"God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"—Micah 6:8
In recent decades, evangelical Christians have been known more for individual piety than for heeding the prophets call for justice for the needy. The Micah Challenge, a new worldwide coalition of evangelical churches and relief groups, aims to change that—and to seize todays unprecedented opportunity to put a serious dent in global poverty.
"The gospel has to be [lived] not just with personal commitment, but also social commitment," according to Micah Challenge co-chair Alfonso Wieland of Peru. "For the conservatives in the evangelical community, those issues of social justice are very unusual for them, so the approach for us is to develop biblical materials for those communities, trying to include that justice is from God."
The Micah Challenge is a joint project of the World Evangelical Alliance, which represents more than 3 million congregations around the world, and the Micah Network, a coalition of more than 270 Christian relief and development groups. Chapters have formed in Canada, India, Australia, the Andean region, Bangladesh, and the United Kingdom. More are forming; this spring in Washington, D.C., the National Association of Evangelicals will co-host a meeting to explore starting a U.S. chapter.
THE PROJECTS GOALS, summed up in its global petition, the Micah Call, are twofold: within the church, to deepen connections to and solidarity with the poor, and, in society at large, to call on national and international decision-makers to fight poverty.
The organizers of the Micah Challenge are right that today "is a moment in history of unique potential" to fight poverty. Five years ago, all 191 countries in the United Nations endorsed the Millennium Development Goals, vowing to cut poverty in half by 2015—and the world has the means and ability to do just that. However, as Bishop Paul Mususu, executive director of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia, noted at the Micah Challenge launch last October, "Politicians have developed a bad reputation when it comes to international commitments. This is what is moving us to engage as churches."
The Micah Network aims to mobilize Christians to affect national governments in the global North and South, as well as international organizations such as the United Nations, the World Bank, and transnational corporations. On a national level in Peru, for example, that means encouraging the government not to concentrate all its resources on the middle class or the urban population of Lima, but to take real steps for economic development in rural communities, especially indigenous ones. In wealthier countries, likely actions include pushing for debt relief as well as more and better-targeted foreign aid.
In coordination with other groups, the Micah Challenge supports a Global Call to Action Against Poverty, with demonstrations on July 1, right before the G8 summit in July 2005. The network is also planning a Global Day of Prayer on Sept. 11, 2005, the Sunday before a U.N. summit assessing the worlds anemic progress so far toward the Millennium Development Goals.
The Micah Challenge can work. It draws inspiration from the successful Jubilee movement, which over the past eight years has turned debt cancellation for the worlds poorest nations from a fringe idea to a plan whose time has come (and which will, Lord willing, take a big step forward in a few months at the G8).
Indeed, if we are to take the Bible seriously, the Micah Challenge must work. As Rev. Njongonkulu Ndungane, the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, asked at the networks launch in October, "How can we claim to follow Jesus if we are not prepared to work to achieve his gospel good news for the poor?"
Elizabeth Palmberg is assistant editor at Sojourners. To read and sign the Micah Call, visit www.micahchallenge.org.