FIRST-PERSON: The hungry need more than sentiment
EDITOR'S NOTE: Southern Baptists will observe World Hunger Sunday Oct. 13 to highlight the ministry being undertaken nationally and internationally through Global Hunger Relief (also called the World Hunger Fund).
NASHVILLE (BP) -- No one thinks world hunger is a good thing. We all wish it would go away. But sentiment isn't enough. Scripture has a blunt rebuke for any who would simply express good wishes without doing anything to help. "What good is that?" the Holy Spirit asks through James (2:14-17).
As Southern Baptists move forward under the new banner of Global Hunger Relief, we also need a new mindset if we are going to meet the physical and spiritual needs of more of the world's hungry and hurting.
We each should begin by understanding who our "neighbor" is. We're not the first ones who need a change of heart on this. Think about the lawyer in Luke 10. "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" he asked Jesus. That's a question we hear repeatedly in the Scriptures. One would expect Jesus to hear in this man's question a prelude to a confession of faith. After all, it sounds as if he is asking, "How do I sign up?"
Instead, Jesus asked about the man's understanding of the Law, and the man replied: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself."
Jesus affirmed his response, then pressed in on the man's next question: "And who is my neighbor?" The lawyer was skillfully attempting to "justify himself," but Jesus did what Jesus always does: He exposes idolatry and points out the obstacles to following Christ. For this man it was his rejection of his neighbor.
Let's also confront our fear that the problem is so overwhelming that one small group or one church won't be able to make a difference. While it's true that over 1 billion people in the world don't have enough to eat, and 50 million of them are Americans, Southern Baptists already are sharing bread and the Bread of Life with individuals and families around the world because of our hunger gifts. Our missionaries and partners are doing some absolutely amazing things with what they have been given, but with very small personal sacrifices we can give them the tools to do much more.
Perhaps most important, let's refuse to use our spiritual mission as an excuse to ignore the physical or social realities around us.
That very attitude is a painful part of our Southern Baptist history. We as a group 150 years ago said, "We don't want to deal with social issues like slavery. We just want to be about the Gospel and missions." Thankfully the Holy Spirit did not leave us there, because there is an obvious disconnect between believing the Gospel and believing that some human beings can own other human beings.
In the same way, we cannot be the kind of people who believe that the Gospel is to go to the entire world, and then step back and say to the world, "Be warmed and filled." We have to be the kind of people who love our neighbors and serve them because we are driven by the Gospel, because we believe life is better than death.
God clearly is on the side of "the least of these," and the Bible tells us that one day Jesus will ask us face to face about our response to hungry people (Matthew 25). Until then, let's join Jesus in giving bread -- and Bread -- to those who hunger and thirst.
Russell D. Moore is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).