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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Is CPT the new face of global missions?


I’m trembling as I write this one. Not because I don’t feel strongly about what I’m about to write, but because I’m already isolated within my own faith community (Pentecostalism) for my unorthodox views on war and peace; and I know that what I’m about to write may put me at odds with a lot of people in the progressive evangelical community—a community I’m just getting used to. In addition, there’s always the fear of being misunderstood, so regardless of whether you agree or not with what I’m about to write, know that at least it’s my aim to speak the truth in love. So here goes.

I love Christian Peacemaker Teams. I especially love their motto, “What would happen if Christians devoted the same discipline and self-sacrifice to non-violent peacemaking that armies devote to war?” I wish every Christian on the planet would ask themselves that question. I have nothing but admiration and respect for full and part-time CPT workers that live out that motto every day. When I went on a delegation with CPT in October 2007 to the West Bank, it radically changed my life.

So why am I conflicted about CPT? It’s not that I don’t believe in the organization. I do. Nor is it because I necessarily disagree with their anti-proselytizing policy. I understand that every organization has it’s own purpose and mandate. The reason why I’m conflicted is because I’m concerned about the implications of progressive evangelicals continuing to promote CPT as a new face of global missions.

As a long time evangelical missionary and a recent convert to non-violence, I find myself caught between two worlds. On the one hand, I move freely in circles that “pray through the window” and map “unreached people groups” (ethnic groups that have yet to embrace Christianity). On the other hand my devotion to peace and non-violence cause me to move in peace circles—many of which are comprised of theologically liberal Christians.

Never was this more obvious than when I was on the CPT delegation. It took all of about two hours for everyone in the group to realize that I was the “evangelical” in the group. When I was asked to describe myself, I shared with the group honestly about what I had been doing over the past several years—traveling the world and sharing the gospel. For the most part, the group was respectful, but there was the occasional anti-missionary remark that reminded me of my minority status within the group.

Throughout the week, I had many discussions with individuals in the group about why I believe that Jesus is God and why I don’t believe that all religions are equal paths to the same truth. Because I was the odd man out in the group, I left that week thinking that Mennonites were mostly theologically liberal. It wasn’t until much later that I befriended some Mennonites and discovered that Mennonites are mostly theologically conservative—which is one of the reasons why I’m so concerned. If a Biblically orthodox denomination continues to send its young people to CPT to experience a “new face of global missions”, how many of these young people will eventually jettison their Biblical orthodoxy?

My concern isn’t just about conservative Mennonites and their ongoing relationship with CPT, but with the progressive evangelical movement at large. I wonder if in our sincere efforts to promote peace and tolerance between people of different faiths, we’re becoming more “progressive” than “evangelical?” I wonder if our zeal to be good stewards of God’s creation has dampened our zeal to evangelize the lost—as if Jesus would have approved of a carbon footprint exception clause to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” I wonder if we’ve gone too far in laboring to share physical bread with the masses that we’ve neglected to share the “Living Bread” with the masses.

Maybe peacenik evangelical missionaries like myself need an alternative to CPT. Then again, maybe not. I think it’s at least an option that should be looked into, and I’m willing to dialogue with anybody even remotely interested in pursuing the matter further. Either way, I pray that we in the progressive evangelical community will never forget that despite all of our efforts to save the world, that the “form of this world is passing away.” May we labor “not for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life.”

5 comments:

Adam Minneapolis said...

Aaron,

Hey, this is Adam M, your fellow CFNI alumni. I just wanted to say that I appreciate this post, and the potential risk you took to be misunderstood or misaligned. I can understand how you would feel caught between two worlds, that of peace circles (which I affirm as a good thing) and mainstream mission circles. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be much of an overlap between these two worlds.

In any case, I feel that you are correct to question whether or not CPT should be the new face of global missions. There are real implications, as you said, if this should become the case, not the least of which is likely to be opposition to any bold proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the message of the cross.

Aaron D. Taylor said...

Thank you Adam. I think you voiced my feelings better than I did. I've submitted this post to "God's Politics." I hope they accept it.

WES ELLIS said...

We may be kindred spirits in this regard. I am a member of the United Church of Christ because of their emphasis on social justice (including non-violence) and openness but I am torn by my more "conservative" theological perspective and my evangelical background.

I don't think that peacemaking should replace world missions. They're about different work. But I do wish they'd find a way to partner. World missions and evangelism can create peace and non-violent activism can be evangelical.

I appreciate this post very much. Thanks for sharing and taking the risk of being misunderstood.

WES ELLIS said...

PS I must say that a big piece of my heart wishes I were standing with the people by the wall in the picture you used for this post.

Aaron D. Taylor said...

Wes,

It sounds like we are kindred spirits. I think we're both torn in the same way. I think your comment deserves some consideration. Maybe the two can go hand in hand, in their own separate spheres. Thank you for that.

Aaron