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WORLDVIEW: Nonstop bad news distorts global reality

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Disasters, war and violence dominated the news last year: the tsunami and Katrina, Iraq, terrorist attacks worldwide, the Kashmir earthquake.

These traumatic events led most of the top-story lists for 2005 (including Baptist Press’ poll of state Baptist editors), and rightly so. Hundreds of thousands died. Millions suffered –- and continue to suffer. Many Christians responded to human and spiritual needs with sacrificial love and generosity.

But the accumulation of bad news, relentlessly covered by news media, tends to distort our perceptions of the world.

“Chaos and violence get all the attention,” a frustrated evangelical worker told “Christianity Today” magazine after the underground train bombings in London last summer.

The 24/7 focus on mayhem, which is always unfolding somewhere in the world, misleads us into thinking it is happening everywhere.

It isn’t –- at least not in its man-made forms. If a recent study of global conflict is accurate, organized violence has decreased significantly since the early 1990s.

The Human Security Report, released in October by the Human Security Centre at the University of British Columbia in Canada, shows that mass political violence –- with the exception of terrorism –- has declined rapidly since the end of the Cold War. Ignorance of that reality “is compounded by the fact that the global media give far more coverage to wars that start than those that quietly end,” says Andrew Mack, director of the centre and coordinator of the three-year project.

The study, published by Oxford University Press, includes these findings:

— The number of armed conflicts has declined by more than 40 percent since 1992, primarily because of the end of colonialism and proxy wars spawned by the Cold War. Wars also have killed far fewer people in recent decades.

— Wars between countries now constitute less than 5 percent of all armed conflicts.

— The period since World War II is the longest interval without wars between major powers in hundreds of years.

— Most armed conflicts are occurring in Africa, but declined even there — from 41 to 35 between 2002 and 2003.

— Despite the horrific mass murders in Rwanda, Bosnia and Sudan over the past 15 years, the overall number of genocides perpetrated worldwide fell 80 percent between 1989 and 2001.

— International terrorism is the only form of political violence that is increasing; more than 650 “significant attacks” occurred in 2004 alone. The death toll from terrorism, however, accounts for only a small fraction of annual war-related deaths.

— Most current wars are low-intensity conflicts, often consisting of skirmishes between government forces and internal rebels.

— Authoritarian regimes are responsible for higher levels of violent internal repression and human rights abuses. But as democracy has spread worldwide, the number of such regimes fell from 90 to 30 between the end of the 1970s and 2003.

These developments provide scant comfort to the people suffering amid the 60 armed conflicts raging today -– not to mention the millions who live in “failed states” wracked by endemic violence, corrupt governments or anarchy.

But the report clearly demonstrates that the world is not descending into chaos, as the evening news sometimes implies. Total global violence has dropped, stability has increased, political freedom is on the rise and economic growth is lifting millions out of poverty.

That’s good news for everyone. But it challenges the church to get on with the task of global evangelization. We lack the convenient excuse that large segments of the world remain off-limits to us because of war, chaos and repression. Hundreds of people groups around the world remain unevangelized — not because they live in places too dangerous and violent to reach, but because we haven’t bothered to reach them.

I’ll never forget the shock I felt when I visited a country of more than 60 million people several years ago and discovered why there were so few believers there. It wasn’t because of violence, persecution or hostility toward Christians, although those factors all existed to some degree.

It was because we, the followers of Christ, have yet to get serious about spreading the truth in that land.

“They haven’t rejected the Gospel,” said a worker in the country. “They haven’t yet heard the Gospel.”
Erich Bridges is senior writer with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.

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  • Erich Bridges