Monday, July 14, 2008

Rotary World Peace Fellowship -- congratulations Dyah

Brimming with pride, I stepped to the microphone and introduced my friend Dyah. In just a few weeks, Dyah will be leaving Cincinnati to study at the Rotary Center for International Studies at Duke/UNC-Chapel Hill. Each year, Rotary International selects 60 scholars to study at one of six Centers set up in co-operation with major univiersities around the world. The selection process is rigorous. The brightest and the best are selected; and I'm proud to say that my friend Dyah made the cut. So, there I stood, before an assembled 200 Rotarians introducing her and briefly explaining the program (It bears noting that Rotary International is involved in so many projects, that most club members are not aware of even a fraction).

This was something of an odd spot. When theologians talk about "total depravity"...I'm right on board. I don't really believe in an innate goodness and reasonableness of humanity. King David got it right when he wrote of God's thoughts looking down upon the mass of humanity: "They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one." (Ps 14:3). Depravity doesn't mean that we're slobbering lunatics ... it means that we have a bent toward selfishness that taints all our faculties. It takes God's supernatural grace to break through that taint and enable us to long and desire for that which is truly good.

So why would I nominate a friend for a program steeped in Wilsonian idealism about the perfectability and reasonableness of humanity? Check out this PDF prepared by the Rotary Foundation that tells the story of the program and it's goals. You might also read this summary of the UNC/Duke program ... a key quote:

"Each conflict is a social construct. It is being created through a particular combination of factors and therefore could be resolved if we understand its causation correctly and address it through targeted policy intervention."

Respectfully, I disagree. I believe this worldview shows a confidence in human perfectability and our capacity to realize a utopian society. However, my disagreement is not without qualification. There is without a doubt a social dimension to each conflict. By understanding conflict's causation we can mitigate the deleterious effects of conflict. Please understand, I don't think this kind of idealism is addleheaded. I believe they claim a little too much.

In contrast, my belief is that the best hope for peace lies in revival .... a recalling of Christians to be salt and light to a dying world. It lies in a recognition that we can't achieve peace on our ow, but that it is Christ who is our peace and who works peace within us. Why would I subject a good solid Christian to a program that seems to have a differing worldview?

The long and short of it is this: Christians who are called to work on the international stage need to know how to work with people coming from an idealistic worldview. We have so much in common with utopian idealists. Indeed, we also have a pretty idealistic worldview. The aims of Christianity are not all that different. Jesus meant it when he said "blessed are the peacemakers". Isaiah is deadly serious when he writes "cease to do evil, learn to do good, seek justice, correct oppression, bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause." We have similar goals ... just a different understanding of how to meet those goals. We believe that understanding can alleviate symptoms, but only grace can cure the disease.

That different understanding doesn't mean we can't learn something from people with a different worldview. The doctrine of common grace shows that we stand to learn an awful lot from those with whom we disagree on some topics. It is a hallmark of maturity (and indeed a element of any kind of peacemaking) to be able to disagree and still work together and learn from each other.

For example: one of the great understandings that this program has is the complexity of each situation, and therefore the futility of "one size fits all" centralized solutions. As the vision for the Duke/UNC center says "Effective peacebuilding is based on coordinated efforts of various societal actors (governments, international organizations, NGOs, business community, civil
society and individuals) and has a complex, multidisciplinary and multidimensional character. Our task is to provide our fellows with theoretical approaches, analytical tools and knowledge of the best practices to prepare them to work efficiently in this field."

The program helps its students understand the vital role the private sector plays through business, philanthropists, nonprofits, and other non-governmental entities. There is a clear understanding that peace is not simply a by-product of governmental engineering .... there is an element of culture building that must come from the hearts and minds of individuals. This entrepreneurial mindset is spot on and much needed in the field of international development. Simply advocating for governmental change will not accomplish peace.

Dyah's desire is to work in a nonprofit international relief ministry such as World Vision. She's clear that she ultimately wants to work in relief ministry. However, her training through this fellowship and the connections she makes will position her to be exponentially more effective for the kingdom. Additionally, she'll be interacting with some hardened secularists....and I have no doubt that with her natural winsome spirit and charm (gifts from God themselves) as well as the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that God might use her to soften some hearts.

If we as Christians want to influence the world for Christ, we need to take steps out into where the world is working. That doesn't just mean the coffeehouses and the also means the institutions of higher learning. For that reason, I praise God for providing Dyah this great opportunity. I hope she'll be in your prayers.

Soli Deo Gloria