Home Pastors Articles for Pastors Social Justice or Evangelism? There Shouldn’t Even Be a Debate

Social Justice or Evangelism? There Shouldn’t Even Be a Debate

But my grandparents found out, got ahold of her and talked her into having “that baby” (aka “me!”). That’s probably why she always looked at me with a look of guilt and maybe part of the reason she cried herself to sleep at night. She had almost taken my life in her womb and, as a result, felt unforgivable.

After years of sharing Jesus with her my mom finally relented (while smoking a cigarette at our kitchen table). I had the privilege of leading my mom to Jesus when I was 15 years old.

Over time my mom’s tears were replaced with a new and profound sense of joy. Jesus gave her (and us) hope both in this life and the next. It was this hope that made us feel rich for the first time. We were still poor financially but we felt like millionaires in the deepest part of our souls.

And now we had Somebody to talk to who would not only listen, but could do something about our situation. My mom’s sense of hopelessness was replaced by a sense of anticipation and deep joy.

That’s why I don’t pay much attention to Christian theories of social justice that minimize the gospel message in the whole process of ministering to the poor. I would guess that many experts who’ve been perpetuating these theories have never been poor themselves. Some even try to make themselves poor (move to a poor part of the city, live on next to nothing, etc.) so they can relate…but it doesn’t work that way.

You see poverty is not the absence of money. It’s the absence of hope. Self-induced poverty always has a way out. It can always reverse the situation when the experiment gets boring. Real poverty can’t.

Jesus brings the audacity of real and lasting hope into a hopeless world. That’s why providing food, clothes, job opportunities and money are not enough when it comes to social justice. These things may be a beginning but they are far from the end.

Don’t get me wrong, growing up I was deeply grateful for every helping hand our family received. I was personally blessed by adults outside our family who helped me make it through my poor upbringing. From taking me out to eat to giving me clothes to helping send me to camp every gift I received from Christians I knew growing up was appreciated. But it was the message of Jesus that truly gave me, my brother and, eventually, my mom a hope that we couldn’t shake.

So where do I stand on the “debate” of social justice and the Gospel? I stand with Jesus in Luke 4:18 said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.

We shouldn’t separate preaching the Gospel, serving the poor, healing the hurting and helping the oppressed. We should preach the Gospel with our lives and our deeds.

Feed the hungry, clothe the naked and give jobs to the poor. But please don’t leave Jesus out of the social justice equation. Provide the hungry with bread for their bodies and then give them The Bread of Life for their souls. Provide the thirsty with water to quench their physical thirst and then give them The Living Water for their spiritual thirst. Build the homeless a house here on earth and then build them one in heaven.

Preaching the Gospel and serving the poor were both priorities for Jesus and the disciples. While Jesus’ primary purpose according to Luke 19:10 was to “seek and save that which was lost,” he fed the poor, healed the sick and touched the hurting along the way.

Even the apostle Paul, who has also been accused by some of being a heartless fundamentalist, made feeding the poor a high priority. I love this passage in Galatians,

And the leaders of the church had nothing to add to what I was preaching. (By the way, their reputation as great leaders made no difference to me, for God has no favorites.) Instead, they saw that God had given me the responsibility of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as he had given Peter the responsibility of preaching to the Jews. For the same God who worked through Peter as the apostle to the Jews also worked through me as the apostle to the Gentiles. In fact, James, Peter and John, who were known as pillars of the church, recognized the gift God had given me, and they accepted Barnabas and me as their co-workers. They encouraged us to keep preaching to the Gentiles, while they continued their work with the Jews. Their only suggestion was that we keep on helping the poor, which I have always been eager to do.” Galatians 2:6-10

One of the reasons I love this passage so much is because it seems to give us the order of priority we are to follow. Like Paul, our primary responsibility is to preach the gospel. But also, like Paul, we have a legitimate duty to help the poor and hurting. We should be eager to do that very thing.

We need to stop living in an either/or world when it comes to the Gospel and social justice. Let’s love everyone we can, serve everyone we can and share Jesus with everyone we can. Let’s not settle for a lesser brand of Christianity.

This article originally appeared here.