Outside the Gate

Amnesia, whimpering, and nostalgia seem to be the order of the day among evangelicals who are trying to find a legitimate place for their social justice in the conservative culture of American evangelicals. For some reason, the last two or three years has seen an increased volume of whining among those of us who hold the basic doctrines of evangelicalism close to our orthodox hearts while also trying to live with an outward doctrine of justice. We seem to think that it used to be acceptable in the United States to love Jesus and work on behalf of the oppressed, that it used to be legitimate to seek the forgiveness of personal sins while also confronting the public sins of our nation and the multinationals.

Did we fall asleep or something? Is our memory that fallible? Or have we abandoned our courage?

It just isn't American to combine social justice with evangelicalism. And it never really has been. Yes, a few small published tomes documenting the social activism role of evangelicalism in the past are just that-a few small tomes. Meanwhile, millions of evangelicals over the past one hundred years or so have lived with the notion that piety of faith is the entire substance of what it means to follow Christ, and that the outward workings of that faith are optional, certainly not requirements. Unless, of course, we are referring to evangelism and missions-the mechanism by which the personal piety is propagated.

Those of us evangelical leaders who are committed to the biblical call to do justice must stop our complaining about being ostracized as though it were some kind of contemporary phenomenon. We should admit the facts: It never has been popular to wed the notion of evangelicalism with social justice-until very recently-and that, believe it or not, was the doings of fundamentalists, not evangelical progressives.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1995
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