Activists, Made in God's Image

Posted by sharon | articles.tags: Social Justice, Christianity, Religion, Racism on Jan 30, 2021

A magazine editor recently labeled me a “writer-activist” based on some essays I’ve written. He meant it as a compliment, and I can only hope to truly fit the description. Oddly, some believers see social activism as anti-Christian behavior. They don’t think we should speak out against racism and demand reform. Too radical, they say. They blame activism, rather than the social injustice itself, for the divisiveness so prevalent in our country today. So, they stay silent for the sake of “peace,” to appear piously above the fray. They shake their heads or distance themselves from those of us who take a visible stand.

But, really, their passive fence-straddling is the true anti-Christian stance.

When I think of social justice, I see Jesus Christ, standing up for the poor, the hungry, the societal lepers and outcasts, the disabled, the forgotten—no matter their ethnicity or background. I see God calling out the mistreatment of His people, decrying systems designed to maintain the supremacy of some to the detriment of others. This idea that Jesus, Himself, was an activist, forces me to watch out for societal ills because He would do the same. Not only should I watch out for them, but God’s Word compels me to fight against them.

During times of social unrest, I cling to Isaiah 1:17, “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” The mandate here is clear. Seek justice. Defend the oppressed.

Then there’s Isaiah 58, a passage about believers going through the motions of fasting, just as many of us do at the start of a new year. Yet, God is unimpressed. He tells Isaiah that their prayers don’t move Him one bit:

“They act like a righteous nation that would never abandon the laws of its God. They ask me to take action on their behalf, pretending they want to be near me… You are fasting to please yourselves,” He says. “Even while you fast, you keep oppressing your workers.”

Then God offers another picture:

“(T)his is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
    lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
    and remove the chains that bind people.
Share your food with the hungry,
    and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
    and do not hide from relatives who need your help.”

Social reform, justice, helping those who are oppressed—that was God’s heart, then and now. This truth has been lived out worldwide. Not long ago, I attended an event where Naomi Tutu, daughter of theologian Archbishop Desmond Tutu, spoke about her late father’s struggle for justice in South Africa. Now, she travels to do the same because, while there have been strides, injustices continue. (Tutu is pictured above, at the event in Fort Wayne, Indiana.) God tells us all to be concerned for those treated unfairly. And He tells us to act on the unfairness we see. It goes deeper than donating a few canned goods or giving old clothes to the Salvation Army. God demands that we go deeper. Free those wrongly imprisoned. Remove the chains that bind people.

Most of us don’t have direct power to bring about these societal changes alone. We must listen for God’s direction, discerning how He’s calling us to make a difference in our own way. For me, activism plays out in writing about racism and health inequities too prevalent today. It manifests in my day job as a nonprofit director, working to equip underserved groups with the tools and access they need to live healthier lives. It comes through in conversations with people who are unaware or who choose to ignore the inequalities all around them.

How does God’s mandate to seek justice play out in your life?

If you haven’t paid attention to how others experience oppression and discrimination, or you thought your silence was the godly route, think of subtle changes you might begin to change. I’m a firm believer that learning begins with listening and relationships. Perhaps, you could start your journey to spiritual-based activism by reading books or articles about social justice reform, systemic racism, single motherhood, poverty, mass incarceration, unemployment—or any of the ways that people suffer in our communities. Maybe it’s time to have a conversation with f0riends whose life experience differs from yours. Whatever you do, don’t ignore God’s Word. This command is too important to push aside due to our fears, especially during these divisive times in our nation.

Remember, God does not tell us to close our eyes to injustice or to isolate ourselves and focus solely on our immediate families. He doesn’t tell us to stay silent about sin for the sake of a fake peace that we think is religious. No, He calls us to take a stand on the right side, His side. We are made in His image, so I’d like to think that God, too, is pleased when we become advocates for others. Just like Him.

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