Social Justice

Salt, Light, and Social Change

The year of my evangelical discontent dawned at the age of 22. In 1990, having recently completed my undergraduate education, I languished in a secure job while faithfully serving my church on weekends. Deeply rooted in evangelical Christianity, I could not imagine ever turning in my metaphorical membership card. But I struggled with what I perceived to be shallowness in evangelicalism.

My church focused on personal spiritual growth. Faith had been reduced to an individualistic expression; my ticket to heaven punched with required purchases of the Scofield Bible and Evidence that Demands a Verdict. My years as an undergraduate in New York reintroduced me to a world that I had abandoned when my family moved out of inner-city Baltimore. I had trouble reconciling the jarring juxtaposition of my secular education on the border of Harlem with my comfortable suburban church. My new Mazda 626 failed to provide me with the expected satisfaction of having arrived into middle-class America at such a young age. 

In the midst of my evangelical angst, I stumbled across Sojourners magazine. The content of the magazine proved revelatory. No longer could I reduce my faith to multiple trips to the altar and a feel-good individualized faith. Suddenly, my new car represented oppression rather than triumph.

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From a Shoebox to a Movement

The metaphor I have often used to describe the origins of Sojourners in the fall of 1971 is that we raised a flag up a flagpole. The words on the flag proclaimed, “Biblical faith requires justice.” Many on the ground felt the same way, but they often couldn’t see each other and felt alone. When they saw the flag we raised, they ran to the bottom of the pole where they met others—and a movement was born.

Our core group met at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in the northern suburbs of Chicago. We connected the first week of seminary and became excited about a new possibility for American Christianity. We ranged across a wide spectrum: civil rights and anti-war activists who had come to Christ; InterVarsity and Campus Crusade students and staff searching for a gospel that could reach the current generation of students; hippies and druggies converted to Jesus; disaffected Southern Baptists from Baylor University; Moody Bible Institute graduates against the war in Vietnam; and even one from Bob Jones University in the heart of American fundamentalism. We were at a leading evangelical seminary, not a liberal one; some of us chose deliberately to go there to argue with our own evangelical tradition about what the Bible really says.

For example, one of our first activities was finding every verse of scripture about the poor, wealth and poverty, and social justice. We found more than 2,000 texts that we then cut out of an old Bible. We were left with a “Bible full of holes,” which I used to take out with me to preach.

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Wallis and Mohler Debate Social Justice and the Gospel

What was most telling about the disagreement between the two men was their discussion of Luke 4. Mohler argued the passage should be understood in light of how he interpreted the preaching and teaching of Paul and the other apostles. This means that when Jesus said that he came to bring good news to the poor that good news was personal salvation.

Wallis argued that yes, personal salvation is one part of that good news, but that the other part is the Kingdom of God breaking into the world and transforming societal relationships as well. When the Gospel is proclaimed, it is good news for a poor person's entire being, community and world -- not just his or her soul.

First, it was encouraging to hear Mohler spend a lot of time emphasizing that working for justice is essential to fulfillment of the Great Commission. Throughout the night he repeated his concern that a lot of Churches are REALLY bad at making disciples who actually do the things Jesus told us to do. As the president of one of the largest seminaries in the world, it will be interesting to see if he is able to train a generation of pastors who will do things differently. My concern is that he is missing the connection between his theology and the failure of Christians to actually do justice.

The "Atonement-Only" Gospel

If justice is only an implication, it can easily become optional and, especially in privileged churches, non-existent. In the New Testament, conversion happens in two movements: Repentance and following. Belief and obedience. Salvation and justice. Faith and discipleship.

Atonement-only theology and its churches are in most serious jeopardy of missing the vision of justice at the heart of the kingdom of God. The atonement-only gospel is simply too small, too narrow, too bifurcated, and ultimately too private.

News: Quick Links

Baby steppin': Economy grew 2.5 percent in the third quarter. Democrats first offer: $3 trillion for debt. Immigration is a faith issue. Harsh rhetoric to derail the GOP? The canon of St. Paul's Cathedral in London resigns over plans to evict Occupy London protesters. Elizabeth Warren and the #OccupyWallStreet election test.

Andrew Marin answers, "What is an Evangelical?"


The reason the word Evangelical has become so poisonous is because the answer to the above question comes from a conversion-based model of cultural engagement - political, theological and social. Too many Christians believe, and have wrongly been taught, that those "others" and "opposites" who have made an active choice not to believe in "our" teachings are justifiably: 1) left to their own devices as we wash our hands of them because of their bad choice (think in terms of blood-on-their-own-head); or 2) uninformed, so much so that their "no" is an illegitimate answer.

Evangelicals care more about positions -- whether progressive or conservative -- than people. We lack nuance. We have become either all Scripture or all Justice. I don't know where the balance was lost in terms of holding Scripture in high authority and, simultaneously, loving with reckless abandon?

#OccupyWallStreet: Zuccotti Park Cleaning Cancelled Early Friday

The clean up of Zucotti Park -- announced by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg yesterday -- by city workers has been scrapped as of early Friday a.m.

The announcement came shortly after 6 a.m. EST, less than an hour before city workers were scheduled to enter the park near Wall Street where thousands of demonstrators have been camped out for nearly a month.

Jim Wallis on #OccupyWallStreet: "This Could Really Change Things" (Video)

Last week, Sojourners CEO, the Rev. Jim Wallis, visited with #OccupyWallStreet demonstrators in New York City. "As I listen to them, I recognize what I felt as a young student-activist in the late '60s and early '70s," Wallis said. "I just feel from them what I felt a long time ago, that we're part of something much bigger than us, much larger than us...The visceral feeling [here] is, 'This could really change things.'"