Those who have read some of my articles in Mennonite publications or heard me speak quickly find out that I can be a little critical of the church, or maybe more than a little. This is because the church remains important to me and maybe even more than that the hope of expressing good news is important to me. I want there to be good news in the world and it pains me when the work of the church can bring pain to others. So I am often critical.
But the truth is that I don’t have much of an audience to speak critically with other institutions, like the government or businesses. I have not figured out the best channels to communicate strongly and directly a criticism of the government’s increasing inability or lack of will to distribute the abundant resources of our country. It is no secret to say that wealth is being increasingly concentrated to the few. And just as frustrating is the enduring social belief telling us that such concentration will somehow work itself out in our favour or is the result of hard work.
But because money is the engine for development and employment those with the concentration of wealth will be able to grossly influence the values that will guide who and what gets funded. Not surprisingly those expressions critical of these concentrations of wealth (advocates of strong changes in environmental or labour policies) or those expressions that appear superfluous, inefficient, to these concentrations (‘wasteful’ expressions like the arts or humanities) will struggle to make a living, never mind flourish and develop. Again, this is not really news, but I have not figured out how to address these issues to those with responsibility and powers to make changes at the level of government or corporate interests.
So I speak to the church. I speak to the church because within the church are people living and working in all sectors of society. The church is made of people who are called to be formed in ways that will help articulate good news to those struggling (even when it means bringing bad news to those responsible for it). The church is also able to model and experiment with alternative economies. We are able to distribute our resources that may align with or come in conflict with the distribution of our larger economy.
To the extent that we give to the church we are able to support and provide a livelihood for those our society has neglected or actively silenced. We can provide leadership in education to resist increasing pressures to form individuals only as good producers and consumers as opposed to reflective and engaging citizens working to support the most vulnerable among us. We can free up those with a vision and ability to address injustices. We can give employment to those working at new innovations or recovering old traditions based not on efficiencies but on quality. The church and many segments of society are indeed engaged at all these levels whether it is church members working at the Centre for Policy Alternatives, developing alternative agricultural practices at Canadian Mennonite University, offering bold artistic visions at the Mennonite Heritage Centre, or just getting in the way of violence with Christian Peacemaker Teams. I could go on, but I also could go on describing how constrained most of these institutions are because of decreased financial support. I do not know how to turn the government’s ear on these matters (and I don’t know that they are able to listen) but I can speak to the church.
I am critical of the church because I am hopeful of what is possible in the church. These are not grand theological hopes of how the church will fulfill the desire of all nations. It is not a statement thinking that the church can do these things better than other organizations or religions. This is a hope in the living out of the Lord’s Prayer which calls for the distribution of daily bread and the forgiving of debts. The church will not replace society and we need to continue to hold those in power accountable as best we can but the reality is that unless we commit to supporting the church and calling the church to free up and equip those with the calling and gifting to share and even demand good news then we will have to settle for the daily news of demands for short term profits without regard to future consequences. So give generously to the church and help the church remain faithful to its calling to give a generous message of good news.