Does activism seem unloving? It shouldn't.
By Tom Minnery and John Eldridge, Reprinted from Focus on the Family Citizen
March 1996 – Godly principles once infused the entire nation. But as time passed, the commitment to those principles eroded, leaving the faithful as but a minority. Heathens and secularists had taken over, and they harassed and intimidated the believers.
America in the 1990s? Perhaps, but we’re thinking of the fifth century B.C., when Israelites returned from exile to rebuild Jerusalem, and found themselves threatened by the half-breed heathens of Samaria, who lived in the heart of Israel.
Five hundred years later a lawyer stood up to test Jesus, and learned that to inherit eternal life he must love God, and love his neighbor as himself. Then he asked the fateful question: “Who is my neighbor?” Christ stunned the audience by telling the story of the Good Samaritan – the hated foreigner who helped the Jewish traveler in distress after the priest and the Levite would not. “Go and do likewise,” Christ admonished the lawyer.
Strong stuff, for Christ to uphold a heathen as a model of Godly love. He was making a point about the need for Christians to demonstrate what they believe by what they do, and the most telling deed is simple compassion for one’s fellow man.
Compassion comes first
For Christians to effectively impact the culture, they need to begin by exhibiting compassion for hurting people. Those believers who reach out to the poor, the homeless and the sick are at the same time acquiring the moral capital to speak to the culture.
For example, almost everyone listens to Mother Teresa (although not everyone agrees) when she speaks out against abortion. Because she has already demonstrated selfless devotion to others, she has a strong hearing when she turns to the divisive issue of abortion. To a cynical society, she has earned the right to be heard.
But how does one cultivate a compassionate attitude when he surveys the state of society? Anger seems more appropriate in light of the assaults against common decency that are evident everywhere. Yet even righteous anger can prove ineffective unless Christians – motivated by compassion for all people –commit themselves to service as the mark of Christian maturity.
If Christians are to be salt and light in a needy society, we are all called to compassionate action, whether in soup kitchens, sex education battles, City Hall or the mission field – wherever there is a need for Christ’s love and concern to be shared. After all, salvation is only the beginning of the effective Christian life.
Answering the skeptics
Over the past four years, we (the authors) have traveled the country speaking about the need for Christians to get involved in social issues. We’ve met many committed believers who have responded to the biblical call to social action. But an even larger percentage view political action with suspicion.
Some pastors urge Christians to abandon “political” and “divisive” struggles, arguing that they detract from the Samaritan principle. John R.W. Stott, a British theologian and author of Basic Christianity, believes such a view misses an essential element of the Church’s service to mankind.
“If we truly love our neighbors, and want to serve them, our service may oblige us to take political action on their behalf,” Stott said.
Whenever we’re challenged to supply a biblical mandate, we begin with Matthew 22:39, where Christ commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Scripture calls it the royal law (James 2:8). Jesus offered a terrifying picture of the judgment that awaits those who do not meet the needs of others in His parable of the goats and sheep (Matthew 25:31-46).
So how do we fulfill that mandate? For the answer, we again look to the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Jesus said the Samaritan “took pity” on the distressed traveler and “went to him.” It was not enough for the Samaritan to pray for him.
The Bible renounces words without action in James 2:15-16. Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?
Both the priest and the Levite in the Samaritan parable could see that an injustice had been done to the man in the ditch; the Samaritan did something about it.
Biblical compassion is not empty sentimentality. Christian philosopher Os Guiness wrote in The Dust of Death that the New Testament view of compassion “denotes a gut reaction, an intense visceral emotion, the deep feelings of man for man which clutch at the stomach, and it also suggests strong anger at the situation which has reduced man to his present circumstances.”
A sense of outrage in the face of an injustice is a central part of Christian compassion. It was not right that a Jewish traveler, mugged by robbers on the Jericho Road, should lie on the ground, bleeding to death, while others step around him. It is not right that women and children should be victimized by pornography. Our duty is clear.
Love conquers injustice
When injustice occurs on an institutional level, compassion demands that we address the institution. Our own legal system here in the United States has become a perpetrator of injustice due to the absence of Christian influence. The most obvious example is the Supreme Court’s finding that an unspecified “right of privacy” in the Constitution guarantees a woman the right to take the life of her unborn baby. God forbid we see this injustice and pass by. We must help the woman and child.
Law is only one area that has become unjust. Name the discipline, and one can easily produce examples of moral degradation resulting from the absence of Christian influence. Entertainment, the media, medicine, the arts, industry – they all cry out for a renewal of Christian involvement.
Many Christians view certain issues as strictly political, somehow divorced from a concern for mercy or justice. We say that every social issue has a human face. Pornography, abortion, racism, homosexuality –these are issues of human misery that have been politicized. Campaigns to overturn abortion laws or establish school-choice programs are typically viewed as “political,” when in fact they are concerned with a quest for justice.
It is not logical or consistent to love one’s neighbor with mercy while ignoring or minimizing the importance of social justice. Stott cites slavery as an example. The harsh treatment of individual slaves might have been eased through social service, but the suffering continued on a massive scale until slavery itself was abolished through political involvement.
In the case of abortion, we must reduce the demand for abortion through social service while simultaneously reducing the supply through political involvement. Micah 6:8 reminds us: He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (The bold face type is our emphasis.)
The sort of political involvement that ends slavery – or abortion, or pornography – reflects the life of the Christian who has completely surrendered his or her life to Christ. Evangelical apologist and author Francis Schaeffer noted that “when we accept Christ as Savior…He is also our Lord in all of life. He is Lord not just in religious things and not just in cultural things such as art and music, but in our intellectual lives and in business and our attitude toward the devaluation of people’s humanness in our culture.”
The moral crisis in our culture cries out for the involvement of Christians who hold a high view of Scripture and who exhibit biblical compassion for their neighbor. It is time for Christians to engage the culture.