The Missional and Prophetic Endeavor
In October 2003, Bolivian President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, is forced to flee the country. His plan to spur economic growth through exporting natural gas to foreign markets was not seen as beneficial for the coca growers, labor markets, nor indigenous groups. His successor, in an attempt to ease tensions reverted back to protectionist policies (PBS online 2004). Even more recently, protests in Venezuela encourage President Hugo Chavez to resign from his position of leadership. Among the most controversial topics are his trade policies regarding oil. In a country where one third of their GDP, around 80% of their export earnings are reliant upon oil sales, many feel his trade policies have been found wanting (BBC News online 2004; CIA Factbook online 2004). Some questions should arise from having the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other.
The world we live in today is filled with economic political issues that directly affect our lives and the lives of others. When the pendulum of injustice swings against individuals, protests, riots and even death can occur. The question can no longer be if we the Church are to address these topics, but how and with what approach are we to address them? What is the foundation from which to begin a dialogue with worldly structures and how does this affect our missional and prophetic approaches towards such dramatically influential events? With shalom as their banner the Towards a Free and Virtuous Society conference works towards engaging the world by presenting a foundation from which to build holistic answers to these pressing questions.
Nicholas Wolterstorff’s, Until Justice and Peace Embrace, states that shalom is more than the concept of peace, the absence of strife, but that it includes realms in the relational arena of “dwelling at peace with God, with self, with fellows, with nature” (Wolterstorff 1983:69-82). Based upon this understanding of shalom, it is my impression that the Acton Institute views the Church’s endeavor as both missional and prophetic. For definition sake, I use the terms “missional” to describe the Church’s willingness to use tools existing in the world to present truths about God and his order. Specifically, they recognize and use natural law, with regards to reason as the entry point to the science of economics and economic policy. This foundation serves as platform to merge theology with social economics to form what I call “economics as missions.” The second aspect is that of the prophetic. The Church that operates in the “prophetic” is a Church willing to voice against centralized powers that infringe upon the biblical rights of humanity. This leads to the discussions of markets and government regulations, poverty and government assistance. The conference’s explicit presentations primarily fell under the Christian Social Teachings of subsidiarity, solidarity, and anthropology.
In my opinion, the conference served as an educational base, from which to build and formulate an appropriate missional stance and prophetic voice to the world. It is along these lines that I recommend this conference to all who are remotely interesting in this endeavor. Granted, I am somewhat biased, but not without reason. The conference itself maintained a safe platform where a confluence of ideas in reflection of differing worldviews could surface. Due to the ethnic and religious diversity, one student commented, “it is as if we are participating in a UN conference for religious leaders.” Secondly, it demonstrated the importance of the academic as well as the pragmatic approaches toward the promotion of shalom. Lastly, the overall tone of the conference left myself feeling spiritually refreshed and academically inspired. For this, I am thankful to Acton and all those involved with Towards a Free and Virtuous Society.