I’ve struggled with this question ever since I became a pastor:
“What makes the church different from social justice activism?”
Social justice is important to me. I’ve been drawn to it ever since I entered seminary in 2009 and began to think more deeply about the deeper meaning behind the Christian concern and care for those who are pushed to the margins, ignored, exploited, and discriminated against. Yet, there has always been a deep hesitation that has accompanied me along this journey into social justice work and conversation.
I recently came across the following article, “Excommunicate Me from the Church of Social Justice.” I resonate with much that the author, a social justice activist herself, has to say. A couple great excerpts:
On moral purity:
“There’s so much wrongdoing in the world that we work to expose. And yet, grace and forgiveness are hard to come by in these circles…..I’m exhausted, and I’m not even doing the real work I am committed to do. It is a terrible thing to be afraid of my own community members, and know they’re probably just as afraid of me.”
On dangers of colonization:
“The experiences of oppression do not grant supremacy, in the same way that being a powerful colonizer does not. Justice will never look like supremacy. I wish for a new societal order that does not revolve around relations of power and domination.”
“Discipline and punishment has been used for all of history to control and destroy people. Why is it being used in movements meant to liberate all of us? We all have made serious mistakes and hurt other people, intentionally or not. We get a chance to learn from them when those around us respond with kindness and patience. Where is our humility when examining the mistakes of others? Why do we position ourselves as morally superior to the un-woke? Who of us came into the world fully awake?”
The last paragraph of the article is so good, I’m going to let you read the rest of the article for yourself.
I’ve often been asked why, despite my hesitation, my reservations, and my suspicions, I care so much about issues of justice, diversity, and inclusion and why I think the Church should care and participate in such things. The easy answer is just to point you to Micah 6:8 and call it a day, but the answer for me is deeper than that.
So what makes the Church different? Church can never exclude or leave people behind in the effort of a more just, inclusive, and diverse world. Church continues to be prophetic, courageous, and bold in its longing for a more just world, and it’s desire to work along side God in making that a reality in the present. Yet, Church never has the luxury of casting aside those who might differ, who resist, who avoid, or those who are indifferent. Even if it means the movement is slower or doesn’t happen in the manner we’d like. It’s sometimes really inefficient and messy, and relationships are complex, but the invitation is always open.
The distinguishing line, of course, is that there is a difference between those mentioned above and those who intentionally disqualify themselves or become subversive because of their opposition. Whether they leave or try to sabotage efforts, neither can lead to the Church suspending its participation in justice work. Like Jesus, as the rich young man went away unable to bear the personal cost of discipleship, as Judas made the choice to betray him, we let them go freely and without a word of condemnation or shame. Although it is with great sadness that we allow them to go.
Just as Christ does in the gospels, we as Christ’s Church can be both prophetic and gracious. We can be insistent about justice and empathetic to those who resist. We may not always move together but we can still be Church together. We can push and challenge each other and still maintain respect and preserve their dignity. As hard as it may seem, we must still embrace each other’s humanity, just as God in Christ has embraced our humanity. Like Christ, we can still love. For the sake of Christ’s Church, we must still love.
That is the real difference, and one that crucial in our striving towards God’s justice today.