Why Should Christians Care About Social Justice?

Written By Hannah Spaulding, USA

Every fall, my college holds an event called “Un-Learn Week”. Un-Learn Week is a week full of different events focused on “un-learning” racial bias. This was the first time that I started really learning about social justice and what it means—especially in a Christian context.

Social justice is pretty easy to define, but harder to illustrate. One definition might be “social justice is the pursuit of justice to correct systemic problems within a social context.” But what does that really mean? For some, the words “social justice” might conjure up pictures of angry protesters marching in defense of their beliefs. Or maybe social justice seems more like a hazy umbrella term for various “-isms,” such as racism, sexism, ageism.

The Bible never uses the term “social justice”. But in ancient Israel, God gives detailed commandments for setting up a social welfare system, instructing the covenant community how to treat the poor, widows, and foreigners. When the people failed to follow through with these commands, God says through the prophet Amos, “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream” (Amos 5:24).

One of the speakers at Un-Learn Week explained why as students, and Christians, we should spend time doing something that sounds as contradictory as “un-learning.” The speaker explained that, regardless of our personal opinions, if one of our brothers or sisters in Christ comes to us and starts to tell us about a time they experienced racial bias, we have an obligation to listen to them as a sibling in Christ.

This idea really impacted my understanding of social justice. God wants us to listen when there are people around us crying out, whether they are speaking out about racial bias, poverty, sexism, abuse, discrimination, or any other issue. Even if they are not a fellow believer. Even if we end up disagreeing with the person we are listening to, when we listen first, that disagreement can come from a place of mutual understanding instead of bias. Listening is the first step of loving.

I got the chance to do some listening when I participated in Un-Learn Week this past fall. I attended a presentation by two female black students about the history of American media portrayal of black women, and the issues black women in America still face today. Merely attending a presentation might not seem like a work of social justice, but a big part of social justice is educating oneself about issues others are facing. That presentation gave me the opportunity to learn about someone else’s experience that I didn’t previously know.

When Jesus was asked what the most important commandment is, He replied that loving God was the first commandment, and the second was “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). A few chapters later, Jesus gives an example of this great commandment put into action. Jesus says that at His return He will say to the faithful:

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. (Matthew 22:39)

These verses are a prime example of social justice—caring for the marginalized. The early disciples understood this, and in fact, social justice started largely with the early Christian community. If you were to flip back through the pages of history, you would find that many of the first institutional systems that cared for the poor or marginalized were set up by Christians. Many of the first hospitals, schools, orphanages, refuges for the homeless, etc., were often funded and run by monks, nuns, and other early Christians.

As Christians were then, I believe Christians are now still called to participate in bringing justice where injustice has penetrated in a systemic way. This begins with education and awareness, but goes beyond that. It is a willingness to stand in the gap with our brothers and sisters—and even those who aren’t yet our brothers and sisters in Christ—and love them by listening and doing. As 1 Corinthians 13:6-7 says, “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

This past school year, I participated in the work of social justice through being involved with the Sexual Assault Prevention Team (SAPT) on my campus. My involvement in SAPT modeled to me the way social justice works: First, you learn. Then, you act.

In SAPT, we did the work of learning, and sometimes “un-learning,” at our weekly meetings. Each week the director of SAPT would bring an article, video, or presentation for us to learn about and discuss. As a group we expanded our awareness about different issues pertaining to sexual assault, such as the way toxic versions of masculinity contribute to a culture of assault, or how people that are differently abled are often more vulnerable to sexual assault.

Educating ourselves was only half the work, however. The rest of the work of SAPT involved taking action around campus. Some of the efforts of our team included taking a survey of the student body to see how many students on campus are being affected by sexual assault, creating resource flyers to be posted in select bathrooms around campus, and providing sexual assault prevention training programs for members of the student body to attend.

Sometimes social justice is hard to understand. Sometimes it’s inconvenient. But the truth is that love is an action, and participating in social justice is one way we can show God’s love for us to others.

Simply put, social justice is love in action. Will you choose to take the first step today?

How Can We Be “In the World, But Not of It”?

In regard to my choice of college, I was fully IN the world. I attended a large state university, where students that I lived with smoked various substances, drank under-age, partied, slept around, and neglected class work. My degree required me to take several courses that perpetuated beliefs about humanity that were in opposition to my Christian beliefs. Overall, the university preached a message of success, self-help, and “doing what makes you happy.” It was a broken, worldly place.

My experience at a secular university would make a great case study of a Christian trying to learn how to remain righteous and faithful while living in a place that didn’t value either of those traits. It was a constant struggle to find the balance between engaging in the world around me, and outright fleeing from it.

 

A Biblical Basis for a Worn Expression

There are many biblical references that address how we, as Christians, are supposed to be separate from the world. Colossians 3:2, for example, tells us that we should set our minds on “things above,” and Romans 12:2 discourages us from falling into the patterns of this world, because we are to be transformed. After all, we are citizens of a different Kingdom; the Kingdom of light, and not of darkness (Colossians 1:13).

However, we can’t run from the world, and the commission Jesus gave His followers directs us to deliberately go into it (Matthew 28:19). How do we reconcile what appears to be conflicting instructions?

A worn Christian phrase that has been preached ad nauseam, is that we should be “in the world but not of it.” The advice sounds nice in theory, but doesn’t help much unless there can be practical application. Over time, and especially during university, I learned there is actually a key to being in the world but not of it—the key is to be of the Spirit while we walk in the world.

 

In the World, But of the Spirit

The tension of being a Christian at an incredibly secular university was highlighted by an experience during my first year.

Most American college students have adopted Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day as two of the biggest drinking and partying weekends of the year. Come St. Patrick’s Day weekend my first year of college, it seemed like all of my close friends were planning on going to parties, or were out of town. I had turned down similar invitations from them so often before that no one would expect me to actually join them for the reputably wild party weekend.

This left me with no plans for the weekend, and suddenly being in this world without being a part of it seemed really lonely.

Evidenced by my dilemma about St. Patrick’s Day, our time in this world is packed full of situations—significant and petty alike—where we have to make decisions that keep us from being grafted into the world and its rhythms.

Exactly how it looks to be “in the world” while not becoming absorbed in it, isn’t black and white. It’s totally plausible that during St. Patrick’s Day weekend, God could have led me into the heart of a wild college party, because He has work for His people, even in dark places. I learned that when trying to reconcile this tension, we cannot depend on our own wisdom or understanding. If we rely instead on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can be sure that we are not being absorbed into the patterns of this world, even if we find ourselves in the midst of an ungodly environment.

When learning how to be in the world but not of it, it’s vital to discern the difference between the leading of the Holy Spirit, and the leading of our flesh.

We become “of the world” when we make decisions based on fleshly leading. My temptation to join in the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations was rooted in a desire to have fun, fit in, and avoid the loneliness that came from abstaining. None of those desires sound particularly bad, but at the same time they were coming from my flesh, and not from the guidance of the One who is my helper.

Truly, as offensively simple as it may sound, we can be in the world and yet not become a part of it by following the Spirit. We can’t use our human wisdom or understanding to know every situation we need to run from, and which ones we need to armor up and charge into. That’s why Jesus describes the Holy Spirit as our advocate, who was sent to help us and be with us forever (John 14:15). He is our guide!

I knew I needed to avoid the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations because the only motivating factors were fleshly. We definitely shouldn’t head into questionable situations when it’s our flesh that’s leading us there!

As an alternative to the parties, I ended up initiating a smaller get-together with a group of people from a Christian ministry on campus. They were new friends, and it wasn’t comfortable, but it was a valuable alternative to the St. Patrick’s Day drinking parties.

 

Go Confidently Into the World!

As Christians, we can walk with confidence into situations or environments that are uncomfortable. We can dive right into the midst of them. Just as He did at my state university, the Holy Spirit is faithful to train us to do all things in faith, by His leading.

I saw this first hand as I finished my degree and started my first post-graduate job. It was in a really negative, discouraging, and draining law office. In that place, and in my daily walk, I’ve been learning the ever-growing need I have to depend on the Spirit to show me where to invest my time, when to speak, when to stay silent, when to engage, and when to draw back.

In our dependence on the Spirit, we can step with boldness into the darkness, because we know that light shines in darkness, and darkness does not overcome it (John 1:5). Looking to the Spirit for guidance in every decision is how we can be in the world without becoming a part of it, and it’s how we can bring the hope of the Gospel into the mess of a fallen world.

 

3 Reasons I Welcome Refugees (And 3 Ways You Can, Too)

Written By Janel Breitenstein, USA

Did you know nearly one in 100 people worldwide are displaced from their homes?

Refugees have become so much more than an Associated Press photo in my mind and my heart. For three years, I taught students at a refugee center in Uganda. I’ve played sports, shared meals, and exchanged emails and Facebook posts with them, and helped them develop products for their businesses. They’ve also shared their cooking with me, and hung out with my kids. Our kids have even played tag together.

The refugees are among some of the most resilient individuals I’ve ever met. They are courageous strugglers and hard workers.

They have so much to offer.

 

Why I Welcome Refugees

While my husband’s and my work has taken me away from the center, I still work diligently to welcome refugees into my own life here in America. Here’s why:

 

1. Refugees give back

I’ll be honest with you: Some of my students had never sat in a classroom prior to their seat at the refugee center. Their nations had been at unrest for too long. If you’re trying to stay alive, you usually aren’t sitting in school.

In Kampala, Uganda, I instructed in stuffy classrooms full of eager adult refugees from eight African nations. Many of these students, as adults, were learning to read for the first time. They were adjusting to a new culture and so many new ways of doing things. At least one of our Western-style bathrooms at the center had a printed poster: Please don’t stand on the seats. They were all learning English, business skills like computing or sewing or baking, and health skills.

And here’s what’s happened: In Kampala, 21 percent of refugees owned a business that employed other people—and 40 percent  of those employees were Ugandan nationals. Experts at Oxford University’s Refugee Studies Centre looked at the situation in Uganda and called it “exceptional.” Though welcoming refugees into a developing nation is different from welcoming them into more developed  nations, experts concluded that when refugees are given the right to work and freedom of movement, “the results are extraordinary, both for the refugees and the host community.”

Not only that, but God has used refugee crises the world over to bring people into a relationship with Himself. Not only have I heard stories of Middle Eastern refugees converting to Christianity, but I have read of a revival in Danish churches caused by Iranian refugees seeking Jesus. These are only a small representation of the beauty God is working worldwide as God blesses not only the refugees—but blesses through the refugees.

 

2. God loves refugees

I believe the need that is before us, and God’s words about refugees, are too great for me to turn a blind eye. According to the UN in 2014, every 4.1 seconds, someone becomes a refugee or is internally displaced. 41 per cent of refugees are under 18.

If these stats scare you a bit, know that the chances of being killed by a refugee-turned-terrorist are actually one in 3.64 billion. (For perspective, your chances of being killed by a cow are greater; they kill 20 people per year.)

From personal experience, I understand exquisitely that taking in refugees is not always comfortable or safe. This was crystallized for me when refugees from Rwanda stayed with my family. As her toddler ran around without a diaper, as the smell of the liver she was frying filled my kitchen, as we strategized on how to help her find a job, I mulled over Isaiah 58.

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice. . . ? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? (Isaiah 58:6-7)

God must have known exactly what He was asking of us in these questions.

The promises immediately following these two verses were also staggering: “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.” (Isaiah 58:8-9)

I think these promises mean that not only would God reward us, but He would also change us as we take these burdens as our own. His heart would mold ours as we, like he did for us, welcome those who cannot immediately repay us.

 

 

3. Refugees change me

It is true: I am indelibly different. It continues to push my family from a we-give-all-our-old-clothes-to-Goodwill kind of generous, more toward His I-give-until-it-hurts-and-then-I-keep-going kind of generous. The needs are too great, the differences in our circumstances too vast, the faces in my mind too vivid and personal. I can no longer elbow “the poor” to the edges of my mind.

David’s words, when trying to stay a plague on Israel, still haunt my mind: “I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24). If God is passionate about the poor and their injustice—this God who came to preach good news to the poor, to set prisoners free—can I be content to throw them my old clothes?

So, since I have returned to America, I have determined that the poor should receive a generous slice of my time, my passion, my energy, my budget, even my career. In a land that is prosperous to the point of obesity (and I don’t exclude myself from this)—though I cannot hear the physical voices of refugees—I never want to forget them.

I will advocate for them, tell their stories, and sign petitions. My family will give generously. I will help the poor among me, wherever they are from. I will thank the Middle Eastern woman beside me in Arabic, offering her a kind smile. I will invite the Hispanic immigrant’s son over to play with mine, and I will tell them how thankful I am that they are a part of my community.

Refugees and I have far more in common than I thought. A friend recently reposted R. C. Sproul Jr.’s wise words: “If the lesson you get from Jesus hanging with sinners is you should hang more with sinners, you’re confused on who you are in the story.” And I continue to return to David Platt’s words on adoption—that we adopt not because we are the rescuers, but because we are the rescued.

Jesus took me when I was an alien—not just an alien, an enemy—and made me His daughter. He gave me liberty, skills, purpose, a future, a home. He gave me love. And really that—He—is why I welcome refugees.

 

 

How You Can Welcome Refugees

“Um. . . I’m not even sure I know any refugees. So what can I do?”

I’ll echo some of the suggestions from “A Sane Approach to the Refugee Crisis,” an article published in Christianity Today.

 

1. Intentionally, strategically love on refugees

One friend of mine, out jogging in America, felt a niggling to reach out to a pair of refugee women she ran by every day, whose children also went to her daughter’s school. When she did stop and talk with them, she found that one’s eyes were filled with tears; in light of the climate toward refugees, they were too afraid to walk alone. As the Church, we have a tremendous opportunity to care for these bereft families.

Refugees sometimes need help with the most basic services in our communities, like medical appointments or navigating paperwork; others would love help with English, reading, or job skills. Before we left for Uganda, my husband and 5-year-old distributed Christmas gifts to refugees.

What refugee communities live in your area? (Perhaps your church is already connected!) You’re a Google search away from finding organizations already helping those near you. And if you’re freaked out about the language barrier, remember that kindness can be expressed through simple service; through washing someone’s feet in any form.

 

2. Donate

A practical way to help is by donating to vetted organizations who provide for refugees’ tangible needs—particularly career training. I’m partial to Refuge and Hope, because I see them helping refugees develop their God-given abilities and talents, empowering them to become vital, well-rounded, thriving members of a community. World Relief is one of the few organizations that have permission to help with resettling Syrian refugees in the U.S. There are many other organizations that are involved in refugee work. Spend some time reading up about these organizations and the work that they do, and support the ones that engage the causes that grab your heart and mind.

 

3. Pray for them

Perhaps this seems like a no-brainer—but even as I sit and type this, I realize how little I’ve prayed about the current crisis. Prayer is one of the most critical and powerful forms of loving the poor; of taking them and their needs into our hearts, lending our imaginations to their realities, and pleading for God’s intervention on their behalf. Pray that:

  • the Church will richly, sacrificially extend God’s love and protection
  • refugees will be led to Christ
  • refugees will be protected, and for the protection and wisdom of host countries
  • God will show you personally how to respond

I count over 70 references made by the Bible to foreigners and refugees. God identifies Himself as the God of the orphan, the widow, and the alien. I want us, too, as His followers, to be famous for this. Wanna help?

This article was originally published on the writer’s blog here. This version has been edited by YMI.

Why Do Some People Believe All Religions Lead to the Same God?

Written By Jose Philip, Singapore

Jose is currently serving as an Evangelist and Apologist with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (Asia-Pacific). He also lectures on Apologetics, Christian Ethics, and Gospel & Culture at Singapore Bible College, Baptist Theological Seminary and Bible College Malaysia.

The idea that truth is exclusive does not sit well with many people today, does it?

In fact, it is deeply upsetting to some. We cherish the liberty to decide for ourselves what is true and what is not; at the same time, we demand that others be truthful to us. Now that presents us with a conundrum. How could we expect anyone to be truthful when, as my 12-year-old—who has quite the imagination—recently declared, “making things up” is so much more interesting!

Making things up or assuming them to be true is not what only children do. We tend to place more value on how we feel, or whether something works for us, than on whether it is actually true. Truth is relative, we are told, and this is an idea that those who hold strongly to their religious convictions will struggle with.

As an itinerant preacher, teacher, and Christian apologist, I am frequently asked to speak on a variety of topics to a wide variety of audiences. Once, I was asked to explore the question, “Do all paths lead to the same God?” As part of my preparation, I decided to do a quick survey. I wanted to know two things: Did people actually believe that all religions were the same? And, why?

So, every time I was sitting in a public area like a coffee shop or a library, I typed the words, “Why would anyone believe that all religions lead to the same God?”, in a font big enough for the person next to me to see.

It was a fascinating experiment, and I had some very interesting conversations. It showed that, contrary to what many might think, talking about religion is not a conversation stopper. Often, it did not take long before someone would see my words and ask, “Why not?”

It also confirmed my suspicion that many people, whether religious or not, believe that all religions are the same—even when they weren’t familiar with the claims or teaching of those religions. What also struck me was that most of the people I discussed the question with believed that they were entitled to their opinions. It showed me that for many, the right to be heard was more important than discovering the truth.

In a way, it wasn’t a surprise. Deciding for ourselves what is the truth is the logical next step following the belief that truth is relative. As a result, we find it rude—even arrogant—for someone to make exclusive claims about the truth. Now, if we pause long enough to think about this issue and ask, “Is this something new, or is this how humans have always thought?”, we might discover something very interesting.

 

Why Do We Believe What We Believe?

Having encountered several objections to exclusive truth claims about religion, I have found that they can be broadly grouped into three positions or “postures”: that of misplaced confidence, masked arrogance, and mistaken trust. The first two are effectively two sides of the same coin, so I will discuss them briefly before going on to focus on the third.

The three “postures” have to do with taking sides. When we maintain that truth is not exclusive, we are trying not to take one particular side against any other. However, we have different reasons for doing so.

 

1. Misplaced confidence

Many of the people who conclude that all religions lead to the same God appear to do so because they do not have exhaustive knowledge of every religion to conclude otherwise. It seems that those who adopt this posture tend to hold to the view that the great religions must surely be the same, for they all teach us to be good, to love, to serve others, to take care of the weak and vulnerable, not to harm, and to speak the truth. Therefore, they reason, none of these religions can be wrong, and all must surely be right.

This view, however, largely ignores the tenets and principles that are foundational to these religions. This is a posture of misplaced confidence.

 

2. Masked arrogance

Then there are those who get upset with anyone who claims exclusivity or who appeals to absolutes. They believe that it is wrong to claim that only one way is right. They feel that to claim that any one religion is right and the others are wrong is egocentric. Since we are mortal, they reason, who are we to say who is right and who is wrong?

However, when they profess that “all paths lead to the same ultimate truth”, are they not claiming to know more than all the founders of these diverse religions put together? Each of these founders, whether it is Buddha, Mohammed, or Jesus, has claimed one exclusive path to God. If we then say that all of their religions lead to the same God, are we not claiming that we know more than all these founders put together? Is that not a posture of masked arrogance?

 

3. Mistaken trust

Underlying the postures of misplaced confidence and masked arrogance is the posture of mistaken trust. Once, when I questioned a conversation partner’s belief that all religions are equally true, he became visibly distraught. “How could you, an Indian, even raise such a question?” he protested. “I am sure you are familiar with what Mahatma Gandhi said.”

(Gandhi, who led India to independence and is widely seen as the Father of India, made it plain that he believed that all religions were essentially the same.)

The man’s response appeared to be typical of how the vast majority of people are informed about the truth—through the voice of the popular. I could not help but wonder if it was because I am an Indian, that this obviously well-read gentleman appealed to the founding father of India to challenge my religious conclusions. Not wanting to second-guess him, I asked him if my nationality had prompted him to appeal to Gandhi’s name, to which he replied with a smile, “Yes”!

We are quick to denounce the “might is right” dictum because we know that sheer power is not a test for the truth. Why, then, do we not conclude the same when it comes to the “popular”? Why do we think that popularity makes something right? I am not suggesting that being a popular voice in and of itself is bad, or that Gandhi was being facetious. My question is simply this: “Does exemplary standing in one thing automatically grant someone infallibility in all things?”

Many of the people who believe that all religions lead to the same God are kind, intelligent, and sincere. But does that make it true? Sincerity, like popularity, is not a test for the truth; I can be sincere, but sincerely wrong.

It is true that Gandhi stood head and shoulders above the rest of his countrymen, and as an Indian, I owe my national freedom to his courage and selfless service. But does that mean that his belief in the equality of all religions is right?

It is no secret that the teachings of Jesus, especially the Sermon on the Mount, had a profound impact on Gandhi. Yet he could not accept Christianity on its own terms. He picked and chose aspects of Christianity that appealed to him, and reinterpreted them from his perspective as a Hindu. He did the same with the teachings of Gautama Buddha, whom he saw as a great reformer of Hinduism. In Gandhi’s opinion, Buddha’s immense sacrifice and immaculate purity in life had left an indelible impression on Hinduism.

In essence, Gandhi’s approach was to consider the truth claims of different religions from the vantage point of the follower, and not its founders. In believing him, however, might we be taking a posture of misplaced trust?

 

Founder or Follower—Whose Decision Is It Anyway? 

Our motivations to believe all religions are the same may be noble—peace and harmony, for example. This, however, does not license followers to amalgamate world religions into an amorphous mix. It is not up to us to promise indiscriminately for all what is exclusively offered by one religion. In as much as you cannot attain ‘Nirvana’ by upholding the authority of the Vedas or adhering to the caste system, you cannot have ‘Eternal Life’ without choosing to follow Jesus alone.

The truth claims of the different religions are exclusive, and we will do well to appreciate its distinctiveness. It is up to us to choose whether we will allow these differences to divide us or to live in peace no matter how deep the disagreements. It is not, however, up to us to redefine what different religions claim as ‘exclusive’ and offer as the ‘same thing’.

If all religions are fundamentally different and essentially exclusive, then it stands to reason that they all cannot be equally true. I believe acknowledging this will bring us to the door of enquiry. And, despite my Christian convictions, I find investigating Jesus’ truth claims to be a good place to begin. He not only claimed divinity, He also offered a tangible way to validate whether His claims are true—through His death and resurrection. As the apostle Paul wrote:

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:14)