An Active Faith

Why should Christians become involved with political activism when donating to a local food bank or homeless shelter seems to "do more?" Why should Christians try to influence public policy in a political system that is intimidating and frustrating, when they can "see" the benefits of volunteer efforts? Simply put, helping low-income people is not an either/or proposition. It requires a commitment to charity and justice.

The impact of charity often can be immediately observed. But securing justice requires long-term vision. Fostering justice comes by changing inequitable political and social systems that oppress, as Jesus said, "the least of these." To believe in the need to promote only charity or justice, ignoring the other's place in Christian theology, is to view the plight of poor people with one eye closed. Ultimately, to reduce the need for charity there must be increased focus on changing systems and policies that undercut the legitimate needs of low-income people.

Relying only on either charitable giving or political activism allows Christians to avoid thinking critically about the realities of our social and political systems. Narrowing our scope of concern to one at the expense of the other can produce a level of comfort and familiarity that sanitizes other social realities. Jesus did not seek such naive comfort.

We cannot ignore the charge to feed those in need (Matthew 25:34-40). Sometimes this means we act by literally feeding the poor; sometimes it requires that we act to feed by changing the way a system operates. Regardless, we cannot use the coming kingdom and its perfection as an excuse to ignore injustice in the here and now. As John Howard Yoder put it, "the church is called to be now what the world is called to be ultimately."

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Sojourners Magazine January 2004
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