The debate seems endless, and is resurrected every time Christians struggle with a controversial ethical or social issue having to do with justice. Recent attempts by Christians and congregations to take stands to eradicate racism and promote equity in our nation have once again called attention to this dilemma for some:
Should Christians only be concerned with “spiritual” matters like personal piety, preaching, and prayer, or do our actions in society on behalf of the poor and the marginalized have a “spiritual” dimension as well?
When I served the church in Charleston I helped to organize what came to be known as the Charleston Area Justice Ministry, which brought together some 26 churches, synagogues and mosques in addressing issues of perceived injustice in the community.
To be expected, not everyone in our congregation supported this effort. One woman came to me and said she had heard her favorite conservative political commentator, Glenn Beck, say that any church that mentioned “social justice” was not a true church and if your church did that you should turn and run! He also said that “social justice” was only a code word for communism and Nazism.
I would counter and say that if you are not either concerned about or active in social justice then you are ignoring the clear teachings of the prophets of Israel and of Jesus in the gospels. Or else, as I have been arguing in our study of Revelation, you are putting your views before those of Jesus in terms of what his church is to be and do.
In Matthew we read: “”How terrible for you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You give to God one tenth even of the seasoning herbs, such as mint, dill, and cumin, but you neglect to obey the really important teachings of the Law, such as justice and mercy and honesty. These you should practice, without neglecting the others.” (Matthew 23:23, TEV)
Call and response
It is impossible to be sincere in our worship of God without endeavoring to do the will of God. Likewise, it is equally impossible to do God’s will apart from the empowerment and guidance of a vital relationship with that God.
Consider these words of Alan Hunter from Liberation of Life, by Harvey and Lois Seifert:
“Those who picket should also pray, and those who pray should also picket.” The same combination of devotional vitality and social action is also emphasized in the two great commands of Jesus — to love God with all one’s being and to love other persons as ourselves. (Matt 22:36-40)
Serving God and neighbor
Each disciple and each church must decide what God is calling them to be and do, and not all will do the same. Some are more comfortable with the personal disciplines and some with its social ramifications, some with both, and sadly some with neither.
How is God using you in devout service to both God and neighbor?
- Join our 30-Day Journey to explore power, privilege, and systemic racism.
- Read more from our pastors and find current events related to racial equity.