humanitarian and entrepreneurial efforts the world over that are changing millions of lives.
When the average person thinks of missionary work, he might think of a lone man, or perhaps a family assigned to the jungles of South America, plains of Africa, or fields of Asia, ministering in impoverished communities. And this is true. But what marks 21st-century mission work is industry and information technology. While there are thousands of missionaries working tirelessly in the traditional roles, thousands more defy the traditional model of micro-missions by working at the macro level. Among the many missionaries I have interviewed for a 2005 book, a good number work in areas not usually associated with traditional one-on-one or small group missions. Participants included a telecom worker in Turkey, an aviator in Botswana, a broadcaster, and a tour company manager in the Middle East. That’s just for starters. What non-traditional missionaries have accomplished, especially in the last 100 years, may blow your mind: Hospitals and medical clinics worldwide, local and community-based agricultural projects that feed and expand the economic base of whole communities. That’s not bad for non-profit, donor oriented, non-government supported missionaries and projects, right? But wait, there’s more: Hydroelectric power generation, communications-technology development, engineering consulting that contributes to community infrastructure. Churches and missionaries are involved in creating job-training centers, providing job creation through simple training in a basic skill, and it gets better: Missionaries in several countries have created aviation companies–private and humanitarian—Internet firms, construction companies, and even involved themselves in the mining industries in Africa and Asia. An Internet search yields hundreds of examples.(4)
This is not only a modern work, but one in which Christians have been involved in for centuries. “Professor Thomas E. Woods Jr. notes of the early Christians, “Wherever they went, the monks introduced crops, industries, or production methods with which the people had not been previously familiar. Here they would introduce the rearing of cattle and horses, there the brewing of beer or the raising of bees or fruit. In Sweden the corn trade owed its existence to the monks; in Parma it was cheese-making; in Ireland, salmon fisheries—and, in a great many places, the finest vineyards…. Although perhaps not as glamorous as some of the monks intellectual contributions, these crucial tasks were very nearly as important to building and preserving the civilization of the West.”(5)
For more than 50 years left-leaning journalists and writers have largely controlled the narrative about the contributions of Christians to American society and the world. That narrative includes charges of racism, greed, and hypocrisy. And while there are certainly a number of racist, greedy, hypocrites that occupy the American church, for the large part this is just a characterization that is flatly untrue. “Religious giving is sweeping: Forty-one percent of all charitable gifts from households last year went to congregations, while 32 percent went to other nonprofits with a religious identity and 27 percent went to secular charities.”(6)
One of Mattson’s complaints is that Christians largely support the banning of refugees from coming to America. This is a broad generalization on his part and it has no basis in fact. Many Christians organizations have objections to the Trump administration’s move on refugees. “World Vision, Willow Creek Community Church, Q, Operation Mobilization, and the World Evangelical Alliance, in addition to World Relief and the National Association of Evangelicals—urged elected officials ‘to work with welcoming communities to assist refugees wherever they are in tangible and practical ways.'”(7) There are numerous local ministries throughout America that not only welcome refugees, but organize Christians to provide meals, clothing, household items, and loving support to Muslim refugees coming to the States.
Mattson states of the early church, “Those first Christ followers who refused to bow to the emperor and go along with the policies of the Roman government…for the purpose of serving Christ and serving others.” He then wonders, “Will American Christians ever learn to do the same?” Yet, he seems to ignore the evidence that is available to him with even the most simple of Google searches. The reality is that the American church has done vastly more to minister to the needs and hopes of people around the world than that early church ever could have imagined—and those efforts continue to grow and not shrink.
Conservative Christians have little problem with the idea of government helping the needy. The question for us isn’t whether government should help. Rather, our objection to some efforts gets down to issues of dependency and debt. There is no question that most government efforts at welfare and other assistance have created dependency on that assistance rather than pulling people out of poverty permanently. And the increasing costs have helped to swell American debt to over $19 trillion. This is unsustainable. If the American economy collapses under the weight of this increasing debt then there will be no funds to help anyone and the situation will only grow worse. Government has a place in helping the practical needs of the poor and refugees. But continuing to rely on broken systems that only create dependence is a failure. This is why Christians, churches, and ministries, have found entrepreneurial ways to minister to the practical needs of the hurting and needy.
Mattson’s article with Sojourners does a great injustice to the Christian church at large by judging its heart and actions apart from what the real world evidence supports. He owes an apology to the American church, which I’m sure will easily forgive him. After all, along with our humanitarian efforts, that’s what we do.
(1) Ten Things Christians Do Better Than Atheists, (http://bit.ly/2kpTK49).
(2) Michael Twaddle, co-author with Holger Bernt Hansen of Christian Missionaries and the State of the Third World.
(3) International Justice Mission (https://www.ijm.org/get-involved/churches).
(4) Faith & Freedom: How the missionary principle facilitates political freedom, “Missions and the Market,” Tom Terry, 2005.
(5) How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, “How the Monks Saved Civilization;” Pages 31 and 32. ©2005, Thomas E. Woods, Jr. Ph.D. Regnery Publishing Inc.
(6) Religious Americans Give More, New Study Finds, Alex Daniels, November 25, 2013.
(7) Evangelical Experts Oppose Trump’s Plan to Ban Refugees, Christianity Today, January 25, 2017.