Seeking Justice for Children

It is time for a global culture change regarding how we treat children.  The statistics can be overwhelming (See UNICEF), but the stories can bring home what people actually live with.  Like the story a friend of ours who was a refugee tells about being a child soldier.  Soldiers came to his home in Eastern Africa and said either he would go with them or they would kill the entire family.  He was 9 years old.  After six months he ran away and lived in the bush, fearing that if he went home his parents would be killed.  Eventually he made his way to a refugee camp, and after several years, was resettled in the US.

But this problem is not limited to the developing world.  The US has a problem with trafficking of child sex slaves, child pornography, physical and sexual child abuse and more.  Thus, UNICEF, World Vision and World Evangelical Alliance have declared this a global problem.  It is a problem everywhere, and it will take everyone to change it.  In response to UNICEF many initiatives are developing or operating (See a partial list here).

One challenge is that if it is everyone’s problem then it may be hard to see what any one group can do about it.  Thus, World Vision asked the World Evangelical Alliance to join the campaign and work together to teach churches their important role in changing communities. (See WEA Endorsement of Campaign to End Violence Against Children of the campaign).  This raises an interesting point: Can churches change a community, and if so, how?  This is an interesting question, and I want to present one part of the answer…

A community has the power to adapt and become a healthier and more resilient place to the extent that it has social capital.  Social capital is the collection of social structures and relationships in a community that bring people together, distribute resources, and teach and care for people.  Researcher Ken Newton[1] describes how churches may or may not create social capital, depending on how they relate to the community.  For some churches, their theology is one of being apart from the world.  The church then is a sanctuary from the world and members engage mainly with one another and not so much with the rest of the community.  Such churches make little contribution to the community’s health and resilience.  Other churches bring people in, teach then to engage socially, teach them the faith, theology and values of their church, and then encourage them to engage with the community.  In this case the church not only has an impact but can be an essential conveyor of community values.  It starts with theology of the church, especially whether the church is the vehicle to create community, and builds from there as people reach out and influence the larger community. (See next blog on how the church in Cameroon is confronting violence against children).

Other researchers have described how, in addition to building social capital, churches change communities when they are advocates for the vulnerable.  Stephen Offutt and colleagues[2] describe an evangelical vision for advocacy that requires correcting what the authors see as the under-developed theology of speaking truth to power.  Only when churches speak up for the weak and vulnerable is there justice in a community.  Children are the weakest and most vulnerable members of the community, so what better place to start than speaking up for them.

If you are interested in learning more about this campaign you can monitor the child campaign here or at any of the links in this page.  You might also consider volunteering in your community, making a pledge, or making a donation.

[1] Newton, Kenneth. 1997. “Social Capital and Democracy.” American Behavioral Scientist 40: 575–86

[2] Offutt, S. (2016). Advocating for justice: An evangelical vision for transforming systems and structures.

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