The Making of a ‘Call to Action’


This is a front-line report from the recent Jamaica Consultation on Creation Care and the Gospel which I was privileged to lead. I didn’t have a lot of time for reflection during the Consultation, and am still somewhat overwhelmed with detail relating to the event.  However, Lowell Bliss has been reporting his experience regularly through the Eden Vigil Newsletter.  [Contact Lowell if you want to subscribe.]  Here is his most recent, describing the experience of coming up with a Consultation Call to Action.  [The document being described is still under review, but should be released publicly on Monday, November 12.  Watch for it in this space.]
“Buddy, you don’t know half the story!”

I didn’t say these words, but I was thinking them, as I acknowledged another consultant’s gracious encouragement that people were praying for our Statement Committee.  If only he knew about the hundreds of you who were so faithfully praying, even after internet communication had been cut from my side in Jamaica.

My heart is full of joy, but I’m feeling the rigor in my body even as I write these words.  The picture above is taken from the communion service on the final evening.  It depicts how exhausted I was by this point, but it also shows Chris (Canada) passing the wine to Cassien (Burundi).: “This is the blood of Christ shed for you.” Chris had received it from the hands of Terry (First Nations Canada) who had received it from Darceuil (Trinidad and Tobago) who had received it from me (U.S.) who had received it from Robert (U.K.) who had received from Kuki (India). . . .  It was a thrilling experience of the Body of Christ.

The Lead Up to the Final Day“One thing I have going for me is that I’m not afraid to fail miserably.”

 

The Consultation gathers around and prays for the Statement Committee before sending us off on a writing assignment that they thought would take us to the wee hours of the morning.  Lawrence and I are visible.  Paul and Sara are hidden in the middle of the crowd.  Ed Brown is up on the platform.

It was Thursday evening, immediately following a discussion session where the entire Consultation had filled half the pages in a flip chart with critique and suggestions for our Statement Committee.  After dinner, Paul Cook (U.K.), Sara Kaweesa (Uganda), Lawrence Ko (Singapore) and I were supposed to sequester ourselves in a room and generate the final proposed draft of our Statement.  The quotation above is what I said to another consultant who wondered how we could possibly pull it off.

Earlier on Thursday, right before lunch, I had addressed the entire Consultation and said something similar to this:
“We have an important decision to make.  Let me give a little history of the Statement process.  I was appointed Chair of the Statement Committee just three weeks prior to the Consultation.  I thought that because it was just me, and because of the lateness of the appointment, that the Consultation just needed a wordsmith, a typist, who could capture a summary of our gathering.  The Steering Committee can attest that I asked, ‘Why do we need a Statement when we already have the Cape Town Commitment?  Maybe we could just issue a press release or write up an introductory chapter for the [post-Consultation] book.’   Paul joined me on the committee, and I thought that it’s nice to have a partner.  Then when we got here, Paul and I were told, ‘Just write up one or two pages which covers why we came, what we did while here, and where we go from here.'”

I continued: “But I should have known better.  For one thing, all the opposition that we encountered prior to the Consultation was all directed specifically to the Statement.  One group suggested actual wording for us to include that contradicted what the Cape Town Commitment has already said on climate change.  When we refused to do this, they then suggested that we NOT issue a statement at all, until we had considered four documents that they sent us.  The second reason I should have known better is that this is Lausanne.  Issuing statements is what we do!  And you all are such passionate people.”

Our work on the Statement Committee had resulted in six pages of material up to that point, some of it representing extensive theological work on the relationship between creation care and the gospel.  I told the Consultation that there’s no way we could return to “just a one or two page statement, but this suggests a course of action: we produce two documents!  One would be a Report, taking what we have, built around our three goals.  Just like the Beirut meetings on creation care preceded Cape Town, so now the Jamaica Report is a follow-up to Cape Town.”  The other document would be a two-page statement as originally conceived. This idea was agreeable to the group, but it meant that we had NOTHING written up yet on the Statement.  After our Thursday afternoon free-wheeling discussion, some on our committee felt the frustration.

 

The First Proposed Draft: Thursday PM and Friday AM
“I can’t believe how well they listened to us.”We on the Statement Committee were in bed by 10:30 PM that night!

We were the beneficiaries of some early breaks:

1.  Ed suggested that we change the name of the document from Statement to “Call to Action.”  That one title change caught the fervor of this action-oriented bunch.

2.  We carried over the introduction we had already written for the Report.

3. We landed on a super-simple plan of organization which allowed us to head right into a list of specific calls for action.

4.  We used a criteria for calls to action which went something like this: What has the global Evangelical church never before been challenged with, either by way of topic or in degree?

Paul was our writer.  Sara went through every scrap of paper we as a committee had ever collected.  Lawrence added the wisest of suggestions at the most appropriate of times.  It was an honor to serve with these three people.

Ed read our draft and e-mailed it out to the entire Consultation that night.  In the morning, I accosted David Knight (Univ. of Waterloo, ON) before breakfast.  He graciously agreed to polish our draft as we had lost all objectivity on adverbs, semi-colons, etc.  One consultant told Ed, “I can’t believe how well they listened to us.” That was the greatest compliment ever!

At 10:30 on Friday morning, Ed handed me the microphone.  I was supposed to facilitate our discussion of this proposed draft.  Fifty-seven people from 23 different countries.  Some were theologians; some scientists; others missionaries, economists, pastors, practitioners, activists, agriculturalists.  I’m not sure how we could calculate all the permutations of backgrounds.  With the document projected up on the screen behind me, it was a high energy time.  Paul, Sara, and Lawrence sat at a table on the platform and feverishly took notes.  At times, we purposely provoked debate.  Other times we arranged ad hoc working groups: “Okay, you two give us actual wording on agriculture, but I want Joel (Congo) to join you for urbanization and James (Bangladesh) for sustainable development.”  There were numerous times when someone said something that just made all the sense in the world, and I’d look up to see people across the room flashing thumbs up. We used up our first hour-and-a-half slot and the Steering Committee gave us another hour after that. It was a fun, joyful, thrilling occasion. Finally, we had gone through the entire document and when I asked for any unresolved issues, there was a gratifying silence.  Everyone seemed to have been satisfied with having their say.

After lunch on Friday, the Statement Committee was supposed to meet and incorporate the collected suggestions. I apologized to my colleagues.  “I’m sorry.  I’ve got absolutely nothing left.  Please excuse me.”  Chris Shore (Canada) of World Vision graciously substituted for me.  I went for a swim in the swimming pool.  I laid down on my bed for a while.  I joined the others in the Consultation for their regular program.  Afterwards, I went into the room where the Statement Committee had just finished the final Call to Action.  They wanted me to read it.  I sat behind Paul’s computer for politeness sake, but to tell you the truth, none of the words on the page registered.  I did not read the finished Call to Action until I was on the plane from Dallas back home to Manhattan.

 

“There’s a fire in my belly.”The Call to Action is “embargoed,” an apparently technical term which means that none of the Consultants are allowed to share the Call to Action with anyone until Lausanne officials are able to sign off on it and officially release it.We want to release it next week in time not only for the Evangelical Theological Society meetings that are convening in Milwaukee, but also in time for a national meeting of church leaders in Zimbabwe.  Lindani, the executive director of the national Evangelical Fellowship of  Zimbabwe commented on the Call to Action, “There’s a fire in my belly.”

So, obviously I invite your prayers for the next couple days as well.  I’ll release the Call to Action for you as soon as it is cleared.  Where the Call to Action goes from here, what we do with it, is already in the hands of others.  I am looking forward to reporting to you in the months ahead about the progress of the Call.