I was privileged to sit in on a conference at Wheaton these past two days called "Government, Foreign Assistance, and God's Mission in the World." A "Wheaton Declaration" will come out of it after a couple revision loops. One paragraph of the first draft looked to be a particularly good summary:
"The extraordinary power of the United States and the daily impact of the United States on the world's poor requires special vigilance on the part of American Christian citizens as to the effects of the US role and policies and assistance programs. Our goal should be to bend the power of the United States toward a maximally effective impact on the world's poor"
The relationship between churches and the government on these sorts of issues is a thorny one, in my opinion, and I am much more comfortable personally with Christian groups lobbying the government than denominations per se, especially when it comes to specific policies. Nevertheless, I may post some thoughts in relation to the conference over the next few days.
Probably the first thing that struck me was the assumption of values. I think almost everyone at the conference accepted the value of helping the poor. One early caveat was on effective assistance. There was a strong distinction made between aid and development. Aid is short term in a time of crisis (e.g., Haiti). Development is about empowering people to support themselves eventually.
But I sat there wondering whether even most American Christians are on board with the basic value that it is our duty as Christians to help those in need. Before we can ever get to the question of the government, we have to make sure Christians can see that helping those in need is a fundamental Christian value.