Stephen Mattson blogs at stephenjmattson.com and has contributed for Relevant Magazine, Redletterchristians.org, and is a graduate from Moody Bible Institute. He is on staff at The University of Northwestern--St. Paul and currently resides in the Twin Cities, Minnesota. You can follow him on Twitter (@mikta) or on Facebook
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Social Justice Is a Christian Tradition — Not a Liberal Agenda
Christians do a disservice to the gospel message by removing the cultural context from Jesus’s ministry and watering down his message to one of religious platitudes. We like to generalize the words of Jesus and transform his life into a one-size-fits-all model that can apply to all of humanity.
Throughout the New Testament Jesus was more complex than we give him credit for.
He intentionally, purposefully, and passionately addressed very specific causes. He radically addressed the diverse and complicated conflicts of the time and shattered the status quo.
Jesus wasn’t just preaching a universal salvation message for the world, but he was also addressing specific political, social, and racial issues. He was helping those who were being abused, violated, and oppressed.
Our Social Commentary vs. the Gospel
Like many things — theological beliefs, worships styles, forms of baptism, and preferred interpretations of the Bible — Christians are divided when it comes to which social justice issues, culture wars, and current events are worth supporting and condemning or even talking about.
Followers of Christ can be against gay marriage or for it, Democrat or Republican, a pacifist or a soldier, a vegan or a meat-eater, an animal rights advocate or a hunter — Christians constantly contradict one another, and that’s OK.
8 Things Christians Want You to Know
Ultimately, Christianity is about Jesus — not Christians. Although we try our best to emulate Jesus, we constantly fail, but please judge our faith based upon Jesus and not our Christian culture — because they aren’t the same thing.
Inevitably, we’ll continue to be polarizing in numerous ways across political, social, and religious platforms, and we’ll still commit bad mistakes, make hurtful remarks, and end up being wrong about many things. But for most Christians, our ultimate desire is introduce people to Jesus, who inspires us to make the world a better place by loving everyone around us to the best of our ability. God help us.
Be a Christian, Not a Consumer
It’s ok to buy stuff. To exist in a Westernized world means navigating a daunting array of products, services, and goods that are constantly being marketed to your every want, need, and desire. You’re not going to go to hell for buying a pair of jeans.
But a consumer-driven society can cause Christians to idolize perfectionism. When this happens, they expect flawless worship, sermons, pastors, staff, childcare, youth programs, mission trips, conferences, camps, vacation Bible schools, classes, and even relationships.
Inevitably, when aspects of our Christian faith do cause disappointment (and they will), our constant cultural experience of being the consumer — on the receiving end of infinite commercials, advertising campaigns, and target-driven media that tells us the customer is always right — causes us to feel entitled to something better.
So we respond by complaining, demanding change, boycotting, or even abandoning any part of Christianity’s existence that is letting us down.
But Christians must remember that Jesus wasn’t that popular, that he promoted powerlessness, and that he was frustratingly inefficient. In fact, He was sacrificial, humble, giving, and forgiving — not exactly valued character attributes in today’s society.
Divisible, With Liberty and Justice for Some
Please don’t fail to recognize this vital moment in American history: when our fellow citizens screamed for equality, marched for recognition, and pleaded for justice. Because someday the next generation will ask us: What did you do?
And so today we must ask ourselves: What are we doing? What are we seeing? What does this all mean?
Because the last few years within our country — a continuation of the past hundreds of years — have been socially jarring for a society that considers itself a modernized, technologically advanced, and morally superior nation
5 Reminders That Justice Work Matters
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” —Matthew 25:40
Working for justice can seem frustrating, hopeless, and insignificant. Despite our work, volunteerism, financial donations, and advocacy, it’s easy to succumb to burnout. Most will never personally meet the people they’re trying to help or witness any obvious changes. They will face the constant cynicism of a seemingly uncaring and apathetic society. But here are five reasons why doing social justice work really matters:
When Does Christianity Stop Being Fun?
As a child growing up in the church, if there was one message I heard over and over again, it was that God was in control, and most importantly, God loved us — and we actually had fun.
This was a comforting message and environment. Furthermore, the themes of joy and God’s defeat of evil became even more prominent during my teen years.
But then youth group ended, and I entered the realm of adult Christendom: political causes, doctrinal debates, worship wars, traditional vs. modern bickering, congregational infighting, gossip, church splits, corporate boycotts, moral rage, judgment, and fear.
The Rise and Fall of American Christianity
The recently released Pew Research Center Report has revealed that Christianity within the United States is on the decline. Christians are freaking out and the fear mongering has begun — many seeing it as an apocalyptic sign of the moral downfall of our secular society coinciding with a theological weakening caused by “liberalism.”
Everyone seems to have an explanation of the data, and among Christians, the infighting has already begun, with most denominations rationalizing their growth, decline, or stagnancy by offering the same explanation: We’re theologically sound and remaining faithful to God while everyone else is getting it wrong.
What Christians must understand — and accept — about these statistics is that religious data about a country doesn’t accurately reflect its corporate actions pertaining to following Christ.
Can You Imagine Injustice?
For people benefitting from systematic wealth, power, comfort, favor, and convenience, it can be difficult to relate to the constant and endless forms of racism, stereotyping, and injustice that are experienced by others.
The privileged don’t experience the daily realities faced by the likes of Walter Scott, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and millions of others who have lived under completely different — and radically unfavorable — circumstances.
This is why Christians — no matter what your background — must passionately engage in such things as relationship-building, participating in dialogue, and actively reading, experiencing, and listening to various perspectives. Because doing this informs, directs, and edifies one of the most powerful spiritual tools we have: our imagination.
Imagination is defined as the faculty of imagining or of forming mental images or concepts of what is not actually present to the senses.
Friendships, personal accounts, testimonies, books, footage, stories, and experiences empower us to have a better picture, perspective, and understanding of others. Even if we don’t personally struggle with the same types of injustice and inequality that others do, we’re at least given the ability to imagine its reality, accept its existence, empathize with its victims, and comprehend truths we weren’t previously aware of.
In the Bible, Jesus is constantly challenging the status quo and striving for justice, peace, and reconciliation against cultural factors and precedents that seem impossibleto overcome. For the individuals God calls upon, they are required to imagine the inconceivable, accept the unthinkable, and break out of their stubborn paradigms in order to embrace the Divine.
Imagine the sea being parted, walking on water, feeding the 5,000, being healed of leprosy, encountering a talking donkey and a talking (burning) bush, and rising from the dead.
7 Reasons Christians Refuse Change
How can some Christians exude such cruelty and ignorance while simultaneously claiming to follow Jesus — a humble man who was radically loving and ultimately died for sake of humanity?
There are many reasons, but here are some of the main factors, characteristics, and influences that cause some faith-based individuals, communities, and organizations to become aggressively bigoted instead of generously benevolent.
1. They fear change.
Some people hate change and see it as an attack on their beliefs. Since their Bible is inerrant and their God is unchanging, new ideas are dangerous and subversive to their flawless theology. Perfection cannot be improved upon, so any variation or contradiction is perceived as absurd. Discovery, learning, and creativity are often prohibited, and new ideas are viewed as a dangerous threat to their way of life.
Historically, this is why many Christians were shamefully ignorant and embarrassingly wrong when it came to addressing issues such as slavery, civil rights, the Holocaust, recognizing genocide, and combating AIDS (just to name a few). Unfortunately, many Christians continue to be closed-minded and refuse to see beyond themselves.
2. They’re privileged.
Change is hard to accept when things are working in your favor. As the common expression goes: “Why is change a good thing?”
Any theology, idea, or sermon that challenges people to sacrifice or reach beyond their comfort zone isn’t easily accepted.
Many Christians defend their position so passionately because the greatest beneficiaries of their worldview are themselves. New paradigms are stubbornly rejected by those benefitting from being the privileged majority. Anything “different” is seen as an illogical attack against their entitled position, and feelings of discomfort cause them to become even more insular.
But if these same Christians sense that they’re the ones being persecuted, abandoned, ignored, or losing power, they become more accepting of different opinions, contrasting ideas, and new ways of thinking.
Anything profitable and favorable is preferred over anything requiring sacrifice. Thus, the Gospel of Christ is continually counter-cultural to the practices and lifestyles of many Christians who refuse to acknowledge, admit, or forsake their privilege.
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