Social Activism

Recently, on a friend’s blog (see “Thoughts on God and Life” in my links list), a heated discussion took place about the value of social activism in a Christian’s life.   Opinions ranged from assertions that social activism is THE business of every Christian, to assertions that an over-emphasis on it presents a great risk to  “true” Christian living.  With, of course, many stages in between.

I recognize in myself a defensiveness toward pressures to social activism.  I feel guilty about it.  Over the years, I have put myself into various venues – a career in the field of social services, volunteering in various programs – and while this salves my conscience somewhat, in the long run it makes matters worse, because I am always brought to the realization that I am just not very good at this sort of thing.  I begin feeling like a failure as a Christian.  And then the defensiveness kicks in, and I begin saying, “Yeah, but I do have gifts that are other than that, and maybe some of us are just not called to activism, but to other kinds of ministry.”  And then begins an internal argument about “my” gifts and whether I am using them well, and whether they are really what God wants from me, or are they just excuses to stay in my comfort zone?

 One of the distinctions that I think needs to be made is that between personal, individual service, and service programs.  I believe God brings particular people and situations into our lives and expects us to respond in love, however that may best be manifested by us.  But I have a deep skepticism about service programs (no doubt a result of seeing the reality of government programming in my career).  They seem to get so quickly off-track, and then one is committed to something that really isn’t effective in feeding the poor, or whatever the goal is.  Yet, there are programs that do very good work, and there are people, I am confident, who are called to this kind of ministry.

So what say you all?  There is surely a gospel emphasis on feeding the poor, healing the sick, welcoming the outcast, etc.  How do you view your responsibilities as a Christian (or not) in meeting this demand?

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6 Responses to Social Activism

  1. Susan says:

    While I was chewing on this issue, I shared it with my friend in prison. I think his response has considerable merit, and decided to share it here as a first comment:

    “. . . . ruminating on the subject of vocation or calling, . . . . . as it relates to the matter of social activism and the propriety of Christian involvement, or lack thereof. The chief peril that I perceive in what might be regarded as excessive participation in such activism lies in the tendency to blur the otherwise insurmountable distinction between Augustine’s Civitas Dei and Civitas Terrena, to attempt to establish here on earth what cannot be instituted this side of Heaven. Organizations that engage in broad-scale social activism have a disappointing propensity to assume their own momentum and inertia, so that the laudable ideals or objectives which defined the group initially are often compromised or even discarded in the interest of preserving the organization itself. Consequently, there is a grave danger, all too often realized, that the activist participants will lose their perspective and cease distinguishing between what must properly be relegated to eternity and what can realistically be accomplished temporally. Any Christian who becomes involved in social activism as part of a group, with its own agenda and methods, must conscientiously guard against any inclination or attempt to transplant the City of God onto the City of Earth.
    One truth that I try always to bear in mind is that if God approves of the end, then He will provide the means. Initially, an activist group might pursue godly ends, relying prayerfully on His direction concerning the means, but as the organization develops existential inertia, it may implement means of its own contrivance in the interest of self-perpetuation, thereby sacrificing God’s sanction. This phenomenon, in my experience and observation, applies almost universally to a broad variety of groups, but here I am referring specifically to Christian organizations that facilitate or actively engage in social activism. To some extent, I deem, all Christians are called to advocate Biblical virtues, morality, and values in the public square, as a faithful expression of God’s design for His creation and the truth of His revealed word. We should also be unanimous and altogether unyielding in decrying certain abominations . . . . . We are not all called, however, to contend these battles as members of an organization, and for those who are, great care must be exercised to ensure that everyone involved maintains the correct focus, and that every step and all means are consistently subjected to the Lord’s direction.”

  2. Kim says:

    The first posted comment seems comprehensive of the potential pitfalls of social activism. Where I can get confused is over the actual definition of “social activism”, I guess. If it’s secular, then I supposed it falls under the category of “do goodism”. If it’s genuinely a program to which believers have been called by God to participate in, then I suppose it is “the good works He prepared for us before the creation to walk in”. By way of example, what about such organizations as 40 Days for Life, or Focus on the Family, or Operation Blessing (reaches out to the poor, needy, with physical help and with the Gospel), the various nonprofit, Christian legal organizations that use their skills to defend and uphold our God-given freedoms so that the Gospel CAN still be given? Where is the line, is my question. Every single act we do, small or large, seemingly significant or insignificant, will be judged by God in the end as being worthy of reward or for being burned up as wood, hay, and stubble. And nothing we can do is of eternal value, unless we are abiding in Him, for He is the vine, we are the branches, and without Him, we can “do nothing.” He has given us varying skills, aptitudes, desires, interests, that are to be used to further His kingdom and to preserve righteousness while the Church remains on earth. If Christians are not involved in preserving righteousness, then we are not a “City shining on a hill”, we are not salt or light, which are the preservatives against unholiness that threatens to wash over our entire world. We cannot bring Heaven down to earth, only God can, but in ministering to the poor and sick and needy and heartbroken and desperate, in whatever ways we are led, individually or in well-organized groups, we show His light to a perishing world.

    We just can’t do it in our own power, and if we don’t do it in love, we are as clanging cymbals.

  3. Peggy says:

    To summarize what your friend in prison said so eloquently: we humans have a tendency to get puffed up and think it’s all about us. Amen. And I love what Kim said about serving with love.

    If your talents do not lend themselves to social activism of the “traditional” sort, let it go. Who is the author of making you feel like a failure as a Christian?

    I think this trend toward “activism” frequently takes the form of argumentation, and this behavior is encouraged by the cable news channels (which some people follow with cult-like zeal). These channels have chosen sides: this one is decidedly left, that one decidedly right. If you lean left, you watch this one and if you lean right, you watch that one. You only listen to people who agree with you. They strive to keep us polarized, to make us feel disgust, to despair if our own view is not the predominant one. What is the fruit of this?

    I am commanded to love others, not to try to make them think the way I do. If I love you, I respect your opinion. I respect the fact that you are as unlikely to convert to my view as I am to yours. Our discussions, therefore, are peaceful even when we disagree. And who is the author of peace?

  4. Susan says:

    There are some wonderful responses here. Thank you all.

    I was sent today’s devotional from 40 Days for Life, and I think it speaks eloquently to this whole question. See what you think:

    Deliver those who are drawn toward death, and hold
    back those stumbling to the slaughter.

    If you say, “surely we did not know this,” does not He
    who weighs the hearts consider it? He who keeps your
    soul, does He not know it?

    And will He not render to each man according to his

    — Proverbs 24:11-12

    REFLECTION by Carmen Pate, 40 Days for Life

    In this age of technologically advanced communication,
    ignorance of human rights abuses is no excuse.

    We know there are persecuted Christians in China,
    there is genocide in Darfur, and there are babies
    aborted and women and families devastated right in our
    own communities.

    “But I can’t save them all,” you say.

    God isn’t asking you to. He has equipped each of us
    with time, talent, and treasure to do what we can when
    He provides the opportunity.

    He has given us His Holy Spirit to empower us as we
    abide in Him. He is asking us to be on His side in
    speaking out and protecting those who can’t protect

    When we are obedient to His calling to get in on the
    work He is doing, we will experience intimacy with Him
    in a whole new way.

    Our faith will increase as we see God at work! You
    have responded to His call during this 40 Days for
    Life campaign.

    Let your efforts be for His pleasure and His purposes.
    Pray without ceasing!

  5. Kim says:

    Susan, I think the 40 Days post says it as eloquently as can be said. I also appreciate Peggy’s reminders of how to discern where feelings of “failure as a Christian” come from, or feelings of peace. We know that there is an “accuser of the brethren”, but we also need to remind ourselves that we belong to the One who neutralizes all those accusations before the Father.

    We need to sometimes step out in faith if we think we feel led to be active in a given area, and we will hear the Master’s voice, if we listen, letting us know if that’s where He has us or not. But, if we sit back and always leave the heavy lifting to others, we may not ever know. Being a willing vessel is key. He will use us as He sees fit.

  6. Just recently I heard someone say “although marriage is not always that grand, divorce is a hundred grand”. I immediately thought how sad for that person to be entertaining such thoughts. He probably is not very happy in his marriage. I was reminded once again how blessed I am. The “covenant” my husband and I are in is so sacred. A “covenant” unlike a “contract”, can never be broken. A marriage “covenant” is a sacrament in my religion therefore that bond between male and female for the purpose of creating life, more souls for Him in heaven………is greatly strengthened.

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