|ERE'S OUR LIST of the 100 men and women whose power, talent or moral example is transforming our world," says the latest issue of TIME Magazine.|
As Joel Belz of World Mag Blog suggests, only three on the TIME list could be deemed religious leaders -- the Pope, Muqtada al-Sadr of Iraq, and Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria Indeed, notes Belz, "TIME lists 27 'artists and entertainers,' 16 'scientists and thinkers,' 22 'leaders and revolutionaries,' 21 'heroes and pioneers,' and 23 'builders and titans.'" And yes, for the counters among us, that is 109. So in other words, TIME, lurching around for a list of movers and shakers on this planet and given 109 chances, couldn't drum up a healthy list of people known for their relationship to God and the leadership of faith communities?
Ahead of, say, evangelists Billy and Franklin Graham or megachurch pastor and Purpose Driven church leader Rick Warren were listed such forces of influence as the Dixie Chicks, George Clooney, Ellen DeGeneres, Arianna Huffington, Howard Stern, Hugo Chavez, Hillary Clinton, Michelle Wie, Katie Couric, Al Gore, Paul Simon, and Steve Wynn.
Two things could be said of the TIME list: it demonstrates both a definite penchant for popular culture and an impoverished understanding of what is really and fundamentally most important concerning the nations of the world.
Maybe what the most powerful forces in Christianity lack, to their credit, is an overabundance of media machines that make heroes out of people who are just busy doing the work of the Kingdom. There are exceptions, of course; but the best of God's work is done not on the front pages of the publications or television screens of the media elite but in the trenches where life is most difficult, within what Edmund Burke once described as "little platoons" of community. They gather meager resources, join with a small band, and make a mark where mercy and compassion is needed most.
Nobody from the Salvation Army, for instance, was mentioned by TIME; but next time a hurricane clobbers a bit of the world, like Katrina recently did the Gulf Coast, you can bet that the Salvationists and their small units will be there in the flesh, alongside countless laypeople from churches across America, handing out clean water and blankets because of the God who lives within them. But better than that, with many of these groups compassion will ride tandem with the sharing of heart-felt prayers and the gospel, making a difference in physical lives so that a door might be opened for spiritual change.
Cicero once argued that religion "is indispensable to private morals and public order ... and no man of sense will attack it." It would be nice if, in a list of the top 109 change agents of the world, a major American magazine could find room for more than three religious leaders.
Nice, certainly. But unexpected. For in this world we ought to be joyfully, expectantly, "aliens and strangers on earth." And, in all likelihood, unrecognized by TIME.
Matt Friedeman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a professor at Wesley Biblical Seminary. Respond to this column at his blog at "EvangelismToday.blogspot.com."
More columns by Matt Friedeman