going to reduce poverty in the world. That’s not chump
change, that’s real dollars and it’s affecting the lives of
hundreds of millions of people.
I see some encouraging things within Pentecostalism.
I have good friends in that community, and I know it’s the
fastest growing part of the broadly evangelical world by
far. Not too long ago, the Assemblies of God did an issue
of their quarterly magazine that was all on God’s concern
for the poor, combining evangelism and social action. The
head of the Assemblies of God wrote a short introduction
saying how important this is. That’s big-time change.
Another example is Rick Warren, who
is probably the most prominent evangelical
voice in the last ten years. He’s been talking
all this time about God’s concern for the poor
in a way that never in my lifetime has the
most visible evangelical leader talked about.
The other side is that so many of our
people are materialistic. In fact, in that 40
year period, giving as a percentage of income for Christians overall, and Evangelicals in particular, has dropped.
FT: You’ve experienced evangelicalism
across two borders. What are some differ-
ences between Canadian and American Evangelicalism
with regard to politics?
RS: There is no question that there is a difference. In part
because 80 per cent of the American people still say they
are Christians and evangelical Christians make up a significant portion of the American public. Roughly 25 per
cent of U.S. voters are Evangelicals.
My own view is that Evangelicals in Canada, in their
political engagement, have had a balance and a sanity that
has not often been a part of American Evangelicals. The
largest political influence over the last 30 years in the U.S.
has been the Religious Right. They have focused especially
on questions of the sanctity of human life, abortion, marriage and sexuality.
But then you have to ask the question: What does God
care about? I think it’s pretty clear. God cares about the
sanctity of human life and the poor, about sexual integrity
and peace-making, about marriage and family and creation
care. And so in the Evangelicals for Social Action we say
we are pro-life, pro-poor, pro-family, pro-racial justice, pro-sexual integrity, pro-peace-making and pro-creation care.
And that balance has not always been there in evangelical
political engagement in the U.S. as it has been in Canada.
FT: Having said that, what can Canadian Evangelicals
learn from our American brothers and sisters?
RS: As Canada sits between what is now essentially post-Christian secular Europe, which was the heartland for
Christianity for a millennium plus, and the United States,
which has a larger number of people who claim to be Christian, Canadian Evangelicals certainly need to ask about the
future of the Christian faith in their country.
How do they reverse the trend toward fundamentally
secular society? Do American Evangelicals have much
to teach them on that? I don’t know. There is a sense in
which American Evangelicals understand the decline of
the family, the decline of Christian marriage. The enormous divorce rate is a huge
problem, and more and more of our kids
are born out of wedlock. So I suppose there
are some things that U.S. Evangelicals are
struggling with there that may be helpful.
FT: And I need to ask, do Canadians have
anything to teach Americans?
RS: I have regularly felt there is a kind of
sanity, a kind of modesty and a kind of
balance that Canadians have had that has
not always been part of what American
Evangelicals have had. I’m not sure Canadians are currently much different when
it comes to the balance of evangelism and
social action. I’m not sure if they are much better in terms
FT: You’ve written a number of books that have influ-
enced how “rich” Christians think and feel about the
world around them. What is your message today for
RS: It is certainly not that we are supposed to live in poverty.
The Bible is clear poverty is a bad thing. God doesn’t like it.
God created a world full of splendour, beauty and abundance, and He told us to be in charge, to shape that world
and to create civilization. So it’s a good thing to create wealth.
The Western world really doesn’t need a lot more money.
We don’t really need an increase in our annual income. I
think most Western Christians ought to be spending less
on themselves and living more simply so they can share a
lot more in order to do evangelism, empower the poor and
become active in social justice around the world. Many Canadian Christians could give not 2 or 10 per cent but 15 or 20
per cent of their income and still not even be close to poverty.
FT: What’s the next movement towards social justice
you would like to see in the evangelical Church? How
can that come about?
RS: I think Evangelicals are now increasingly good at relief and development. If you give a person a fish, you feed
them for a day. If you teach them to fish, you feed them for
Interview With Ronald J. Sider
say we are
and we are
supposed to do