The Truth About the Church and Social Justice

Greece, Sun shines through belltower in Oia village at Santorini
Greece, Sun shines through belltower in Oia village at Santorini

What a time to be alive in American history. Political tensions are high, racial tensions are high, sexual orientation tensions are high... people are fighting for their beliefs with passion and commitment on both sides, and that in and of itself is admirable. Less admirable of course are the acts of hatred, the words of dehumanization. Ah, we say, but those are few and far between, those bad apples ruining the barrel.

But what does the world say?

The world says there is a Church who is adding pain to the ripped open flesh of her wound, rather than one who is nursing her back to health. The world says there is a Church who is blind, who is stubborn, who is hateful. Most Christians feel otherwise because we have experienced otherwise. But how do we respond to a world who is clearly telling us that something has gone very, very wrong?

Since it's inception, the Church has struggled to love well. (This could possibly be due to the fact that the Church is made up of actual people.) And yet. All along the way there has been a prophetic remnant who fiercely, fiercely chose love in the face of horrific opposition.

  • In the second and third centuries, it was common practice for people to take babies that they didn't want (due to disability, undesired gender, etc) and leave them in the woods to die. Christians would notoriously go out and look for the abandoned infants, take them in, and raise them as their own.

  • Quakers and persons of other Christian denominations, both black and white, played a valuable role in leading slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad.
  • Numberless Christians became martyrs during the Holocaust for concealing Jews, in their own homes or otherwise. One revered Catholic saint, priest Maximilian Kolbe, volunteered to die in Auschwitz in place of a married man with a child.
  • An overwhelming number of black leaders of the 1960s civil rights movement were Christian, many of whom were pastors, including MLK Jr. Countless white clergy also joined in the march on Selma.
  • We are still here, that Church who loves justice. Don't be fooled by the media, or by your Facebook feed, or by fanatics with hateful words on signs who claim to represent a God of mercy. There is still a Church who takes a stand for the oppressed, who defends human dignity, who articulates their views with total respect for the opposing side.

    We are black, we are white, we are brown, we are every color in between. We are straight, we are gay, we are young, we are old, we are Democrats, we are Republicans, we are anarchists. We are Catholic, we are Orthodox, we are Charismatic, we are Southern Baptist. We read Dorothy Day and Beth Moore; Martin Luther King Jr. and Billy Graham. We are city officials, we practice civil disobedience, we are Southerners, we are Northerners. We are "pro" this, we are "pro" that, and we don't always even agree with each other, but we would rather spend time with people than point fingers at them.

    We read our Bibles and we see a Christ whose only enemies were the proud, the unbroken. We read our Bibles and we see a Christ whose life affirmed the dignity of every human being. We see a Christ who chose the way of relationship over the way of power. And this Christ, He is the reason we are Christians. This Christ is the only reason.

    If your only experience of the Church or of Christians has been a negative one, please accept our sincerest apologies. Because that means we haven't been loud enough. Our way is a quiet one, one that strives for humility and meekness. On the most ordinary of days, we are at our best having face to face conversations on our living room sofas, not making magazine headlines or blowing up social media feeds. But some days are not ordinary, and some times are for more than a quiet steadfastness.

    I believe these are such times.

    People of America -- especially you who have been routinely mistreated, oppressed, misunderstood, judged, and hated by your country -- we speak to you today. You are seen, you are heard, and you are valued because you are a human being. We may not see eye to eye on everything, but thankfully, that's not a requirement for friendship. We may at times reveal our ignorance as we seek to understand you, but may we be changed by your correction. We are committed to a Christianity that receives all people as gifts and that pushes itself onto no one. We believe that you should first see the beauty of this Christ we love, and only next determine for yourself how to respond to Him.

    To my friends in Christ: these are indeed tumultuous times we are living in. May the Church who has gone before us -- willing to suffer, to demonstrate, to risk, to die -- count us worthy.