Social Justice Disrupts our Nice Christian Lives

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Recently, in a conversation with someone about social justice and the church, I was told this: “Justice is incidental to the gospel.” I was dumbfounded. I’m a pretty smart woman and if that word, incidental, means what I think it means, then I just discovered a very wide chasm between my understanding of the gospel of Jesus and my friend’s. So, I actually found a dictionary and looked up the meaning of the word.

“Incidental” is an adjective that means accompanying something, but not a major part of the whole. Yep. That’s what I thought it meant. So, excuse me a moment while I step back to collect myself at the edge of this widening chasm.

Over the last few weeks, this debate about social justice and the Church has been heating up. Much of the conversation has been fueled by current events in the U.S. in particular. Between Nike’s Just Do It campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick, the upheaval over Serena Williams’ reaction to the reffing at her championship match for the US Open and the murder of Botham Shem Jean in his home by a Dallas police officer, my Twitter feed has become a stream of opposing views. There’s disagreement on the the right to protest, the right way to protest and how the Church should respond.

Then there has also been a lot of chatter surrounding a statement released by a group of pastors who basically condemn the pursuit of social justice in the Church. And that’s where my previously mentioned conversation began. And ended.

I am exhausted by this conversation and, frankly, I’d like to go back to being a blissfully unaware church girl sometimes. But I can’t. I can’t remain silent, because of Jesus. Because of the actual words that came out of his actual mouth. Those red-letter words

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of site to the blind; to set free the oppressed and announce that the time has come when the Lord will save his people.” —Luke 4:18-19

Jesus actually said these words. And I’m pretty sure he meant them. Not as a metaphor and not only in a spiritual context, but actually, literally, as in that is exactly what he came to do. He also said, “I am telling you the truth: those who believe in me will do what I do—yes, they will do even greater things.”

These red letter words lead me to believe that Jesus’ dream for us was, and is, to continue to proclaim this liberty and bring his healing. It would be really nice if we could just skip through life, sprinkling love and freedom like fairy dust, but that’s not reality. Freedom is hard fought. It takes standing, marching, protesting and speaking up and calling out. Often times, freedom comes through discomfort and upheaval.

When my daughter was an infant, we were strolling through a busy mall at Christmas time. We had half a dozen stops to make before our infant and toddler expired, so we were hustling. As we cut across center court at the mall, I heard drumming. The unmistakable rhythmic thrum of indigenous hand drums. Within seconds, we were caught up in the middle of a circle dance and we were scared and confused. Dozens of indigenous men and women were dancing in a circle, holding signs of protest against our government’s unjust treatment of them, and singing in a language we didn’t understand. The dance/protest lasted for a few minutes, then the crowd dispersed and we were allowed to continue our shopping.

At the time, I knew nothing about my own culture and still believed, as I was taught in my childhood, that indigenous drumming conjured evil spirits. I also knew very little about the injustice my people had faced throughout history to that very December day. All of my ignorance left me feeling uncomfortable with how they were protesting, that they were inflicting their issues on me when I had nothing to do with any of it.

I’m embarrassed now when I think of my reaction, but I am also grateful that I had the experience of witnessing peaceful, meaningful protest. That was a key moment that propelled me to dig into my own indigenous culture. It forced me to confront my ignorance and check my bias.

So much of the rhetoric surrounding the protests we see from Colin Kaepernick or Black Lives Matter or LGBT2SQ+ organizations or any number of other justice-orientated people and organizations is the same. It could feel uncomfortable and foreign. It forces those who are on the outside to think about things that we’d rather ignore. It challenges our biases and paradigms. It’s so darn inconvenient and disruptive to our Nice Christian Lives. But it’s also all so necessary.

We need these protests and these challenges to the status quo. We need to hear from voices that are different from our own. We need to learn about experiences that are other than our own. We need these voices because iron sharpens iron. (That’s in the Bible, too.) We need to listen to these protests, because they make us better humans. They force us to see the humanity in each other—even if we still disagree with each other.

Jesus’ ministry was as impactful as it was, not merely because he was holy, but because he saw the humanity in every person who crossed his path. He took time to lean in, listen and be present with people who had very different worldviews and experiences from him. These people were able to receive from Jesus, not because he condemned them, but because he loved them. Jesus never once hated someone into the Kingdom of God. So, it leaves me to wonder, how can we expect someone to receive the gospel from us if we do not first acknowledge their humanity?

When it comes to this concept of justice and The Church, though, I think it’s vital to remember our good deeds and social awareness do not save us. We cannot protest our way into an eternal relationship with Jesus. Being socially aware or justice-orientated is not a substitution to the saving blood of Jesus Christ. The gospel, the good news that saves our souls, is Jesus alone. Jesus and his entirely, abundant, redeeming love. It’s just Jesus who saves.

And Jesus is justice.
Jesus is equality.
Jesus is honour.
Jesus is freedom and healing.
Jesus is righteousness and hope and dignity.
Jesus is The Good News for all people.

So I’d like to say to my friend, that the word you were looking for is not “incidental.” It’s intrinsic. Justice is intrinsic to the Gospel of Jesus. And as followers of Jesus, justice should be intrinsic to who we are, too.

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Nichole Forbes
Nichole is just a regular gal loved by an extraordinary God. She believes in community, justice, freedom, reconciliation and the sacredness of storytelling. Her journey to connect with her Metis culture and history has been her own liberation song. She tries to live bravely every day and say the kind words that need to be heard. She raises her three Not-So-Wee-Ones in the middle of the Canadian prairies with her favorite person ever—her husband, Brad. Nichole blogs, writes and speaks on the things that fill her heart and frame her world. 
Nichole Forbes
Nichole Forbes

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