Thousands of preachers, religious leaders and church people decided to sign a statement in opposition to social justice work this week - at a time in history when there are more people enslaved, oppressed and exiled than at another other time in human history. 40 million people will be impacted by slavery in 2018. Around 25 million (most of which are children) have had to flee their homes as refugees in the last year. While white supremacist, racist and anti-immigrant sentiment rages in the streets and on social media platforms with heightened invigoration and visibility - this statement not only downplays the need for repentance from our long history of such ideology in this country but it also ignores the obvious need for conversations about what racial reconciliation could look like - especially if it started in ecclesiastical settings.
Sunday morning remains the most racially segregated hour of the week. Why?
The mandate of scripture to fight poverty through advocacy and generosity is absent from many pulpits. If it's mentioned it's never mentioned on the same level of other moral mandates even though the idea of being generous with the poor is mentioned 2100 times in scripture. Why?
Most funds given to Evangelical churches (more than 95% based on several studies I found online) go to salary, benefits, facilities and administration. This leaves less than 5% to go towards benevolence. Some estimate the average annual budget percentage of evangelical church giving that goes towards humanitarian aid is as low as 2%. If that's true then non-believers are out-giving Evangelicals when it comes to aid relief and meeting the physical and tangible needs of the poor, hungry, thirsty and exiled in our world even though Jesus' teaching mandates such generosity. Why?
The most likely group of people in America to blame the poor for their poverty are white evangelicals. Why?
Of all demographics, white evangelicals are the least supportive in this country to help resettle refugees. 68% think that America should not resettle refugees. Why?
There's a consistent belittling of the importance of pushing back against injustice in church settings and on social media platforms both by the leaders and overall church building culture. This mean-spirited dismissive mindset towards social work and justice work spills out for the whole world to see on social media platforms. If my gospel is not good news to the poor than it's an entirely different gospel that Jesus from Nazareth talked about.
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to proclaim the good news to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed" Jesus quoting the prophet Isaiah
There's a long tradition throughout history of those that respond to the instruction of scripture as it pertains to advocating for the oppressed, marginalized and the poor. There's a recurring theme in scripture that echoes what is already written on our hearts and woven into the very fabric of our souls - to take the cause of the poor and oppressed is to know the
"'He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?' declares the LORD." - The Prophet Jeremiah
There is also, at least in this country, a long history of religious voices that stand against those who seek to amplify the voices that have been drowned out.
"The true Negro does not want integration...He realizes his potential is far better among his own race" - Jerry Falwell, Liberty University
Falwell was very critical of Martin Luther King Jr. and referred to his work as the "Civil Wrongs Movement". He'd say these things in sermons influencing countless people in his view that the Bible supported segregation.
They had the same critique of MLK that they have for us today - "Just preach the gospel - stop agitating." Falwell was joined by a whole culture that stood up against the Civil Rights Movement because of a belief that racial integration was against the law of God according to scripture. The impact and the half-life of Jim Crow when it comes to hiring, lending and education is immeasurable. Most christian white flight universities never made any reparations for their racially motivated admission practices after being forced by the federal government to change their policies. The scope of such sin has gone unacknowledged and swept under the rug. The generational trauma passed on from the practices of people like Falwell in power is observable over five decades later. Thank God someone finally stood up for justice.
Frederick Douglass was an activist that aimed to reshape wider culture. He took consistent criticism for his activism from church people and preachers as did all the front line abolitionists in this country. They used scripture to support slavery and denounced anyone who stood against the law of the land. This is well documented in transcripts of sermons and
Christian columnists in newspapers in response to activism, pretest and disobedience of the Fugitive Slave Law.
"I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land." -Frederick Douglass
My participation in social justice is part of a legacy of love inspired by the teachings of Jesus and in response to his instruction. It is not a trend, a fad or a liberal cause. This is a spiritual practice. It's sacramental. It's a prescribed ingredient in my worship. It is love in the form of action. The two thousand times scripture mandates such action are reminders of what was already written on my heart, echoing in the deep caverns of my being, woven into the very fabric of my soul and interlaced into my DNA strands. I was designed to get involved with a very specific contribution in the arena of justice, mercy and compassion. As were we all. That I can say with 100% confidence.
"What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like." - Saint Augustine
These religious authorities are using their platform this week to undermine and dismiss the actions of those of us doing front-line work - knowing full well that, in a headline-driven society, their blanket statement in opposition of Social Justice, without ever defining exactly what they mean by social justice, could dissuade countless enthusiastic individuals from investing their lives into meeting the physical needs of our fellow image bearers.
I told a Christian record label executive that I wanted to write an album about social justice, boy soldiers and to use my songs to shine a light on modern-day sex slavery. He said "But isn't worship singing and social justice is something else". I thought to myself "read the prophets man!" I told another executive about my idea. He looked at me and said "David, I'm a whore - I just need you to give me something that I can sell." I thought to myself "I'm not a commodity." Becky is a name they give to commodify their target market. He says to me "Becky is a 45-year-old soccer mom who spends a few minutes with the radio on and she does not want to be challenged. She's in a minivan in Michigan and she just needs to be told that everything is alright. We just need you to focus on the positive, on the encouraging". Meanwhile, the plight of the most marginalized goes unnoticed and swept under the rug under the banner of safety.
"I hate, I reject your festivals,
Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies.
"Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings,
I will not accept *them*;
And I will not *even* look at the peace offerings of your fatlings.
"Take away from Me the noise of your songs;
I will not even listen to the sound of your harps.
"But let justice roll down like waters
And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." Amos the prophet
"Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
I am not listening.
Your hands are full of blood!
Wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
stop doing wrong.
Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.[a]
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow." Isaiah the prophet
Now is a time, more than any other time in human history, for those who love justice and the King's kingdom to speak up for justice, social safety nets and clearer pathways for upward mobility in our society. Let justice roll down! Give me oceans of justice.
Ye who spend 95+% of your organization's tithes and offerings on salaries and facilities - whose congregations build fancy buildings with overpriced sound systems and comfortable chairs and ignore the very urban community your building was built in - ye who contribute less than 5% of your annual budget towards meeting the physical needs of other humans - ye who tread upon the weak to defend the wealthy - ye who pledge the allegiance of your congregation to Empire over Kingdom - you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting. You can't take the prophets out of context. You can't love mercy if you love conquest.
"Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy." - Ezekiel the prophet
A friend of mine was a youth pastor who went to his senior pastor. He said that their church was built in the middle of an urban community in the south, attended by mostly white middle-class families. The church did nothing to help with the mostly black youth community that lived within blocks of their building and he brought this up to his superior. The senior pastor said to him "you're young and naive - I don't think you realize how much work *those people* are".
A man immigrated recently with his family from El Salvador. He found employment at a church in MN. One of the pastors there secretly called ICE on this man because he was suspicious that he might not have legal status in this country.
"Therefore they have become great and rich.
They are fat, they are sleek,
They also excel in deeds of wickedness;
They do not plead the cause,
The cause of the orphan, that they may prosper;
And they do not defend the rights of the poor.
'Shall I not punish these *people*?' declares the Lord,
'On a nation such as this
Shall I not avenge Myself?'" Jeremiah the prophet
Stop listening to these guys! At least they've made it clear that they are preaching what they've already been practicing for so long. A gospel that is all talk and minimal action. A massive reduction of what interfacing with the Maker looks like - merely verbal - things said, sung or read in the public places. What we call worship has been reduced to melodies and lip service. Personal relationship with the Divine, according to scripture, has to do with selfless love of the poor.
"These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me - they worship me in vain" - Jesus quoting the prophet Isaiah
"Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in action and truth" - John the apostle
Jesus Christ spent a lot of time defending the cause of the oppressed, standing in opposition to the empire, criticizing religious leaders, pointing out hypocrisy and inconsistencies in a religious system that tied itself to an empire.
Jesus' half-brother said, "you see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone". He said that in context of meeting the physical needs of the community. He was talking about a community that organized around social safety nets.
And yet they cozy up to the unrepentant and those who pridefully oppose the teachings of Jesus in order to take the cause of the rich and the powerful - trading the soul and testimony of an entire movement for the fleeting promise of power and representation in petty culture wars. While criticizing any attempt made by those advocating for the poor and powerless
in the halls of political power. They will galvanize and unify in the political arenas in order to maintain and preserve cultural dominance. They will talk about immigration and the need to protect traditional and western anglo ethos - a selective involvement in the political sphere. Is it only allowed when the recipients of advocacy look like - believe like - act like - vote like - pray like - smell like the advocates?
"The contemporary Church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the Church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the Church's silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are." MLK letter from the Birmingham Jail
As a songwriter - when I read the words of the prophets - I was stopped in my tracks. Am I adding to this noise? Another culture creator that only talks or sings about stuff. I was so moved by the words of Amos and Isaiah and the words of Jesus and his half-brother that I wrote two albums on social justice and counter trafficking. I've spent 10 deployments overseas so far with the counter sex trafficking organization The Exodus Road doing undercover work to find and free slaves.
My activism, my advocacy, my passion for human rights, my longing for better social safety nets, my gentle attempts to spotlight racial inequality, my research into racial reconciliation, my broken heart over inhumane immigration practices and my love for refugees - how do they respond to people like me? I lecture at universities on social justice, I speak on Sunday mornings in church buildings and everywhere my rock band performs. Here's how they respond:
"And we emphatically deny that lectures on social issues (or activism aimed at reshaping the wider culture) are as vital to the life and health of the church as the preaching of the gospel and the exposition of Scripture...Historically, such things tend to become distractions that inevitably lead to departures from the gospel." - The Statement on Social Justice
Distractions? How can following the explicit instruction of the King a distraction? This idea that a community of light can help shift culture is the very premise of the good news of the Kingdom. The idea that people will develop "a kind of dangerous unselfishness" to quote MLK, a contagious courage in the face of fear, esteeming the needs of others above our own, laying down our lives for our neighbors, generously doing for others what we'd love for them to do for us if we needed assistance - this is the very foundation of good news that Jesus Christ talked about over and over again. His gospel was good news to the poor. He said that when we emphasize our good works that those on the outside will see our actions and glorify Him. That's what he was talking about when He said to shine our light - not some bumper sticker or t-shirt or proclamation in your twitter bio or some massive religious symbol or billboard on the side of the highway. He said they will know that we're following Him when they see our selfless love, our action on behalf of the most marginalized - our advocacy for those lacking power and representation in the public places.
"Is this not the fast which I choose,
To loosen the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the bands of the yoke,
And to let the oppressed go free
And break every yoke?
Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry
And bring the homeless poor into the house;
When you see the naked, to cover him;
And not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then your light will break out like the dawn,
And your recovery will speedily spring forth;
And your righteousness will go before you;
The glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
You will cry, and He will say, 'Here I am.'
If you remove the yoke from your midst,
The pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness,
And if you spend yourself on behalf of the hungry
And satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
Then your light will rise in darkness
And your gloom *will become* like midday." Isaiah the prophet
What are we spending ourselves on? What am I spending the currency of my life on? Isaiah says if we spend ourselves on behalf of the hungry and afflicted than our light will rise like the noon. That's what I want. We are sitting on storehouses of kerosene and yet we've got the candle buried under a bushel. What will I spend the currency of my time on? The currency of my moral capital? The currency of my political capital? On the rich and powerful or on the poor and powerless? The currency of my creativity, my sweat and blood, my imagination, my youth, my art, my songs, my camera lens?
What a beautiful thing to see when the fabled majestic bride holds the torch of freedom up high - the city on a hill shining bright in her glorious good deeds - clothed in radiant white - inspired by the example of the King's life laid down for her - empowered by that Divine spark of new life - the way of the cross - dying daily to selfish apathy and being born anew into a life of generous service.
Will we lay our lives down in service of the King? The King who is a refugee - the King who is a single mother in the inner city -the King who is hungry and thirsty - the King who is a child desperate for foster care - the King who is a child sold into prostitution. Won't you shine your light City on a Hill? The light of the good news from the Kingdom is witnessed in the good works of the Bride - it's the evidence of a community of transformed lives that now devote their time and resources to loving their neighbors as themselves in the most creative and effective ways. And they advocate in the public places for the poor and the powerless to maximize collective impact.
Someday the King will say to you "I know you - well done". He will recognize your voice, not only because of your prayers, but because he's heard you advocating publicly for the underprivileged and destitute. He will recognize your eyes because he's already looked back at you already through irises of a refugee child - through the eyes of the exiled, hungry, imprisoned or impoverished image bearer that you decided to love with your actions. As you recognize the scars in his wrists he will have already seen the calluses in your hands from your toil in the fields of injustice and apathy. You will recognize the rhythm of His steps because you've been in the yoke with the Savior of humanity every time you spent yourself on behalf of the oppressed - part of the incarnate mosaic - a participant of the skin and bones of the Creator during this monumental time in history.
Sourced in this article:
says 5-10% go to local and international "charity" although "charitable contributions" could very easily go towards proselytizing and not towards actually meeting the physical and tangible needs of other humans.
Study done by the Evangelical Christian Credit Union in 2012
*"Every year churches collect some $100 billion in donations. But most donors do not know that the average congregation in the U.S. gives only two percent of donated money to humanitarian projects. Some 98% goes to pay staff, upkeep of buildings, the priest's car, robes, salary and housing" - Roy Sablosky, American Humanist Association of Greater Sacramento *
*Christianity Today* is another source. A survey
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