by David Boan
In this, the second of three articles on resilience, we ask if there is evidence for a connection between integral mission and resilience. As before, we focus on evidence from peer reviewed literature.
In the first post we asked “what is resilience?”. We presented research showing that the concept of resilience is growing beyond disaster and trauma research; that the concept is broadening and includes a variety of personal and community traits and resources, including faith. Given this evidence, does it follow that integral mission advances resilience? To answer this question, we will summarize the elements of integral mission. We then present a sample of research that suggests the elements of integral mission are also found in resilient communities.
What are the actions that are associated with Integral Mission? If we look to the Cape Town Commitment CTC) we will find the following (selected excerpts in italics):
We urge Church leaders and pastors to equip all believers with the courage and the tools to relate the truth with prophetic relevance to everyday public conversation, and so to engage every aspect of the culture we live in.
Believers are to be equipped to engage in society and culture, to be active participants in community life (public conversation) and engage the culture.
We encourage Christ-followers to be actively engaged in these spheres (government, business and academia), both in public service or private enterprise, in order to shape societal values and influence public debate.
Believers not only engage in discussion, they shape the public debate.
Corruption is condemned in the Bible. It undermines economic development, distorts fair decision-making and destroys social cohesion. No nation is free of corruption. We invite Christians in the workplace, especially young entrepreneurs, to think creatively about how they can best stand against this scourge.
This is a call for exercising prophetic voice. To speak prophetically is to speak out publicly on God’s behalf when the community, government or organisation is violating God’s plan. Here, it is specifically a call to confront corruption.
We urge church pastors and leaders to teach biblical truth on ethnic diversity. We must positively affirm the ethnic identity of all church members.
Here the Commitment calls for welcoming diversity and speaking out against racism and other forms of oppression and prejudice.
For the sake of the gospel, we lament, and call for repentance where Christians have participated in ethnic violence, injustice or oppression.
Continuing the theme of diversity, the CTC recognises Christians have also participated in racism and calls for repentance and correction.
Expose, resist, and take action against all abuse of children, including violence, exploitation, slavery, trafficking, prostitution, gender and ethnic discrimination, commercial targeting, and willful neglect.
Our final example is related to violence against children in all its forms. These are not the sum of the CTCs, but they are examples of specific actions that are part of Integral Mission, actions that include confronting violence, child abuse, and corruption, as well as valuing ethnic diversity and becoming active participation in the public sphere. We can now ask if there is evidence of a connection between these actions and resilience.
Starting with the example of engaging in the public sphere, we do not attempt to engage in the practical or philosophical questions of what the church should do, but only focus on the narrow question of effect. That is, what is the effect when a church engages in the community and is that effect consistent with the aims of integral mission.
Our first example comes from Pieterse who looked at ten church community projects in South Africa. Using in-depth interviews, he asked how these projects impacted the well being of the poor. He noted numerous benefits, from economic support to health to well-being, but central to them all was the sense among the recipients that these were provisions from God, which led to a sense of spiritual well-being. Pieterse summarises his findings from his interviews as:
The category of spiritual well-being of the poor now forms the central concept in this conceptual framework of the effects of congregational projects on the well-being of the poor. All the other categories [of church service] are related to this central concept … God’s love in action in the experience of well-being of the poor (emphasis added). (p.7)
Churches create social capital by bringing together people who share a common faith and values and building relationships among them. In the process, the people are informed about the content of their faith identity and how that identity relates to the larger world. This results in equipping people to become active in their communities and reach out beyond the walls of their church. Engaging with people across social boundaries and barriers is a key element of resilience.
There are studies looking at the impact of lowering boundaries between people, such as the integration of minorities and immigrants into society, and the resilience of the community. Lester and Ngyuen asked if US communities that assist immigrants to integrate across all sectors of the community (as opposed to relegating them to ethnic enclaves) fare better compared to those that do not. In this study, resilience was measured as changes in unemployment and income over a ten-year period that included the great recession. Employment diversity was used as a proxy for community support for immigrants and refugees. After studying twenty matched communities, they found evidence that communities that more broadly integrated immigrants across the economy fared better during the great recession than communities where immigrants were more compartmentalised. They see the difference as rooted in reducing social and economic barriers to the inclusion of immigrants and minorities, which leads to occupational diversity.
The connection between poverty and resilience is well established, but what about the ability of churches to reduce the number of people in poverty? As you may expect, this is not a simple yes or no question. Eliminating poverty is more than providing resources. It requires a more complex attention to policy, economic factors, and a host of factors that create opportunity for the poor. Kretzschmar provides an informative analysis from comparing the experience in Chile with that in South Africa. In Chile the Catholic Church was consistent in its support of the poor and standing against the corruption and flawed polices of the government, all of which is seen as an important factor in the reduction of poverty and economic disparity in Chile. In contrast, the role of the church in South Africa was more mixed, in some cases complicit with the apartheid government. Likewise, progress on poverty and disparity was mixed. Kretzschmar concludes …
“In the future, the impact of the church on the government’s policies and practices with respect to poverty alleviation will depend on its credibility within civil society. Such credibility will derive from the church’s own intellectual and practical involvement in social protection and poverty reduction, and its freedom from the materialism of our time.”
Finally, can the church reduce violence against children? The current campaign to end violence against children rests in part on an assumption that engaging faith communities is necessary for success. But is there evidence to support this assumption? This is another complex issue. Child abuse is often associated with certain church groups. For example, churches and individuals that see God as punitive and condemning are more likely to engage in abusive practices toward children. What these churches and communities with high rates of child abuse have in common is social isolation. When churches engage with their communities, including working with agencies such as social services, they become factors in the reduction of child maltreatment. We argue that community engagement is fundamental to integral mission, and that such engagement has broad community impact, including reduction of violence.
Obviously, these are not conclusive reviews of the evidence, but the evidence shown does suggest a pattern. We conclude that our sampling of evidence provides support that at least some of the elements of Integral Mission, as described in the Cape Town Commitment, are shown to be related to community resilience. It should also be obvious to the reader that not all faith groups embrace these actions. In fact, there are unfortunate examples of faith groups contributing to ethnic violence, corruption, and division within their communities. Thus, we cannot say that these actions occur automatically among people of faith. Hence, the call for trained leaders who properly teach and equip believers.
Since this is not a comprehensive review of the evidence, the reader should view this as a starting point for conversation and not a definitive answer to the question of integral mission and resilience.
This leads us to the third and final question for our discussion: Is there anything unique about the church’s contribution to resilience? Or, put another way, does the church, as the church (and not as an NGO), live in a way that results in greater resilience in the community?
14th March 2018