Social Justice

We do justice when we give all human beings their due as creations of God.”

Timothy Keller, Lausanne Movement


My mission and passion in life is to serve, pursue, and inspire transformation and justice for the hurting and marginalized. Although my life is actively involved with social justice issues, I am regularly frustrated and disheartened by the lackadaisical approach to the poor, needy, hurting and marginalized by the church today. Is justice not one of God’s core values? Isn’t care of orphans and widows equated with pure and genuine religion? Didn’t Jesus clearly state that what we do to the hungry, sick and imprisoned, we are doing unto Him? [1]

If justice and care for the marginalized is so emphasized throughout the pages of the Bible, the very Bible that the church proclaims to believe and follow, why is the church so typically uninvolved in addressing the massive needs around the world today? How can we call ourselves the church when our actions don’t match the very nature of the one we proclaim to love and follow?

It is from such a frustrated position that I chose to focus on social justice within the context of the church. How has the church gotten away from truly transforming society, and instead become complacent with token involvement? How have we begun consuming mission instead of doing mission? How do consumerism, counterculturalism and slacktivism affect the church’s participation in working toward justice? As we transition into the unknown realm of post-Christendom, where can, and should, social justice fit? And, how might embracing deep church inform and instruct our practices?

A variety of books have informed this study and reflection, including Cavanaugh’s Being Consumed, Heath and Potter’s Nation of Rebels, Walker and Bretherton’s Remembering our Future, and Murray’s Post-Christendom. Many other books, online publications, Advance Papers from the Lausanne 2010 Conference and Face-to-Face class discussions at GFES in October 2010 have also contributed to my understanding and thinking about social justice within a church context. What follows is a brief introduction to social justice from biblical and ecclesiological perspectives, and an analysis of three significant contributors to a decline in social justice involvement – consumerism, counterculturalism and slacktivism. Additionally, possible responses to each contributor are considered, along with discussion of the future of social justice within the church context as related to post-Christendom and deep church.

Mishpat: Yahweh’s Exhortation

Justice, or mishpat, is a concern for justice, peace, and genuine respect for people. [2] Justice is not only about judgment and law, but more importantly, right relationships that promote harmony, peace and God’s righteousness. When justice reigns, power, authority, blessings and resources are distributed and used rightly. In the face of injustice, reconciliation, restoration and redemption are pursued to right wrongs and confront the persistent inequalities.

Biblical mandates for justice abound in both the Old and New Testaments. A king’s legacy and success was determined by how well he inspired, defended and promoted justice, as we see in Jeremiah 22:15-16. “’But [Josiah] was just and right in all his dealings. That is why God blessed him. He gave justice and help to the poor and needy, and everything went well for him. Isn’t that what it means to know me?” says the Lord.” Prophets proclaimed and championed justice, while decrying Israel’s current state of favoritism, oppression and moral depravity. Micah declared, “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” [3]

Jesus’ ministry began as he proclaimed the words of Isaiah,

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come. [4]

Jesus acknowledged, responded to, and even identified Himself with the poor, outcast and marginalized, saying, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” [5] All four gospels deal with freedom from oppression and poverty. The gospel of Jesus demands social responsibility and a response to injustice and oppression of God’s image-bearers. The message of salvation is also a message of judgment against injustice, oppression, and is a condemnation of self-centeredness. [6]

Ecclesiological Perspectives

One of my most significant points of learning this semester was Kärkkäinen’s introduction to the different ecclesiological traditions at the beginning of the semester. As I now reflect back on those in regards to social justice, I realize the entirety of my project research and reading excluded Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic ecclesiology, focusing instead on Western evangelical expressions of church. A careful consideration, however, of each ecclesiological tradition may be valuable in an attempt to recapture and re-imagine mishpat in the 21st century. [7]

Eastern Orthodoxy’s unique approach to salvation may provide a first step. Rather than focusing on sin and guilt, salvation within the Eastern Orthodox church focuses on growing in sanctification and becoming increasingly like God. [8] God desires that “justice run[s] down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream” [9], so one would expect that someone becoming more like God would desire the same. St. John Chrysostom, an early eastern church father, proclaimed, “A good man must do everything with an eye to the public benefit.” [10] Without tending too much in the direction of works-based salvation, how might the Western church today learn from the Eastern Orthodoxy’s view of salvation, particularly as it relates to engaging in justice?

Roman Catholic ecclesiology, based on the ideas of the church as the people of God, contributes two important aspects to a consideration of doing social justice. Firstly, the Lumen Gentium Vatican II document, in considering the Holy Spirit’s dispensing of charisms, insists that all believers are called to a Charismatic ministry. [11] This is an excellent reminder for church leaders to encourage and embrace ministries undertaken by believers within the body. I’m reminded of something Rick McKinley, pastor of Imago Dei, said at a service in October 2010. In celebration of a recent anniversary of their faith community, McKinley was discussing the vast ministries within the church. Some ministries, he explained, were begun by the church itself.  However, a large number of ministries were things already being independently done by members, and were welcomed and incorporated into the church’s mission. Indeed, all believers are called to a ministry. If the local church can become an enabler of individuals’ dreams and passions in the areas of social justice, how much more effective would it be? A second aspect of Roman Catholic theology to consider is Pope John Paul II’s call for Christians to work toward the “unity of all divided humanity.” [12] The disparity between the poor and wealthy, and between the free and oppressed, is great and causes veritable divisions.  Churches need to heed the call to bridge these great divides and can do so through effective social justice programs.

Luther’s priesthood of all believers [13], amor crucis [14], and understanding of justification all contribute to a healthy embrace of social justice. Justification, according to Luther, is more than just a forgiveness of sins, but an active participation in God’s characteristics. How can churches today create opportunities for believers to engage in the world as priests and to bring about God’s characteristics of justice, righteousness and goodness? A quick survey of the Old Testament reminds us of the active, multi-faceted involvement of priests on many levels of worship and sacrifice. Church members involved in social justice as priests is a far cry from simply throwing a $20 bill in the offering plate to support the teen’s short-term mission trip to Mexico.

Consideration of ecclesiological perspectives as they relate to social justice would not be complete without including the Latin American contextual ecclesiology of the church of the poor. The Base Christian Communities- churches of the poor, by the poor and for the poor- are “one of the most fruitful and significant events in the present-day life of the Latin American church.” [15] This liberation movement resists the current trend toward privatization of faith into just the oikos of the community. Because Jesus preached and died in public, and our faith in Him was not intended to be limited to just our private lives, the base communities see the social, political component a vital part of their faith. The polis is engaged as social responsibility for just relationships flows from spirituality.

The church as hybridization of oikos and polis is first introduced in Ephesians, in which believers are members of the household of God. Galatians expands the idea identifying all individuals – men, women, Jews, Gentiles, slaves, and Greek – as citizens in God’s household. [16] The early church countered the Roman domination of the polis and insulted the household and civic gods by its public life. In refusing to let the Roman polis demand total control, a revolution was begun as Christians dismantled the separation between the oikos and polis, and claimed complete dedication to Jesus. [17] The church’s role in society today, however, is a far cry from the revolutionary, radical statement made by the early church. Debates abound within liberal, conservative, evangelical and mainline settings about whether and how much the church should be involved in the polis of society. Such discussions have potentially dramatic effects on pressing issues like social justice. Os Guinness warns privatized faith, faith limited just to the oikos, lacks totality. It becomes “privately engaging but socially irrelevant” [18] We would do well to once again transcend the oikospolis boundaries as first modeled by the early church, and re-interpreted by the Base Christian Communities.

Consumerism: The Civic Religion

The Western European polis in which we find ourselves today differs greatly from that of the early church. It differs greatly even from the Latin American communities in which the Base Christian Communities operate. The capitalist economy, and resultant commodification and marketization of society, has unquestionably altered perceptions of life, happiness, success and security. While some may disagree, [19] Catholic Social Teaching says capitalism itself is not inherently evil. Any economic system can in fact be used for good or bad, and its far-reaching effects impact even the culture itself. [20]

Western culture has certainly been impacted by capitalism. In fact, far more than just a preoccupation, consumerism has become a religious system [21] affecting what individuals believe about life, redefining what constitutes success and happiness, and rearranging how people order their lives. [22] Consumerism as religion directly impacts a church’s ability to develop and grow churches, and to disciple Christ-followers. [23] It also has a devastating affect on individuals’ participation with social justice as their time- and financial-resources are committed and over-extended by continual efforts at autopoiesis and pursuit of consumer dreams and desires. While consumerism tempts the consumer with its endless (and fictitious) fabrications of freedom and choices, Christianity demands Christians surrender completely to God while self-limiting their options and choices for the benefit of others. [24]

William Cavanaugh’s Being Consumed most notably contributed to my appreciation of consumerism and its affects on social justice. By examining four paradoxes, freedom/unfreedom, detachment/attachment, global/local and scarcity/abundance, Cavanaugh challenges the assumptions and reformulates questions about the free market and consumerism. Instead of resigning ourselves to the way things are, Cavanaugh argues the church itself must be a different economic space, opening opportunities for alternative practices, and encouraging the development of additional spaces around the world. The ultimate goal, then, becomes revolutionary “transform[ation] [of] the entirety of economic life into something worthy of God’s children. [25] Although the challenges of consumerism appear insurmountable, the individual’s role in countering its affects cannot be underestimated. Skye Jethani advises, “We must learn to exist in a consumer empire but not forfeit our souls at its altar.” [26] Cavanaugh’s considerations of each paradox, discussed below, offers insights into ways a consumer can avoid such soul-sacrifice.

Freedom/Unfreedom – According to Milton Friedman, American economist, free market exchanges must be free from interference by government, informed, voluntary and based solely on mutual benefit or gain. [27] Our hands-off, interference-free economic system wields enormous power, affecting not only consumer choice, but also potentially victimizing thousands of marginalized international workers in the unceasing pursuit of mass-produced products for less.  Healthy, safe working conditions for women and children suffer, creating widespread injustice and oppression. Social justice campaigns must identify and address these issues which are often unknown, ignored and seemingly untouchable. By consuming Fair Trade products, embracing alternative production methods, and demanding social responsibility of corporations, a consumer may begin to make headway in the social justice arena. An individual is, in fact, not powerless against the system, an idea discussed further by Heath and Potter in Nation of Rebels. [28]

A consideration of Augustine’s definition of freedom can also help liberate an individual from consumerism. Freedom is much more than freedom from coercion, but instead a freedom to, within the will and grace of God, achieve meaningful goals. [29] Our desires should be shaped, and even tamed, by the freedom and purposes found in following God. Additionally, Aquinas reminds us that property, possessions, and wealth are gifts from God and should be used only “for the common good, especially for the sake of the neediest among us.” [30]

Detachment/Attachment – Consumer culture is less about collecting and hoarding, and more about a restless dissatisfaction and discontentment, and an endless pursuit of something new. Renewal and satisfaction are continually, and unsuccessfully, sought. This short-term orientation presents a definite challenge to addressing social justice, as affecting systematic inequities requires a long-term view. [31] By restructuring long-term social justice goals into definable, achievable “chunks”, consumers’ restlessness and short attention spans may be capitalized on. As each successive portion of a goal is achieved, a new aspect of the social justice pursuit can be introduced and “consumed”, until a long-term goal is eventually achieved.

Global/Local – Widespread globalization, created in part by international trade agreements, financial banking systems, and availability of cheap, international labor, has had the opposite affect of what one might expect. Rather than being more connected with individuals around the world, we are in fact more disconnected. However, the international church, a single body made up of many parts with shared historic church traditions, can reconnect isolated believers. [32]

Churches should also capitalize on the numerous possibilities for connecting with believers around the world made possible by technology. Compassion International and Willow Creek Association, for example, recently launched a Church-to-Church sponsorship program that connects well-resourced churches with under-resourced churches. More than just a financial commitment by the well-resourced church, this program attempts to connect congregations half a world away through shared prayer, development programs, and exchanges. On a smaller scale, Kiva, an internet-based micro-finance site, allows individuals, families or faith communities to provide micro-loans directly to business entrepreneurs around the world. International artisan programs like the Apparent Project that produce goods, can be marketed and sold by a local church body. [33]

Scarcity/Abundance – Cavanaugh’s final paradox of scarcity and abundance in a consumeristic society also has direct implications for social justice. Economics are based on an assumption of scarcity, affecting not only consumption patterns and marketing, but also participation in and support of charitable giving and social justice. [34] In the face of insatiable desires, the truly hungry person encountering starvation competes against the individualistic view that “no one has enough these days”. Scarcity, however, is truly a myth and misnomer, particularly in relation to the Christ-follower. Jesus symbolizes abundance and fullness and makes it available to every believer. Only through active engagement in and understanding of the meaning of the Christian life, can consumers’ perceptions be altered and corrected. As we partake in the Eucharist, for example, we proclaim and consume God’s abundant presence, hope and justice. We are moved by his suffering on our behalf, and become compelled to respond to the suffering of our brothers and sisters.

The meaning and purpose of life, according to a consumer, is to consume. We laugh and joke about retail therapy and proclaim, “I shop, therefore I am.” But, all jokes aside, shopping and consumption can end up defining who we are. [35] However, a Christian should be defined by how we live our lives, and Who we follow and love. Jesus said, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” [36]

Counterculturalism – The Myth that Breeds Disengagement

What do you think when you hear about a ‘counter-culture rebel’? A ’60s hippie, hip-hop rapper, or perhaps Jesus himself? Born out of 18th century Romanticism, counterculturalism matured and developed under the tutelage of Marxism, Nazism and Freud. Critical of conformity, mass society, cultural norms, and perceived oppression caused by repressive rules and culture, counterculturalism aims at freedom, individuality, and authenticity through “alternative” approaches. Because rules and social norms not only represent, but cause oppression, they cannot be transformed or improved upon, but must be wholly abandoned. Any attempt at reformation, in fact, is discredited as co-opting or selling out. [37]

Counterculture, far from being revolutionary and liberating to the marginalized, actually detracts from much-needed positive social change. Without political or economic platforms upon which to foster advancements, and with disdain and distrust for rules and institutions, the counterculture rebellion actually breeds distrust and even disengagement. Present at both ends of the political spectrum, counterculture thinking pervades much of our society. It even permeates the church walls as well-meaning Christians declare that the political arena can do nothing meaningful to affect positive social change. This in fact is part of the counterculture myth. While political redress of social justice is insufficient, institutional reform is not meaningless. A Christian must identify and change unjust social structures in the ways of Christ. The church is to act, not as a chaplain of society simply providing support by meeting religious needs, but as a conscience to society. [38] It is to bring God’s justice and righteousness to earth. [39]

Counterculture also intersects with consumerism. Although counterculture rebels like to promote themselves as “anti-consumeristic”, their campaigns, books, and movies actually critique mass society conformity. Consumerism is in fact sustained and grown not only by the marketing of their anti-consumerism materials, but also by promotion of non-conformity. A continual desire for uniqueness and distinction is in fact the cornerstone of consumerism. Even social status has become commodified, affecting the poor in greater proportion than the wealthy. “Social status,” concludes Heath and Potter, “is subject to diminishing marginal utility – the less you have of it, the more you are willing to pay to get some.” [40]

Marxist frustrations with workers’ reform efforts instead of a radical overthrow of capitalism, prompted the critique that workers were redecorating the birdcage in which they were imprisoned. [41] While Marx’s claims may not be entirely accurate, the lower class does appear to be disproportionately, and adversely, affected by consumerism. As the church addresses social justice issues, particularly with the poor as it relates to consumerism, we must stay alert to whether we might simply be “redecorating the birdcage”. Superficial explanations and solutions to injustice which fail to understand the cultural context and historical roots of the problem may provide short-term improvement at the expense of long-term solutions. Problems defined too narrowly and attempts at “playing God” reinforce inferiority and can even unintentionally perpetuate injustice. [42]

Slacktivism – The New Activism

Perpetuating injustice is hardly the goal of many well-intentioned individuals today. However, the days of sit-ins, demonstrations and rallies have long since passed. In fact, they seem to be looked upon negatively by many. I recently followed an exchange on Facebook about Haitians demonstrating in response to questionable election results:

SC: The”word” on the street.. things could start up again.. I guess we got the weekend off 🙂
JB: That is so weak. I hate to say it but, HELLO Haitian peeps,I don’t claim to be able to truly understand your positions or feelings but I am telling you this in love, You have got to stop acting out, the rest of the world is saying “SEE TOLD YA SO”
SC: J.. it’s complicated. the voice of the people was truly not represented. did you see any of the footage.. craziness. No.. it doesn’t help to burn tires, but it does get attention and people who have no voice in most cases want to be heard. I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t do much better in similar circumstances. My thoughts anyways..
EV: J, any suggestions how the Haitian people can express their voice, other than through demonstrations? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like this way either but I think I understand the ‘cry’ of the people a little bit. Maybe it is time for the rest of the world to wake up?
JB: No, E, I wish I had the answers. My point was simply that, burning buildings and shooting / looting feeds the media and gives people who already don’t want to help an excuse to feel justified in doing nothing and attempting to condemn those that do.

While JB may have a point about the protestors’ methods of demonstration (although can we really criticize when we are only looking in from the outside?), his reaction is representative of many others’. This stands in sharp contrast with another recent Facebook activity that was more widespread than this simple exchange. During the first week of December 2010, a “movement” urged all Facebookers to change their profile picture to a childhood cartoon character to fight against child abuse. Many responded, prompting widespread media coverage. The Facebook movement, mirroring earlier “movements” involving women posting their bra colors to fight against breast cancer, exemplifies a current social trend toward “slacktivism”.

Slacktivism is the seductive allure of achieving meaningful social change by doing nothing [43]. It generates feel-good feelings by online “involvement” in curing societal ills by the push of a button, forwarding of an email, joining a Facebook group or the e-signing of a petition. A far cry from potentially dangerous involvement in a political demonstration, tireless physical work, time-consuming volunteering or sacrificial giving, slacktivism has become the new wave of activism.

Responses to and conclusions about the effects of slacktivism on real social issues are mixed. Evgeny Morozov, contributing editor to Foreign Policy and blogger for Net Effect, a blog about the internet’s impact on global politics, discusses the “Brave New World of Slacktivism” in a May 2009 article in Foreign Policy. He questions whether online slacktivist involvement offsets the expected losses in traditional activist campaigns.  He also discusses the extent and effectiveness of slacktivism. [44] Has the increase in slacktivism effectively changed public perception about “appropriate” forms of involvement? Are JB’s critiques representative of a greater majority of people? If so, how can the church continue to engage in meaningful, effective social justice if public perception discredits and disapproves of traditional venues?

Geoff Livingston, co-founder of Zoetica, a social media networking company, answers and expands on Morozov’s questions in his article entitled, “HOW TO: Turn Slacktivists into Activists with Social Media.” He encourages non-profits to rethink their recruitment of donors and volunteers using social media with a five-step process. Step two of the five-step process includes an interesting “Twitter Ladder of Engagement” that moves slacktivists from a very low engagement of reading tweets, to very high engagement of donating money and/or encouraging others to do the same. [45]

To what degree slacktivism is truly the new activism remains to be seen. However, participation in social justice issues are affected by online social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Engaging and informing current supporters, and garnering new ones, through Facebook Fan Pages, Twitter followers and blog rolls seems to be the way of the future. Morozov’s calculated and concerned response, combined with Livingston’s practical how-to, provides helpful guidelines for social justice pursuits today. Slacktivism, combined with consumerism, results in many falling prey to thinking they have accomplished something meaningful, when in fact they have only consumed an experience. Attendees at the ONE Campaign Against Poverty concert, for example, felt like they had helped eradicate world poverty, simply because they had purchased a concert ticket. The resultant effect for many is they actually end up doing less than they would have done without the commodified or slacktivist experience. [46]

Post-Christendom – A Step into the Unknown

News stories abound about declining denominational membership, indistinguishable lifestyles between Christians and non-Christians, and an average of 70 churches closing every week in America. [47] By comparison, however, the United States still retains characteristics of Christendom as compared to Western Europe where people have not heard the story of Jesus and/or become agitated with His mention in public. [48] Christendom was established through Constantine’s conversion to and recognition of Christianity, establishing it as the official state religion. The eventual effect of Christendom (or “Constantinian Conformity” according to Yoder), was the proliferation and growth of the church to presumably include the entirety of society. The church ministered to the poor, engaged the intellectuals, and challenged socio-economic and gender barriers. [49] However, true Christian identity and morality was lost amongst the christianized societal milieu. [50]

While debates continue about the effects of Christendom on the church, it is clear we are entering a new era defined amorphously as post-Christendom. With more unknown than known, post-Christendom will be a transitional time in which Christianity moves from the center to the margins, from a place of privilege to plurality, from maintenance to missions and from institution to movement. [51] Although unknowns can often induce fear, post-Christendom presents ministries with great potential. Alan Hirsch, discusses the phenomenal growth of the early church (pre-Christendom) and the underground Chinese church. While Hirsch discusses six elements he calls missional DNA (mDNA), involved with each church’s growth, one obvious shared characteristic is its persecution. [52] While post-Christendom Western Europe is not entirely analogous to China, history demonstrates the church can flourish in challenging situations.

As the church responds and transitions into post-Christendom, its programs, ministries and approaches will need to evolve in order to meet changing needs. Approaches to social justice will also need to change. Implementation of creative, out-of-the-box thinking, and cooperation with previously unlikely partners are but two possibilities for social justice engagement today.

Deep Church – Stepping Forward into the Past

Re-imagining church for our currently evolving society is at the center of emerging church and deep church discussions. Deep church, originally espoused by CS Lewis, combines historical, traditional constructs within contemporary contexts. A renewal of liturgy, the use of the Christian calendar and an embrace of mundane holiness by the church provides a counterpoint to consumeristic liturgy, the shopping calendar and avoidance of the mundane and ordinary.

Deep church “embedded in the past while also fully engaged in the present” aims to salvage not only confidence in the gospel and scripture, but also the rich spiritual resources found in the historical church, in an effort to access the power and work of the Holy Spirit. [53] Through the establishment of community identity and engagement with a meta-narrative, individuals have the opportunity to transcend traditional confines of consumerism while confronting gospel amnesia. [54] Educational aims of deep church also attempt to instruct Christ-followers in their shared history, heroes of the faith, doctrinal theology and spiritual disciplines. [55]

Social justice can only be enhanced by a historical and traditional focus. The early church, although persecuted by society, did not shrink from responsibilities to their communities. They instead sought the welfare of their city, [56] living as ‘resident aliens’ and meeting the pressing needs around them. From establishing hospices for plague-infested residents to their own health and safety’s detriment, to living amongst and caring for the poor as Franciscans and Poor Clares, early Christians actively lived out their faith. [57] These historical examples provide an excellent basis for detailing engagement with social justice in today’s society.


Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority.” [58] And so as I optimistically imagine the majority of Christ-followers being moved to actively engage in social justice, Dr. King’s words toll a gentle, realistic reminder. A minority will act. A small mustard seed will be planted and tended, and will eventually conquer massive injustices. A ten-year old child will become engaged in building houses for the poor. [59] A child will be sponsored so she can go to school. A well will be dug, providing clean water for a village. A craft will be learned, and a necklace sold, providing an income for a single mother to raise her children. [60]

The Christian faith isn’t all about getting to heaven. It isn’t all about the church. It isn’t all about the individual spiritual life or ‘personal relationship with God’. It is about all of these things, but they aren’t the whole point, or even the main point. The main point is God’s saving love for creation, God’s faithfulness to all of creation, God’s ongoing mission of healing a world torn by human injustice so that it can fulfill God’s original dream. It is about God’s kingdom coming to earth, and it is about God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven.” [61] I have briefly considered the role consumerism, counterculturalism, and slacktivism have on the church’s involvement and effectiveness in addressing social justice. Additionally, I have briefly discussed how post-Christendom and deep church can positively impact social justice.

The original intent of this project was to consider why the church increasingly consumes mission, instead of doing mission. And while my reading into areas of consumerism and countercultural ideas did address this query, there is much left to be addressed, including practical “now what?” applications. I have briefly discussed my own personal ideas and approaches, but much more research, reflection and writing would better develop these ideas.

In future endeavors I would expand my research to consider what we may learn from Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic approaches to social justice. Are they equally affected by consumerism, countercultural thinking and slacktivism? What is the state of the church’s involvement in social justice in Eastern Europe? What might we learn from the writings and activities of the Catholic Worker Movement? Within the context of the United States, I’d be interested in looking at the Amish communities to determine if, and how, they are engaged with social justice. Their society would be interesting to study because they may be one remaining people group in the United States unaffected by consumerism.

Finally, I intend to read (at least) two additional books about this topic. When Helping Hurts bravely addresses ways to engage social justice without compromising or exacerbating already difficult situations. All charity, compassion ministries and social justice campaigns are not created equally, and some in fact inflict more harm than good. I personally have always been concerned about the effectiveness of short-term mission trips, and am eager to explore the authors’ ideas about this and other topics. Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, by David Platt, challenges readers to consider ways we have manipulated and co-opted our faith to our own cultural preferences. Its premise stimulates, inspires and excites me, and may provide excellent ideas for helping move people beyond their complacent detachment.


[1] God’s justice abounds in the Bible. Psalm 36:6, for example, compares His justice to the depths of the ocean.

James 1:27 says, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.”

Matthew 25:35-40 proclaims, “’For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’”

[2] Apple Dictionary. Version 2.0.3. (Apple Inc., 2007).

[3] Micah 6:8.

[4] Jesus’ first sermon, recorded in Luke 4:18-19, quoted Isaiah 61:1-2.

[5] Matthew 25:40.

[6] J.H. Yoder. For the Nations: Essays, Public & Evangelical (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997), 120.

[7] A suggestion to consider and embrace varying ecclesiological perspectives carries with it, however, a potential to construct an ecclesial bricolage devoid of tradition, against which Bretherton warns. A. Walker and L. Bretherton, Eds. Remembering our Future: Explorations in Deep Church (London: Paternoster, 2007), 46.

[8] V.M. Kärkkäinen. An Introduction to Ecclesiology: Ecumenical, Historical & Global Perspectives (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 18.

[9] Amos 5:24.

[10] J. Chrysostom. American Orthodox Institute.

[11] V.M. Kärkkäinen. An Introduction to Ecclesiology: Ecumenical, Historical & Global Perspectives (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 35.

[12] Ibid., 37.

[13] Free church ecclesiology also embraces and values the priesthood of all believers, which has in fact, Kärkkäinen notes, even allowed women with little or no education to participate in service in the church. V.M. Kärkkäinen. An Introduction to Ecclesiology: Ecumenical, Historical & Global Perspectives (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 66.

[14] Amor crucis: “This is the love of the cross, born of the cross, which turns in the direction where it does not find good which it may enjoy, but where it may confer good upon the bad and needy person.” Martin Luther, V.M. Kärkkäinen. An Introduction to Ecclesiology: Ecumenical, Historical & Global Perspectives (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 47.

[15] Ibid., 182.

[16] A. Walker and L. Bretherton, Eds. Remembering our Future: Explorations in Deep Church (London: Paternoster, 2007), 238.

[17] J. Clark. Reconciling Oikos and Polis (Portland: Face to Face Lecture, George Fox Seminary, October 2010).

[18] O. Guinness. The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 157-158.

[19] For example, Filmmaker Michael Moore’s recent movie “Capitalism: A Love Story” is based on the thesis that our economic system is bad, even evil. He calls for a rethinking, and possible revolution, of America’s financial system. N. Cook. Capitalism is Evil (Newsweek, October 1, 2009).

[20] J. Clark. Commodification and Church (Portland: Face to Face Lecture, George Fox Seminary, October 2010).

[21] J. Clark. Consumerism and the Emerging Church, 2.

[22] J. Clark. Commodification and Church (Portland: Face to Face Lecture, George Fox Seminary, October 2010).

[23] J. Clark. Consumerism and the Emerging Church, 3.

[24] J. Clark. Commodification and Church (Portland: Face to Face Lecture, George Fox Seminary, October 2010).

[25] W.T. Cavanaugh. Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), viii-x.

[26] S. Jethani. The Divine Commodity: Discovering a Faith Beyond Consumer Christianity (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009).

>[27] W.T. Cavanaugh. Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), 2-4.

[28] For a more in-depth discussion of the role counterculture has within consumer culture, see the section entitled “Counterculturalism – The Myth that Breeds Disengagement” in this paper.

[29] W.T. Cavanaugh. Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), 8.

[30] Ibid., 52.

[31] For a more detailed listing of the characteristics of justice, consult the chart comparing deep justice with not-so-deep service in Appendix A.

[32] 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 describes the body of Christ as a single body made up of different parts. Church traditions, such as the Eucharist, unites a divided humanity into one whole. As each faith community participates in the Eucharist, they experience the unique, individual Christ, but simultaneously are drawn into fellowship and communion with the greater, universal body. Ibid., 70-71.

[33] See Appendix B. for specific details about the Apparent Project, its mission and work in Haiti. Additional information about the Apparent Project can also be found at their website,

[34] W.T. Cavanaugh. Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), 90-91.

[35] J. Clark. Commodification and Church (Portland: Face to Face Lecture, George Fox Seminary, October 2010).

[36] John 13:35.

[37] J. Heath and A. Potter. Nation of Rebels: Why Counterculture Became Consumer Culture (New York: HarperCollins, 2004), 67.

[38] J.H. Yoder. For the Nations: Essays, Public & Evangelical (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997), 111.

[39] German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg insists, however, that humans cannot ever fully achieve justice or peace. Justice will only be realized by the coming of the Kingdom of God. Human attempts at forging justice are neither irrelevant, nor instrumental, in its realization. V.M. Kärkkäinen. An Introduction to Ecclesiology: Ecumenical, Historical & Global Perspectives (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 118.

[40] J. Heath and A. Potter. Nation of Rebels: Why Counterculture Became Consumer Culture (New York: HarperCollins, 2004), 116.

[41] Ibid., 21.

[42] S. Bauman, W. Wellman and M. Laughlin. The Wealth of the Poor: Women and the Savings Movement in Africa (The Lausanne Global Conversation,, 5.

[43] Snopes,

[44] E. Morozov. Brave New World of Slacktivism (Foreign Policy, May 19, 2009,

[45] A copy of Livingston’s Twitter Ladder of Engagement is included in Appendix C. G. Livingston. HOW TO: Turn Slacktivists into Activists with Social Media,

[46] J. Clark. Church Contexts: Consumerism & Church (Portland: Face to Face Lecture, George Fox Seminary, October 2010).

[47] According to the, 3500-4000 churches close their door each year in America.

[48] J. Clark. Church Contexts: Secularism (Portland: Face to Face Lecture, George Fox Seminary, October 2010).

[49] S. Murray. Post-Christendom: Church and Mission in a Strange New World (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2004), 41.

[50] J.H. Yoder. For the Nations: Essays, Public & Evangelical (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997), 104.

[51] S. Murray. Post-Christendom: Church and Mission in a Strange New World (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2004), 20.

[52] A. Hirsch. The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2006), 20.

[53] J. Clark. Consumerism and the Emerging Church, 11.

[54] “Gospel amnesia” is a term coined by American theologian Walter Brueggemann to describe the results of western culture forgetting the Christian story. The Christian story, while once prevalent and powerful, has been relegated to one of many stories within our pluralistic society. J. Clark. The Renewal of Liturgy, 5-6.

[55] A. Walker and L. Bretherton, Eds. Remembering our Future: Explorations in Deep Church (London: Paternoster, 2007), 13-15.

[56] “And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” Jeremiah 29:7.

[57] J. Clark. Church Contexts: Secularism (Portland: Face to Face Lecture, George Fox Seminary, October 2010).

[58] B. McLaren, E. Padilla and A.B. Seeber, Eds. The Justice Project (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2009), 38.

[59] My daughter, Lillia, is currently raising money to build houses in Haiti. Her simple “Your Change Brings a Change” has expanded to include local coin collection jars, statewide media coverage, and more. Her goal is to build 5 houses by April 1. More information about her project can be found in Appendix D.

[60] Seventy-two artisans, working with the Apparent Project in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, are participants in such a program that is addressing underlying causes of generational poverty and injustice. More information about the Apparent Project can be found in Appendix B, or at

[61] Italics added by me.  B. McLaren, E. Padilla and A.B. Seeber, Eds. The Justice Project (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2009), 18.

Appendix A

A discussion of justice would not be complete without also considering how it differs with compassion and charity. Compassionate ministries of all types abound in churches today. Benevolence care ministries provide meals, run homeless shelters, sponsor clothes closets and repair vehicles for single moms. These vital ministries demonstrate to the world how the poor, oppressed and marginalized should be treated in the name of Christ.

However, compassion ministries do not equate with justice. While they address real, pressing needs of the poor, homeless, widows, and orphans, they do nothing to address the underlying causes of injustice. God’s justice will only be brought about by ministries that move beyond just providing charity by considering why people are vulnerable and needy in the first place. Why are people hungry, homeless, jobless and divorced? What systematic inequities contribute to these challenges and how can they be confronted?

Kevin Blue, author of Practical Justice, outlines a helpful three-step response to injustice which moves churches beyond compassion. Relief to hurting individuals is provided in Step 1, followed by the distribution of education, training and work skills in Step 2. Finally, the broken, unjust system that perpetuates the need for Steps 1-2 is dealt with in Step 3. Kara Powell’s comparison of “not-so-deep service” with “deep justice” is a helpful guide as churches commit to move beyond basic charity. [Cannon 34]

Not-So-Deep Service Deep Justice
Service makes us feel like a “great white savior” (or black or brown or some other skin color) who rescues the broken. Justice means God does the rescuing, but often he works through the united power of his great and diverse community to do it.
Service often dehumanizes (even if only subtly) those who are labeled as the “receivers”. Justice restores human dignity by creating an environment in which all involved “give” and “receive” in the spirit of reciprocal learning and mutual ministry.
Service is something we do for others. Justice is something we do with others.
Service is an event. Justice is a lifestyle.
Service expects results immediately. Justice hopes for results some time soon but recognizes that systematic change takes time.
The goal of service is to help others. The goal of justice is to remove obstacles so others can help themselves.
Service focuses on what our own ministry can accomplish. Justice focuses on how we can work with other ministries and accomplish even more.
Service is serving food at the local homeless shelter. Justice means asking why people are hungry and homeless in the first place – and then doing something about it.

Appendix B

Watch an introductory video about the Apparent Project.

The Apparent Project has been responding to Haiti’s orphan crisis since 2008. Before the earthquake 380,000 children were registered as orphans. Many more were unaccounted for. It is unknown how many more children were orphaned by the earthquake. 15% of Haiti’s children live in orphanages. The vast majority of these “orphans” are actually children of living parents who could not provide food, shelter, or education for their little ones. The average Haitian child in an orphanage will wait 3 years or more for an adoption.

While the Apparent Project supports adoption and recognizes the real need for orphanages, they feel that prevention of child relinquishment through job creation addresses the problem at the root and most effectively keeps families together. The cost of one adoption could provide enough funds to start small businesses or job training for more than 25 families at risk of giving their children to orphanages.

The Apparent Project artisan’s center provides creative and community-enriching work for Haitian families at risk of relinquishing their children to orphanages. Apparent artisans create beautiful handmade jewelry, journals, children’s clothing, and decorative crafts which are then sold both locally and abroad. Within the “3 Seams” sewing program, for each dress sold, an identical dress is given to a child in need.

Besides unemployment, the most common reasons that Haitian parents give up their children are hunger, lack of educational opportunities, and homelessness. To address these needs, the Apparent Project is providing regular meals to the families they serve, has created a literacy school for street kids and adults, and is aggressively building homes for those displaced by natural disasters.

Apparent Project Mission:

Through our artisans’ program, educational programs, and relief work we are dedicated to:

  • Helping parents rise out of extreme poverty in order to keep their children
  • Responding to Haiti’s orphan crisis and the needs of parentless children
  • Making the needs of Haiti apparent to potential helpers through media & the arts
  • Inspiring adoration of our loving Father God with hope that one day he will be apparent to all

Additional information about the Apparent Project can be found at and on their blog at

Appendix C

Twitter Ladder of Engagement from

Appendix D