All posts tagged “ethics

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Principles of engagement with indigenous peoples

Recently I rediscovered an article that for some reason I never got around to blogging about when I first read it last December. But once again it struck me as something really important to consider for anyone working (or supporting work) among the poor, and especially among indigenous populations. While the article focuses specifically on NGOs, I’d suggest it’s just as applicable for traditional Christian mission organizations as well.

Summarizing a talk at Harvard’s Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations given by Cornell University’s Carol Kalafatic, Elisa Peter writes about the need for NGOs to consider the principles underlying the work they do among and alongside indigenous peoples. As Kalafatic said, “It has become profitable to look ‘indigenous peoples friendly’ but many NGOs only pay lip service to the priorities and rights of indigenous peoples, especially if they don’t fit into the NGO’s organizational goals and culture.”

So, what would it look like to do community development or mission work in these contexts while truly honoring the dignity of indigenous peoples, not just paying lip service to the idea? Kalafatic suggests we consider four principles:

1. An honest examination of power relationships. NGOs are often the ones initiating cooperation with indigenous communities. Most of them already have a set agenda, which may not correspond to indigenous peoples’ needs and priorities. It is important that indigenous peoples are able to enter the relationship on their own terms and at their own pace, in keeping with the principle of self-determination.
2. A readiness to question assumptions. NGOs and indigenous peoples have different ways of setting and achieving goals, different paradigms, knowledge systems, governance institutions, worldviews, working cultures, etc. It is important that the transfer of knowledge is bidirectional with all parties willing to truly listen and learn.
3. A shift from viewing indigenous peoples as stakeholders to rights holders. Some NGOs view indigenous communities as victims, recipients of social services or one group among others to be consulted during a project. Others idealize them without understanding the complex nature of indigenous peoples’ unique history, culture and socio-political heritage. This too often leads to cooptation and a breakdown in the relationship. Indigenous peoples have universal human rights and collective rights based primarily on the special relationship they have with their traditional lands and territories. A rights-based approach is key to a successful collaboration between indigenous peoples and their partners.
4. A long-term commitment to trust and relationship building. Many indigenous communities may be distrustful of the purpose of collaboration. NGOs may get frustrated by the need to follow the decision making protocols of indigenous peoples’ customary governance systems, which does not nicely fit into the NGOs’ and their donors’ logical frameworks, timetables and deadlines. But sacrificing relationship building in the name of efficiency often leads to more mistrust and a failed collaboration in the long run. NGOs need to allocate the time necessary to meet indigenous peoples on their own terms. This may involve a fundamental shift in the NGO organizational culture.

As I said, I think any organization that’s serious about honoring the dignity of those they serve would do well to give serious thought to these principles. And Christians, in my view, should be leading the way. If we believe that every person, regardless of religion or socioeconomic status, is created in the image of God and that each culture can glorify God in unique ways, we already have all the motivation we need to take this seriously.

We need to guard against abusive power relationships that rob the gospel of its radical message of grace and love; we must be willing to question assumptions rooted in our Western mindset that may be more harmful than helpful; we need to consider how a rights-based approach might go further than a typical stakeholder model; and we need to do the long, hard work of building trust in relationships.

If you work for an NGO or a mission agency, does your organization prioritize these kinds of principles? If you support the work of any NGOs or other ministries working among the poor, do you know how those organizations ensure that they affirm the dignity and full participation of those they serve?

[Photo credit: – the photo shows Jars of Clay in Kenya as part of a slideshow of the band’s work with Blood:Water Mission; I chose the photo because I think it portrays the dignity of those being served by Blood:Water’s work, and shows Westerners joining in the “dance” of the local community, rather than outsiders expecting the local community to simply march to the beat of their own Western drum.]

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Repaso: Ethical branding; Garrels documentary; evangelicals & corruption; gender & poverty in Latin America

1. The future of ethical branding
Ethical Corporation has an interesting look at Fairtrade International (FLO) and its somewhat complicated relationship with Fair Trade USA:

FLO was already embroiled in controversy because its affiliated but independent American operation, Fair Trade USA, announced last autumn that it was cutting ties with the mother organisation as part of what it called a progressive reform of its labelling strategy. It now offers designation to larger private operations, mostly coffee plantations, and has lowered the required minimum fair trade component to as little as 10% from 20%. Fair Trade USA says the changes will encourage corporations to adopt ethical standards, which will seed change and directly benefit far more poor farmers and workers than the current system. The organisation believes sales will double in three years.

2. The Sea In Between
You probably know how much I love the music of Josh Garrels. His record “Love & War & The Sea In Between” was my favorite album of last year, and others happened to agree. Also, it’s still available for free. Here’s a trailer for a new “documentary performance film” in which Garrels and Mason Jar Music travel to British Columbia “to build music from the ground up.” It looks so amazing.

3. Evangelicals and corruption in Latin America
This week, thanks to John Mulholland, I learned about the research being done by Rachel McCleary on the political economy of religion. I was particularly fascinated with her work on evangelicals and their relationship to cultures plagued by corruption, which reminds me a lot of what Kevin Lewis O’Neill had to say in City of God: Christian Citizenship in Postwar Guatemala. Here’s a blurb from McCleary:

Evangelicals in Latin America display strong cultural dichotomies in their actions: religious versus secular, tithing to God (diezmo) versus public financial matters, caring for family versus giving aid to strangers. Kinship-based social structures rather than society-wide procedures of fairness continue to dominate public ethos. We seek to investigate how Evangelical churches are institutional agents diffusing certain values in society that account for the emergence of new societal organizational structures combating corruption.

4. Poverty’s gender discrimination in Latin America
The Institute of the Americas takes a look at how poverty disproportionately affects the region’s women and children, and what can be done about it:

In Latin America, poverty has the face of a woman; poverty has the face of a child. Poverty affects Latin American women at a rate 20 percent higher than men. Poverty in children younger than 15 years old is twice that of adults, said Inés Bustillo, director of the Washington office of the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

Repaso is intended as a thought-provoking compilation of news and commentary from the past week related to the intersections of faith, development, justice and peace. As always, I welcome your thoughts on any of the links and ideas in this roundup!

[Photo credit:]

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Richard Twiss on following Jesus and being Native

A couple of weeks ago I read One Church, Many Tribes (Regal) by Richard Twiss, a member of the Rosebud Lakota/Sioux tribe and the head of Wiconi International. Through Wiconi, Twiss serves Native groups through education and practical help to improve their quality of life and build relationships that point the way to a hope-filled future for those who have not previously been given much reason to hope. Twiss and his wife started Wiconi with one seemingly simple concept in mind: “You can be Native and a follower of Jesus.”

That may not seem very groundbreaking, but for many it is, since the relationship between Christianity and Native peoples here in North America has never been a particularly good one. Pastor and author Mark Buchanan writes about the arrival of the “people of the Black Book” in what is now Vancouver, British Columbia:

The Tswassens have a prophecy 500 years old. One of their ancient holy men foretold that a people pale as birch would one day come from across the great water in large canoes. They would bring with them a Black Book. The Black Book was Truth, end to end, a gift of inestimable good. The people lived for many years awaiting the prophecy’s fulfillment.

And then one day it happened. The big canoes— bigger than the Tswassens ever imagined—arrived. They teemed with people pale as birch. And, yes, they brought with them a Black Book.

Then the killings started. The Tswassens became an obstacle to the pale men, and the pale men slaughtered them, and those they didn’t slaughter they enslaved.

Given this history, and compared with the justified indignation that saturates the pages of classic accounts like Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Twiss’s book is surprisingly hopeful and gracious. He doesn’t skirt around history’s ugliness, but he doesn’t stop there either. He wants to show Native Americans and the rest of us that Native culture isn’t antithetical to following Jesus; rather, the Gospel can be incarnated in Native forms just as easily — and perhaps even more so — than it has been in Western culture. Native Christians don’t need to follow our cultural customs when it comes to church and worship, in other words; instead, they may be better off without them.

But he isn’t out to sow resentment. Instead, he shows how the Gospel is what will bring true reconciliation between us and God, and between Native and non-Native groups. He even suggests that the testimony of Native Christians can be used in powerful ways around the world among others who have also been victims of terrible injustices. In his conclusion he writes:

If we, as Native followers of Jesus, are to emerge from our pain and absence to find our place in the Body of Christ, we need the love and help of all our brethren. Can we be seen as equal partners by the rest of the Body of Christ? Will we be allowed to develop new ways of doing church that honor God’s purposes for the creative expression of our cultures? Will new ministry partnerships and coalitions form? Will you help be a part of this wonderful process of reconciliation, restoration and release?

Twiss is among those I’m most excited to hear speak at The Justice Conference later this month. Here’s a video introducing his topic.

[Photo credit: Rachel Fortney]

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Chris Wright on faith in the marketplace

Last week, Dr. Chris Wright was in town for a couple of events, one of which was a gathering put together by the Surge Network, where he spoke on the topic, “Saints in the Marketplace: The Mission of God in the Public Arena.” Wright is the international director of Langham Partnership, an organization started by the late John Stott, which serves churches and pastors all over the world.

In his talk he began by defining “marketplace” in broad terms, suggesting that it basically means all that happens in society. It could also simply be called the public square, or, to use Old Testament language, “the gate.” His fundamental premise, which he made clear from the start, is that God is interested in what happens in the marketplace. This seems obvious, but too many Christians seem to live with a suspicion that the things we need to spend most of our time doing are things that don’t really matter to God. That belief is dead wrong.

He gave his talk in three sections, at least according to my notes. First, he spoke on why the marketplace matters to God. Second, how Christians are called to act in the marketplace. And third, the church’s dual task in relationship to it. Since it was all such wonderful stuff, I thought I’d more or less reproduce the talk here, to the best of my memory, with little commentary by me. I’ve included Scripture references (a lot of them), and when possible, great questions Wright left with us on the basis of these principles.


1. God created work (Genesis 1, 2). The Fall corrupted it, but it’s still something God made good. We need to understand that work is not some necessary evil; rather, it’s a means of glorifying God. For the pastors and teachers among us, do we teach the importance of work the way the Bible does?

2. God audits it (Psalm 33:13-15; Amos 5:12-15, 8:4-7; Jeremiah 7:9-11; I Samuel 12:1-5). God is the auditor of the marketplace, at both a personal and a corporate level. According to Scripture, God requires justice in the public square just as much as he requires worship in the Temple (or, in our case, the church). He hears what’s said and sees what’s done in the marketplace, and he even examines the attitudes in our hearts. He is the independent scrutineer of all that happens in the marketplace. How and when do you submit to God’s audit of your daily work? How does accountability to God affect the way you work?

3. God governs it (Joseph in Genesis 50:19-20; Isaiah 19:1-15; Daniel 4). We tend to speak of the marketplace as if it is autonomous, but the truth is that events are the product of human actions, and we’re therefore responsible for what we do. But God is sovereign, and his sovereignty doesn’t stop short of the marketplace. How and where do you discern the governance of God in the marketplace? What does it mean to “seek first the kingdom and his justice” Monday through Friday?

4. God redeems it (Isaiah 65:17-25; Colossians 1:16-20; Romans 8:19-21; II Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:24-27). Our eschatology and our understanding of the story of the Bible affect how we view the marketplace. If we believe everything in the world is all going to be zapped someday, why would we care what happens in the marketplace? The truth is that God loves everything he’s made; it’s all twisted and we’re all twisted, but the Bible teaches that God will redeem creation, not obliterate it. God will create a new heaven and a new earth. All things are created by Christ, sustained by Christ, and redeemed by Christ. Because of the resurrection of Christ, all we do under the sun is not vanity! We don’t know precisely how everything will turn out, but we believe in the resurrection. How is our daily work transformed by the knowledge that it contributes to the new creation, redeemed by God?


1. Engagement. This can happen through serving the state (i.e., Joseph & Daniel); through prayer and “seeking the welfare of the city” – not just Jerusalem, but Babylon too (Jeremiah 29:7; I Timothy 2:1-4; Erastus in Acts 19:22; Romans 16:23); through ordinary, honest daily work – it’s instructive to look up the number of times in the New Testament Paul refers to doing good (I Thessalonians 4:11-12, 5:14; II Thessalonians 3:6-13); through encouraging fellow Christians in the true value of the marketplace.

2. Distinctiveness. We’re called to be saints who are holy, different, salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16; Daniel 6:3; I Chronicles 29:17; Genesis 18:19; Colossians 3:22-23). If Christians are to be salt and light, the assumption is that there are dull and dark places in the world, and we’re to actually change things in those places – like salt, we get rubbed into the meat; like light, we break the darkness. Whatever we do, we are to do it as unto the Lord – in other words, as if the other person is Christ himself. Worldview distinctiveness – we live by a different story (biblical narrative rather than British imperialism or the American Dream, for example). When we follow Christ, we enter the biblical story, and we’re to build that story into our lives. As we do so, it’ll challenge ourselves and others – it cuts through all peoples and cultures.


1. The prophetic task. Pastors and Christian leaders must speak out in the midst of a synchetized and idolatrous culture with a voice of evaluation and critique. It requires, at times, speaking truth to power. We can’t just bless everything society does, or bless church members who willingly go along with corruptions of God’s good design for the marketplace. The prophetic task can be costly, a rough road to travel, as all the biblical prophets knew.

2. The pastoral task. Pastors and Christian leaders must support those who work in the marketplace, meaning those who participate in all spheres of society every week. God didn’t create the church to support the clergy; rather, the pastor comes every Sunday to support the church as it then goes out into the world to be salt and light in the marketplace, knowing that their work matters to God.

As you can tell, he gave us plenty to chew on. If we were to summarize his main points, though, we could say this: The marketplace matters to God. It can go terribly wrong, but work was created by God, is audited and governed by him, and will ultimately be redeemed by him. Christians are called to engage in the marketplace with distinctiveness. And, finally, the church is to challenge distortions in the marketplace as well as to equip its members to help it flourish as it should.

If you’d like to see and hear Dr. Wright for yourself, here he is in the five-minute video speaking on the importance of confronting idols and making disciples – which in fact has everything to do with faithfulness in the marketplace (thanks to Jake Belder for sharing it).

Confronting Idols & Making Disciples from Medri Kinnon Productions on Vimeo.

What are your reactions to this basis for Christian engagement in the marketplace? How does it challenge your understanding of the relationship between faith and work?