I started talking about principles of justice because after Ferguson and Baltimore and other places people are crying out for justice and I am trying to get a handle on what justice is in the legal, theological and “real” world. If you noticed, the idea of justice that started as a demand that police overreaction and brutality stop has suddenly, sometimes in mid sentence, changed to a discussion of income inequality.
As important as that discussion is we also have some real issues of justice that effect mission work and our life together even up here in the North Country. We are walking on a fine line trying to encourage mission societies and donors to check with the Missouri Synod’s Office of International Missions to see if their chosen project is helpful, needed and affiliated with our partners. At the same time we do not want to quash that spirit. Then we walk the line of the long fought battle over proclamation and mercy work. Then we walk the line of perception about need and cultural differences between us and our partners.
There is a blog site out there that is very popular among Pastors that has made a cottage industry of criticizing Project 24 and other enterprises in Kenya because of politics and perceived corruption and a theological principle that only Gospel proclamation should be done in the mission field and the mercy work is a bad idea. Of course, once folks see that other folks will give toward mercy work, that idea changes from time to time.
My first knowledge of this operation was a furious email that was denigrating a Project 24 site and hinting that the money being sent there would be better in the hands of the email writer. It raised the plaintive question among some of us – why would anyone be upset at an effort to help orphans or children in difficult circumstances go to school? This deeply theological and conservative operation justifies its work by the success of a worker that has not been called and has no official position but yet is identified with the LCMS.
There are practical and theological issues galore here and it seems to me that we also have another principle at work and that is reciprocity. In this view of justice we do good in proportion to the good we get and we make restitution for harm we’ve done. In this system, I could make a wonderful case for justice as aid to emerging world countries because of colonialism, and the difficult choices that were made by Christians in the past that cause ongoing harm to partner churches now. I could also make a good point that justice as aid is essential in emergent world countries because they are doing the grunt work of missionary activity that we no longer have the money, staff, or the stomach to do ourselves. The principle of reciprocity means that because we are tired of the hard work doing our own mission enterprise and raising a cadre of theologically sound and linguistically gifted Lutherans to raise up Lutheran churches, we will give aid to those who can.
At the same time I can make an argument that reciprocity is the reason that Aid is needed in the emerging world countries in the first place. It is extremely difficult for Westerners to get into their heads that in places like Africa, the very accumulation of enough wealth that would get one out of poverty, is considered to be a sign of anti-tribe, anti-clan, and anti-Christian hubris. Those who are turned off and frustrated by begging and what they perceive to be corruption among some of those in our partner churches need to listen more. Almost always the begging and the request for funds or help in some specific way has to do with ability to make evangelism possible, or to find a way of helping others.
Accusing folks half way around the world of corruption and self aggrandizement makes for a “ripping good yarn” but doesn’t exactly advance the Gospel. Self aggrandizement here at home through political and theological posturing doesn’t help much either.