But as they got to know Christa Mazzone, they learned she is not the predictably
liberal social gospel Christian one used to find at such conferences. Instead,
this 23-year-old Christian activist quietly talks about what "the Lord"
is doing in her life and prayerfully considers what God might have in mind for
Christa is an evangelical Christian, one who could never separate her faith in Jesus Christ from her commitment to social justice. Actually, it would never even occur to her. She is exemplary of a new generation of evangelical Christians for whom social activism is the natural outgrowth of personal faith. I first met Christa when I was speaking at her school, which, like a growing number of evangelical Christian campuses, has social justice increasingly built into the curriculum - even more so than their secular university counterparts.
RECENTLY I PARTICIPATED in a three-day gathering of church leaders that brought
evangelicals and pentecostals together with Catholics, Orthodox, and mainline
Protestants. It was the kind of broad interdenominational and cross-confessional
table that America has rarely seen, but is now coming together. One clear consensus
among the church leaders was on the centrality of the issue of poverty. During
the proceedings, one of the nation's most prominent pentecostal leaders asked
me if I thought evangelical and pentecostal Christians were developing a deeper
social conscience. I could tell that he thought so and hoped that I did too.
When I told him I absolutely agreed that leaders from his tradition, especially
the younger generation, were undergoing a real social transformation on issues
of compassion and justice, a big smile broke out across his face.
The conventional wisdom still says that liberal Christians have a social conscience
and evangelicals do not, preferring instead to focus only on the personal morality
of issues such as abortion and homosexuality. The media in particular keep that
But the big story that most of the press (including the religious press) continue to miss is how much that reality is changing. On at least three key social issues - poverty, race, and the environment - evangelicals are exhibiting a growing conviction and conscience. In local congregations, poor neighborhoods, and legislative halls, a new evangelical activism and advocacy is emerging.
ONE AREA WHERE that new evangelical social conscience is clearly on the rise
is on the environment, or the stewardship of creation, as many Christians would
name it. One sign of the new Christian insurgency on ecology was the highly
controversial campaign that asked the provocative question, "What would
Jesus drive?" Challenging the nation's addiction to SUVs and their consequent
emissions that pollute the air is not something evangelical Christians would
have been expected to lead. But they did. As I survey the list of new Christian
organizations and campaigns that focus on environmental stewardship, I observe
that most of them have been founded by evangelicals - young evangelicals.
This special issue of Sojourners is focused on the environment and the increasing
Christian activism - much of it evangelical - that is rising up to offer new leadership.
It may well be that only theology - good theology - can save the Earth now. And
the fact that a new generation of Christians is offering an environmental social
conscience is a sign of hope indeed. n
Jim Wallis is editor-in-chief of Sojourners.