Social Justice Off the Shelf

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Written by Brandon Ryan Photos by Sarah Huffman

I find myself going more and more against the grain, moving away from labels. Moving away from the current pulse of Christianity, and more into the depths of God’s freedom and grace. As a whole, a lot of Christians are following the teachings of Social Justice. Everyone is doing it. They’re writing books about Social Justice in Africa and other places around the world where living conditions are destitute. People are finally opening their eyes, and I think that’s a very beautiful thing. There are a lot of great causes and organizations out there. But I’ve got to say: Jesus wanted us to take care of the poor, widows and needy from day one.

Have we taken this whole Social Justice issue a little over the edge? I see all these people flocking to guys like Brandt Russo and Shane Claiborne. People go nuts over these two. It’s not that I think that there’s anything wrong with what these people are doing. I think its amazing. But I don’t see people going crazy over Jesus and what he does for people. Whenever Jesus would heal someone in the New Testament, he says over and over, “Be sure that you don’t tell anyone.” You’d think after reading through the Scriptures, someone as amazing as Jesus would want everyone to know what he was doing. But then I thought, maybe he doesn’t want to purposefully draw attention to himself. Even though crowds still flocked to him, maybe he wanted everything he did to resonate on a more personal note. I also think he didn’t want his followers to miss the point.

picture-8It seems like because one person decides to get off of their butts and feed someone, everyone else has to join in. I think Jesus healed and fed people because number one, he wanted to. And number two, because he knew in every fiber of his being that it needed to be done. The point of Social Justice is therefore to show and extend the same love and grace that God has shown us. When you help someone in need, Christ is being seen through your human face and interactions. And when you do this, you quickly become a light in the darkness. Pure love and kindness towards others, as God has commanded in the Bible, draws many into the arms of Christ, (which is salvation in and of itself). Colossians 3:17 tells us that “Whatever we do, whether it be in word or deed, [we should] do it in the name of the Lord.”

Right now we’re experiencing a Social Justice boom. Enoch Magazine interviewed Shane Claiborne about this exact topic in a previous video, and Shane responded with: “There’s a lot worse trends out there…If it’s a trend to live responsibly and take care of the poor, then I’m going ‘sweet.'” So Claiborne’s heart is like Christ’s (i.e.”Whoever is not against us is for us” – Jesus), but why can’t we meet people where they’re at simply because it’s vital to extend life-giving care to humanity? I mean let’s get real and honest for a second. These so-called Social Justice movements are becoming trends. And as we all know, bell bottoms, acid washed jeans, baggy pants and even tight jeans eventually fade away. Will Social Justice also wither? And when it does will our true intentions then be forced toward a life more like Jesus, because its all we know how to do?

There are people out there who are doing all these wonderful things, and have no idea it’s even Christ-like. I just think it’s time for a lot of us to re-focus on what it means to live, be human and know what it means to be a servant. I mean if someone needs water, give it to them. Clothes, give it. If someone is starving, put food in their stomachs. Then do it again and again just like Christ did. Grace and Peace.


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  1. Kelli says:

    Brandon, this is one of the best written pieces I’ve seen from you. But I have to disagree
    Social Justice is not a new trend. In fact, the catholic church has been heading up vast charitable initiatives for centuries.
    The difference now is the rapid spread of information to draw attention to the issues and the leaders, as well as innovation in finding resources to meet the needs.
    Tshirts, benefit concerts, paypal accounts, myspace, youtube…etc…
    Also, in Christian circles, this all might seem like do-gooder overload, but outside of the young progressive church, all of these initiatives are virtually unheard of.
    Go to a mall or bar or somewhere, and ask some random people if they’ve ever heard of Shane Claiborne,or TWLOHA, or Invisible Children, or really any of the issues surrounding them.
    Chances are, they will have no idea what you’re talking about.
    There’s really no danger of it going the way of acid wash jeans or overshadowing the message of the gospel.
    As long as people are still hungry, thirsty, lonely, captive or in need, this trend has not gone far enough.

  2. Carter says:

    I don’t know too much about the Catholic scene…but I can tell you when I went to Altanta to document homeless ministry, it was the Catholics that were out there feeding and ministering to the homeless. They were full of life, with big smiles on their faces and those funny collars. So, even though I think Catholicism can skew certain people away from Christ because of all the silly routines, they are not only aware, but active in serving the poor.

  3. Kelli says:

    just to clarify, I was stating that the Catholic Church have been leaders in charitable initiatives,(hospitals, orphanages,taking care of the poor) whether it’s under a trendy banner or not.
    Still going strong after hundreds of years, it’s not gonna die out anytime soon

  4. Chase says:

    This article is interesting to me.

    You seem to be condemning and endorsing the same thing. Quite a contradiction. “Don’t do Social Justice; Do random acts of kindness.” “It’s too trendy to care about sex trade and the displaced, give out water instead.”

    I don’t understand why you would want to point people *away* from the good that’s being accomplished by these “activists”. At bare minimum – as you quoted – “There’s a lot worse trends out there…”

    If good is being done, why discourage it?

    This article seems to be written not from the stand point of speaking out against any thing at all (considering your closing statement – “I just think it’s time for a lot of us to re-focus on what it means to live, be human and know what it means to be a servant.” – is more or less the definition of the “Social Justice” movement/awakening/[dare-I-say]”trend”) but rather with the subculture, hipster, perpetual-contradictory mindset of “It’s uncool to be trendy.”

    What I do encourage in this “trend” (there I go again…) and what I believe/hope you were getting at is that our focus and our heart *must* be on obedience and service to Christ’s call and command; not on the people or cause we are serving, and by no means on guys like Brandt Russo.

    Because, call it what you wish – be it Christianese or Hipster Lingo – whether you buy a water bottle for the homeless guy outside Starbucks, or you travel to Africa to build a Clean-Water Well with your hands, “whatever you do for the least of these,” and whether you or they know it or not, you do it for Christ and all His Glory.

  5. Chase says:

    …and one more quick comment (on a comment):

    Kelli,
    “There’s really no danger of it going the way of acid wash jeans or overshadowing the message of the gospel. As long as people are still hungry, thirsty, lonely, captive or in need, this trend has not gone far enough.”

    That was beautiful. Thanks 🙂

  6. joe says:

    Yeah, that is an interesting perspective.

    For the last few months, my family has been doing some voluntary work at a local homeless day centre. The deal is that once a week the local churches take turns to cook a meal for the users of the service – mainly to give the ‘professionals’ a bit of a break on a Sunday.

    My position for a long time is that the church needs to get more into action, so I decided to shut up for a while and check out what is already being done. Anyway, I might write more about it elsewhere, but I think one of the main outcomes is that I’ve slightly changed my view.

    I’m no longer sure it is good enough to feed anyone who comes along – partly because the majority of those who come to eat are not actually homeless. And whilst I hear that God loves us and so we need to give ourselves to others unconditionally, I’m not sure it is loving to feed a scrounger for free. [I am not a conservative, I found that last sentence very hard to type]

    There are clearly great needs amongst the user group. And a sandwich on a Sunday is unlikely to cause much damage, yet I think in our rush to ‘love unconditionally’ we’ve just created dependence. We’ve nothing much to say to the man who hasn’t worked for years and lives on government handouts, continually travelling to the next free meal or service. He doesn’t really need more free food, he needs a job, some self respect, someone who believes in him and is prepared to give him a handup back into a life that revolves around more than just free food.

    Perhaps the truth is that few of us are prepared to commit ourselves to actions which actually are needed and too often take the soft option. Maybe we shouldn’t actually offer unconditionality to everyone, whether they need it or not. I find it hard to believe that Mother Teresa fed anyone that arrived – even those just looking for a free meal – because she was working on an extremely limited budget and feeding people unnecessarily used up resources destined for the weakest.

    OK, we clearly cannot always tell what someone’s needs are, but conversely maybe we do need to have an agenda (i.e. aiming to allow Jesus to change the person’s condition) and maybe we need to be a bit wiser about how we use the resources we have.

  7. Brandon says:

    Wow.. Yeah a lot of people are taking me way way out of context. I am in no way “Condeming” anyone. Where you get that is beyond me. I’m actually all for it if you believe it or not, but according to you CHASE.. I’m a walking contridiction. Yeah.. Thanks for the kind words.

  8. Excellent post. I commented once “Don’t call me a new monastic. I don’t want to be dismissed that easily”. Like yourself, I have no issue with Claiborne & others, but it can be trendy. We find that people who come to our inner city community for the trendiness don’t generally stick around. If they do, their illusions are quickly taken care of. I say, let’s make the most of it and try to restore justice to our spiritual and missional formation. Great post!

    Peace
    Jamie

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