Beyond Justice, parts 1 and 2 were written by R. York Moore and are the full, non-filmed manuscripts for the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA and World Vision ACT:S campaign project, “Beyond Justice,” or “Get ACT:IVE” campaign.
The world is alive around her-charged air, pulsing ground, high hanging blue sky. The city with all its magic whirls around the couple walking hand in hand along the water’s edge. Strappy heals dangle from her hand as she walks barefoot, feeling the grass beneath her feet. A sweet smell fills the air as a summer breeze carries the hum of some unknown band. Cicada beetles and cardinals echo throughout the city streets as she brushes her fingers through the dense air of a hot July day. She tucks her head beneath his chin, imagining what could be. A life together of joy, of endless summer nights-peace, safety, security-most of all togetherness-she breaths out a wishful sigh. It is a place of magic, a dream that every once and a while we get to smell and taste and touch. Every now and then we lose ourselves, forgetting about the worries of this world, we let go and feel the grass beneath our feet and just dream. Joy, peace, contentment, safety, companionship-these are some of the things that we long for. True happiness, love, and freedom, this is the texture of a world just beyond our reach. It is the fabric of another place that we know exists in our hearts. There is a place our soul calls out for, another place that our soul remembers.
We are aware of another world peaking and poking into ours, tearing at the fabric of our souls and bringing both hope as well as dissatisfaction. We are aware of this other place not only during times of intense pleasure and joy but also during times of suffering and injustice. Exploitation, abuse and neglect, death and disease, destruction and displacement-there are many conditions we see and possibly experience ourselves in this world that cause us to dream of another one. For some, the suffering and injustice of this world causes them to lose faith, to doubt the existence of this other place, but for others it causes them to put their lives on the line, it inspires great acts of bravery and heroism, it drives some to give their all to reach for the dream. History is filled with the stories of millions upon millions who hoped against hope for another world and who risked their lives to establish justice in their pursuit of joy. There are lots of obstacles to this other world. Our world is broken in so many ways. Children die in countless numbers from diseases that are entirely treatable or preventable for lack of medicine that the wealthy can obtain at nearly every corner drugstore. Poverty and greed form a vicious cycle and often it is the children of the world’s poor that end up paying the ultimate price. More than 2,000 children under 5 die from malaria each day-that’s one child every 40 seconds. Malaria kills nearly one million people each year but 85% are children under 5. Each year an estimated 250 million people get infected with malaria. That’s equal to 83% of the U.S. population. But it’s the poorest of the poor that suffer most. Malaria is the fourth leading cause of child deaths worldwide and second leading cause of child deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa. Slavery, death from disease, displacement, hunger-we know that this is not the way things are supposed to be so we long inwardly for another place, a place of hope.
Detroit-A Place of Hope
For several decades in the city of Detroit where I live hope was all but lost but now there are many who dream again. There are corporations and government officials, teachers and civil servants, business leaders and scholars who know the secret of Detroit and the rich heritage that this city of hope has. Something always drives us back to hope. For countless slaves in the south, the dream of freedom once had a name and that name was Detroit. It’s hard to think of Detroit as a city of hope but for many slaves who had escaped from the Deep South, this city and the Detroit River was a dream that inspired them to risk their very lives to see. For scores of abolitionists and slaves alike, Detroit was the destination of hope. The trek along the Underground Railroad, a system of safe houses and safe people, led escaped slaves to Detroit-a year-long journey of over 1,000 miles. A trek fueled by the hope of freedom, opportunity, safety, but most of all, joy. The dream of joy is really at the center of the heart of every woman, of every man. Often it is the goal behind the goal, the greater dream of a thousand aspirations and for countless slaves, it fueled prayerful miles and expectant singing. Their dream may have started with the longing for freedom from the injustice and suffering of slavery, but there was something behind that dream. What do we do when justice and freedom have been obtained? We live the life we were meant to live-this is the dream that is beyond justice, the dream of joy. They would sing about the Jordan River, speaking figuratively of crossing the Detroit River into Windsor, Canada, finally being free of fear and the repercussions of their decision to pursue their dream. For many of my ancestors, slavery was all they knew. They were born into the slave system, often separated from their parents and shipped off to fields throughout the south. They never knew the dream of freedom.
The Source of Hope
What is it in the heart of a woman that dares to dream of a world she’s known nothing of, a world without rape or exploitation where she is free to choose her loved ones and run her hands through the hot July air? Where does the dream of a boy come from, a dream of a fantastical world of play, when all he’s known is the work slavery? I believe the quote of an unknown slave says it all: “All my life I been called a slave. They tell me I belongs to my master. That may be true about my body, but my soul remembers a time when I was free, so when I get a chance I will run.” Our soul remembers. I believe because we’ve been made in the image of God that our soul remembers. The world that pokes and peaks into our world of injustice and suffering connects powerfully with our soul because it was the world we were made for, a world of joy. A world where cicadas echo through streets of giggles and strappy heels dangle as bare feet walk through lush green grass. You see, there is something beyond justice that we all long for, a dream that we share with the rest of humanity. Millions have risked their lives and are risking their lives today so the dream can come to pass. A dream can change the world, literally. There are ways in which we use the concept of dream to refer to a wish, a desire, or a hope. Real change, however, comes through conviction, passion, power, and action. During the civil rights era that brought real and lasting change to millions of African-American’s, it was the dream of one man coupled with the real actions of Whites, Blacks, Asians, Latinos and others that brought that dream to pass. Dreaming is not incompatible with action; in fact a dream of substance, of real conviction and vision requires action. God’s dream is the same way. To say that God has a dream is an understatement. The culmination of all history is heading somewhere; it is heading to a place that is beyond justice, a place of joy.
The Dream of God
God’s vision and passion for another world are coupled with His power and will to accomplish His dream. God’s dreams come to pass and the exciting part is this; they include us, they include our action, our faith, our longings. Some wonder why God doesn’t just snap his fingers and bring about his dream right away. God invites us to join him in setting things right, of helping the world around us in both small and big ways begin to look the way it is supposed to be. In Revelation 21 (3b-5a NASB), God gives us a glimpse of the day he will bring his dream to pass. It says, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” The dream of God is a dream to make all things new! God could, in fact, make the dream come alive instantly but as we will see, this wouldn’t be good for everyone. The dream of God is not only of another world of beauty, order and joy. It is also a world of severe consequences, particularly for those who have put their faith and trust in a world that is incompatible with God’s dream. God will make all things new and this is not good news for all. The first thing we need to realize, however, is that there is a dream behind our dream, a longing behind all our aspirations that we seldom can put our fingers on.
Our dream is a dream that is beyond justice-one that is rooted in another place. Our soul remembers this place because we’ve been made in the image of God. The dream of our heart is anchored in the eternal dream of God. This is what is beyond justice. When adjusted for population, there are more slaves living at this moment in history than at any other time, more than were trafficked cumulatively over the four centuries of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Millions of people live a life of horror, of degradation, of hopelessness and despair. Such things should not be. The reality of suffering and injustice causes most people to experience what the Bible calls “holy indignation,” or anger. Indignation is that “strong displeasure at something considered unjust, it is righteous anger.” There is something holy about righteous indignation-it brings out the best in humanity. Emerson wrote, “A good indignation brings out all one’s powers.” If you are like most people, as you see the suffering and injustices of the world around you, you long to do something, to be an agent of transformation. Kevin Jenkins, President of World Vision International expresses this holy indignation this way, “We don’t accept that any child should have to go to bed hungry. We don’t believe that mothers should watch their children get sick and have no way to help them. We don’t believe that fathers should work 16 hours a day and still not be able to provide for their children. We don’t believe teachers should give lessons to children who have no textbooks, paper or pens. We don’t believe governments and rebels should recruit youths to kill, or that girls should be bought and sold, or that parents must sell their children to pay their debts… There is a righteous anger at the heart of World Vision. But at the same time, we overflow with love for all those with whom we are called to serve.” Indignation causes us to reach for the dream, to band together across racial lines, across economic lines, across religious lines to do something greater, something that none of us could possibly do alone-to reach for the dream. The realities of injustice and suffering cause a deep sense of dissonance and rage within us and this rage at the injustices and suffering of others is a demonstration that we are made in the image of God. The commodification of people is as old a practice as civilization itself but in the dream of God, God Himself will reverse this in what the Bible calls the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is a reality where the deepest longings of our hearts for justice and abundance are fulfilled because God will be in control instead of corrupt governments, greedy corporations, or broken systems of law.
The Kingdom of God is the Dream of God and it is this Dream where we find our hearts wandering. It is in this dream where we can feel the density of the air flow between our fingers and the green grass beneath our feet. Throughout the Bible, God gives us glimpses, small snapshots of a world that that can barely be imagined given the world we live in today. In Revelation 18, God gives us a horrific glimpse of the judgment that will come to those who exploit the poor, the world’s resources, and those who traffic in human beings. In Rev. 18, we read about the future destruction of a city of sin, where people make millions from the exploitation of the poor. The city is referred to as Babylon, but it represents for us every city where evil is allowed to flourish. Listen to the words of Rev. 18:11 (Message), “”The kings of the earth will see the smoke of her burning, and they’ll cry and carry on, the kings who went night after night to her brothel. They’ll keep their distance for fear they’ll get burned, and they’ll cry their lament: Doom, doom, the great city doomed! City of Babylon, strong city! In one hour it’s over, your judgment come! “The traders will cry and carry on because the bottom dropped out of business, no more market for their goods: gold, silver, precious gems, pearls; fabrics of fine linen, purple, silk, scarlet; perfumed wood and vessels of ivory, precious woods, bronze, iron, and marble; cinnamon and spice, incense, myrrh, and frankincense; wine and oil, flour and wheat; cattle, sheep, horses, and chariots. And slaves—their terrible traffic in human lives. Everything you’ve lived for, gone! All delicate and delectable luxury, lost! Not a scrap, not a thread to be found!” In the dream of God, we see the great anger and wrath of God, we see divine holy indignation in action. Many people have a hard time with a God portrayed as vengeful, who would bring destruction to people and places, who would judge the world, after all, isn’t God supposed to be loving? When we consider that men will fly across seas to commodify young boys and girls, that daily there are those who will pay to rape a child, when we see the expression of absolute evil in our world, the question shouldn’t be, “How can God punish the world,” but rather, “How can God not punish the world.” God is loving and His dream is rooted in joy and freedom but God is also holy, He is pure and it would be a nightmare, not a dream, for the world to continue as it is today without a course correction. According to the U.S. Department of State, an estimated 50 percent of all trafficking victims are children under the age of 18. Every year 1.2 million children are trafficked for child labor; another 1 million are trafficked for sexual exploitation. Every day, millions of children live the nightmare, not the dream. God hates injustices and He cares deeply for the hurting and the poor-this is what authentic religion is all about. Our world needs a course correction, we need God to bring an end to suffering and injustice, to bring the Kingdom of God, His great dream, to pass-this is why our dream is a dream beyond mere justice.
The Course of History
The things that cause us anger do so because we are made in the image of God and in the dream of God, God will make all things right. All of history is heading toward this cosmic collision, a day where God will judge evil and bring an end to injustices and suffering. In Rev. 11:15b-18 (NASB), we read of this day of judgment, “and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” And the twenty-four elders, who sit on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying, “We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign. And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.”” All history is heading toward a cosmic collision, a time of great punishment and wrath against the actors of evil-those who enjoy victimizing the poor, who enslave the weak, exploiting the world’s resources, while indulging in every luxury known to mankind.
Beyond Justice: Biblical Foundation for Mission and Justice Part 2 of 2
Beyond Justice, parts 1 and 2 were written by R. York Moore and are the full, non-filmed manuscripts for the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA and World Vision ACT:S campaign project, “Beyond Justice,” or “Get ACT:IVE” campaign.
Our Dream is Realized Through Jesus Christ
Before we begin to think that the dream of God is some far off, ethereal idea, I want to say that God’s dream is coming to pass right now, all over the world-particularly in some of the most dire situations. The Kingdom of God is not merely a place and a time in the future. The Kingdom of God is showing up and transforming our world. The Kingdom of God begins with the good news of Jesus Christ. All history is heading toward the day when Jesus Christ will reign, where he will set all things right but the good news of Jesus is that it has already begun. Jesus declared the Kingdom of God a present reality in his first public address in Luke 4 (NASB) where he said, “THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED, TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD.” From this point forward in history, the Kingdom of God has been advancing toward God’s dream with the power of the present Christ. Notice Jesus’ emphasis on the poor, on those in bondage, the sick, and the oppressed. Justice is God’s heartbeat and the Kingdom of God revolves around making all things right, particularly for those who suffer. When Jesus told his followers to go and preach to the cities of his day, he told them to heal the sick and to announce, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” (Luke 10:9, NASB). God’s Kingdom dream has always revolved around good news to those who need it most-this is the mission of the followers of Jesus, to announce the good news of the Kingdom of God and to invite the nations to join in the dream! The Kingdom of God is a reality that is now, not just a future reality. Because of what Jesus Christ has done, the dream of God is breaking into our world, reversing injustices, freeing slaves, healing the sick and restoring hope. Isn’t that exciting!?!? What’s more is that Jesus invites us to be actors in bringing the Kingdom of God to bear upon the broken and unjust places of our world. This is the best way to think about what it means to be an activist. We live in an age where we long for change; we are more knowledgeable than ever about the plight of those who suffer. We want to change the world.
Change We Can Believe In
In our faith communities, the concept of a ‘justice activist’ is taking hold as Christians begin to realize the centrality of justice in the teachings of Jesus. Being inspired by the dream of God of a better world is fueling new expressions of Christian faith and a generation of ‘justice activists’ are rising up to take the gospel to the poor, the message of freedom to those enslaved, healing to the sick, and the message of forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Being an activist whose vision is rooted in the person of Jesus Christ and whose hope is the coming Kingdom of God is sustainable activism that bares consistent, long-term good. We all want change we can believe in and in Jesus Christ we find it. The dream of God is ultimately realized only through the person of Jesus Christ. When we think of an 8 year old who has been sold by her mother in Myanmar to an international sex tourist for $200 or a father who would sell his son as a bonded laborer in India to bake bricks, we see what kind of evil we are up against. Ultimately, injustices always trace back to a spiritual brokenness, a soul sickness. In the state of Ohio alone in 2010, there was an estimated 1,000 U.S. born children, most under the age of 15, sold as forced prostitutes. We can legislate against such realities, prosecute those who traffic in the flesh of children, and build after-care facilities for victims but without addressing the hunger that would give rise to such a rape of humanity, we are failing to be holistic in our approach to evil. Real evil exists in our hearts and in the world around us and that is something that requires real spiritual power to address. This is why we need the power that only comes through the person of Jesus Christ. In the life and death of Jesus we hear the echoes of another world, a world where couples stroll, laughter flourishes, and the streets hum with music.
The Dream Making Work of Christ
When Jesus died on the cross, he dealt once and for all with the evil in the world out there and the world in here. As Jesus hung on the cross, his death paid the full price for all the things that we’ve done, all the things that we’ve left undone that are incompatible with the dream of God. We are not just victims in this world or neutral observers of the world’s suffering-we have all contributed to the wreckage of the world in many ways. Jesus’ death on the cross enables us to begin again and to experience God’s forgiveness. The Bible also tells us that Jesus, three days after his death, returned to life-he was raised from the dead. And it’s this power that raised Jesus from the dead that is available to us today. The spiritual life we find in the person of Jesus is given to us who would follow Jesus as Kingdom activists, proclaiming and demonstrating the Kingdom of God to the world around us. This is how the dream of God advances, as God’s activists, Jesus’ followers, take the power of God and apply it to those places that are broken, to people who are suffering, and to our own lives as well. Divine history is going somewhere. All that God is doing is pointing to another time and place, it is culminating in the grand dream of God. In contrast, human history can be summarized in its totality as the dialectic rise and fall between our pursuit of the dream we remember and its vicious counterpart, the nightmare of injustice and suffering.
The Dream Becomes Reality
What does God’s dream look like in its fullness? What picture does Jesus give us of this coming Kingdom? In the book of Revelation, we get a vivid snapshot of the dream of God fulfilled. We are introduced to a city unlike any city we’ve ever seen or read about. American cinema and literature have done us a disservice by giving us images of Heaven as a place where we’ll lounge partially nude on clouds, feeding from clusters of grapes while eternally honing our harp playing skills. But the dream of God revolves around a city, a unique city where infrastructure and agriculture are intertwined; a city where beauty and order coincide with population density and activity; a city of purpose and pleasure. This city that we read about stands in diametrical opposition to the city of Babylon we read of earlier. It is the city that is the antithesis of every broken and exploitative system in our cities today. Listen to the picture that has long fueled those who follow Jesus to reach for the dream. In Rev. 21 and 22 we read this description: (Rev. 21:21-27, The Message), “The main street of the City was pure gold, translucent as glass. But there was no sign of a Temple, for the Lord God—the Sovereign-Strong—and the Lamb are the Temple. The City doesn’t need sun or moon for light. God’s Glory is its light, the Lamb its lamp! The nations will walk in its light and earth’s kings bring in their splendor. Its gates will never be shut by day, and there won’t be any night. They’ll bring the glory and honor of the nations into the City. Nothing dirty or defiled will get into the City, and no one who defiles or deceives. Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will get in.” (Rev. 22:1-3a, Message) “Then the Angel showed me Water-of-Life River, crystal bright. It flowed from the Throne of God and the Lamb, right down the middle of the street. The Tree of Life was planted on each side of the River, producing twelve kinds of fruit, a ripe fruit each month. The leaves of the Tree are for healing the nations. Never again will anything be cursed.” In this city of hope we see a river of life, a tree of healing-abundance and restoration. God’s dream is a dream beyond justice though it includes the judgment necessary to establish it. Notice in this description that nothing dirty or defiled will get into the city-it is a holy place. God’s dream goes beyond holiness, beyond justice, God’s dream is a dream of flourishing. Like many cities, the city of Detroit even at the height of its grandeur held only a shadowy resemblance of the city of God. Detroit was never the final destination of slaves-they dreamt of something better, it was the dream behind their dream that fueled their journey. At best, this city or any of the other cities of this world are mere symbols of a dream that lives in our hearts because our souls remember. Malan, New York, Vancouver, Beijing, Buenos Aires, Dubai-all these and many other great cities hold aspects that are alluring to us. Beauty, transcendence, natural treasures, the arts, fashion, abundant resources, power-all these things in some way are attractive to us because our soul remembers. In the dream of God realized through the person of Jesus Christ, we see the culmination of divine history in this city of God.
Our Dream is an Invitation to the Dream of God
“All my life I been called a slave. They tell me I belongs to my master. That may be true about my body, but my soul remembers a time when I was free, so when I get a chance I will run.” What does it mean to respond to the dream, the world we remember? I believe this unknown slave has the right answer-we run! The dream God has put in our hearts is really an invitation, an invitation to pursue something greater than ourselves, greater than the façade around us-it is an invitation to run toward the dream. Feeling the dense air flow between our fingers, to see the sights and sounds of life the way it ought to be, and to hear the sounds of a world made right-this is what we can experience when we choose to run. How do we make the dream a reality? How do we respond to the dream God has for the world and each of our lives? How do we sustain our commitment to actualize God’s dream for justice. These are the questions we will explore together. When we choose to run, we reorient our lives. When someone chooses to run a marathon, they set goals, they practice and train, they endure strict regiments. When we choose to run after the dream of God, we choose to follow Jesus who sets the pace and the direction for the dream. We learn from him and submit to his way of thinking and doing. As a result, we begin by living a more active faith – by seeing our lives differently and joining a purpose bigger than ourselves. The reality is that whether or not you’ve noticed it, Jesus is already setting the pace and giving your life direction. The passion and drive we have, the joy we find in life are usually indicators of where the Kingdom of God is touching your soul. What dream has God placed on your heart? It might be tutoring children living in poverty in your own backyard, helping to right the wrong of modern-day slavery, helping end a preventable disease like malaria in your life-time, or something else that God has uniquely placed on your heart. Where do you see this other world tearing at the fiber of your soul?
The invitation that God is making to you now is an invitation to be more like Jesus and to pursue a world that is more like God’s Kingdom than the world of pain, suffering and injustice. Pursuing this world requires condition. Just like a runner will condition their body in pursuit of a goal, God invites us to condition our heart. God wants us to begin to see the way he sees and care about the things he cares about. The founder of World Vision, Bob Pierce, used to pray a prayer that is now famous the world over, “Let me heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.” Conditioning our heart to reflect the heart of God requires us to connect deeply with Jesus Christ. Through prayer, reading the Bible, and seeing what is going on in our world we can begin to develop a heart like God. Our souls remember so we will run. The great news is that the run Jesus invites us to is not a solitary one-he invites us to do it together. Moving beyond justice requires a movement. We can only do so much on our own to change our soul or to change our society and so God’s dream is to be pursued in community. God’s dream is about both individual transformation and global restoration – and it requires each of us to do our part and all of us to do our part together. It’s not enough to simply live a more active faith individually; we must share God’s heart for the world with others and invite them to run with us.
There is something beyond justice and its joy. There is a place our soul calls out for, another place that our soul remembers. Our response to God’s invitation begins when we imagine what could be-a life together of joy, of endless summer nights-peace, safety, security- and most of all togetherness. God longs to restore the world and that will come to pass in a final way one day but today, he invites us to run with him in bringing the Kingdom of God to our world today. Our response to God’s invitation is to run, to run toward this place of magic, to breathe in and dream with God and to join him in making all things new.
The Building is On Fire: Our Responsibility to Soul & Society
The message of the gospel is the power that can change a world-the worlds within worlds multiplied billions of times over throughout the globe! The gospel can change the world of every person who would respond to its power. The gospel changes the world of individual people, transforming them from the inside out. The gospel is the good news of the death, resurrection, and Lordship of Jesus and is good because we stand already condemned before a holy God with the death sentence already handed out to humanity! In the gospel we see God’s glorious grace, his strong desire not for mere reform but for renewal. In the gospel we see God’s power to literally make us right and to restore our lost state of grandeur.
In the gospel, however, we also see the power that can change the world, the entire system that has crashed and merely wobbles about simulating the world intended for us by God. There is little debate that the world we live in is not the world God intended for us. There are wars in this world, enduring poverty too. There is debasing addictions along with the oppression of women and children. In this world, people die of preventable diseases by the hundreds of thousands all the time. This world seems to offer so little purpose, so little hope that even when we have plenty we still throw away our families for cheap thrills, our abilities and gifts for mere consumption and our dignity to feel connected to another person, if even for a moment. Our world is damaged and no quick fix, no political party or reform, no amount of money or determination will fix it. What we need is a supernatural, superspiritual, supra-human, extra-dimensional solution of power and the great news is that we have such power in the person of Jesus Christ! Yes, Jesus is able to save our world, but He is also able to save the world!
If it is true, that we have the power to change the world, than what do we do with it? What would you do if you could carry around with you, in your jacket or purse, a device so powerful that if it were unleashed it would literally impact everything and anything around you? Would you release it? Probably not if it were a nuclear device, an incurable virus, or a poisonous gas but what if it were an unstoppable force of hope, a contagion of love, or an enveloping power for restoration? Where would you first introduce such a power? As Christians, we do have such a power, the power to change the world! Unfortunately, most of the time, we leave it in our purse, our desk drawer, glove box, or cached on our disk drives, making sure that it changes nothing and nobody around us. Often, this power has been cemented like a memorial to a time gone by, a faith tradition that used to impact communities, countries, and continents. We have the power to change the world and we need to use it, but where and how?
Recently, I was asked by two students in two separate conversations about how to discern God’s call and how to invest themselves in God’s broad world and Kingdom. I shared with them that there are some things God calls all of us to. “It is God’s will for everyone to be evangelized,” I said, “so you are always safe including personal witness as God’s will for your life.” I said, “God wants us all to always pursue knowing Him so I’m pretty sure you should do that too.” In both conversations, however, they specifically wanted to know about the vast universe of things Christians are doing, “What about AIDS orphans, and clean drinking water for the poor, and sex slaves, and Scripture translation, and Muslims and Hindus, and unreached people groups, and…and…and….” The students felt overwhelmed by both the responsibility of the power entrusted to them as well as the vast needs and ways to use that power in the world. I think we can all sympathize with being in this place at one point or another.
I continued, “One way to look at it is as if the world were a high-rise apartment complex and we live on one of the floors. Let’s say there was a fire on one of the floors. Now, if the fire were in apartment 14B and everyone got out, it might be the Christian thing perhaps to send money or a nice card to express care for the material loss of the tenants in that unit.” I continued, “However, let’s say there was a raging fire on the top floor and the lives of many were at stake. In this case, rescuing them might require special abilities and gifts, not the least of which would include bravery and physical strength-in reality only some people would be helpful in rescuing people on the top floor of the burning building.” I ended by saying, “Now, if there were a raging fire on the first floor, threatening to spread upward to consume each and every floor, every apartment, every life-certainly you would say that we would all be called to do something for ourselves and our neighbors in the building, right?” Both students agreed. I brought the illustration to a close by pointing out, “…some fires in our world are apartment 14B fires. 14B fires matter to God and they should matter to us but our response shouldn’t be to rush in and risk our lives to rescue the material possessions being consumed-it is good enough that the people got out and will live to rebuild their lives. We can and should share our love and concern with people during their time of loss.” Continuing, “Some fires threaten a great many people and require a concerted and passionate response requiring special gifts and bravery. God equips many to respond to these needs even though in doing so they themselves may perish. Such people are heroes to us, people of whom the world is not worthy but we are not all such people-God chooses those heroes.” Finally, “There are many issues we as Christians face, however, that are like the fire raging on the first floor of the building, fires that if left unchecked would simply consume all of humanity. These fires are complex and often reflect not one gigantic blaze but rather a series of smaller interrelated fires. These fires,” I said, “require all of us, no matter what our calling or gifting is, to respond with everything we’ve got.”
It is true that our world is in shambles and there is no end to the need before us, both temporally as well as eschatologically. Each and every person is lost and everywhere we look the impact of that reality is felt. The fact that those without Christ are dying and on their way to hell is a first floor fire. No matter what we do for people temporally, unless we also share the message that can change their world, they will perish and the eternal suffering they will endure will make all suffering in this world pale by comparison. I believe the interrelatedness of modern-day slavery, aggressive secularization, the simultaneous rise of global poverty and the super-rich, the dehumanization of women and children, and mass deaths as a result of preventable/curable diseases are examples of more first floor fires. We are not given a choice by God whether to address first floor fires of the soul or first floor fires of the material world, the Church is called to them all. We must care about all suffering, whether temporal or eschatological. It is not my place to determine what are 14B or top floor fires, and people that have particular calls to such ministries that focus on these fires would not find my opinions on the matter helpful or empowering. It is clear, however, that we all must contribute what bravery, what super powers, what faith we have to doing all we can to put out the blaze that threatens to consume the soul and consume society. Again, the great news is that we have such power, the power to change a world and the power to change the world. The question is will we use it?
Debauchery: Our Newfound American Pastime
Four of my favorite words are uttered every night at 6:30PM Eastern in the U.S., “On the broadcast tonight….” Most of the time, these familiar words are uttered by Brian Williams, the news anchor for NBC Nightly News. Brian is a welcome guest in my home, distilling the big issues, breaking down the all too often “big world” of information to a thirty minute expose’ on the “must know” news. The coverage is diverse, relevant, balanced, and well-told. Recently, however, I raced to shield my children’s eyes from Brian’s expose’ on the new trend in Las Vegas as the coverage of a pool party at a well-known casino seemed more like an infomercial for a “Girls Gone Wild” video! The trend of Vegas pool parties has spawned hundreds of millions of dollars in spending to renovate and expand pools that can accommodate up to 5,000 people at a time, cabanas with day beds, and “swim up bars and black jack tables.” Vegas has hit it big once again, this time recapturing the wonder of the 22-35 aged demographic, a demographic that has eluded Vegas for some time now. Brian Williams’ coverage of 5,000 guests in the middle of a Sunday afternoon looked less like a pool party and more like what I imagine sex temple rituals in ancient Mesopotamia looked like. The preponderance of public displays of indecency in this news story evoked a unique feeling of shock. Taken individually, any one of the scenes of indecency shown would have been, unfortunately, quite commonplace by today’s standards. There was something particularly disturbing, however, about seeing this mass of oiled, pulsating, dripping wet flesh in beautiful high definition as Brian spoke of the recapturing of this elusive demographic. It was more than sexual brokenness, it was the equally elusive concept we’ve forgotten, ‘debauchery.’
To Google the word alone is a dangerous endeavor but researching the topic seriously is quite difficult as Western culture has lost the category altogether. Debauchery, however, is making a comeback in a big way. Increasingly, strip clubs, dance clubs with excessive public expressions of group sexuality, porn stars, and sex toy manufacturers are making their way into our mainstream understanding of entertainment and social connection. Both the porn industry and sex toy manufacturers have found ways into the dorms and public spaces of our college campuses under the auspices of sexual education. What is most distressing about this trend is that it seems to be accelerated by the burgeoning entertainment industry in its pursuit to identify new revenue streams in an age of digital piracy and the ever-expanding application of free speech laws. All this coupled with a Western Church in atrophy and a Judeo-Christian ethic on the decline, I believe we are in the beginning stages of societal decay. The late philosopher and historian, Dr. Francis Schaeffer, detailed this decline in the great world empires of Persia, Greece, Rome and others, always beginning with an expansion and acceptance of the practice of debauchery in the mainstream.
A simple (perhaps too simple) definition of debauchery is, “excessive indulgence of the appetites; especially, excessive indulgence of lust; intemperance; sensuality; habitual lewdness.” Debauchery is more than sexual sin, more than public indecency; it is a phenomenon, one that occurs in a people group when the rot of spiritual decay under the surface of familial and cultural institutions bleeds out into the public sphere. This is happening all around us. The ‘lubrication’ for an acceptance of debauchery at a societal level begins when those structures of culture erode-the family, academia, law, commerce, entertainment….Hypocrisy and collusion in the area of sexual brokenness in the Church is also a powerful component in legitimizing debauchery. Systemic pedophilia in the catholic church amongst ‘spiritual fathers’ has brought public outrage and distrust but also an open door in the home for ‘biological fathers’ to reconsider the boundaries of their own sexuality in the vacuum of moral authority. In the Black Church in the U.S., a once-strong tradition of theological conservatism around sexuality has been eroded by the allegations swirling around mega-church pastor, Bishop Eddie Long, accused of molesting young boys in the church. AME Bishop John Bryant recently reached a settlement for his involvement in allowing (the late) Rev. Sylvester Laudermill Jr. to molest multiple minors in both St. Louis and Los Angeles AME churches. For young men in the Black community, these expressions of perversion reinforce the centrality of sexual gratification in identity, again fueling ever-increasing expressions of brokenness.
There is no lack of illustrations of debauchery in the Scriptures. As soon as mankind began to “…increase in number on the earth…” (Gen. 6:1), we read, “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” (Gen. 6:5). How this wickedness and evil inclination expresses itself from this point on in the story of humanity is clear. Cyclically, debauchery resurfaces in every people group over time as societies rise and decline. The suffering generating by debauchery, particularly in the poor and amongst children, is also well documented in Scripture, evoking the anger and wrath of God, “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Because you poured out your wealth and exposed your nakedness in your promiscuity with your lovers, and because of all your detestable idols, and because you gave them your children’s blood, therefore I am going to gather all your lovers, with whom you found pleasure, those you loved as well as those you hated. I will gather them against you from all around and will strip you in front of them, and they will see all your nakedness. I will sentence you to the punishment of women who commit adultery and who shed blood; I will bring upon you the blood vengeance of my wrath and jealous anger.” (Ez. 16:36-38).” Though this passage speaks figuratively of the Nation Israel and her corporate actions, God uses the common imagery of debauched practices to illustrate his point.
Debauchery in the Scriptures is a unique concept, not merely the preponderance of sinful practices, but rather a corporate expression of a constellation of sinful behavior revolving around sensuality. I Peter 4:3 calls the Christian to abandon debauchery and what I believe to be the subcomponents of debauchery, “For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.” Debauchery is the corporate expression of these practices.
Finally, debauchery presents a unique threat to Christian evangelization. Because mainstream debauchery “hollows out” the soul of a people group, it anesthetizes them to concerns outside of their own sensuality. Deadening the conscience of a people group paves the way for atrocity and exploitation. As the Christian message always incorporates a call to care for the poor, to provide for the hungry and sick, and to stand against injustices, the Christian message in a milieu of debauchery becomes the enemy of ‘a good time’ to some and our ‘personal freedom and identity’ to others. When this clash of worldview begins to happen, the Christian message begins to be seen as the enemy. The resources of intellectual and economic sophistication of those profiting politically, economically, and socially from debauched practices begins to be used against the Christian Church. This is much more than another expression of culture war but a life and death battle for the remnants of society. We see this clash when the gospel is brought to the Ephesians and the subsequent riot over the profits associated with temple worship of the God Artemis (Acts 19:23-41). The desensitization debauchery brings produces new economic and social structures that are inherently incompatible with Christ and His Kingdom. Where debauchery has become entrenched, there is strong resistance to the Christian message and often the only solution is the eradication of that people group by God.
We as American Christians ought to pray against this emerging spirit of debauchery and for God to bring revival and awakening to our culture before it is too late. Focusing on the family structures, on holiness in the church, on a redemptive presence in government, academia, entertainment, and commerce are all also things Christians should be dedicating themselves to. Running from the increasingly corrupt world around us will only allow the fire to spread more rapidly, increasing human ruin and allowing the widespread suffering that always comes with a people group given over to debauched living. We need God to bring a spirit of repentance and brokenness over what we see around us and in us before it is too late. As a precursor to the active wrath of God, God eventually “gives us over to” the desires of our heart societally. Once this happens, it is too late to turn back to God, “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.” May God bring us back from the brink.