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Social Activism and Christian Mission

2008 April 16
by Julie Clawson

So this month’s synchroblog is on the topic of social activism and Christian mission which is something I write a lot about here on this blog (so you would think I could manage to get the post up on time…). There are any number of “issues” I could address on that subject, but what caught my attention was the topic itself. The combination of social activism and Christian mission. At this stage in my life those are two things that I just assume go together, but I know that is not a view held by all Christians. Some of course reject social activism in favor of solely focusing on evangelism – they are in the business of saving souls not helping people live. Others avoid social activism as something tainted by the world with the potential to corrupt true Christianity. Still others are too cynical to think anything will ever change so they don’t bother to engage in social activism.

Even among those of us who think that Christian mission should involve some sort of social activism, the methods suggested for that vary widely. Should such activism be contained within the church (or parachurch organizations)? Should Christians partner with secular activist groups? Should we (gasp) work with the government? For the most part I have no problem with Christian mission being involved in any of those things. As I see it, some issues require government involvement (like debt relief) and it would seem arrogant and wasteful to reject the resources and publicity provided by secular activist organizations. Working for good and seeking what is right is not something Christians hold the monopoly on.

Which is why I have no problem with the “popularity” of some causes these days. I’ve heard Christians say that if you aren’t being pushed or having to make sacrifices you aren’t really serving. While sacrifice may be called for and being pushed outside one’s comfort zone is a good thing, I don’t see that as a reason to reject passion where it can be found. It doesn’t bother me that environmentalism or AIDS relief is trendy (as the joke goes, God will cause the rock stars to cry out). I think things that seek to change the public’s opinions on certain issues and help people to start caring are good things in the long run.

I’ve been reading recently about William Wilberforce and his attempts to end slavery in England. What struck me was that the methods used by the abolitionists then to sway public opinion are very similar to popular campaigns today. He was moved to be an abolitionist because of his strong Christian beliefs. To him Christian mission had to involve social activism – significantly regarding the issue of slavery. He worked within the government to change the laws – another example of where government involvement is necessary. But he also encouraged pastors to preach about the injustices of slavery. The equivalent of bumper stickers and buttons were created by artists of the day (like Wedgewood). And popular musicians wrote songs to help raise awareness. This wasn’t one church working to improve the lives of a few slaves. This also wasn’t a hopeless movement of fringe activists. This was social activism taken up as Christian mission that changed the thoughts and laws of a nation. The cynics of course trotted out economic excuses and displayed their prejudices against the African slaves, but over time the message of love and the need to treat the slave as a brother prevailed.

Stories like those remind me why I support social activism as a part of Christian mission. Sometimes such activism is what is needed and often is the only thing that will work.

For more thoughts on this topic check out the posts by these other Synchrobloggers –

Phil Wyman at Square No More – Salem: No Place for Hating Witches
Mike Bursell at Mike’s Musings
Bryan Riley at at Charis Shalom
Steve Hayes writes about Khanya: Christianity and social justice
Reba Baskett at In Reba’s World
Prof Carlos Z. with Ramblings from a Sociologist
Cobus van Wyngaard at My Contemplations: David Bosch, Public Theology, Social Justice
Cindy Harvey at Tracking the Edge
Alan Knox at The Assembling of the Church
Matthew Stone at Matt Stone Journeys in Between
John Smulo at JohnSmulo.com
Sonja Andrews at Calacirian
Lainie Petersen at Headspace
KW Leslie: Shine: not let it shine
Stephanie Moulton at Faith and the Environment Collide
Steve Hollinghurst at On Earth as in Heaven
Sam Norton at Elizaphanian: Tesco is a Big Red Herring

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11 Responses leave one →
  1. Karl permalink
    April 16, 2008

    That’s a great post Julie. You write in an inclusive way that draws in as allies all who support social activism as a part of Christian mission. It’s sad but true that what you write would nevertheless be seen as controversial by some Christians.

  2. April 16, 2008

    Julie –

    This is an excellent post! It’s great timing – the Jubilee Act passed the House of Representatives today with a majority vote. There are so many churches and religious groups who advocated for its passage – Praise GOD! The act would further efforts for debt relief to the world’s poorest nations. I firmly believe the church needs to speak out about the great injustices of our time – extreme poverty, the growing gap between the rich and poor in the United States and the lack of access to resources like health care and financial assets for low-income folks. Imagine if William Wilberforce remained silent on slavery…or if the church remained silent on labor rights, the civil rights movement, etc. I really don’t want to be part of a nation where the voices of concerned people of faith fail to shape public policy. I continue to pray that our churches open themselves to a theology that invites us to social action.

  3. April 16, 2008

    This is a great post. It doesn’t sound angry and it demonstrates well your heart. I hadn’t heard the joke about the rock stars crying out… chuckle. And I really like you pulling in Wilberforce, especially as people can more readily relate to the picture given Amazing Grace.

  4. April 17, 2008

    Holly – I saw about the passage of the Jubilee Act – fantastic. Let’s just hope it can be effective this time around.

  5. April 23, 2008

    Hey Julie-

    Newish reader. Finally got around to commenting on your post. Well written. I guess the other side of the coin and the question I pose is….is it our job to push our beliefs onto society? is there anything within the Bible that you think totally justifies that?

  6. George Mendez permalink
    June 2, 2008

    I am doing some research on social activism and Christianity. My personal opinion is that the mission of the church is to “Go Into the World and Preach the Gospel to every Creature”. No one has the right to change or add to that mission.
    Now, do you think my viewpoint is too narrow?

  7. July 22, 2010

    Dear in Christ,

    Greetings in the name of Jesus,

    This is nice to know about your ministry and how you are serving the people of God.

    Blessings,

    In Him,
    Pastor Tahir Imran
    Pakistan

  8. October 19, 2011

    I do realize this was written over 3 years ago but I just had to comment! Between the criticism I have received and what looks like complacency in my local church, I was beginning to wonder if there were any like-minded souls out there. I’ve been a christian for years and just recently started leaning toward activism, however I never had the argument I needed to justify it until I read your article. Thanks.

    ~Matty

  9. October 29, 2015

    Great article.

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  1. Ravine of Light » Justice is Holy - April Synchroblog
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