Finding New Ways to be God’s Voice and Agent
Listen: HIV/AIDS in Uganda and St. Francis Health Care Services
By Suzii Paynter
As a Christian and a Baptist woman, I have always been deeply concerned about poverty and hunger. I have felt God nudging me to make a difference in these areas. For 10 years, I have served on the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT). The caring outreach of Baptist churches inspires me, and my public policy work broadens my understanding of how God may be asking us to be agents for Christ in our time.
Historically, U.S. government leaders have not considered religion in public policy decisions. But this is changing as boundaries of geography, culture, and belief blur. Religion is now acknowledged in foreign policy. Major universities, think tanks, government agencies, denominational representatives, and worldwide compassionate ministries are coming together. Dialogue and relationships have begun and will soon progress to greater integration.
In the past three years, I have participated in several forums that bring religious and foreign policy leaders together. Both sides are learning. The public policy folks are often strong on persuasion and information. The religious leaders are almost always trying to convey the diversity of religious interests and voices—there is no religious monolith in the 21st century.
Last year, Wheaton College's Center for Applied Christian Ethics, Bread for the World, and Micah Challege hosted a consultation on "Government, Foreign Assistance, and God's Mission in the World" at Wheaton. I'm not sure I ever expected to see those topics together, but the presentations from mission leaders and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) program planners were robust.
The consultation was guided by three questions: How do we understand the biblical and theological grounding for the government's role in addressing global poverty? Why, should, and how can churches engage in the larger discussion of government responses to global poverty? How do we understand the church's global poverty advocacy role in the context of God's mission in the world?
The group of about 100 evangelical leaders prepared a position statement on Government, the Poor, and God’s Mission in the World. It was valuable to articulate biblical and theological affirmations and begin to describe informed Christian engagement in public affairs. The evolving dialogue inspired BGCT to hold another conversation, this one focused on global childhood hunger, together with Bread and evangelical partners such as the National Association of Evangelicals.
I am hope-filled and prayerful about the church leaders who will participate in the consultation May 24-25 at Dallas Baptist University. I know God is hard at work in this exploration of the relationships between our religious traditions and the policies of our government. We are all finding new ways to be God's voice and agent on earth.
"For God so loved the world" is still our call, and today we have a seat at the public policy table.
Paynter is the director of the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Previously, she served as the Commission's public policy director. She works actively on interfaith efforts to affect legislation and policy, including the Council on Foreign Relations and Religion.