When it comes to the issue of funding multiethnic mission, we have seen that the current model produces systemic inequities. Sociological surveys have corroborated what anecdotal evidence has long told us: the personal support raising model doesn’t work as well for ethnic minorities in the United States. The core question now becomes, “Because the model is inequitable, does that also make it unjust?” How we answer this question alters the course of the conversation.
Many people responded to my article, How Support Raising Keeps Parachurch Ministries White, questioning why I said the model was unjust. They agreed with the overall premise, but felt that I went too far in calling support raising an injustice. They were right to ask these questions. In the original article I stated that the model was unjust, but I didn’t give supporting evidence specifically for that designation. This post is an attempt to do just that.
I will examine the definition of justice as it is commonly used in Scripture, ask whether injustice can be perpetrated unintentionally, share a forgotten story of equitable funding from missions history, and explore how inequity in support raising represents a missional justice opportunity for the Church. Finally, I’ll end with a call to prayer from the Old Testament as we prepare to discuss solutions to funding multiethnic mission equitably.
Equity: Hebrew Meaning of Justice
Before we can decide is the personal support raising model is unjust, we first must begin with a conversation about justice. What is justice? When the Bible speaks of injustice, to what is it referring?
Tim Keller, in his book Generous Justice, explains that in the Old Testament one of the key Hebrew words for “justice” is mishpat. “Its most basic meaning is to treat people equitably.”1 A Biblical view of justice is certainly far more robust than this simple definition, but at a minimum it must include equity. Inequity means injustice is present.
Does Injustice Imply Intention?
No Evangelical parachurch organization desired to create a funding structure that was inequitable. This point has never been in doubt. But just because the designers of the personal support raising model didn’t intend for the system to be inequitable, does that mean the model is not considered unjust? Does injustice imply intention?
You’ll notice from the definition of misphat above that there is no mention of intention. If something is inequitable, then it is unjust, even if the creators didn’t mean for that to happen. Injustice does not imply it was done intentionally. And while one might argue that intentional injustice is worse than unintentional injustice, if we are to follow a Biblical view both are injustice and need to be remedied.
In one sense, it can be depressing to realize that even something like the personal support raising model, created with the best of intentions, can be a vehicle for inequity and injustice. But, if we can grieve the effects of the status quo it will allow us to move forward and create new models that are equitable for all.
In another sense, it can be freeing for those of us in the majority culture to know that injustice does not imply intention. When we hear ethnic minorities say that the current model is unjust, we don’t have to receive their message as a personal attack on our character. Ethnic minorities are not saying support raising was created to keep ministries white. But they are raising important issues that we need to hear and respond to. Realizing injustice can occur without intention can give us the emotional space to listen, agree, tear down inequitable structures and together build new, just ones.
The Unknown Legacy of China Inland Mission: Equitable Funding
Hudson Taylor’s organization, China Inland Mission (today known as OMF ) faced a similar issue over 100 years ago. The British mission agency was moving from a central donation system to one where individual staff could receive donations directly from donors. After time, however, the result was that some staff (who were better connected to sources of funding) received more donations than others. This caused disparity in the amount people received in their paychecks. Some staff, because of their social connections, always received a full salary. But many others did not.
Leaders in the organization noticed the equity justice issue inherent in their new model and after a few years’ discussion made the decision: no staff would receive funds directly to their account. All monies would be received to the central account and distributed equitably throughout the organization. In 1899 CIM changed their funding model as a result of their Acts 6 Moment.2
I would argue that this decision is as great a legacy for CIM as their emphasis to take the gospel past the coasts and into the interior. At a crucial moment in their history the China Inland Mission stood and declared that for mission to be truly Christian it must be funded equitably. The fact that we in America hardly know this story nor celebrate what it affirms about Christian mission is a statement about our values in mission. American parachurch ministries and mission agencies have not, in large part, responded to funding inequities in ways similar to the British.
Missional Justice, Support Raising, and American National Identity
I believe solving the equity issues present in the personal support raising model represents a missional opportunity for the church in culture. We are presented with the chance to speak a different identity in our country when it comes to issues of ethnicity and equity.
We have a history of racial inequality in this country. We fought a civil war, the deadliest in our nation’s history, over the right of citizens to keep other human beings as slaves. We followed that with years of segregation and discrimination and still struggle to live in a racially just society. We’ve illegally broken treaties and taken Native lands. We’ve interred U.S. citizens of Asian descent during World War II. As much as we hate to talk about the subject, racial inequity is woven into the history of our national identity.
With this national history, we need to ask ourselves, “How is in then, in the area of ministry funding, that we have continued to live out a story of inequity?” How have we tolerated a model that systemically disenfranchises the very same communities who have historically been marginalized by our society at large? Are we truly living out Christ’s vision of the church? Or have we been co-opted by the culture?
Have we gained the whole world, but lost our soul?
We can be a chosen people in the world who proclaim with our systems and structures, and not just with our lips, that we serve a risen Savior who is coming is for all peoples. We can listen to the prophetic gifts God has given our Body, our ethnic minority brothers and sisters, and treat them with dignity. We can ask them to lead us into a glorious future in service of a King who comes to make all things new.
May we be parachurch ministries, mission agencies, and support raising missionaries who declare with our lives that in a society whose history is rife with inequity, it has no place with us. The opportunity for missional justice is here, to bring the good news of Jesus to our culture through our words and our structures. We can have a different identity and tell a different story. “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of The Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.” – Isaiah 58:8-9
We truly are in our Acts 6 moment. This is what is profound about the early church’s response to the widows: knowing that they were coming out of a system, Judaism, where Gentiles were excluded from the center of worship, the church brought the kingdom by inserting them at the very center of the solution. Will we in America see the same “Act of the Spirit” in our day when it comes to our systemic inequities?
“God loves and defends those with the least economic and social power, and so should we. That is what it means to ‘do justice’.” – Tim Keller3
If our primary model for funding mission is inadvertently filled with injustice, could this be a major reason keeping us from finishing the Great Commission? We are now at a place in this blog series where we will begin to focus on solutions to the issues that have been raised. In the coming days you will hear from a variety of voices, both ethnic minorities and majority culture members, who share ways to begin solving these problems.
As we take the next step towards solutions, I can’t help but wonder if the prophet Isaiah has a message for us today. Would you join me in praying through Isaiah 58 over the injustice in our current funding models? As we tackle these problems together with God may we come to be known in the world as “those who can fix anything”.
“Shout! A full-throated shout!
Hold nothing back—a trumpet-blast shout!
Tell my people what’s wrong with their lives,
face my family Jacob with their sins!
They’re busy, busy, busy at worship,
and love studying all about me.
To all appearances they’re a nation of right-living people—
They ask me, ‘What’s the right thing to do?’
and love having me on their side.
But they also complain,
‘Why do we fast and you don’t look our way?
Why do we humble ourselves and you don’t even notice?’
“Well, here’s why:
“The bottom line on your ‘fast days’ is profit.
You drive your employees much too hard.
You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight.
You fast, but you swing a mean fist.
The kind of fasting you do
won’t get your prayers off the ground.
Do you think this is the kind of fast day I’m after:
a day to show off humility?
To put on a pious long face
and parade around solemnly in black?
Do you call that fasting,
a fast day that I, God, would like?
“This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
to break the chains of injustice,
get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
free the oppressed,
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’
“If you get rid of unfair practices,
quit blaming victims,
quit gossiping about other people’s sins,
If you are generous with the hungry
and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,
your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.
I will always show you where to go.
I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—
firm muscles, strong bones.
You’ll be like a well-watered garden,
a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,
restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
make the community livable again.
“If you watch your step on the Sabbath
and don’t use my holy day for personal advantage,
If you treat the Sabbath as a day of joy,
God’s holy day as a celebration,
If you honor it by refusing ‘business as usual,’
making money, running here and there—
Then you’ll be free to enjoy God!
Oh, I’ll make you ride high and soar above it all.
I’ll make you feast on the inheritance of your ancestor Jacob.”
Yes! God says so!
Isaiah 58 (The Message) [emphasis added]
photo credit: Rae Allen
Update 4/14/14: A previous version of this post listed the 3/5 Compromise as an example of racial inequality in US history. A friend graciously pointed out that the history on the compromise is actually more complicated, and served to help the abolitionist cause.