(This is the second half of my answer to the question, “What good has the church ever done for the world?” I posted part one last week.)
One way to see how Christianity has affected our world is to compare areas that have historically been Christian to areas where the church is largely absent.
Probably the clearest understanding of the difference the church has made, and is still making, in the world comes from a short article written in 1990 by missiologist Luis Bush. He describes a concept called the “10/40 Window”—a square box drawn on a map of the eastern hemisphere between 10 degrees and 40 degrees north. In that part of the world you will find the spiritual center of the major non-Christian religions (Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.) and the least access to Christian resources.
Of course, we’re talking about a generalization. There are glaring exceptions, such as the inclusion of Korea, a predominantly Christian country with a high standard of living, and the exclusion of Indonesia with its huge Muslim population.
According to the data used in 1990, the 10/40 Window includes 82% of the poorest of the poor, with a per capita GNP under $500/year. It also encompasses 84% of those with the lowest life expectancy, highest infant mortality, and lowest literacy levels.
Of course, correlation doesn’t always imply causation. These people may have the world’s lowest standard of living for a variety of reasons. Still, the highest quality of life corresponds to the part of the world that has historically been Christian. In many ways, this makes sense.
Christianity demands high ethical standards. Why is there so much poverty and suffering in nations with abundant natural resources? To a large degree, corruption and greed siphon away the prosperity the population should be enjoying. Developed nations certainly aren’t immune, but we want our leaders to be honorable and ethical, even if we no longer expect it. The church has left a lingering ethic even in areas where it is declining.
As I mentioned last time, Christianity believes in the value of every person and the obligation to help someone in need. We’re so immersed in our culture, we don’t realize what an alternative world view leads to. Let me show you one example.
The Hindu belief is that we deserve our lot in life—it’s our karma. If we suffer now, it’s because we did something bad in a previous life and we’re paying the consequences. It would be wrong to interfere. In fact, rescue operations after the 2004 tsunami were hampered by a reluctance to help other people.
Then add in the caste system, officially outlawed but still very much a part of Indian life. The baby’s caste would be different from an adopting family. That would be unthinkable.
So our friends, who are Christians, are raising this adorable little girl as their own, along with their three sons. They’re her legal guardians, but they can never adopt her under Indian law.
It’s obvious that the church doesn’t always succeed at being the loving, grace-filled representation of Jesus that it’s called to be. It’s composed of humans, after all, and we all screw up, even when we’re trying our hardest to get it right. Then, not everyone who claims to be a Christian is a follower of Jesus. Just reciting a prayer and showing up in a pew won’t change us into disciples. Yet, the church is how God gets things done here on earth. That he manages to accomplish so much good—in spite of what he has to work with—might be the best evidence of his existence.