The pitifully small amount of US foreign aid being pledged in response to this week's tsunami disaster continues to heat up as an important issue. In light of this, I offer the following post:
It is commonly known that around the globe, we Americans are regarded as rather arrogant. In part, our subtle (or not so subtle) sense of superiority flows from the belief (espoused in our schools, churches, and service organizations, and reinforced by our politicians) that we are citizens of the best and most powerful nation on earth. Most of the planet, however, doesn't quite see it that way.
In their recently released book, Terrorism and the War in Iraq: A Christian Word from Latin America (published by Kairos in Argentina), C. Rene Padilla and Lindy Scott present a disturbing yet compelling argument that behind the self-serving and oppressive policies of the U.S. government, lies the twin idolatries of materialism and ethnocentric patriotism.
The Church in America, rather than recognizing and condeming these idolatrous values, has in fact embraced them. For example, Brazilian Assembly of God pastor Ricardo Gondim claims that "North American Christians have become worldly and have been molded into the image of their culture" -- for many evangelicals in the United States, "the 'American way of life' and the gospel are Siamese twins. It is almost impossible to separate them" (Padilla, 108).
Evangelicals outside of the United States are not, however, the only ones drawing attention to the spiritual woes of the U.S.
Padilla and Scott poinantly draw attention to this reality:
On May 28, 2004, Pope John Paul II warned Catholic bishops in the American heartland not to let the flock stray amid the lure of materialism. The Pontiff evaluated America and Americans as having a "soulless vision of the world," one characterized by an excessive materialism and a drift away from their spiritual roots. The Pope's comments were not new, for he had already stated his argument on many occasions. Back in 1991, the Pope lamented that American Catholic Christians were being molded by the capitalistic, materialistic culture of the United States. This had resulted in their individualistic self-love. After his five-day visit to the United States in 1995, the Pope again pointed out the deadly materialism of the North American culture. Then in his final World Peace Day message of the 20th century, Pope John Paul II branded capitalism' child -- materialistic consumerism -- as an evil of the same stature as Marxism, Nazism and fascism (Padilla,119).
Although Illinois Congressman Henry Hyde (a practicing Roman Catholic) took issue with the Pontiff, saying he was "absolutely wrong" and then defended the oft-cited "fact" of America's surpasing generosity among the nations of the world, Padilla and Scott challenged this, quoting from World Bank's World Development Report of 1995, and presented the following table detailing the estimated official development assistance from industrialized countries as percentages of their GNP (notice how the United States compares):
When it comes to the generosity of individual Christians in the U.S., the picture certainly doesn't improve drastically. "North American Christians give only 3% of their income to their churches and to other charities" (Padilla, 126).
Padilla and Scott would have us wake up to the fact that it is this self-absorbed lifestyle that desensitizes North American Christians to the need for justice around the world, and at the same time, leads them to blindly pledge allegiance to a government which is more interested in furthering its own interests and agendas around the world than assisting other nations with theirs.
As the first three chapters in their book amply point out, Latin America has good reason for distrusting the United States, based on their dealings with the U.S. throughout the 20th century.
There are perhaps many reasons why the centre of Christianity is shifting from the Northern to the Southern hemisphere. As a comparitively affluent, white, American, evangelical Christian, I want to make certain (to the best of my ability) that I am not blind to the truth -- wherever it may be found -- even if critical of my "tribe." I believe in the universal body of Christ, and seek to learn from the wisdom of my brothers and sisters to the south of me.
Please correct me if I'm wrong, but this material is tough to deal with. I've blogged before about how intertwined much of American evangelicalism is with American patriotism. I feel the need to get a better handle on all this. I accept the likelihood that I'm probably pretty blind to some of this. Your thoughts, as always, are both sought and appreciated.