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Give Us This Day: A Lutheran Proposal for Ending World Hunger.

Give Us This Day: A Lutheran Proposal for Ending World Hunger. By Craig L. Nessan. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2003. 94 pages. Paper. $9.99.

In this volume Craig Nessan seeks to awaken Lutherans to their confessional resources in order to address the plight of the nearly one billion humans who are suffering hunger in the world today. According to the Formula of Concord, the church is called to a state of confession (Solid Declaration 10.8-10) when the truth of the gospel is jeopardized. Similar to the Lutheran World Federation's appeal to an ethical use of status confessionis in light of apartheid in South Africa in 1977, Nessan seeks to persuade us that the current discrepancies between "haves" and "have-nots" that keep so many starving, especially women and children, call us as a church to enter a state of confession before the world. Nessan points out that many Americans remain indifferent to the problem because "the hungry remain tidily tucked away in Nicaraguan villages and along back streets in Calcutta" (p. 34). The problem is not bounty--we have the resources to feed all--but distribution. Nessan believes that Lutherans have a scriptural mandate and a conscience opened to their neighbor's needs, and they should not be socially indifferent but rather leaders on behalf of these needs.

Nessan thoroughly grounds his argument in Scripture's justice tradition in the prophets and Jesus Christ. He appeals anecdotally to case studies of hunger from his students from the two-thirds world. He interprets status confessionis as addressing not only doctrine that compromises the gospel but also practices that violate an ethics springing from the gospel. Lutherans are driven to a state of confession when the gospel is compromised. Nessan suggests that when the neighbor is being violated we must also be driven to confession on their behalf. "The concept of 'ethical heresy' informs this second interpretation of status confessionis" (p. 57).

Nessan has an outstanding program for the church' advocacy role, moving us beyond conviction to tactics (see pp. 70-75). Included here are: (1) equalizing the benefits of economic globalization, (2) revising policies of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in light of the poorest of the poor, (3) refocusing U.S. foreign aid on humanitarian and development purposes, (4) evaluating international trade agreements according to their impact on the hungry, (5) monitoring the effectiveness of state-organized welfare programs, (6) promoting the development of microenterprise credit, (7) supporting sustainable agricultural practices, (8) stewarding the usable water supply, (9) expanding initiatives to improve health care and education, and (10) preferential treatment for the well-being of women and children. All of these factors imply American complicity in contributing to the world's hunger problem.

He ends his book with an absolution of readers from their sins. He trusts that such freedom will unleash the charity needed to help our starving neighbor.

The greatest challenge for the redistribution of resources that could end global hunger is convincing "haves" of their responsibility to the "have-nots." Because starving people are not in the daily visibility of most "haves," it is easy to shrug them off as not one's responsibility. Many unchurched Americans' value systems are derived from civil religion that is concerned only for America's perceived well-being or pop culture that glorifies greed. Many Americans believe that starvation exists not because of unjust economics but because the hungry are lazy, have bad luck, or are simply not "blessed" (like us).

A major problem for ethics is that the development of a worldwide economy has outstripped our ethical wisdom. The latter has been only until very recently yoked to tribal communities whose behaviors had little impact globally. Today, the seemingly minor actions of many, as accumulated over time, can harm whole populations of other people a world away. Hence, we need to expand the concept of neighbor: neighbors are whomever our behavior may affect, not merely those we personally encounter.

Throughout the book Nessan struggles with the relation between law and gospel, when to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Nessan is concerned that our well-being and freedom before God is not misused to tolerate or promote indifference (which would result from a false therapeutic view of the gospel). We hear the law's accusation in Nessan's work. Law leads to Christ. Law is also how God curbs greed--or for that matter murder (indifference to the starving). Nessan's work makes it clear that we not only steal from others in our current economy but thereby kill many, of which we may be unaware.

Advocates of capitalism must recognize at some level that the gross inequities between "haves" and "have-nots" throughout the world are economically and politically self-defeating. If the ELCA is a complacent church ($3.00/year per member for world hunger), is this because the gospel is being ineffectively preached or because we are so successfully accommodated to the wider world, with its complacency and indifference? The interpretations of experience given in the Bible need to become more real as horizons in which people can live. The answer is less to show a political dimension to the gospel (since God's kingdom is at hand and not in hand) than to expose the false theologies enshrined in politics. More important, we must so preach and teach law that the conscience can no longer deface the starving other. In this way law and gospel can be rightly divided.

Nessan has rendered our church a significant service in bringing the issue of hunger to the fore. His book is written clearly and with passion. It will help stimulate congregational reflection and discussion. It could well be used as a congregational Advent or Lenten study and as a study at synod assemblies. The problems that Nessan raises are of the utmost concern: our fellow Christians, fellow humans are starving to death. To tolerate this makes us all culpable in violence. May this volume help promote social and personal well-being throughout the world.

Mark C. Mattes

Grand View College

Des Moines, Iowa
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Author:Mattes, Mark C.
Publication:Currents in Theology and Mission
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 2004
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