In our world today, popular culture and church have become intertwined and not necessarily in a godly or productive way. One of the areas where this is perhaps most apparent is in the realm of social justice. God definitely has plans for His people to serve those who are hurting in the world around us. Unfortunately, secular and ungodly ideas have gotten mixed with biblical ideas in the minds of many young people. The resulting social justice beliefs, actions and activities may be very far from what God would actually want.
Tim Keller has done a great job of breaking down the five major views of social justice and the beliefs, strengths and weaknesses of each in his recent article on the topic. While I might disagree with a point here or there, those are minor points in the discussion of social justice (although not theologically – for example, his belief in the doctrine of original sin). While that information will give you needed background information, this post will be focused on practical things to encourage young people to do that will help them change the world in the ways God wants it changed.
When working through the concept of godly or biblical social justice with young people, there are certain attitudes and behaviors that will encourage them to move away from secular models with their problems. These will also help them embrace and practice biblical social justice, helping them to ultimately impact the world in more positive ways than the other four secular views. (Note: The information below is written directly to students. Feel free to share it with them, but we do ask you credit the source.)
- Biblical social justice requires a thorough knowledge of scripture. God’s Word has quite a few balancing scriptures that would apply to social justice. It’s easy for those not familiar with scripture to pick one without the other. For instance, the Bible tells us we are to feed the hungry, but it also says those who don’t work shouldn’t eat. What that looks like in our world requires a lot reflection, prayer and seeking God’s guidance. Those that don’t seek God’s wisdom will make a lot of mistakes that will hurt people more than they will help them. Even secular advocates working with the homeless, for example, have learned that with certain causes for homelessness, providing everything for free keeps them from seeking the help they need for root causes like addiction. Other people who are homeless, need bridging help with things like food and shelter while they do what they need to do to find jobs and housing. Knowing the difference requires using several scriptures together. Before speaking out or trying to solve a social justice issue, it’s critical to find, read and study any scriptures that may apply.
- Social media social justice statements, declarations, rants, etc. actually do very little to help those about whom you are concerned. Unless you have millions of followers, your reach is too small to make much of an impact. The odds that someone will read your post and take action are slim. It can happen, but you will often be more effective by grabbing a group of friends and heading down to actually serve the people you want to help. (The possible exception is if you can convince people to donate their money to help your cause. It only takes a couple of substantial checks to make a big difference for a lot of people.)
- Do your homework. It’s easy for people to assume “old people” don’t have anything useful to teach them or they would have already solved the problem. You need to understand social justice problems are complex and have multiple layers of issues. Not to mention, they often catch our attention because the problem is pervasive in many areas. Just because someone hasn’t solved the problem throughout the world, doesn’t mean they have no wisdom to share. Quite often meeting and interviewing a variety of experts in the field will save you a lot of time, money and mistakes – especially if you are starting something entirely new. It’s okay to try new ideas, but start by doing the things we know work and avoiding the things we know hurt. If you want older/experienced people to respect your new ideas, you should start by respecting the people who have done the hard work in the field for years – even if they aren’t quite as successful as they could have been. Proverbs has a lot of great scriptures that dovetail with this concept.
- Reading books on social justice topics can be a minefield. Not everyone who writes a book actually knows what they are talking about from hard earned knowledge and experience. Many books are theoretical in nature. The author has little real world experience in the topic, but has decided he or she is an expert based on their observations. Even if they know their topic, what works where they are, may not work in another location. If you are reading books to learn more about a topic, read more than one – preferably from different perspectives. Look at the track record of the organizations with which they have been associated. Research to see if they also have a lot of people who strongly disagree with their viewpoint and what those disagreements are. It is a rare person who can put all of the answers to any problem in one book. Often the best tactic is to glean the best ideas from multiple sources. It’s also important to understand real world experience can be more valuable at times than reading a book. Finally, reading a book is virtually useless if you don’t take positive action to help others with the information you have learned.
- Biblical social justice should always include faith sharing. There would be so many more Christians in this world if a lot of Christians had not forgotten this principle. When you read about good works in the Bible, they aren’t just to help people. They are also to point people to God and encourage them to want to get to know Him. If we feed someone, but don’t teach them how to get to Heaven, we have taken care of a problem that will last them less than a nanosecond of eternity…all while withholding the information that could change their eternal destination to Heaven. If you are serving other Christians, try to find ways to encourage the faith of those you are serving.
- Personal biblical social justice is often most impactful when we notice and take advantage of the gifts and opportunities God gives us to serve others and share our faith. God has good works He planned for each of us before we are born. He has given us gifts to help us prepare for some of those tasks. He gives us opportunities He wants us to take advantage of during our lives. When we follow God’s lead, we are usually more impactful than when we try to force our will on God and do things which He never meant for us to do. (Note: This includes at times waiting for God’s perfect timing.)
- Humility and empathy will be more effective than “confidence”/arrogance and sympathy when trying to serve others and share your faith. Anyone who has been involved with the problems of the world for any length of time will probably tell you humility and empathy are your friends. You need to learn from the people you are serving as much as you think they may need to learn from you. They very often hold the secrets that will keep you from making unnecessary mistakes and the answer to what will resonate with them and help them in meaningful ways. While not every conversation with those you serve will be productive in an obvious way, sometimes even the ones that seem like a waste of time will have actually revealed a key bit of information that will help you be more effective.
- Love is patient, love is kind. Many proponents of social justice today advocate ugly, hateful and even harmful behavior towards others. Those tactics are totally unacceptable to God and ultimately ineffective in advancing your cause. (Think about how you react when someone is yelling ugly things at you or hurting you because you disagree with them. Does it encourage you to willingly and enthusiastically embrace their viewpoint?) Your personal ministry will be more impactful if you consistently treat everyone – even critics – with love and kindness. There may be times when you need to stand firm, but that should never cause you to cross over into hateful and harmful words and behaviors.
- Serving others and sharing your faith is often hard work. Sometimes it may be the most difficult thing you have ever done. These problems don’t have easy solutions or they would have been solved long ago. We live in a fallen world, which means some of these problems will always be here. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work towards solving them. It just means we have to be prepared to work hard, feel like we are in over our heads and feel discouraged and tired from time to time. That is one of the reasons prayer and your Church family are so important. They will help you get past those rough spots with encouragement and even help at times. If you start serving others and sharing your faith only for those warm fuzzy moments you get from time to time, you will probably end up so discouraged you will quit. Those good days will happen, but you have to be prepared to survive and thrive during those bad days, too.
- Be prepared to spend your entire life on serving and sharing your faith with the people you have chosen. You may not stay in the same location, but if you have a passion, gifts and opportunities to serve people dealing with specific issues, it may very well be God’s plan for your personal ministry. The Bible tells us the poor will always be with us and even Jesus had people who rejected his teachings. Expecting we will quickly solve a social justice problem is naive. It can also cause overwhelming discouragement when we don’t meet some random date we chose for solving the problem. And if you do happen to solve it in one location, God may ask you to move to another location and repeat what you have done.
- Social justice starts at home. We’ve all seen publicity about some young person who has started a non-profit when they were young and accomplished a lot at a relatively young age. It may not be that way for you at all and that’s okay. God’s plan for you right now might be to practice serving and sharing your faith with your friends, family or neighbors. He may want you to learn more and get more practice before giving you a “bigger” assignment. Remember, after Paul’s conversion, he spent two years in the desert before he started going on his missionary journeys and writing epistles. We don’t know exactly what happened in that time, but it was obviously a time of preparation for him. It may also be God’s plan that you spend your entire life doing those every day things to serve, encourage and share your faith with the people you encounter in your every day life. It may be God has bigger plans for you, but if you aren’t faithful in the little things He gives you to do now, you may never have an opportunity to do anything else He had planned for you.
Social justice is one of many areas where young people need your help and guidance in learning and practicing what God wants them to do. Helping them work through and embrace godly social justice will help them make a real, meaningful difference in the world around them.