It was the beauty on the outside that drew me away.
Before social justice became trendy among evangelicals, people of all denominations, faiths, and philosophies had already been steadily working in the trenches without fanfare, caring for the least of these with a quiet strength.
Through seminary, I learned to grapple with justice being at the heart of the Christian Gospel — dignity, equality, and right to life for all — I marched out into the real world with zeal and vigor to champion the rights of the oppressed in the name of Jesus. However, I discovered the people who were doing this work often had no identification with Christianity, that those outside of church were behaving more Christian-ly than some inside.
I admired Nicholas Kristof, a self proclaimed nonreligious reporter, who tirelessly sheds light on humanitarian concerns.
I adored Malala, a Muslim, who stood up to the Taliban to bravely demand a right to education for girls.
I reflected on the justice heroes of recent history, people like Gandhi and countless other humanitarian workers who don’t claim the Christian faith for their own.
It disoriented me because for so long I believed it was only through Christ that one can walk in righteous paths; that without the Truth (which had been so narrowly summed up for me in John 3:16), everything was meaningless. I didn’t have an interpretive lens to categorize beauty that existed outside of the vessel I was told contained the only beauty to be found: the evangelical Christian church.
In July 2010 I joined with around 100 freedom fighters in Chicago, many of whom had traded the previous year of their lives to fight for comprehensive immigration reform. And we knew it was not going to happen in 2010, at least as we had imagined. Many in the room were exhausted, and defeated, and spent. The response from the campaign was to talk about the next hill to climb rather than deal with the pain and exhaustion in the room.
Doing justice is hard and exhausting work. We are compelled to action by the urgency of the suffering and pain and evil that mark life for so many in God’s world. And the work is never done. Win or lose, there is always another hill, another peak, another challenge that lies ahead. So the temptation is to keep on keeping on, and to rise to the next challenge.
For the past 20 years, I have either been a pastor or a community organizer, and for many of those years I have been both. For pastors and organizers, there is always one more email to write, one more call to make, and one more strategy to be explored. To be blunt, burnout and exhaustion are the order of the day.
The concept of social entrepreneurship, which can be defined as the use of entrepreneurial and innovation principles to promote social change, is not new. It’s been rebranded with a trendy name, but the concept of developing new ways to solve social problems has existed for ages as a key mechanism to promoting social justice. So why aren’t more Christians prominent in today’s social entrepreneurship movement?
I received some distressing news today. Oh, I know you thought you’d kept it secret, but I answered the phone when the doctor’s office called to change your chemo appointment.
Chemo? Seriously? What, you thought I wouldn’t find out eventually? I know I seem preoccupied sometimes, but I’m not an idiot. I can see the signs.
I knew something was up when I saw you shrinking, little by little over time. Maybe other people couldn’t tell, but I suspected something bad was going on. You can paste on a smile, and listen to your happy music, and buy new stuff. But anyone who really knows you, realizes your body has been slowly betraying you.
Dying happens. I get that. What really makes me mad, though, is that you didn’t trust me enough to tell me. Maybe you didn’t know for awhile. I guess that’s possible. But the doctor had to have told you, right? I mean, at some point you decided to do something about it — if only to keep it a secret. And if you didn’t know, then you’re not who I thought you were.
Jarrod McKenna is in trouble. It's not that the dreadlocked Christian activist is at risk of being arrested, as he has been at several anti-war and anti-coal protests. Rather, he has let five-year-old Congolese refugee Zephanta Baganizi eat the leftovers of our very late lunch, shortly before dinner time.
"Have you asked your mum if it's OK?" McKenna asks "Zopho," who is gazing at several pieces of bolani, a vegan flat-bread meal from Afghanistan. Transfixed by the food, Zopho doesn't respond.
"Just a small piece, then."
Zopho grabs the biggest piece. He runs off to his family's apartment, mouth overflowing with fried bread and vegetable filling.
"I'm in trouble," McKenna says.
The interaction between Australian, Congolese and Afghan food, people and culture is not uncommon at a large block at the end of Dudley Street in the outer Perth suburb of Midland.
It is the location of First Home Project; a former methamphetamine lab transformed into three apartments that provide medium-term accommodation at below-market rates for refugees transitioning into their new Australian lives.
Yesterday morning, an op-ed piece went live on CNN by a young evangelical author named Daniel Darling, titled " Millennials and the false ‘gospel of nice.’ Darling’s piece is clearly written in response to many recent articles — like Rachel Held Evans’ recent piece "How evangelicals won a culture war and lost a generation " — which argue that many of the leaders of evangelical Christianity have abandoned the core convictions and teachings of Jesus Christ and instead have leveraged their faith as a weapon to be used against anyone who disagrees with their political and moral principles that they claim are rooted in Scripture.
All of this is very fresh in our minds as news broke yesterday that Christian relief organization World Vision lost more than 10,000 child sponsorships from people who disagreed with the organization’s policy change on hiring people in legal same-sex marriages. To many who watched this controversy unfold, this is an utter travesty. It seems simply unfathomable that anyone who claims to follow Christ could justify removing support from the impoverished children that they know by name because they disagreed with the organization’s hiring policy.
In his op-ed piece, Darling argues that the cry of many progressive and millennial evangelicals is:
"If only orthodox evangelical leaders would give up their antiquated beliefs, get more in step with the real Jesus, the church and the world would be better off."
He then continues by saying that:
"embedded in this narrative are two presuppositions: Young evangelicals are fleeing the church at a rapid pace [and] the real message of Jesus looks nothing like orthodox Christianity."
When I read these comments in Darling’s piece, I was utterly fascinated. Because as a millennial evangelical, and one who is participating in these conversations on a national and international level, I have never heard a single person call for "evangelical leaders to give up their antiquated beliefs." I have never heard anyone say "the real message of Jesus looks nothing like orthodox Christianity." When I read Darling’s piece, it became crystal clear to me what the key problem is that is causing so much friction between the "old guard" in evangelicalism and us millennials:
The old guard has confused orthodoxy with their political and moral interpretations of Scripture.
When President Obama and Pope Francis sit down at the Vatican on Thursday, the meeting may well offer a vision of what could have been for Democrats and the Catholic Church over the last six years: a leader of the state and a leader of the church working on the many issues where they agree while working through the issues where they don’t.
Of course, that’s not exactly how it’s gone for Obama and the U.S. hierarchy, even though Obama and the church both stress economic justice and the priority of the common good, universal health care, robust government support for the needy and comprehensive immigration reform.
The potential for a robust alliance fizzled almost from the start of Obama’s candidacy in 2007, and a relationship that began badly went downhill when he was elected.
I didn’t expect to get hit on during Super Bowl XLVIII.
I mean, I was expecting the usual stuff — the testosterone-fueled web hosting pitch, the adorable animals selling beer – but this was shameless. Someone really did their homework, because company after company turned up with things I like to hear: healthy families; cute biracial kids; a nation of immigrants; a thriving main street; victory for the marginalized; solving the world’s most pressing social ills. Check, check-check.
Progressive values, you are currently the it-girl for advertisement pickup artists. Enjoy it?
I, for one, do not.
Don’t get me wrong, commercials that celebrate our society as diverse and affirming are far more appealing than the advertising tropes we’re used to. But they also veil or flat-out misrepresent the structures and practices of the companies telling them. Without a significant shift towards justice on the part of these companies themselves, their social good stories shouldn’t charm us — they probably should leave us with a bad taste in our mouths.