In a recent study from Barna, more than 15,000 people between the ages of 18 and 35 rated the church’s impact on issues of poverty and injustice. The results were surprising. 73% of the respondents who identified as practicing Christians believe that the church as a whole is making a positive impact in its effort to fight injustice.
However, that is a significant contrast from their non-Christian counterparts, 68% of whom are not at all convinced that church is effective in its efforts for justice.
These two very different perceptions cannot both be true. So, which group is right, and what is the cause of the different view of the other group?
Is the church really making a difference or not?
According to the same study, Christians are “almost twice as likely as those with no faith to be inspired to give of their time to help others in need (56% to 32%)… [and] to report that their beliefs compel them to give of their own resources (46% to 26%).”
The reality is, Christians, churches and parachurch non-profit organizations across the world are doing a lot to help those in need. One recent example is a church in Missouri that erased $43 million in medical debt for families living in the state. Another relevant example is the many churches on both sides of the US/Mexican border that are providing shelter for asylum seekers by building bunk beds in their Sunday school classes.
Some Christian organizations have also brought in volunteer lawyers to help these people understand the immigration laws. “We don’t refer to them [as migrants and asylum seekers],” one pastor said. “We refer to them as our guests.”
These are just a few of the many ways churches and parachurch organizations fighting injustice across the world. Contrary to popular opinion, many churches actually have a tremendous impact.
So, why do people doubt the church’s impact on the world?
There are many possible reasons we could point out to help explain why so many non-Christians do not see, experience or believe in the church’s impact on the world. This skepticism could come from the media, which tends to report negative headlines much more readily than positive ones. In other words, if one church sends relief to hurricane survivors in a third-world country, and another church is involved in a sex scandal, you can guess which of these is more likely to make headlines.
Another reason might be that people outside the church have different goals and standards for justice. For example, many churches are involved in the pro-life movement, which some non-Christians do not consider to be an injustice that needs to be addressed.
However, I want to point out another possible reason many people struggle to see the genuine impact that so many Christians and churches are having on the world. This comes from another study from Barna, where a poll asked respondents to describe the primary traits or qualities of Evangelicals as a whole by choosing from a list of positive and negative adjectives, including “caring,” “narrow-minded,” “friendly,” “homophobic,” “generous,” “racist,” “hopeful” and the list goes on. However, the two most common descriptors chosen were related to the conservatism of Evangelicals as a whole. Almost 40% of all non-Christians categorized Evangelicals as first and foremost “Religiously Conservative,” and then “Politically Conservative.”
While leaning toward the right or left of the political spectrum is neither good nor evil in and of itself, the fact that “Politically Conservative” was a far more common descriptor than “caring,” “generous,” “encouraging” or “friendly,” should serve as a vital warning to all of us.
Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another,” (John 13:35). We must work hard to ensure that the world knows we are Christians by how we love, not by how we vote.
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