Why Social Justice is a Church Issue

Almost ten years ago I was teaching a summer SAT review class.  Each morning we would go over our goals and I’d encourage the students, telling them how proud I was of their progress and growth. Every single day I told them how intelligent they all were, and how much I believed in them. For me this wasn’t just a side job, it was a piece of my ministry. They would always listen with blank expressions or look away or sometimes even look confused. One day as I shared these thoughts with them again, I paused and asked them directly why they weren’t “hearing” me. I said it didn’t feel like my words were soaking in.  One young woman spoke on behalf of the class and said “it’s hard to believe you when everyone else is telling us the opposite”. I’ll never forget that moment.Why Social Justice is a Church Issue

It’s strange how divisive social justice – particularly racial reconciliation – has become in the church. I’ve seen in numerous online groups and discussions how social justice is not part of the gospel. I’m seeing people argue that this is one more thing the enemy is using to divide us and our overall mission, how social justice is distracting us. There is brokenness and hurting in the world, we will never resolve it, and we need to just “save souls”. Let’s keep politics and worldly issues out of the church.  This is a world issue, not a gospel issue.  Let’s not let this be the forefront of what we do or be the topic of conversation right now. There are numerous things that confuse me about these thoughts but when I hear these arguments I keep thinking back on my SAT student.

“It’s hard to believe you when everyone else is telling us the opposite.”

For those who feel like the church’s role is to “save souls”, I think back to how Christ calls us to make disciples of all nations. For so long the church has tried to do this using fear as a tactic, trying to terrify people into trying to escape eternal punishment so that they’ll attend church. It’s why I would stumble into church on Sunday mornings, still sick from my weekend escapades, but afraid of what would happen if I didn’t go to church. Nothing about my faith at that time genuinely understood the love of God. It only understood the fear of the church. I heard one preacher say that using fear to evangelize is a cowardly approach and that we are essentially depriving people of the truth and hope of Kingdom living here on earth. Living in the Kingdom begins the moment one devotes themself to that Kingdom, not only when we die.

If we are to be bold and courageous in being a church that points to who Jesus is, that means focusing on God and not punishment.  Not to tiptoe around or avoid, but sometimes our focus is so much on darkness and punishment and fear and when it is, it’s all we see around us. When our gaze is focused on Christ and His love for us, well that changes everything. That changes who we are, how we are loved, and how we love.

Again, it changes how we love.

That the mandate to be His hands and feet are no longer an obligation but it’s a reflex, a reaction that we can’t keep ourselves from doing because love is literally effervescing inside of us and bubbling over. That – as I preached yesterday actually – that our response to everything is “have you seen the one I love?  I ache with love”. That we preach and we evangelize and we pursue the gospel… naturally.

“It’s hard to  believe you when everyone else is telling us the opposite.”

How do we tell anyone around us how deeply loved they are, when the world is telling them otherwise?  How do we respond when an entire community of people have been marginalized, enslaved, and made to feel less than simply because of the color of their skin? How do we ignore standing with those who have been oppressed, or choose not to be an advocate for those who have been silenced, or refuse to be a church that hears those who cry out day and night and not point to a King who promises justice? How do we expect people to believe that they are loved so deeply that the Son of God went to the death and the grave and His jealous love is pursuing them even now as I type? How do we stand on the pulpit and declare about being fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God while quietly observing a system that advances one people group over another? How do we not see that these two things – proclaiming the love of God and pursuing justice for those who have been wronged – go completely hand in hand? How do we ignore our friends and then smugly repeat chants to “preach the gospel and use words when necessary” without actually doing just that? Do we really want to be the part of church history that pooled its efforts in defending itself from companies saying “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas”? Or will we be the era that literally showed the world what it looked like to set the captives free because of who the character of Jesus is in us?

This doesn’t even factor in the numerous examples of how the movement of God was very political in scripture. This doesn’t take into account that for other countries right now, separation of church and state is not a privilege they are afforded. This isn’t even considering Matthew 25 and how clear Jesus made it that when people are hurting, that it’s not just a “world issue” we can ignore. This isn’t even based around the traveler who was ignored by the church leaders and it was the marginalized Samaritan that showed him kindness when the religious leaders did not.

So to the churches that say social justice is a distraction from the gospel, is dividing us from what our true focus is, is a worldly issue we shouldn’t be so immersed in, know this: ignoring the cries of our neighbors, of the black community, is NOT advancing the gospel. If this isn’t part of what we are called to do, then what are we called to do?

It’s time. It’s so time. It is absolutely time for the church to be the church.  But does the Son of Man have any place to rest His head?

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