Social Justice

What We Can Learn from the Best — and Worst — of Christianity

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As we strive for social justice and attempt to love our neighbors, are we relying on Christ, or are we relying on the military, political leaders, the government, church authorities, institutions, and abusive ideologies?

Are we motivated and inspired by the love of Jesus, or are we driven by fear, judgment, hate, jealousy, envy, wealth, fame, recognition, and an appetite for power?

True/False Film Festival Celebrates Story, Teaches Justice

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The True/False film festival in Columbia, Mo., likes to bill itself as “different.” And it is — the intimate weekend-long documentary fest has a well-earned reputation as a place where anything can happen: Here you’ll find award-winning directors hobnobbing with writers and college students over brunch, and accountants and lawyers who transform themselves, Cinderella-style, into flamboyantly dressed volunteers. But Columbia’s festival is unique in another way, one that’s more important than simple aesthetics: True/False also focuses on the unifying power of story.

Over its 13 years of existence, the festival has been committed to promoting the idea that introducing audiences to stories wildly different from their own expands our understanding of the human experience.

'Faith is Always Personal, But Never Private'

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Sojourners founder and president Jim Wallis appeared Nov. 7 on the Drew Marshall Show, a spiritual talk show that broadcasts on radio stations all over Canada. In the interview, Rev. Wallis discussed a range of topics from baseball and his love of coaching his sons, to Sojourners’ push for immigration reform, Pope Francis’ recent visit, and his upcoming book America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America.

Rev. Wallis also talked about his faith journey, from his experience at a revival as a child, to his leaving his home church to join the student movements in the 1960s and 1970s. He discussed the encounter with an elder in his church where an elder said that they had “nothing to do with racism. That’s political. Our faith is private.” 

This exchange, Wallis noted, is what led him to eventually leave his church, only to come back to his faith after reading in Matthew 25 about how followers of Christ should treat the “least of these,” and what leads him to say that “Faith is always personal, but never private.”

'Suffragette' Comes Out Swinging

Screenshot via 'Suffragette' Trailer/YouTube

Though some critics have claimed that the film doesn’t do enough to show the effects of the suffrage movement, it seems appropriate that Suffragette ends while the fight is still going on. In the era of Black Lives Matter, battles for reproductive rights and immigration reform — causes with hoped-for but still undetermined outcomes — it’s reassuring the see a film that portrays historical characters in a similar situation. The women of Suffragette are confident in their eventual victory not because they know what will happen. They’re confident because they have to be — because for them, allowing defeat was not an option.

At Pentecostal Convention, Social Justice Comes to the Fore

Image via J.B. Forbes / St. Louis Post-Dispatch / RNS

“Historically, our church has done a wonderful job of preparing people for eternity, from a spiritual standpoint, but when our presiding bishop came into office he made the decision that we needed to focus even more on preparing people for living in this present world,” said Bishop Edwin Bass, in charge of the denomination’s urban initiatives program.

The initiative helps churches develop programs in five areas: access to quality education, economic development, crime prevention, strengthening families, and financial literacy.

“It’s a change from our normal business,” said Bass, a former marketing senior vice president for Blue Cross Blue Shield whose home congregation, the Empowered Church, is in Spanish Lake, Mo.

“The good news is a lot of our churches are on board.”

Weekly Wrap 10.2.15: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. 9 Ways We Can Make Social Justice Movements Less Elitist and More Accessible

"After a few weeks of feeling confused and invisible, I decided that I just wasn't smart enough to be an activist."

2. WATCH: Obama Condemns 'Routine' of Mass Shootings, Says U.S. Has Become Numb

"As I said just a few months ago, and I said a few months before that, and I said each time we see one of these mass shootings, our thoughts and prayers are not enough."

3. French Catholics Take in Refugee Family Seeking a 'Normal Life'

"The local effort is part of a national Catholic network that connects homeless asylum seekers with families willing to take them in."

The Economy Kills

SINCE HIS ELECTION IN 2013, Pope Francis has been widely praised. But in this interview, conducted by Italian journalists Andrea Tornielli and Giacomo Galeazzi before the release of the encyclical “Laudato Si’,” Pope Francis speaks about the environment and economic justice; his perspectives on these topics have elicited harsh criticism from some.

How important is it for Christians to recover a sense of care for creation and sustainable development? And how do we ensure that this is not confused with a certain environmentalist ideology that considers humanity the real threat for the well-being of our planet?

Pope Francis: For the protection of creation we must overcome the culture of waste. Creation is the gift that God has given to humanity so it can be protected, cultivated, used for our livelihood, and handed over to future generations. The vocation to take care of someone or something is human, before being Christian, and affects all; we are called to care for creation, its beauty, and to respect all creatures of God and the environment in which we live. If we fail in this responsibility, if we do not take care of our brothers and sisters and of all creation, destruction will advance. Unfortunately, we must remember that every period of history has its own “Herods” who destroy, plot schemes of death, disfigure the face of man and woman, destroying creation.

But when humanity, instead of being custodian, considers itself to be the master, it ... moves toward destruction.

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Social Justice Is a Christian Tradition — Not a Liberal Agenda

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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.

Spotlight on the Summit 2015: Jeanné Isler

Image via Sojourners
Image via Sojourners

The work we do in the nonprofit sector is complex and multifaceted. Often we find ourselves compartmentalizing our identities based on the work we’re currently doing. Am I a woman, an organizer, an African American, a facilitator, a Roman Catholic, a philanthropist, or a manager? And which of those is most important to the success of my work?

The Summit, hosted by Sojourners, is a unique opportunity to rise above some of these identity markers and practice being as holistically authentic as we can. Over 300 leaders committed to changing the world through faith and justice gathered in June in Washington, D.C., for a three-and-a-half day exploration of the particular ways that faith leaders impact a range of social justice issues. NCRP facilitated a private conversation for nearly 2 dozen philanthropic leaders who attended The Summit to consider the role that philanthropy plays in this process.

Reimagining the Bible Belt

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IF YOU'RE A Christian who cares about social justice, you can’t afford to ignore Texas.

In his book Rough Country, Princeton sociologist Robert Wuthnow puts it bluntly: “Texas is America’s most powerful Bible-Belt state.” Texas has the second largest population in the country, home to more than 26 million people. In 2014, Texans led six out of 21 congressional committees. And more than half of Texans attend church at least twice monthly.

No other state has more evangelical Christians than Texas. Many national Christian media companies, parachurch ministries, and influential megachurches are based in Texas. That’s why Texas is called the Buckle of the Bible Belt: It’s the most populous, wealthy, and politically powerful part of the country where evangelical churchgoing is still a dominant force.

But what if we reimagine the Bible Belt? In 2005, Texas officially became a “majority-minority” state, where traditional minority racial or ethnic groups represent more than half of the population. A majority of Texans under 40 in the pews are people of color. This creates an opportunity: Demographic change could lead to cultural change. What if we cast a new vision for faith in Texas public life that puts working families and people of color at the center?

But demographic change will not translate automatically into cultural change. The dominant historical Bible Belt narrative has influenced and shaped the identities of all Texas Christians, including in the African-American and Latino faith communities.

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July 2015
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