The Human Tragedy in Asia

As of the writing of this article, the death toll resulting from Japan’s natural disasters has topped 10,000 people.  My heart breaks for all those who will never see their dreams realized and never be able to sing or dance or laugh again.

Yet, this number is just a fraction of lives lost in Asia due to gender discrimination.  I don’t mean to dismiss the loss of life in Japan, but I think recent events require us to take pause and remember that people die in Asia every day, not from natural disasters, but from political and economic decisions driven by gender inequality.

A recent (14 March 2011) Newsweek article by Niall Ferguson highlights a statistic by noble laureate economist, Amartya Sen, that places the number of deaths due to abortions, infanticide, and “economic discrimination” at 100 million.  That’s the population of about 1,190 Rockdale Counties.

Scariest thing: the statistic only includes females.

For decades, Asia’s economic engine has valued men at the expense of women.  Apparently, women in Asia (and India) can neither contribute to the household nor obtain professional positions.

Furthermore, several countries have birth quotas.  All of this means that females are aborted or neglected more often than males.  A 9 March 2011 Baptist Press article by Tom Strode claims that female suicides come to nearly 500 a day due to China’s one-child policy.

And as the wheel of time turns, those figures add up.  Consider that Asia would have to be hit with over 3,000 earthquakes and tsunamis like the one that hit Japan in order to lose that many people.

All too often, Christians see abortion as a local, or perhaps national, issue as they navigate women’s rights and medical ethics in the 21st century.  I fear that there is little consideration of the larger tragedy on a global scale.

We can have our debates concerning abortion in this country, but it seems to me that the call to bring a pro-life message overseas is just as urgent.  It is hard to fight for the right of unborn girls (and children in general) around the globe, however, when we continue to struggle with gender inequality in our borders.

Women in the United States continue to make about three-fourths the salary that men receive in comparable positions.  Only 3 percent of CEOs in Fortune 500 companies are women, and roughly 16 percent of Congressional seats are filled by female representatives (16 percent in the Senate, and 17 percent in the House according to Kathleen Parker writing for said Newsweek).

Religious institutions are no better: Many places of worship and denominations still deny certain positions to women.

Female minorities and refugees make up the majority of victims in the underground sex trafficking rampant in cities such as Atlanta.

Jesus’ challenge from Matthew 7 comes to mind: “Thou hypocrite; first cast the beam out of thine own eye.”  For our nation, gender inequality and injustice is still a beam deeply rooted in the eye sockets of society and culture.

It would help to reclaim gender equality as a biblical core value.  This must transform everything from the Catholic priesthood to ordination in the farthest reaches of church life.  It must impact how we preach and how we do worship.

(And a word to folks in my own tradition: I encourage the Southern Baptist Convention to take a second look at the U.N. treaty regarding the Convention of the Rights of the Child; which the SBC has opposed since 2000; and also reconsider putting into place a denomination-wide policy regarding sexual misconduct that includes a public sex offender registry.)

Reorienting pro-life legislation to encompass the dignity of all women, as well as  one that advocates for minorities and the poor, will also increase the quality of life for women in our midst.

When Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow Him, He wants to transform the very political, social, and economic systems in which we find ourselves.  Working on behalf of women in particular can help save lives beyond the occasional natural disaster or two.

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) General Assembly reveals larger, post-denominational trends (Part 1)

This past week I spent some time in Charolotte, NC, attending the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly–the annual meeting of a denominational “fellowship” made up of some 1,900 churches.  It is truly a blessing to be amongst fellow brothers and sisters who share a common identity and values, to meet with friends old and new, and to network with other clergy.

I also had time to notice that the overall feel of the General Assembly reflected some larger trends, both positive and negative, facing North American denominations as a whole.  This blog is the first in a three-part series outlining my reflections and learnings from the CBF meeting:

Positive Trend 1: Many denominations are being intentional about raising up a new generation of ministers that are proud of their heritage and core values.  The CBF, specifically, has taken explicit steps to include young leaders in every aspect of the denomination, from upper-level staff positions to board positions.  This insures communication across generational lines and inclusive ministry throughout this brand of Baptist’s hierarchy.  It also reinforces good, old-fashioned Baptist identity by giving the next generation a stake in the denomination’s future.

For example, this morning I attended a breakfast for pastors that are participating in the Collegiate Congregational Internship Program.

This program, funded by a Lily Endowment Grant, enables the CBF to place and pay college students and first-year seminarians in a variety of ministry positions in participating congregations.     This year is the first in the three-year program, and over 90 interns were placed in congregations throughout the nation, from California to Virginia, in the summer months.

This program intends to train students for ministry and nurture potential calls to ministry.  It also gives them hands-on training in local church settings, while exposing students to the work of the church, be it deacon ministries or lay leadership councils.

Churches, strapped for resources, benefit by having the interns as well as the stipend to broaden their ministry outreach.

I speak from personal experience.  At Trinity Baptist Church, we placed an intern as the Minister of Youth and Missions.  The intern, Matt, and is getting invaluable experience that coincides with his classroom, seminary training at Mercer University.

The CBF’s intentional shift towards including young leaders in key positions is continuing to pay off.   While other denominations navigate through the uncertain terrain of generational conflicts and leadership crises, the CBF has diversified its leadership in both age and ethnic make-up.

Positive Trend 2: Denominations are becoming holistic in their approach to ministry.

Initially, many denominational bodies started out as missionary-sending boards that did little in terms of public advocacy and social transformation.  After all, Baptists have prided themselves on protecting the thin line of separation between church and state.

As these same denominations face economic and enthusiam shortfalls, however, Baptists had to expand missions into the larger field of public policy and advocacy.  Not only do Baptists want to feed the poor, they want to insure that the poor live in a just society that helps to eliminate poverty altogether.

Baptists see that they must meet a broader set of needs in a broken world.  The theme for this year’s CBF assembly, for instance, focused on missions and social justice; workshops and seminars informed and trained participants in a variety of topics that are facing our society, from human sex trafficking to disaster relief efforts.

The first seminar delivered at the CBF, facilitated by Alan Roxbrough, inspired churches to be transformative agents in their local communities.

I attended a workshop today that informed the audience on ways local churches can take part in social justice ministry and public advocacy.  The seminar allowed both the facilitators and the audience to bear witness as to how their churches are ministering to and fighting on behalf of the most marginalized people groups in our society.

Devita Parnell, Congregational Resource Specialist for the CBF, explained the need to include a wider focus in ministry that includes social justice.    Churches are good at helping the poor and broken in society much like the Good Samaritan helped the hurt traveler on the road to Jerusalem, she stated, But churches are not good at taking intentional steps to make the road from Samaria to Jerusalem safer for all pilgrims.

We bear witness to the world in order to lead people to the love and forgiveness and lordship of Christ.  We also bear witness by fighting on the behalf of those who are weak and disenfranchised in society.   This is what it means to engage in holistic missions.

Dr. Joe LaGuardia is senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, Conyers.  Visit Trinity’s website at www.trinityconyers.org.