As LoveLoud Sunday approaches, we—at the North American Mission Board—would like you to lead your congregation to join the social justice movement currently underway among evangelicals globally.
What is social justice?
Social justice is a phrase that conjures up a vast array of images and feelings, while lending to numerous attempts to define what it is. By definition, social injustice refers to something that is wrong in our society. From hungry children without meals to eat when school is out of session to our sometimes nebulous approaches to addressing problems like human trafficking, one thing is clear when talking about social justice: There are things in the world around us that are not as they should be.
Some of the ‘wrongs’ that we see are caused by oppression by others, such as prostitution and abortion, whereas some social justice problems are the result of living in an imperfect world, such as natural disasters and sickness. In the midst of the potentially confusing discussion of social justice, Christians can be paralyzed, not knowing how to—or even if they should—act. For instance, should we care about the current border crisis? Or, is that emergency the government’s problem and not something that concerns the church?
Should Christians get involved?
So that the central point of this article is not lost, let me state it clearly here: All evangelicals must engage in social justice, to correct things that are wrong, yet not all evangelicals will engage in the same type of social justice efforts or to the same level of personal involvement.
God’s word leads, without doubt, to this position. Passages such as Deuteronomy 10, Zechariah 7, and James 1 show us that God is a compassionate God, who expects the same from his people. And these chapters are not isolated texts, but rather are representative of an overwhelming message within the Bible. According to some estimates, there are over 2,000 biblical texts that lead to one important conclusion: All evangelicals must engage in social justice. We must strive ardently to foster compassionate cultures within our churches so that the body of Christ exudes the aroma of a caring and merciful people.
Historically, Christians have understood these truths to be non-negotiable and have seen the fruit of applying them to social injustice. It was such a natural and self-evident aspect of what it means to be a Christian, believers have not needed reminders such as this article until the 20th century.
The early church was known as a merciful and compassionate group of people, providing dignity and care for the sick and dying victims of the great plagues in the late 2nd and 3rd centuries. William Carey, known as the “Father of Modern Missions,” bought women out of prostitution, fed countless men and women, and started socially conscious businesses to benefit persecuted Bengali Christians. In short, the church, throughout two millennia, applied these 2,000-plus passages to social injustices by physically caring for the weak while proclaiming Christ. Christians set wrongs right through their words and deeds.
What does involvement look like?
So, the answer is ‘yes,’ we should care about the border crisis as well as other injustices. The key question is how? Again, not all evangelicals will engage in the same type of social justice or to the same level of personal involvement. I think it is helpful to use the following matrix to help individuals and churches consider what social injustices they will address and how they will go about it. Also, I believe all four of these elements must be in place to see catalytic social justice that truly transforms an injustice to become a just situation.
Applying this framework to the border crisis, we can think through the reality that believers should engage in compassionate action in various ways. Whereas all of us should increase our knowledge of the circumstances that led to this calamity, some believers will have the expertise necessary to engage in political action, including advocacy on behalf of the women and children suffering through this situation and addressing the policies and circumstances that led to these conditions.
While some Christians will raise awareness through social media or personal conversations, some men and women will feel that their very souls are tied to the welfare of these individuals. Some of God’s people will search for financial margin in their budgets to assist local churches on our southern border ministering to these refugees, although they will never take a trip to do so personally. Yet, my church may not give as much financially as another church that has a strong interest in caring for neglected children.
Hopefully, all evangelicals are praying for the kingdom of Christ to come in power for the border refugees—to rescue them from their oppressors, to see their physical needs met, and to see them come to faith in Christ—although not every believer will make it a priority to pray in this way with great fervency or regular consistency. A very select few believers will combine all of these types of personal engagement to be used of God as an agent of catalytic social justice on a particular issue. The result, in some cases, has been a dramatic change in socially unjust situations, such as the impact of Annie Armstrong and Lottie Moon on marginalized people.
How will you get involved?
We could (and should) apply this framework to every social injustice that individuals encounter in our culture. There is great freedom in Christ to not be involved in every type of social injustice at the same level as others who God leads to deeper, long-term engagement. There is no freedom in Christ, however, to avoid doing what Scripture clearly calls us to. Involvement is beyond question.
Whether the issue is adoption and foster care or ministering to the homeless population, God has called us to minister to the least of these—to the men, women and children who are lost without a shepherd. You and your church may not be called to rescue women from the sex trade at your local strip club, but surely you can finance ministries that do and pray for receptivity among the women they will encounter.
Our hope, as evangelicals, should be to see God burden his people men and women with relentless compassion, who foster congregations that are noted for offering physical, emotional and spiritual enrichment to a hurt and dying world. Our part, as evangelicals, should be to engage in significant ways. If God’s people will run full-steam into the mess of broken lives and injustices around us, proclaiming the hope found in Christ alone according to an individual’s or a congregation’s specific level and type of involvement, we would see the possibility of being catalysts of social justice become reality as great believers experienced in previous generations.