I’m here to tell you that the social gospel…or at least the presentation of the gospel through social justice….saved my soul.
There seems to be a belief in the Evangelical church that social justice is secondary to an individual’s relationship with God. As if ‘loving thy neighbor’ is something to do in the Church’s spare time, after it has addressed the state of a person’s soul in the afterlife.
Of course, personal salvation is extremely important, but it needs to go hand-in-hand with addressing the brokenness of the world we live in. The fact that the Church often sidelines issues of justice is at the root of much of the public distrust of Christianity. It is what brands us as ‘hypocrites.’ We say to the world “who cares what the rest of your life is like, just say you’ll join our club!”
People end up thinking they have to have their act together before they even step through our church doors, and it becomes are barrier to forming the relationships that facilitate forming a personal relationship with Jesus. We should instead be sending a different message: “God loves you just the way you are, and He’s not finished with you yet.” This is the Good News of salvation. Is it not true for all of us?
Perhaps if we took more of a stand for social justice, folks would understand that God really does care about His creation and His Kingdom, and therefore is invested in the individual, not just an institution.
In Scripture, we constantly see Jesus forming much of his ministry around the paring of service and salvation. When addressing the earthly needs of those around us, we demonstrate God’s grace in a tangible way (Servant evangelism is largely based on this philosophy).
These concepts have been eloquently fleshed out in Allen Mitsuo Wakabayashi‘s book, ‘Kingdom Come.’ Wakabayashi describes God’s heart for the Kingdom, and the deep need for redemption that includes both personal salvation AND a transformed world. Wakabayashi declares that evangelism and personal salvation are not at odds with social justice. They go hand in hand! He asks, “how much more effective would our evangelism be if all Christians and churches were characterized by a commitment to dealing with social issues that trouble out world?”
He notes that we are constantly battling against a stereotype that Christians are uncaring and uninvolved, but that “the world needs to see that our faith really does make a difference for life, especially as we deal with some of the most vexing social struggles, like race, gender, and class suppression.” Wakabayashi quotes several important questions: “If your church were to leave the community you’re in, what impact would that have? Would they miss you? Would they weep?”
Specifically about racial justice, Wakabayashi observes “when it comes to the racial problems in out nation, white evangelicals have tended to deal with the problems by encouraging each other to make friendships across the racial barrier and to treat people kindly. While this is commendable, the same people do little to change the laws and policies that perpetuate so many of the racial problems.” Amen!
Recently, Christians have indeed become more prominent in the political world, but I am frustrated to observe that it is almost always in a narrowly defined role, discussing only one or two high-profile and divisive issues. We still are largely silent when it comes to “advocat[ing] peace, justice, and compassion.” How can this be?? Weep, Church, for we have forgotten our call.