“Imagine No Malaria:” solution, or symptom?

First off, check out this link to a piece about some grad students developing a phone app that can diagnose malaria.

Malaria is a horrible disease that afflicts millions each year. The CDC reports that approximately 1 million people die yearly of malaria.  Because it affects so many people, the United Methodist Church joined many others several years ago in the Nothing but Nets campaign to provide mosquito nets.

More recently, the United Methodist Church has identified “Four Areas of Focus.” While the motivation for adopting these four areas is not as clear as the areas themselves, I believe it is safe to suggest these factors:

  1. The United Methodist Church has been declining in membership (in the US) as long as there has been a United Methodist Church.  All of us who are United Methodist would like to change this.
  2. Most would agree that we, as a denomination, spread ourselves very thinly across a multitude of issues, causes, and missions.

The Four Areas of Focus, then, are a good thing in that, assuming we all sign on, we gain some clarity on what we are all as United Methodists doing together.

Under the heading of the first Area of Focus, “Combating global diseases of poverty, ” then, we have embarked into the “Imagine No Malaria” campaign, the goal of which is (modestly) to eradicate malaria. Our (The UMC’s) commitment to this campaign has recently topped $15 million.

At the risk of sounding like I am opposed to eradicating malaria, which I am not, I believe this drive is more a symptom of our denominational decline and malaise than part of the solution.

Not unlike our Nothing But Nets efforts a few years ago, the “Imagine No Malaria” events easily take on the tone of pep rallies.  Pep rallies may or may not be a good thing, but either way they are tied to short-term matters – the next game or contest – no one has a pep rally for the whole season, do they?

So, while such movements are good at rallying attention and support, I doubt they do much for something that I believe is at the heart of the UMC distress.  We have, as a denomination, commitment anxiety.

We want issues, events, etc., about which we can get excited and for which we can write checks.  We are, after all, middle to upper-middle class folks who want, generally, to be left alone.  Yeah, we don’t mind if you strike a chord now and then or jerk a tear here or there, but we would really rather write a check than change our lives.

Especially if the writing of said check can eradicate a global disease. We’re all in, baby!

But if we manage to be a part of eradicating malaria, our addiction to causes and check-writing (which is a metaphor; who writes checks anymore, really?) will merely move on to the next cause.

At the same time, we claim, and mostly desire, to be followers of Jesus.  Not merely members of a church or club, but followers of Jesus. Following Jesus cannot be done by joining a cause or writing a check.  Following Jesus is done by losing one’s life.

If you support my cause against causes and for following Jesus, please comment rather than writing me a check.

8 thoughts on ““Imagine No Malaria:” solution, or symptom?

  1. I understand your concerns raised here. I may agree with some of your points in an over arching way, but I am strongly convinced that this campaign is helping.

    A history lesson that I am sure you don’t need but some of your readers might not be aware of.

    The last time Methodism as a whole stood behind a cause with all of its weight was the temporence (sp?) movement which was to fight for the rights of those who became marginalized due to the addictions and abuses of others. Most typically with husbands who became drunk and beat their wives. The temporence movement accomplished great victories in women’s suffrage and also led to Prohibition laws. From what I can tell the decline in Methodism began with the repeal of prohibition and was just sped along by several other things including white flight in the mid sixties. We had nothing as our rallying cry. Grace and free grace were the message all along still and still are, but without a specific rallying call to action our people became less motivated to fight for what we believed in.

    Imagine No Malaria, for me, is once again that rallying cry. What I cannot do on my own, we can do together. A difference can be made and I can help. The death rate of malaria through the course of nothing but nets and Imagine no Malaria has gone down from 1 every 30 seconds to 1 every 45 seconds. And while I know that I could have done more to help and in the whole scheme of things I haven’t done much… the call of Christ to serve in my life is not about doing what I can’t do, but instead its about actually doing what I can and doing it joyfully.

    But I may be completely wrong.

    • Jacob; I don’t think you are completely wrong – not at all! In fact, I appreciate your calling to mind the temperance movement. As great a victory as that was (or may have been-see below) and as deeply involved as Methodists were (there were no “United Methodists” then), I’m not sure it argues against my point.

      As far as the temperance movement empowered women and supported women’s suffrage, it was indeed a great thing to be involved in.

      On the other hand, However alcohol was a factor in the marginalization of some at the hands or addictions of others, I am not convinced Prohibition really solved anything.

      Were we busy living into the Kingdom, being discipled and discipling each other along the way, perhaps the dangers of alcohol would have been dealt in ways other than a constitutional amendment.

      Was the temperance movement aimed at offering an alternative to the felt needs that were drawing so many to the bottle?

      I am encouraged to hear that you find “Imagine No Malaria” to be a valid, even a good, rallying cry for the United Methodist Church. My concern, I suppose, is that were the church actually focused on being the church, we would not find such a strong need for rallying cries.

  2. Maybe one of the problems in the U.S. is that our being the hands and feet of Christ in the world has been reduced to writing a check. Is that all we are, check-writing machines? Is that all we have to contribute, our bank accounts?

  3. I don’t believe Imagine No Malaria was thought up to increase numbers for the denomination. Imagine No Malaria is about eliminating deaths in Africa due to a disease of poverty. (The UMC is still partners with Nothing But Nets.)

    Jesus is the cause. Imagine No Malaria is an effect.

  4. I have been considering the idea of working toward the eradication of malaria for several years. I have been disabled for three years and am getting old. The two ideas for a 501(c)3 I would like to form are

    I have no money to make donations, I’m not an M.D. I was raised in the Methodist church in the 50’s and 60’s before and through when it changed to the United Methodist Church. I have long since been involved in other aspects of Christianity.
    What if many would commit to a simple goal– that being
    ” I commit to the goal of ending malaria before I die. Signed:__________________.” Then see what each can do until the disease is eradicated.

  5. That would be a great goal. But, we can eliminate deaths from malaria more quickly than eliminating the disease. Today is World Malaria Day. I hope people will vote with their wallet and say that lives are worth saving in Africa. Imagine No Malaria takes donations by text, credit card and even cash or check. With all the UM related hospitals, clinics and churches in Africa it’s an easy way to make sure your help gets directly to the people in need.

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