Jewish pacifists were hard to come by during World War II, but Max Kampelman never wavered. When his name came up during the draft, Max opted to volunteer for the Minnesota Starvation Experiment rather than fight.
The American government was preparing for the thousands of war-torn, hungry Europeans, and they needed to learn how to bring someone back from severe starvation. They invited Americans who wanted to avoid combat to volunteer for the research project. Extreme experiments like these are normally reserved for lab rats, but in this case, only human specimens could produce the results needed.
For eleven months, Max subjected himself to the rigorous physical extreme of controlled starvation. But as his body whittled away, his spirit did the opposite. Instead of letting his mental sharpness fade (as was the case for some of the others), he leveraged his time to pursue a law degree. Following the experiment, Max went on to serve several White House Administrations and was eventually awarded the President’s Medal of Freedom.
Not long ago, I had the honor of meeting Ambassador Kampelman at a gathering at the Hoover Institution. That day, he gave an eight-minute speech on nuclear disarmament that I’ve never forgotten. Rather than living our lives in the shadow of the world as it is, he believes we must live in the light of how things should be.
“The power of the ought is the power to change the world,” he said. “We can’t just see the world in terms of how it is today, or we will always be defeated. But when we see the world in terms of how things ought to be, we can dream for the impossible—and work to see it become a reality.”
What Ambassador Kampelman didn’t realize was that in just five words—“how things ought to be”—he had sung the anthem of the next generation of Christian leaders. Rather than lament the latest court appointment or bemoan our nation’s “moral decline” like many in previous generations, rising Christians are fueled to engage the world by a vision of the way things should be.
The next Christians are seeing their mission in life through the prism of the ought. This includes sharing the Gospel so that men and women might enter into relationship with God, but it also goes beyond that. In the garden in Genesis there was no sickness, evil, darkness or pain. So these Christians set out to identify where these things are showing up in the world and work to stop them. They have purposed to loose the chains of brokenness and set free God’s intention.
This way of thinking manifests itself in people like my friend Shannon, an attorney who has devoted her life to fighting genocide and prosecuting war criminals. It is evident in Jason, Bobby, and Laren who made a documentary to raise awareness about childhood tragedies in Northern Uganda. Or a girl I met in Georgia who is mobilizing her church to serve the needs of the immigrant poor in a nearby trailer park. These and thousands more like them represent a whole generation that is saying, “Enough! This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be!”
As Andy Stanley writes in Visioneering, “visions are born in the soul of a man or woman who is consumed with the tension between what is and what could be. Visions form in the hearts of those who are dissatisfied with the status quo.”
Rising Christian leaders are consumed with this tension and fed up with the status quo. They are tired of global poverty, disease epidemics, malnutrition, rampant drug addiction, racial discrimination, and other atrocities that ruin so many lives unnecessarily. They want a world where enmity is removed, injustice overturned, rightness reigns, and the story of Jesus Christ is declared among the nations. These Christians are living in the tension between what is and what ought to be, and setting the stage for a radically different kind of Christianity.