Then the king will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I . . . was a stranger, and you invited me in” (Mt 25.34, 35c).
A recent Tennessee Baptist & Reflector article provoked me to consider whether or not the church takes Jesus seriously. It seems the 118-year-old Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes (TCBH) was forced to cut ministry staff (14 positions) due to a budget shortfall of $700,000. I make no concessions about the particulars of this decision or those making them. It’s one being made by hundreds of social ministries nationwide.
My argument is as follows. (1) There is a systemic problem that would lead to such a decision at all. I’ll assume Tennessee Southern Baptists represent at least a national Southern Baptist trend. (2) This systemic problem cripples the church’s pro-life efforts. And (3) churches should facilitate fostering/adoption as a far better pro-life strategy than political lobbying.
First, there is a systemic problem or spiritual blind spot that would lead Tennessee Baptist churches to cut ministry to estranged children. Tennessee Baptist churches undoubtedly and collectively spent billions of dollars on new facilities, technology and equipment in 2008. Yet, they cannot seem to find a (comparatively) mere $700,000 to take care of orphans. Jesus never commanded his people to manage property but did command the care of widows and orphans (cf. Jas 1.27).
Ironically, dozens of churches spent tens of thousands of dollars on unnecessary flat-screens, playground sets, summer camps, children’s wings, and classroom amenities all in the name of “children’s ministry.” Yet, they neglect responsibility to the “least of these” in the name of the Cooperative Program, which is supposed to care of “those” people.
Jesus regularly passed by all the pretty people to get to the ugly people. He is not impressed with our Vatican-like compounds, despite how much of God’s “glory” we attach to them. He welcomes those who share their lives with hungry, thirsty, strange, naked, sick, imprisoned people (Mt 25.31-46). Jesus doesn’t suggest “social” ministry is necessarily gospel ministry. Jesus does suggest Kingdom people are not proud, nose-thumbing, money-tossing people but are humble, merciful, compassionate people who feel more at home with the homeless. In fact, he goes so far as to say the difference between them equals that between heaven and hell.
I’m afraid Jesus might very well pass by most of our churches to embrace the very folks our churches keep at arm’s length. I’m sure he’d pass by our children’s “ministry” complexes to find the children we don’t want.
Second, this systemic cancer hinders the church’s pro-life effort. Jesus and the world have something in common. Neither takes kindly to hypocrisy.
We parade around with our well-funded powerful pro-life agenda. We publish our videos, pamphlets and voter’s guides. We hassle our congressmen and boast that we’re “doing our part” to save the unborn. Then we cut funding and attention from the very sort of children we’re attempting to save!
Why would an abortion-minded mother bring her child into a world when the church who convinced her to do so will just turn its back on them? How can we boast of “saving” otherwise aborted children if we’re going to later restrain our support of them? It’s far easier to throw a few dollars at and spend a little time on a cause than to commit 18 years to a child. It’s easier being pro-life as long it doesn’t infringe on my life.
This leads me to the third argument.
Jesus does not prepare heaven for those who contributed money to organizations who feed, clothe, house, heal and care. He reserves heaven for those who – in his name – fed, clothed, housed, healed and cared themselves. You fed me. You gave me a drink. You invited me in. You clothed me. You visisted me. You came to me. He does not commend those who lobbied government toward better services. He commends those who assumed those services to themselves as expressions of the God of all grace and mercy. The church doesn’t farm mercy ministry out. It is the world’s mercy ministry!
I fear many will say when Jesus confronts them about their care for “these brothers of mine” (Mt 25.40), “Jesus, as soon as I saw that unwanted child I went straight to my computer and wrote a letter to my senator. Then I ordered an armband to prove my solidarity with the cause. And, I didn’t stop there, Jesus. I even passed out flyers for the pro-life candidate.”
Churches will say collectively, “Oh Jesus, when we heard about the TBCH’s need we immediately budgeted an extra $5,000 for better games in our children’s annex. We knew you ‘called’ us to do our part for needy kids so we stepped up to the plate.”
And I fear Jesus will say, “Depart from Me, accursed ones” (v41).
I submit the church’s dollars and attention are not well spent on political lobbying. It’s better spent on equipping its members for foster care and adoption. We may moderately impress the world with our protests and pamphlets. But we will get the world’s attention when we commit to fostering/adopting otherwise aborted, abandoned and/or estranged children.
We’ll prove how committed we are to the pro-life worldview when we go beyond platitudes and protests to the proactive long-term care for the children we strive to save at birth. We just don’t want children to be born, but to thrive and grow in the knowledge of the Life-giving God. What’s the point of saving their life if we’re not committed to helping them live?
If Tennessee Baptist churches don’t want to fund the TCBH then then Tennessee Baptists should show up at their doorstep ready to take one of the children home. You invite them in. Don’t expect someone else to do it. Don’t boast of your pro-life position when caring for that life long-term is an imposition. Otherwise, don’t complain about “kids these days.”
So rather than spending untold millions of dollars on pseudo-children’s ministry and pious political lobbying, churches’ dollars are better spent investing in parents seeking to foster and adopt. Hassle your pastors, not your congressmen. Lobby parents, not senators. Don’t budget any more money for goofy gadgets and powerless paraphernalia. Put your money where your mouth is and bring children home. Show the world that the church doesn’t have an abstract, lifeless agenda to push but a life-giving Jesus to share.
Jesus put his life on the line for the children God gave him (Heb 2.10-15). How can we not do the same?