Let Your Light Shine…In The New York Times?

What was the sin that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed for? It’s a rather easy question to answer, isn’t it? Or is it? Well when you read the story in Genesis 19, it’s pretty clear that at least one sin in those cities that incurred judgment was sexual immorality and specifically homosexuality. While I don’t dispute for a moment that homosexuality is sinful behavior, I do find it a bit telling that that sin has received far more attention in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah than has another sin–neglect for the poor.

But look at Ezekiel 16:49…

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.

Does Ezekiel’s statement conflict with Genesis? Not at all. The account in Genesis makes it clear that Sodom and Gomorrah were guilty of plenty of sins and that homosexuality was only one of them. Ezekiel is simply giving us another serious sin that plagued the people living there. My question is why are we familiar with one sin and not the other? Is it because it is easier to see the sin of others rather than do the hard work of self-examination?

All of this came to mind because of Nicholas Kristof’s recent column in the New York Times. As a frequent reader of his work, I can assure you that Kristof isn’t an evangelical, but he is a very good writer who exposes his readers to world crises and events in an interesting and unique way. And more to our point he’s been willing to credit evangelical’s work on behalf of the poor around the world.

A pop quiz: What’s the largest U.S.-based international relief and development organization?

It’s not Save the Children, and it’s not CARE — both terrific secular organizations. Rather, it’s World Vision, a Seattle-based Christian organization (with strong evangelical roots) whose budget has roughly tripled over the last decade.

World Vision now has 40,000 staff members in nearly 100 countries. That’s more staff members than CARE, Save the Children and the worldwide operations of the United States Agency for International Development — combined.

Toward the end of the column he writes…

Some Americans assume that religious groups offer aid to entice converts. That’s incorrect. Today, groups like World Vision ban the use of aid to lure anyone into a religious conversation.

Some liberals are pushing to end the longtime practice (it’s a myth that this started with President George W. Bush) of channeling American aid through faith-based organizations. That change would be a catastrophe. In Haiti, more than half of food distributions go through religious groups like World Vision that have indispensable networks on the ground. We mustn’t make Haitians the casualties in our cultural wars.

A root problem is a liberal snobbishness toward faith-based organizations. Those doing the sneering typically give away far less money than evangelicals. They’re also less likely to spend vacations volunteering at, say, a school or a clinic in Rwanda.

If you take the time to read the whole column, you will realize that Mr. Kristof doesn’t quite understand what evangelicals believe or what motivates us to care for the needy wherever they live. But it sure is nice to see non-Christians acknowledge that the church is rising up (even if it is slowly) to show the love of Christ in tangible ways.

Maybe–just maybe–some leaders of our country will be like the Roman emperor Julian who marveled at the fact that “Christians don’t care just for their own poor but ours as well.”

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