Last Sunday, we kicked off our study group on Poverty, Corruption and Injustice.
Every Sunday we stand together and say the Lord’s Prayer. When we do so, we approach God as Father and we declare he is King over everything and everyone.
Disciples are called to live in the world, to be salt and light in the environments in which they live out their lives. Disciples need a common understanding of what their environment looks like, and of the factors which caused it to be the way it is.
The Study Guide used by the Poverty, Corruption and Injustice Study Group is designed to help disciples obtain Biblical insights about poverty, corruption and injustice. Insights are obtained by asking questions of the Bible. Insights are relevant if tested against the situations we live in. Since Africa is the region of the world with the largest number of poor people, the guide uses examples from Africa.
The Guide helps readers think about cause and effect by offering a short (1,600 words) article titled “A Macro Illustration: The Continent of Africa.” In the article (which I will call “Illustration”), John Ridgway lists 7 factors which he thinks helpfully describe the situation in Africa today with respect to poverty, corruption and injustice:
- The colonial powers.
- The wealthy nations of today.
- Major world aid agencies.
- African rulers of today.
- Intensified tribalism.
- Famine, hunger and AIDS.
Illustration is shaped by books written both by individual authors (including a journalist-turned-historian and an army General) and by reports and studies published by global organizations. To help readers understand the size and complexity of the problems, Illustration offers numerical data. Here’s a brief selection:
- 190 cultural groups were divided by national boundaries imposed by colonial powers.
- The USD 4 billion paid as subsidies to US cotton farmers exceeds the value of the cotton.
- Over 50 % of 189 World Bank projects audited in 1989 either had ‘serious shortcomings’ or were ‘complete failures.’
- 40 % of Africa’s private wealth is held offshore.
- Over 300,000 children died in the Rwandan genocide aside from thousands of adults. Over 37 % of Botswana is HIV positive and life expectancy is 27 years.
- 62 % of the people of Ethiopia are illiterate.
Illustration is (1) a short article offered as an example of (2) a common outlook on (3) the complexity which lies behind and runs through poverty, corruption and injustice.
Illustration is designed to be illustrative, not to be accurate at a given moment in time. Illustration spurs us to try and produce something similar for our own situation.
The first meeting (Sunday, 10 November 2013)
At the first meeting, after personal introductions, the group listened as the facilitator presented some of Illustration’s content and suggested similarities with and differences from Malaysia.
The facilitator asked the group to propose factors which should be included in something similar written about Malaysia. The group was catalysed through these questions:
- What 7 factors would you have chosen for Malaysia?
- Which authors/reports would you have got data from?
- What makes you angry?
- Whom do you blame?
- How can rage be managed?
Through discussion, members increased their understanding of the value of referencing a common framework while seeking wisdom about poverty, corruption and injustice: a practical wisdom sufficient to explain to anyone why disciples think these 3 evils exist in Malaysia, and why disciples work confidently to (1) overcome the effects of these 3 evils and (2) dismantle the structures which create, sustain and encourage these 3 evils.
The Malaysian context
The group generated a first list of factors to include in a useful (sufficient to guide thought and action) and practical (small!) model: sin, identity, pluralism, race, structural, religion, truth, globalization, lack of accountability. This list is just a start.
Malaysia is highly polarized. It’s hard to know what is true of history, current events and data. We have mainstream media, alternative media, local media, foreign media. All have agendas and rarely agree. What can we believe? The facilitator said that in subsequent meetings he would share insights from the following respected sources:
- T N Harper, The End of Empire and the Making of Malaya (Cambridge: CUP, 1999)
- Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Wee Chong Hui, Malaysia @ 50 (Petaling Jaya: SIRD, 2013)
- Edmund Terence Gomez and Johan Saravanamuttu, ed. The New Economic Policy in Malaysia: Affirmative Action, Ethnic Inequalities and Social Justice (Petaling Jaya: SIRD, 2013)
One concern expressed in the group was that approaches such as “7 factors” are linear and limited. A good model should be visual and should include the individual, families, a vision of the future, paths of action, etc.
The facilitator explained that this is just a start in thinking about the problem using factors others have identified in their situations, factors we hear in public discourse in Malaysia and other factors which we think must be added to the discourse.
‘Christian’ aspects of the model will be covered in future studies, which move from the first to the last book of the Bible in 5 sessions. That’s a lot to cover in a short time.
Therefore, in order to achieve the goal of obtaining practical wisdom about the 3 evils, group members must do personal study before coming to the group meetings. The Lion Handbook to the Bible is recommended as a resource.
Next session. The next session is rescheduled to 24 November (5 – 7 pm, The Father’s House). The group will discuss Study 1: Poverty, corruption and injustice in the Pentateuch (Genesis to Deuteronomy). Click here and look at pages 7 to 9 for Study 1.
Note: The “Illustration” article discussed above can be found on pages 4 to 6.
Additional thoughts. The group hoped for a more graphical and comprehensive model. Any suggestions? Also, what factors would you include to explain (1) what we see in our environment and (2) what motivates and empowers us to act against evil in our world?
More info on the Study Group here.