by CB Samuel.
When we deal with our neighbours, families and the world around us, what helps us to decide the right things to do and say? Here are some imaginary situations which all of us might face. Read through these case studies - if possible talk about them and discuss them in groups - and decide what action you would take.
Take time to think through how you would deal with each of these issues. If you have done this in groups, talk over the decisions you have reached and how you have reached them.
- Which of the case studies was the easiest to deal with?
- Which was the hardest to come to a definite decision about - maybe you still cannot decide?
Try and talk about these issues before you turn the page and read further about the case studies.
Case Study One
A huge dam is planned which will provide water for a large city. Water reserves are already low and the water is desperately needed. The people in the hills and valleys behind the dam will have to be moved away because their land will be flooded. The Government plans to rehabilitate them nearer the city and will provide land and compensation. However, the people do not want to leave their traditional lands and village groups for an unknown future and uncertain land. Apparently they have no choice.
You have been working alongside the people, encouraging rural development. You have built up a good relationship with the villagers. What should you do?
A Go along with the Government proposals and work with the plans for the rehabilitation scheme? You may lose the support of the villagers if you do this.
B Support the villagers and campaign with them to change the plans for the dam to prevent them from losing land which has belonged to them for many generations?
Case Study Two
You are a respected member of a large city church. Land owned by the church has recently been sold. There are reports in the press that the Bishop has been involved in corruption over the land sale. Money has gone missing and it seems there have been various dubious deals. You also suspect that the press are right in their allegations. What action should you take? The church is very badly affected and some action is needed.
A Come out in public with the leaders of the church to denounce the deals which the Bishop has made and encourage legal action to be taken?
B Use the structures of the church to deal with the problem and take any discipline necessary - including the removal of the Bishop if this seems right?
C Call the church to prayer and let matters take their course?
Case Study Three
Mousa is a non-Christian friend, a married man with a young family, and a successful business executive. You are a respected member of a church with an important post in the church. Mousa comes to you one day asking for your advice as a friend. He says that he has recently got to know a beautiful young woman in his office and finds himself very tempted to begin a relationship with her. What advice do you give to him?
A Biblical Vision? - Thinking it through
Unfortunately I cannot be there to listen to all that you have decided - but I have listened to others as they think about these case studies.
The girl friend
Most of us find the third case study a very easy one to deal with. Would our advice to Mousa be any different if we were not Christians? I don’t think so. Nearly all of us would advise him to resist temptation and look after the family he already has - either he or the girl should move to work elsewhere so that the temptation is removed.
The situation with the Bishop is not quite so easy, but as Christians, we do have definite guidelines within the New Testament. We are urged not to take differences between Christians to court, but to settle them within the church and to use discipline if necessary. Opinions may differ on this matter, but the differing groups still use the Bible as the framework for their views.
However, I am sure that most of you found the first case study the most difficult to decide about. Why is this?
Why is it that we can be so certain about what is right or wrong about our own or someone else’s behaviour? As Christians, we usually know where to look in the Bible for guidance about how we and others should behave. But when it comes to social issues such as land ownership or political decisions, we are often very confused about what we should do. How can we be sure of exactly what we should do? Where do we look in the Bible for answers?
This confusion means that churches tend to concentrate too much on individual behaviour - on being right with God on a personal level. Of course, there is nothing wrong with this. But I do believe that, as Christians, God also expects us to be sure in our views on the world around us. We can all be sure of what we would say to Mousa - but can we all be as sure of what God is saying about land ownership, care of the environment or injustice? The answer is often - no. Sometimes we think that the Bible has contradicting advice. Does God have an opinion on such matters? Is there a Christian view on land ownership? (Look at the story of Naboth - I Kings Chapter 21.) Does the Church have a framework within which it can make a decision?
Framework of belief
In my experience churches tend to be...
- strong on personal issues
- weak on local issues
- hopeless on national and international issues.
However, in the Old Testament God had lots of opinions on how people should live. Does he have less of an opinion now? I certainly don’t believe so. The church needs to come to the place where we have an immediate and biblical opinion on social and national issues. How much are my views - my framework - influenced by my culture, church or community? How can we begin to develop a biblical framework for our action and for those of our churches?
Behind the moral teaching of the Old Testament there is a basic framework of belief. We need to study and understand the Old Testament to realise how much is of relevance and help to us today.
CB Samuel is General Director of EFICOR, based in Delhi, India. He is a teacher of great authority concerning Christian commitment to the poor, with much experience in relief and development programmes throughout India.