Bart Campolo: Why Churches Shouldn't Care for the Poor
I got to talk with Bart Campolo on the phone the other day, regarding a project about poverty that I'm doing with Neue, a Relevant Media Group website. I thought you might enjoy a brief excerpt from the interview - a teaser, if you will, dealing with a topic I broach on this blog quite often - church.
In response to my question, "Why should the Church care for the poor?" Bart gave this informal answer:
"You know, I'm going to be honest with you: I don't understand the fixation that most of the people I know that follow Jesus have with the institutional church. I don't really see buildings, denominational structures, and doctrinal statements reflected very much in the life and teaching of Jesus."
He didn't speak with scorn or contempt for institutional church; he just seemed to have a much simpler definition of church than that, a definition many of us are longing to live out. "While lots of really cool things have come from the church, I've also seen so much pain come out of people involved in church and organized stuff. I don't necessarily feel that the church... is the basic unit of our Christian 'society.'"
He thought for a moment, stumbled over himself for a second as his mouth caught up with what his brain wanted to communicate, and then redefined church: "I don't know - maybe a bunch of people hanging out with each other... So, if you mean by 'the church' a collective group of Christians, they should care about the poor for the same reason that I care about the poor, the same reason that God cares about the poor. Because we're human beings; we're made in the image of God. It is our nature to love, to respond."
He thought again for a moment, possibly considering what he had just said and took the challenge a bit deeper: "Why should organized church care for the poor? I don't know," he admitted rather bluntly. "Actually, if you came to my neighborhood, I could give you several reasons why the organized church shouldn't care for the poor. Especially, economically it's not in their interest to care for the poor. It doesn't advance organized religion to care for the poor."
Even though Bart and I were hundreds of miles apart, talking to one another over not-the-greatest cell phone connection, his words moved me. They stung a little, but I knew that it was a good kind of sting. I silently wondered if I was contributing to a Church that didn't have it in its best interest to care for the poor. He continued, comparing the two "churches" he had been talking about - one being the institutional "church" with buildings, structures, and systems, and the other being the true Body of Christ:
"So, why should people who follow Jesus care for the poor? Easy. Why should an organization trying to get a thicker chunk of the American cultural landscape care for the poor? Gosh, I don't know. They probably shouldn't. You don't see the Democratic or Republican parties bending over backwards to give to the poor, because it's not really going to help their movement very much. Those people don't have anything to give, [and] they'll suck a lot of your resources. Organizationally, it's not really a good move."
The interview continued, and Bart went on to talk about how he got started caring for the poor, but the thoughts that he opened the interview with continue to haunt me as I seek to follow a Jesus whose way doesn't always seem safe or comfortable. I asked him if he had any advice for young believers wanting to "do justice," and he said to get together with a group of your friends, move to the inner city, live together, and begin to include the hurting, the broken, and the poor in your circle. He admitted that there wasn't anything too glorious about it, but he said that it was a life full of tremendous reward.
Check out Bart Campolo's website, and visit his blog to read more about him.
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Food for Thought
From Pilgrimage of the Heart, a blog by Jeff Goins: