Christianity has fallen on hard times in popular western culture. I get it. The church has done some terrible things; we have made some horrific mistakes. The church, like the rest of us, is not immune to our humanity.
We saw evidence of that again last week with the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In the face of such a damning report, all we can do is confess our failure and beg forgiveness.
There is plenty of bad press out there which indicates that much too often, Christianity is more the problem than the solution to world problems.
At the same time, however, it also true that more times than we know, Christianity has been “good news” for the world. More often than we know, the church has done some things right.
Did you know that the church is the largest single provider of healthcare in the world, and also the largest single provider of education in the world?
Did you know that early Church Fathers successfully campaigned against infanticide, and the same Church Fathers stood up for the rights of women by codifying marriage as a sacrament?
Did you know that the first orphanages were churches, and churches pioneered the first homes for the elderly and the first homes for the disabled?
Did you know that it was evangelicals of the 19th century who led society to abolish the slave trade (William Wilberforce in the United Kingdom), and that those same evangelicals pioneered modern social work (Jane Addams in Chicago), modern foster care (Charles L. Brace in Connecticut), modern nursing (Florence Nightingale during the Crimean War), and free health care for the terminally ill (Douglas Macmillan in London, England)?
Did you know that 100 out of 110 US universities were founded by the church, including Yale, Princeton, and Harvard?
Did you know that it was a missionary who pioneered the most successful world literacy effort in history (SIL and Frank Laubach)?
Did you know that Christians were pioneers of free schooling for poor young people (John Pounds), including slums (R. Raikes) and orphans (George Mueller)?
Did you know that a minister spearheaded a campaign in the 19th century to protect children from abuse at home or in the workplace (Richard Oastler), and a Christian woman who campaigned for the age of consent to be set to 16 so children could not be abused (Josephine Butler)?
Did you know that the Salvation Army pioneered radical care for the poor and disadvantaged in society, and the Quakers campaigned for prison reform?
Did you know that Christians were at the front end of promoting “fair trade” in the 20th century (Tearfund), as well as Microfinance for poor countries (D. Bussau)?
Did you know that it was the church which led the effort for the UN Declaration of Human Rights?
And how about that Pope Francis? His latest idea is to provide showers and free haircuts for the homeless in St Peter’s Square, and when a person goes in to take a shower they are met by an attendant who gives them a shower caddy with toiletries.
The source of this list can be found online if you google “Christian good in society”. The blog which pops up lists over 80 examples with links for further reading. And that is simply a partial list.
Just so we’re clear, I am not saying that only Christians do good in the world or that non–Christians aren’t involved in the some of the same humanitarian efforts. Nor am I in the least interested to cover over the harmful and unhelpful things done in the name of Christ through history ranging from the crazy to genocidal.
I’m just saying this is an impressive list of what Christians have felt compelled to do for society as they follow Jesus.
There have been some politicians in Canada who have begun to emulate their conservative allies in the USA by trumpeting that they believe in Jesus, and therefore they don’t believe in evolution or climate change or other well–accepted scientific facts. They claim that the Bible and Christian faith are all about family values, that it’s against the LGBTQ community, that it’s about preserving a nostalgic view of a life which, in actuality, never existed.
So here’s my challenge for politicians: show us how you follow Jesus not by promoting these negative agendas. Rather, show me your faithfulness by how you treat the marginalized, those who live in poverty, the helpless, the abused, the poor, the elderly and disabled and orphans and those who are persecuted. Pick one. Any one. There’s plenty to do.
Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook