Are Evangelicals naive when it comes to realities of Social Justice?

I started my new job a few weeks ago, working for the Global Education Centre here in Wellington. My role is basically to educate New Zealand young people and their communities on global issues; what they are, how they affect us, and how to take action on them.

The first thing that struck me was how little I actually knew. I’ve just finished a Masters Degree in Development Studies, and I’ve barely scratched the surface on what’s wrong with the world today. Working with such a clued-up bunch of people here in my office has truly humbled me to the fact that, despite what I do know, I am still ignorant, and I am still naive.

However, as I continue in my own self-education, the other thing that has struck me is how little my friends and peers know about the scale of injustices occurring around the world, in spite of being in the privileged minority position of living in a country where access to the internet and other forms of media is a reality for most people. What is even more frightening is that many people know even less about the root causes of these injustices. They know the world is a mess, but they don’t know – or don’t want to know – exactly why.

Again, it seems to come down to the media. Here in New Zealand, the media seems good at stunting kiwis ability to take positive action by doing one of three things… that is, either:

1) Overwhelming us with so much information that we feel disheartened and dis-empowered, resigned to the fact that the world is screwed up but there’s nothing we can do

or

2) Entertaining us and making us so comfortable or pre-occupied with ourselves that we can, with relative ease, actively remain ignorant of the truth about what life is like for the majority of the worlds people

or

3) Reduce justice issues down to soundbytes that either avoid the complexity of the issue or mis-represent it altogether

Most of us at some point fall into one (or all) of these categories. In my experience growing up in the evangelical church for the past 5 years (and I still attend an evangelical church, though I wouldn’t identify myself as anything in particular), I’ve noticed that many congregations seem to fall victim to number (3) especially. Even in our sermons, we reduce complex social justice issues down to soundbytes – people are naked, so clothe them.. people are hungry, so feed them. While these are necessary exhortations, the dialogue usually stops there.. and so the entire congregation goes away, gives $30 as month to World Vision, and goes to sleep that night with a salved conscience.

While I would never argue with the importance of giving to excellent NGOs like World Vision, the buck cannot stop there. If we claim to be followers of Christ, it is our responsibility to address the systems of injustice that cause this poverty in the first place, if our ‘good news’ is to have authenticity. This week, an evangelical friend of mine asked me for informative books that would introduce her to social justice issues. I tried finding a book written by an evangelical that would address the big issues head-on: the WTO, the Arms Trade, Third World Debt. I’ll tell ya.. it was hard. Most of the books I found were focused on giving to a certain charity or mission, not educating Christians on the realities of living in a globalised world and empowering them to tackle the big issues head on.

Many, many Christians around the world are tackling these issues head on, including evangelicals, but it seems to be the Anabaptist, Anglican and Catholic traditions who have a rich heritage in addressing the roots (not just the symptoms) of social injustice in meaningful and intelligent ways. True, they have their own skeletons in the closet, but heck, so do evangelicals!

If you walk into an evangelical church, I very much doubt you will find a lack of passion. It’s not hard to work an evangelical congregation into a frenzy. But I do think, and I am generalizing here, that evangelicals have a lot to learn from more traditional denominations when it comes to engaging in long-term, meaningful solutions to poverty and injustice. The evangelical argument that ‘only souls matter’ may work to justify the prioritizing of evangelical money and resources (eg missions), but it does very little to authenticate us as the followers of a man who spent most of his time healing the sick and standing up for the oppressed.

I am proud to be part of my particular evangelical community, but I think we need to wise-up on issues of justice. We have the information, we have the means… all that is stopping us is our own complacency (fed my the media and the benefits of capitalism) and one-sided theology.

Lets take the red pill, even though it means a painful journey down the rabbit hole, and open our eyes to the real world out there. There are billions of people waiting for brothers and sisters who will not conform to the ways of this world, but allow themselves to be transformed by a loving God and make sacrifices in the cause of justice. I think that would be a gospel that the Majority World just might believe in…

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~ by humblemonkey on April 17, 2008.

One Response to “Are Evangelicals naive when it comes to realities of Social Justice?”

  1. A great supporter of World Vision is AIDtoCHILDREN.com. It donates money to children in need through learning.

    AIDtoCHILDREN.com is a dual-purpose site for building an English
    vocabulary and raising money for under privileged children in the most impoverished places around the world.

    Check it out at http://www.aidtochildren.com

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