By Michael Rhett
Jesus called his people to serve the least of these (Matthew 25:40, NIV). Some people are without clothes and some are without food, and some don’t know the Gospel. To remedy this, Christians will often have clothing and food drives or make charitable donations. Sometimes the giving is indirect, meaning a collection is dropped off or a check sent. Other giving takes the form of service, where Christians will go into the field to hand out coats in the winter, volunteer at soup kitchens, or go oversees as missionaries. Sometimes Christians are compelled to give after hearing a story of need, or seeing a video or photo of a starving child.
The admonition of meeting the three needs discussed above is demonstrated in James 2:15-16, “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” God wants Christians to spread the Gospel, but in James, he is also telling Christians to care for the physical needs of others. It may be, too, that caring for such needs is a witness in and of itself, “Preach the Gospel always and when necessary, use words.” Though St. Francis never apparently said this, it is a reasonable paraphrase of is his rule 1221, “No brother should preach contrary to the form and regulations of the holy Church nor unless he has been permitted by his minister … All the Friars … should preach by their deeds;” James concludes Chapter 4 claiming, “…faith without works is dead (v. 26b). The connection between believing the faith and living out the faith is readily visible.
Many times, when a people is oppressed, they call on Jesus’ words in Luke, to “proclaim freedom for the prisoners…to set the oppressed free (4:18 NIV). Taking the Bible in its full context, we combine Jesus’ and James’ ideas, that “freeing the prisoners and oppressed” is missional in a direct, practical way, and if St. Francis is right, then meeting someone’s physical needs directly connects to meeting their spiritual needs.
In Everyday Justice, Julie Clawson, describes the ethics surrounding our food choices, from whether the workers who grew or harvested the food were paid a fair wage or treated humanely. She notes, “The US government has repeatedly uncovered slavery rings among farms in Florida, and in 2008…chaining (workers) inside U-Haul trucks and forcing them to pick tomatoes against their will. Furthermore, coffee, chocolate and tomatoes among other foods have a history of being grown and harvested by slave and/or child labor who also work in unsafe conditions. These people are “the least of these” and treating them inhumanely is against God and Christians should not support such practices in their food purchases; “God’s creation and his image bearers are both harmed in the name of convenience and profit.”
The film, Death By China, explains how there are no worker protections in China, such as those found in the United States through groups such as OSHA. Harry Wu, Founder of Laogai Research Foundation, spent 19 years as a Laogai prisoner. Laogai was the original prison camp system established by Mao Zedong in the early 1950’s”. According to Wu,
Everyday 12, 14, 16-hour day. You have a quota. If you cannot completely finish the quota, you will get the punishment. You will go to solitary confinement, and the police always say good labor, good food. Less labor, less food. You don’t labor, no food.”
The documentary also shows the deplorable condition the Chinese workers live in and work in, from the chemicals they breath to the overcrowded “bedrooms” which contain little more than stained mattresses.
Furthermore, the film points out that 16 of the world’s 20 dirtiest cities are in China, toxic metals in the soil cause ‘cancer villages,’ the air pollution caused by factories coming back to America via the Jetstream, and fish from China being imported to America, fish that grew in toxic water.
Moreover, in cosmetic testing, animals are given large doses of harsh chemicals without any pain killers despite research affirming that animal testing in cosmetics is unnecessary and unreliable (Fact sheet). There are Christians who recognize these travesties and are working against them (Iovino, 2015; Stetzer, 2014), but it is not enough. All this is happening to God’s creation and Christians must honor their word with God and take a stand.
After learning about such oppression, we, as Christians must ask ourselves the following questions:
- Do you think it’s important to be good stewards of the environment?
- Do you think it’s important to care for the widow, the orphan, and the least of these?
- Do you support slavery?
- Do believe taking care of animals is important?
- Do you support giving workers less money if they are ill?
- Would you buy something from a known child or animal abuser?
- Do you think it’s important to honor our word to God?
We must honor our word to God.
We do this by being committed to our faith and by being consistent with what it preaches. This includes are buying and eating habits. If we don’t, then we aren’t practicing what we preach. But this is an easy fix. We can decide to buy one product over another, we can read labels, we can shop locally and speak with the people who know more than we do, just as we would our pastor concerning issues of the Bible.
Think of the people making our food, our clothes, or the animals being tested on for our beauty products. Are we that careless? Or vain? There are many products that are God honoring, that are sustainable and ethically sourced. We just need to educate ourselves.
This may seem overwhelming but consider how faith works. Each of us is always working out our salvation. None of us is the Christian we were when we first believed. We don’t need to overhaul our entire lives. We can smart small, with one single purchase.
We are whole beings, and our lives must represent God in all aspects. As Christians, we must have integrity. We must honor our word to God.
If you’d like to learn more about professions that enable you to serve wholeheartedly and faithfully in your life’s work or want to learn more about a biblically based, Christ-centered education at Pillar, we’d love to introduce you to Christian perspectives at work in your future career. For more information on how Pillar College can help you pursue your ministry and educational goals, please phone us at 973-803-5000 or email [email protected].