“No one can do everything, but everyone can do something” (Max Lucado)
Lately, my thoughts have been focused on a variety of current events. There is a lot going on in our world, both at home and far away. As I observe these things I keep asking, “What are the key social justice issues? As followers of Jesus, what are the top things on which we should focus? Where should our limited time and energy be spent? If the Church serves as the “conscience of the community” where should our voices be the loudest?
As I have thought about these things, I have come up with a list of what I think are the top, present day, social justice issues. My intention is not to go into great detail about each item. I am simply going to list them, make a few short comments, and provide links to articles. The list is not in order of importance. Furthermore, this is my list, based on my view of the world, influenced by my biases, motivated by my desire to live out my faith. Your list may be different. If I lived in another part of the world, my list would be different. I am, however, interested in what you think of my list and what your list would look like.
Again, the list is not given in any particular order.
- Education: The reason for this being a social justice issues is because of the large gap in education based on things like race, ethnicity, class, and even gender. (Here is a great resource on achievement gaps.) I guess the reason I am starting to see education (especially the opportunity for higher education) as a social justice issue is because my governor, Bill Haslam, recently stated he wanted to see Tennessee provide tuition free education for community colleges and technical schools. The controversy his proposal has stirred surprised me. In the past, the Church’s response to educational issues has been to start their on schools or encourage homeschooling. I think we need to rethink that strategy and strive to engage the culture instead of setting up a counter-culture.
- Living Wage: A living wage is a wage high enough to maintain a normal standard of living. (Here is a calculator that shows the living wage in your area.) A living wage is quite different from a minimum wage. The minimum wage was never meant to be a living wage, but unfortunately, for many citizens, it has become the wage on which they must live. The last minimum wage increase was signed into law by Pres. Bush. (Here is a history of minimum wage.) Pres. Obama wants to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. Partisan politics is keeping this from happening. Here is a website in favor of raising the minimum wage. Here is a website against raising the minimum wage. I think the church needs to stay out of politics as much as possible while at the same time encouraging Christian entrepreneurs to pay their workers a fair, livable, wage.
- Sanctify of Life: Abortions are at their lowest rates since 1973. There are many reasons for the decline. Some of the reasons are better than the others, but I think all of us would agree that any decline in the abortion rate is good. Somehow, we need to celebrate the decline as we continue to petition for fewer and fewer abortions. But abortion is not the only issue for people who are serious about the sanctify of life. No doubt abortions get the most attention, and rightfully so. But there are other things that should concern us. I believe, those of us who claim to be conservative, evangelical, Christians need to rethink our stance on capital punishment, war, and issues related to gun control. Maybe, after much thought, study, and prayer, our stances will not change. But maybe they will. Maybe they should. It bothers me when I see Christians say things like, “We ought to line up all the (fill-in-the-blank) offenders and shoot them.” It bothers me that many Christians are as quick to want to go to war as people of other religions. And, while I own a hand-gun, I am troubled by how firmly some believers defend “stand-your-ground” laws and panic at any mention of stricter gun control laws. The idea that I am going to hold tightly to my gun and Bible doesn’t seem to be an appropriate philosophy for a follower of Jesus. Why are we so quick to kill, even in self-defense? I know I may be in the minority, but I think sanctify of life issues includes all life, even the life of criminals and people who want to do us harm. Recently my own state set the date for 10 executions. I am troubled by this. But at the same time, I don’t know what to do about it.
- Same-Sex Marriage: This is a tough issue to navigate. I think the Bible is clear on what it teaches about sex and marriage and morality. I have no plans of backing away from what I believe. The difficult part is how to express love and concern and justice and equality for people who have differing views. The difficult part is, living in a free country, how do I make room for everyone’s freedom? How do I make sure that everyone is treated fairly, regardless of sexual orientation? At the same time, how do I protect my right to believe and teach what I believe? How do I (and my church) stand firm without coming across as hateful and judgmental? These are difficult questions, and questions we need to wrestle through. The only thing I know for sure is that same-sex marriage is here to stay. It ain’t going anywhere. We need to learn how to live and minister with grace and conviction in this new normal.
- Immigration-both legal and illegal: The Bible talks a lot about taking care of the “stranger” and “foreigner” living among you. The Bible doesn’t differentiate between legal and illegal strangers and foreigners. The government needs to, but the church is called to be the hands and feet of Jesus with no strings attached. I believe, as a follower of Jesus, my calling is to take care of anyone who has need, regardless of their immigration standing. (Here is an interesting article written after the Coca-Cola Super Bowl commercial.)
- Environmentalism: The Bible calls us to be stewards of Creation. The Church should lead the way on environmental issues. Sadly, we have given up our responsibility in this area to people who want to worship creation instead of the Creator. Following Jesus should cause me to care about what we are doing, or not doing, to harm the environment.
- Poverty: By U.S. standards, most of the world’s population is poor. However, poverty is an issue in the U.S. as well as around the world. While God does not show favoritism, He does show a certain interest in the poor and has commanded the Church to do the same. There will always be poverty, but that doesn’t mean we should be content with it as long as it is controlled and “not in my neighborhood.” It is difficult to talk about poverty without sounding like you are criticizing capitalism, and nothing makes conservative Christians angrier quicker, then pointing out the flaws of capitalism. I believe the Church in the U.S. has lost her prophetic voice, partly because we have become consumer driven and have spent our resources on building our franchise instead of ministering to the least of these. This has got to change.
- Racism: I am of the opinion that racism is alive and well in our country and even in our churches. Sure, things seemed to have gotten better, but sometimes reality tells a different story. For example, the income gap between white America and black America is at an all time high. The incarceration rate among minorities is disproportional. (An excellent book to read about this is Michelle Alexander’s, The New Jim Crow). The most discriminated people in the U.S. are Native Americans. Hispanics are experiencing a high degree of discrimination, as well as Muslims. I am extremely passionate against racism and discrimination of any kind. I believe the Church needs to constantly speak out against this issue.
- Religious Persecution: Slowly, the worldwide persecution against Christians is starting to be reported by the media, but not nearly enough. Recently, even Pres. Obama talked about the persecution of Christians. While most persecution is against Christians, other faith’s are persecuted as well. The question I keep asking myself is, “How can I vocally and visibly stand with my brothers and sisters around the world? How can I get out of my comfort zone to share in their suffering?”
- Human Trafficking: There are more slaves in the world today than at any time in world history. A large portion of those in slavery are imprisoned in the sex industry. Even in the buckle of the Bible belt, human trafficking takes place. One of the top places in the world for human trafficking is Atlanta, GA! This may be the most important social justice issue over the next decade.
I believe the Church should lead the way in fighting these social justice issues. The problem is we have lost our right to speak into these issues. We have become more concerned about buildings, budgets, and programs then being the conscience of the community. We have spent far too much time arguing about non-essential issues (like worship styles and bible translations) that these bigger issues have almost gotten out of control.
I am committed to doing what I can do to combat these social justice issues. Furthermore, I am committed to leading my church to do the same.
What about you?
What about your church?
Let me close with a quote from Max Lucado that I think applies to all of this: “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.”
What can you do?