Life for a person living below the poverty line is short. This is the terrible conclusion one can reach by looking at indicators concerning human development.1 To many evangelists, this might produce a sense of powerlessness. People are starving, suffering and dying everyday. Misery has been among us for a long time2,and despite the efforts to diminish the vacuum between rich and poor by many organizations, the problem seems to grow larger each day. The causes of this are many: natural disasters, unjust international commercial laws, a history of political dependence and more. This article intends to help educate Christians on how to aid those under the poverty level to live longer and have a greater chance to hear the gospel.
There is one cause of poverty that seems to be present in all countries: corruption. Historically, corruption was not seen as a major international problem; however, in the last twenty years, important studies have detailed the impact corruption has on society. It devastates both the economy and the political system of a country. One major hypothesis in recent studies refers to the level of democracy and the perception of corruption in a given country. Corruption increases in large bureaucracies where state control is a strong tool for governmental perpetuation.
The major problem concerning corruption is the deviation of important financial resources. Those in politics and business take money meant for special projects such as those designed to fight misery. Millions of people depend on money sent by aid agencies; however, much of what is sent is stolen. Each year one trillion dollars is taken by corrupt individuals.3 Even in a case where a high rate of corruption goes with strong economic growth, the problem is considerable because the economy can take only so much deviation before going into a reverse process which will provoke profound economic recession.4
Corruption is also tied with terrorism. Often, some of the money taken is sent to feed terrorist actions. Drug dealers and weapon smugglers are all beneficiaries of a system that takes away what was sent for the poor.
The Church has tried for quite some time to tackle poverty and misery while evangelizing. Frustration often overwhelms missionaries who see children dying prematurely. They lift their fists to heaven and cry out for justice. The Church’s commitment to evangelism is seen through the worldwide Lausanne movement in bringing churches together to accomplish this difficult task. However, it is also time for serious reflection on the Church’s position concerning corruption and its effects on world evangelization. The world is moving towards a historical moment when the United Nations Convention Against Corruption is about to enter in force. Other organizations have already been addressing these issues: Organization of American States (OAS), Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the Council of Europe. The Church must now also make a more focused stand against corruption. We can start by studying the book of Acts. This will lead us to change our view of the world, which will lead us to change our attitude in the world. This will result in us changing the world.
Acts: A Biblical Witness to Transformation
The disciples had been commissioned to evangelize the world; but they were shut up in the upper room for fear of what would happen to them (Acts 9). They looked upon the world as an instrument of destruction. Both the Jews and the Romans were a threat. The Holy Spirit came upon them and they began to see the world differently. Killers and assassins that they had been afraid of became people who needed the message of salvation. The disciples were the only ones who could deliver it. Once their vision of the world was changed, they could change their attitude as well. Fear gave way to boldness and anger was overcome by love. They were changed men. This paradigm shift brought about the most impressive change in world history. We need this shift again today.
According to Luke, the spread of the gospel had to do with a break in the status quo. Christians had to stop obeying the rules of men and start adopting the rule of God, even when it brought suffering. This is exemplified in the courage shown by Peter and John before authorities (4:19); how the first Christians cared for the poor (4:32-35); and in the error of Ananias and Saphire (5:1-11). In 8:14-24, Simon, who was once a sorcerer, came to faith. However, he had not been changed from within and soon erred. The answer he received should be the Christian answer when tempted to corruption: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money” (8:20).
God was changing how they saw the world in order to change their attitude in the world. In Acts 10:9-16 Peter learns about the salvation of the Gentiles. It is a testimony that conversion is always followed by transformation.
Acts depicts many other passages that show that when one embraces the faith, God will require a change only accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit. This change will only occur when an individual seeks it. Failure to see this change might reveal a “heart not right before God” (8:21). The solution is “repentance and prayer” (8:22).
Latin America and Beyond: How to Fight Corruption
The unifying call to fight corruption will have a great impact on world economies. All Christians should avoid engaging in any activity that could be called corrupt. It might mean paying a price; however, the call stands. Let us be poor, but honest. Let our treasure be in the heavenly realms. We will make a real difference in the world when, united as one, we abdicate corrupt practices. The grim reality is that when we look at the one billion plus Catholics and protestants in the world today, we must face the fact that corruption exists in the Church as well.
Latin America is one of the regions in the world where corruption exists. United Nations General Secretary Kofi Annan recently affirmed that fighting poverty in Latin America will only be successful when governments manage to curb corruption.5 According to Transparency International (TI), most Latin American countries appear with rates below 5.0.6; Many of these countries, which are striken with poverty, have a high population of both Catholics and protestants.
However, one might say that although this may be true of Latin American countries, it is not true of the global situation. A quick look at developed countries shows differently.7 For some time, mostly protestant, developed countries have insisted that corruption belonged to underdeveloped countries. In order to do business with these “underdeveloped” countries, many companies engaged in bribe payments. Some, like Germany and France, allowed tax deductions for money used in bribing foreign officials who benefited in major contract signing. In 2002 TI published the Bribe Payer’s Index (BPI) which showed countries according to their propensity to pay bribes in international negotiations. The report revealed a high propensity to pay bribes in countries such as Italy, the United States, France and Spain – all Christian countries.8 We must face the fact that rich Christians countries have contributed to spreading corruption, poverty and injustice.
We can infer that the some Christians that go out to share the gospel become involved in acts of bribery and illicit enrichment. Some have even offered to tithe all stolen goods. Some thank the Lord for illicit contracts, contracts which may send thousands of people, including Christian brothers and sisters, into a world of deprivation and misery. Some accept presents from corrupt authorities. Some sell their votes to help someone in their family get a job. Pastors lead congregations to vote on a corrupt candidate because the candidate unlawfully promised to give them land to build a church, Christian judges sell sentences to put money in their bank account.
We, as Christians, must recognize we are part of the problem. After acknowledging the Church’s role in corruption and injustice, we must act. The following are suggestions to tackling corruption and its relation to global poverty:
Preach consistently against corruption. Today, there are only a few places in the world where individuals cannot talk about corruption. Surely, these are the same places where the name of Jesus Christ isn’t welcome. Preachers should present sermons about corruption. A study of the Bible will show a number of occasions where men tried to bribe, rob, steal and kill. We need to hear more about the transformation the Holy Spirit brings to all areas of our lives.
Publish academic resources on how Christians combat corruption worldwide. Christians are found in varied fields of work. The Church should encourage theorists in various fields to write biblically-based articles and books on the impact of corruption on the population. The gospel message should be stated as the way to change people’s character.
Develop programs on personal integrity. The Christian world needs a down-to-earth program to curb corruption. Small groups should be formed in churches to discuss the subject. A study called “Total Integrity” will be launched in Brazil in 2006. It deals with integrity by addressing three main areas: personal integrity, social integrity and spiritual integrity. The objective is to help Christians and non-Christians look at corruption and its impact on world poverty.
Pressure governments to fight poverty and corruption. There are Christians working in organizations throughout the world, yet the Church does not appear as an instrument of pressure in world politics. In many cases, the Church has not said much concerning terrorism, human rights, organized crime, authoritarianism, war or treatment of the environment. We must speak out when governments or individuals are going against the commands of God found in Scripture.
Formation of an International Office Against Corruption. The Christian world needs a specialized office in the matter of curbing corruption that combines academic rigor and biblical commitment.
CRISCOR: An Example from Brazil
In Brazil, there is an initiative called CRISCOR (Christians Against Corruption, http://www.criscor.org/), which seeks to use biblical ethics to encourage both Catholics and protestants in the fight against corruption. Criscor is working with the United Nations Office Against Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and has promoted social transformation based on a fair distribution of wealth. Criscor has a ten-year goal of taking Brazil’s CPI from 3.9 (2004) to 7.0. In a country where 22% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is taken through corruption, it is believed that more money will arrive to the poor by 2015. This will improve the lives of millions who would otherwise die of hunger and bad health conditions. By living longer, they will have a greater chance of hearing the gospel message.
Only when the Church is willing to look at corruption as a real threat to world evangelism will it be motivated to change. Christians in Europe and North America are called to join forces with Christians in Latin America, Africa and Asia to present an international and historical answer to world injustice, breaking the hold Satan has had on many nations. Our Lord Jesus Christ has called us to be light in this world. A small candle might not be enough to remove the darkness that corruption has brought into the world; however, millions of candles will surely provide the world with a powerful witness of the glory of God. If we all work together, those who live in both spiritual and social darkness might indeed live longer and hear the gospel message.
3. As seen on October 3, 2005.
4. Rose-Ackerman. “The Political Economy of Corruption.” In Corruption and the Global Economy. ed. Kimberly Ann Elliott. June 1997.
6. For TI’s CPI – Corruption Perception Index – 10.0 indicates a country free of corruption perception, while 0.0 indicates a country with absolute perception of corruption (cf www.transparency.org/)
7. The United States passed a bill in 1977 called FCPA which tightens the procedures of accountability. In the 1990s American companies Enron and World Com managed to live parallel to this law. See www.synergyassociates.ca/documents/Corporate%20Governance%20after%20