Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen (”Rural”) Bank just won the Nobel Peace Prize for pioneering the concept of "microcredit." This is where a group of poor people borrows a tiny amount of money to help them finance a small business. The idea is to help the poor become entrepreneurs and earn their way out of poverty. Reportedly, Grameen Bank has been extremely successful, making billions of dollars of microloans with an astonishingly-high repayment rate. Other microcredit initiatives have been modeled on the same basic idea, including that of the Christian group World Vision.
Muhammad Yunus's first name suggests that he's of Muslim origin. As have other non-Christians, he would seem to exemplify following the Great Commandment and Summary of the Law. (Recall that according to the Gospels, Jesus said that following the Great Commandment and Summary of the Law is all we need do to gain eternal life.)
I suspect many of us Christians would be embarrassed to have our discipleship compared with Yunus's. The Bible-worshipper minority in the Episcopal Church (TEC) in particular, together with their allies in other churches, should be red-faced with mortification. These folks have implacably refused to accept the prayerful, duly-enacted decisions of two successive General Conventions on issues of sexuality and the church's relationship with other churches. They reject even the possibility that the church might be responding to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. They seem incapable of trusting that God will help us eventually sort these things out. Instead, these bibliolaters have forced TEC to devote enormous resources to internecine fighting. If Jesus was right in his parable about the last judgment, we may all find ourselves wishing we'd devoted those resources instead to initiatives like that of Yunus.
Here's an excerpt from the Associated Press story about Yunus's Nobel Peace Prize:
Yunus told The Associated Press in a 2004 interview that his ''eureka moment'' came while chatting to a shy woman weaving bamboo stools with calloused fingers.
Sufia Begum was a 21-year-old villager and a mother of three when the economics professor met her in 1974 and asked her how much she earned. She replied that she borrowed about 5 taka (nine cents) from a middleman for the bamboo for each stool.
All but two cents of that went back to the lender.
''I thought to myself, my God, for five takas she has become a slave,'' Yunus said in the interview.
''I couldn't understand how she could be so poor when she was making such beautiful things,'' he said.
The following day, he and his students did a survey in the woman's village, Jobra, and discovered that 43 of the villagers owed a total of 856 taka (about $27).
''I couldn't take it anymore. I put the $27 out there and told them they could liberate themselves,'' he said, and pay him back whenever they could. The idea was to buy their own materials and cut out the middleman.
They all paid him back, day by day, over a year, and his spur-of-the-moment generosity grew into a full-fledged business concept that came to fruition with the founding of Grameen Bank in 1983.
In the years since, the bank says it has lent $5.72 billion to more than six million Bangladeshis.
Worldwide, microcredit financing is estimated to have helped some 17 million people.
''Yunus and Grameen Bank have shown that even the poorest of the poor can work to bring about their own development,'' the Nobel citation said.
It just goes to show: Anyone can be a "Christian," no matter what his or her particular beliefs.