On Christianity in Social Justice Movements


“Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

-James 2:17

Before I delve into my feelings, I’ll reiterate – though it should go without saying – that I know that  not all Christians are like this.   I am aware that some Christians have been active in social justice movements, such as the pastor who aided student activists who were arrested during the #FeesMustFall protests and was thus banned from accessing campus grounds.  This post is not for or about those Christians, but, rather, the ones who either refuse to address social issues, or refer social justice as, for instance, a tool the devil is using to bring division.

I wish to challenge such assertions and general lack of Christian participation as I find them disconcerting and uncharacteristic of the God worshipped in the religion.

One dominant argument I have seen from Christian circles regarding social justice movements is that protestors should conduct themselves in a “Christ-like” manner.  This, I believe, is a way of saying that protestors should refrain from violent behaviour and present themselves in a more docile, respectable or “acceptable” way as some believe Christ would.  This sentiment is misplaced, and a mischaracterisation of Jesus.

This is, firstly, is a way of policing how marginalised people respond to their oppression.  The focus is solely on what constitutes appropriate behaviour on the part of activists rather than dealing with what has caused the supposedly ungodly conduct.

Secondly, it is rather ironic that being Christ-like is conflated with being passive when, for one, the man drove merchants away from the temple using a whip.  Consider, too, the image of Christ in the book of Revelations – that of a fearless warrior – and the fact that during his time on earth, he was more than concerned about the marginalised people of his time: the sick, the disabled, the poor, the slut-shamed, the widowed, the lost.

If Christians are to be more Christ-like, therefore, they should be at the forefront of social justice movements.  So where are they?

Surely a people who serve a God of justice should be major players in the fight against injustices perpetuated against the innocent.  Instead, we have victim-blaming think pieces promoting respectability politics by attributing racism and police brutality to the “thuggish” and sinful behaviour of black people (which I’ll link here as soon as I find it again).  We have rhetoric promoting silence and submission rather than the acknowledgement and addressing of the social issues with which people are dealing (many of which are matters of survival, of life and death).

The above does not just apply to racial issues, but extends to other social issues.  Where are Christians in the fight against poverty?  The early Christians set an example by collecting money and resources, and redistributing them to those in need.  Imagine what would be accomplished were the largest network in the world to combine resources much like the apostles rather than simply laying hands on the poor and leaving the problem to someone else.  Granted, there are to combat the systems of subjugation perpetuating said poverty, but imagine, for instance, the number of people the $4 billion going towards a pastor’s private jet would help.

Where are Christians in the fight against bigotry?  Loving the other is a primary focus in the religion, yet our churches are full of the hatred and condemnation of homosexuals (whose “sin” is a personal one affecting no one else, mind you) as if it’s our place to be playing God by making such judgements.  As if we are too holy to be around gay people, non-believers etc. when Jesus himself never thought himself too godly to sit with those whom society shunned.

Christian participation is also lacking in the environmental movement.  If Christian belief is that God created Adam and Eve to be guardians of the garden of Eden, then surely there should be a sense of responsibility in taking up that mandate and protecting the earth.  But alas.

The church’s silence on these issues (amongst others) is deafening.  I have never, in all my years of attending church, heard a sermon about racism, sexism, misogynoir, Islamophobia, environmental justice, ableism etc.  I have heard plenty on how women are supposed to dress, though, because that’s obviously the biggest problem facing the world today.

A step up by the modern church is desperately needed, along with a move from this individualistic approach to religion.  Christianity may be a personal relationship between the individual and God, yes, but the biggest Christian commandments are not just to love God, but to love others.  It is time what is preached gets put into practice.

And by “practice”, I don’t mean just praying for God to make it all go away because, again, without action, faith is dead.  We should instead be using the agency given to us by Jesus in Luke 10:19 – “Look, I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions, and to overcome all the power of the enemy.”

In closing, the enemy isn’t activists.  Rather, it is the systems of oppression and domination to which they are subjected.  Now that is the true evil.



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