“Being the Change” and Being the Church
By Jeff Wright
Since when is “Christian” not enough? In her constructive and thought-provoking article “The Problem of Social Justice and Libertarian Christianity,” Carole Turner identifies “a strong and perplexing dichotomy in American Christianity: the Social Justice Christian and the Libertarian Christian.” After highlighting some of the differences between these two rising approaches to social justice in America, Turner appeals to a “healthy middle ground.”
I believe this is the time for Christians to hand out fish and teach men how to fish. This is the time for the church to be holistic in their approach to helping the poor. We don’t have to be extreme. We should not be either Libertarian or Social Justice focused but Christ focused and THAT will reveal to us the truth on both sides.
The church should be changing the political world by “being the change” not by towing party lines and becoming lazy spoon fed extremists.
Using Turner’s categories, simply identifying ourselves as “social justice” or “libertarian” Christians starts our slide toward extremism. When we add modifiers to “Christian,” we begin to place more emphasis on the modifier than on the identifier. The modifier thus becomes the lens by which we see Christianity through and a new class is created: conservatives and progressives with Christian rhetoric sprinkled on top, sanctifying the agendas of progressives and conservatives, who may or may not have any concern for the kingdom of God, by adding a few Scripture verses to the mix.
So what to do? “In a nutshell,” Turner suggests,
I believe the true solution is for comfortable Christians, whether libertarian or social justice leaning, to give their time and money to Christian community outreach facilities that treat the poor in a holistic manner. And also the church needs to be the example of family, unity, and mostly love in action toward all mankind as Jesus demonstrated and instructed us.
I would say a better solution is for comfortable Christians to consider what sort of direct action they can personally take as a local church and as individuals and families. The expression of this direct action may be to “give their time and money to Christian community outreach facilities that treat the poor in a holistic manner” or it may not. But I would suggest that the solution is for the church to be the church as the church.
I can understand the author’s preference for funding nonprofits; she is involved with the Baton Rouge Dream Center, which certainly looks like an organization that is doing great work. Individual local churches may not have the collective resources that a nonprofit center does, so it could make sense for a particular church to partner with such groups. However, simply stroking checks is not a solution; neither is simply forming a committee. It is too easy to merely kick start something and let things proceed on autopilot. There is still a confining degree of separation between comfortable Christians and people who are poor if we merely choose volunteerism over being the church.
“Being the change” is costly. It demands much more than giving time and money to Christian organizations. Volunteerism is a box to check on a to-do list. Being the church is a way of life. It’s also, of course, a phrase that is difficult to define. Each local church, however, has its own creativity and vitality that it employs to define what it is to “be the church” in its particular context, to discern its calling as missionaries and disciples among its community.
Can we “be the change” without slipping into the extremes of competing camps and towing party lines? Is there a “healthy middle ground”? I believe there is. We can pursue a middle ground, as Turner suggests, by focusing on Christ who is the foundation of unity. We may not fully achieve an ideal middle ground, just as we will not completely see the establishment of social justice, but with the aid of God we “fight the good fight of the faith” just the same.
Jeff Wright is a grateful husband, blessed daddy, long-suffering Redskins fan, wannabe P90Xer and obscure blogger at Pursuing Truth. Jeff holds a ThM from Dallas Seminary and is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society.