False gospels, poverty and justice

I don’t see his face. I know he is wearing a blue shirt and shorts, I guess he is about 10 or 12 and I think he is thin. Why do I know so little about him?  Because he is just in the edge of my vision. I am walking quickly out of the shopping mall amidst a cloud of boys.  They are asking for dinero (money). I am feeling stressed – are these guys genuine or were they sent out to beg by gang leaders? Or is that just my excuse not to stop, to give, to get involved? He isn’t asking for money, just lying on the floor, perhaps the poorest of them all. I don’t know.

I’ve just left a shopping mall in San Pedro Sula in Honduras. It was all bright lights, expensive shops and too much choice for where to eat. I could have chosen MacDonald’s, Subway, Wendy’s… so many US restaurant chains. In fact the whole mall could have been in the States.

Latin America has been experiencing a major shift towards evangelical Christianity. And San Pedro Sula has the highest proportion of evangelicals in Honduras, approximately half the population. As Bible-based churches you’d hope they would be heavily involved in addressing poverty and justice. There is plenty in God’s book of life to encourage us to love everyone as ourselves and particularly those who are poor. For example, ‘religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress’ -James 1v27.

But the stats show a much more troubling picture. San Pedro Sula is the most unequal city in Honduras, has the highest rates of HIV/ AIDS and for many years had the highest murder rate in the world. One reason there are so many people in the mall is that it’s a comparatively safe place to be in this dangerous city.

So what’s gone wrong? As I talk with Honduran colleagues a sad picture emerges of how many in God’s church have believed falsehoods. One of these is the so called ‘prosperity gospel’ that says Christianity makes you rich and calls (often poor) people to give sacrificially to make the pastor rich. Another more subtle challenge is to focus just on the ‘spiritual’ (ie ‘invisible’ things like worship and prayer) but not embrace the fullness of God’s good news which encompasses all of life. This can lead us Christians to worship God on Sundays but live lives from Monday to Saturday that are not deeply transformed or life bringing. (See Ruth Valerio’s excellent reflection on The Gospel, the whole Gospel and nothing but the Gospel.)   

I’m reading the book of Jeremiah at the moment. It makes for uncomfortable reading. In chapter 4v1-2 God says ‘If you [i.e. God’s people] put your detestable idols out of my sight and no longer go astray, and if in a truthful, just and righteous way you swear ‘as surely as the LORD lives,’ then the nations will be blessed by God’ (italics mine). Idols are anything we put above God in our lives. And I think all of us are drawn, at least at times, to putting security (wealth), soulmates (relationships) and significance (status / power) above God.

It seems to me that parts of the church in Honduras need to repent and turn away from these false gods. And the church in the UK and around the world. And me.

First published on Churches Changing Nations on 13th November 2018.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

The views expressed in this blog post are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the GC network.

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Rick Lister
Rick Lister works as a Church and Community Transformation Specialist for Tearfund. He helps release the potential of local churches to catalyse deep, broad and lasting change. Rick is also an experienced mentor and coach.
Rick Lister

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Posted in church, Evangelism, Finance, Justice, Latin America, Mission, Theology.

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