Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

A Global Army

James Skillen


June 9, 1997

Some of the most creative social policy these days is inspired by conservative philosopher Edmund Burke's praise for the "little platoons" in society, groups of concerned citizens who have chosen to respond to some need. Grandiose political projects bring ruin, Burke warned; a healthy society is the fruit rather of citizens who tend to their own concerns with integrity and care for neighbors in need. So wise political leaders seek to encourage renewal from the ground up, to nurture those "little platoons."

This is all to the good—as far as it goes. Government programs are no substitute for loving parents, thriving congregations, active civic groups, and charities that minister to the needy on their block. It's no good to love humanity in the abstract while neglecting those whom you actually touch. Good social policy will energize, not ignore, hands-on, neighborhood activism.

But, at least in biblical terms, localism just isn't enough. The neighbor we must love is not only the person next door; it may be the needy in another place entirely, as when the early churches took up a collection for the saints in Jerusalem—or churches throughout the centuries have sent missionaries to bring the good news to other peoples. As Christians our circle of concern cannot be confined to the people and places right around us.

At the very least, we should not ignore the suffering of our sisters and brothers in the faith around the world. In the final years of this bloody century, Christians are particular targets for persecution, as documented in the recent book, Their Blood Cries Out, co-authored by Paul Marshall, a colleague of the Center for Public Justice. Here is an issue that demands the prayers of the faithful here at home. It also needs whatever influence international Christian agencies and leaders are able to exert in their contacts overseas. And it requires pressure on our government to use its massive global power to promote justice and not only the interests of commerce. Those persecuted believers aren't in the next pew, but they belong to the same church of Christ.

Beyond that, Christians should reject the popular idea that the more local our attention, the more sure our insight into how best to help. No doubt it's foolish to suppose that far-off bureaucrats can figure out in detail how best to assist a poor community right here. But a resolutely local focus isn't the solution. Our school for learning justice and mercy has to be as wide as God's creation.

My recent trip to South Africa showed me that. Christians there needed to hear what we are learning about how faith-based organizations can fruitfully cooperate with government to help the poor. We Americans, in turn, can learn from South African Christians that serving the needy must be part of the real life of the churches, and not just a rhetorical device to counter government's inflated pretensions to salve every hurt.

The neighbors the Scriptures command us to love may live on the next continent, not next door. And as members of a body of believers that stretches around the world and extends twenty centuries back in time, we dare not look only locally when we seek direction for policy and programs.

As Christians, then, shall we praise the "little platoons"? Yes. But only if we also remember that we belong to a worldwide church, a global army. With all due respect for the places where God has planted us, let's be sure our political vision and action are as broad and deep as the scope of God's concern.

—Stanley Carlson-Thies, Senior Fellow
   Center for Public Justice

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”