A while back I posted this emailed ethics question and invited you to think through it with me. In the meantime, some providence interrupted my life (more on that later) and I'm just now getting to it. Here's the question again, and my response.
Dear Dr. Moore,
As a missionary in a West African country, I'm in a difficult situation. Here poverty is everywhere, and many people sell their young boys to the Taliban leaders at the various mosques. These half naked boys are sent into the streets to beg with a large tomato can and a stick. They are truly hungry and afraid; that was obvious to me. The Christians here have explained that if the boys do not collect enough money, they are not fed and beaten—sometimes worse.
What should I do? Should I give the boys money for the Taliban hoping they will be safe? Should I refuse to support a group that proudly murders knowing that the precious eyes you are refusing could be beaten without my help?
Now that's a hard one.
It's a hard question because I'm not sure, first of all, whether it is known that all of these children are being used by Taliban leaders in this way or just that this does happen from time to time. If the latter, it could be similar to the kind of "He'll just use it to buy liquor and drugs" argument against giving to the homeless in the United States. Let's assume, though, the assessment here is exactly on target: these children are being raised and profited from by Islamic terrorists.
Scripture tells us we are to care for the widows and orphans in their distress (Jas. 1:27). You're face to face with a lot of them, right now. In caring for orphans and widows, Christians should work for justice on both the macro and the micro levels. These levels aren't ultimately in conflict with one another, though they may seem to be in the short term.
On the micro side of things, these children are going to grow up, typically, with a kind of Stockholm Syndrome. They're going to see their captors as sympathetic figures because these terrorists are the ones who fed them and clothed them (all the while brutalizing them). Here is a perversion of the design God has embedded in the creation, that children should identify with those who feed and clothe them.
If all these children see, when they think of followers of Jesus, are the people who avert their eyes from them in need, such will only fuel their suffering and their identification with these oppressive terror cells.
When faced with individual children in need, I think you should give money when you can. All the while telling them that you're doing so in Jesus name. But that's no solution to the problem.
At the macro level, though, you don't want to prop up the kind of satanic economy that is enabling this. Why are parents giving their children to these terrorist groups to rear? It's because they are economically without options.
It seems to me, if this situation is systemic in your area, that God is calling followers of Christ to start some Christ-focused children's homes and orphanages. Counter the terror with homes the West Africans around you can see are clearly kind and loving to children. Invest your time, long term, in building a ministry that includes skill training, vocational counseling, agricultural support.
If you don't have the means to do this, appeal to your sending agency to give you help. If they won't, go around them and appeal to the churches.
And pray for the day when radical Muslims are asking why they don't have children left to exploit anymore.
What about you? Do you have a question for me to answer about some ethical decision? Email it to me at email@example.com
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About Russell Moore
Russell Moore is President of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He formerly served as Dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and executive director of the Carl F. H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement. Dr. Moore is the author of The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective (Crossway, 2004) and Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches (Crossway, May 2009).
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