In 1976, in response to a massive famine in eastern Africa, the CRC synod created a task force on world hunger. The task force examined crucial issues such as increasing disparities between rich and poor, the need for preaching about world hunger, a fresh understanding of stewardship, and the distinction between humanitarian and Christian endeavors. Their report, "And He Had Compassion on Them: The Christian and World Hunger" (Acts of Synod 1978, p. 567-632), recommended concrete actions for responses from within the church, including a world hunger action program. Synod 1978 accepted the report on world hunger and adopted its recommendations.
But the task force felt its work was incomplete unless it also spoke to the structural and systemic problems causing world hunger, and it took another year to produce an in-depth analysis of systemic sinfulness—including the biblical and theological underpinnings for such an analysis. "For My Neighbor's Good: World Hunger and Structural Change" is that report to synod. Adopted in 1979, it is still as applicable today as it was then.
Why does the CRC do relief work?
The church is concerned that people are starving for want of food to feed their souls: the bread of life and the living water of Christ. Yet the church may never divorce this concern from its care for the body. The human is a unity of body and soul, and our Lord is filled with compassion for this matchless whole being with all its potential. We cannot feed only the spirit and blithely disregard the body or relegate such a concern to someone else. Christ did not—he saw being human as a totality.
“As people redeemed by Christ, we know that to feed only the body is to leave unfed the starving spirit. We further affirm that to feed only the spirit while the body cries out in pain and hunger is sheer hypocrisy. Therefore, the people of God, of all people, should be the first to respond to the plight of the world's hungry with a compassion that breaks all barriers.” (See "And He Had Compassion on Them", p. 567.)
Taking on Jesus' love for the poor and hungry, World Renew equips local deacons to do their work, brings relief in times of disaster, and establishes long-term development projects in Canada, the United States, and 28 other countries around the world. For more information, visit WorldRenew.net.
Why does the CRC advocate to change the root causes of poverty and hunger?
Many Christians’ instinctive response is that the church has no business working for change in the socioeconomic structures of this world. The church, these people say, should limit itself to the proclamation of "the simple gospel" and to the administration of mercy. Because the temptation to avoid the issue of structural change can be so strong, we need to ask what the consequences would be if we gave in to that temptation.
- First, we would then decide to tolerate unjust systems in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
- Second, by avoiding the issue of structural change, Christians would consign themselves forever to fighting the symptoms instead of getting at the disease itself. These systems need to be changed before people can provide food for themselves. While the church is unable to feed all the hungry masses of the world, it can certainly call for changes in systems that may significantly improve the lot of millions.
- Third, if the church does not advocate for systemic change, then it would be guilty of proclaiming a truncated gospel. A message that fails to proclaim our radical liberation through Jesus Christ from every configuration of sin greatly limits the stature of our Deliverer.
- Fourth, this failure would place the Christian mission in the world at a severe disadvantage over against false gospels that provide answers to these social injustices. (See "For My Neighbor's Good")
While World Renew provides relief and development assistance to feed the hungry, the Office of Social Justice works to address the root causes of hunger. To reform systemic injustices that keep people in hunger, OSJ assists members of the CRC in advocating for just and equitable policies on issues that affect food security and global poverty. OSJ, World Renew, and other partners work together to defeat hunger and poverty because any lasting development work that enables people to thrive ultimately requires systemic change in order to be successful.
Our advocacy for more just economic and political systems—moved by love and done in solidarity with people who are hungry, impoverished, displaced, trafficked, and oppressed—completes and gives integrity to our work of mercy and missions.
Freedom to Serve: Meeting the Needs of the World
Synod revisited world hunger and poverty in 1993 when it passed a major follow-up report to the hunger reports of the late 1970s. “Freedom to Serve: Meeting the Needs of the World” reiterated the central importance of responding to suffering and injustice in the world and identified a long list of practical steps that individuals, congregations, classes, and the denomination could take to reinvigorate its hunger and poverty work.
It was this report that identified the need for a staff person responsible directly to the denomination’s Executive Director of Ministries to coordinate the reinvigoration of our world hunger and global poverty work—particularly the work on systemic causes. It was this staff position that eventually grew into the Office of Social Justice, whose mandate can be found here. Later, a similar office in Canada, the Centre for Public Dialogue, was established with roots in the Committee for Contact with the Government.