In the article, “Is Religion the New Colonial Frontier in International Development?“, Azza Karam addresses the global role of religion in the social service sector. Before addressing the article’s content, we must ask ourselves, “Is there a place for religion in the global social service?” According to Karam, raising interest in religious organization becoming a part of human development was challenging. Western policy makers wanted to continue to have a separation of church and state. In so doing, they relegate religion to being something addressed on an individual basis. The reason for this perspective lie within the desire to place the blame of current global events on religious groups. Is this an inaccurate assessment? Possibly.
In looking at the history of many world religious beliefs, we find a belief in serving others at the core. The followers of these religious groups believed that they lived in accordance with the tenets of their faith. However, the often misunderstood dynamic is that the underlying structure of those beliefs were building individuals and community. The secular group failed to understand that these beliefs were the bedrock of fostering and sustaining relationships and interdependence.
There has since been a change in thinking among some policy makers. The perspective has shifted to viewing religious organizations as,
“…the oldest social service providers known to human kind, and several basic health and educational institutions of today, are administered or influenced to some extent, by religious entities…”
With this in mind, the Western policy makers still appear to be apprehensive of aligning themselves with religious non-government organizations. Marginal support, or hiding behind the scenes, does not constitute true support. Much of this fear lies in the perpetuation of religious extremism on the global front by various religious groups. In response, many place all religious groups together as the culprit behind the prevalence of evil in the world. This results in a fractured global political body whose differing cultural beliefs and values expands the chasm between them.
Karam has characterized the problem’s true source: one government working alone to remedy its social ills is not enough. However, there needs to be some form of consensus of what works and what does not. This will take a global effort from all global community members.
In my opinion, we find the answer when we return to what brought us together initially: our belief in community. Not in the sense of the people at the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11). But in the sense of the disciples in the Book of Acts, wherein we see that,
“…all that believed were together, and had all things in common…” (2:44),
as well as,
“…the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common…” (4:32),
“And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministrations. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said…brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business…” (6:1-3).
To fully understand this, we must understand the actions of the early Church. Their actions were the result of their relationship with God through Jesus Christ. As members of the Christian community, our responsibility is to present the world with the Answer, which is Jesus Christ. This is not a call for religious extremism, but a call to action. Instead of waiting for the government to legislate or decide to act, we must act.
We find the answer in the name of relationship with one another, not in the name of religion. It is only when we arrive at this realization will we begin to see social change.