In the words of Kendrick, I got a bone to pick…I’m mad.
I’ve had a rising frustration in my chest the past few months, and it can be represented by this pattern: My most popular blog post of all time is entitled Why I’m No Longer Waiting Till Marriage, and it’s about wisdom in dating and singleness, though the title implies sex. Almost every other post of mine which has over a thousand shares is on dating, porn, or sex. I know that if I want clicks, all I have to do is throw in a suggestive title and Christians will gobble it up.
But then I write about systemic racism, poverty, human trafficking, and a Christian response to injustice: 12 shares max.
I’m obviously not mad at people’s readership of my blog. I’m mad at how it functions as a synecdoche of American Christianity overall. We are so focused on things which immediately affect us to the point that we refuse to even read about issues being faced by others in the world; in our own city even.
Of course, that was me before I got ‘woke.’ I remember being in Australia and one of my teammates was researching where different chocolate companies sourced their cocoa, and I thought Who cares? Just eat your candy!
The more I learn however, the harder it is to turn a blind eye to the monstrous amount of injustice in the world. For instance, there are more human slaves in the world right now than at any time in history, millions of whom are sex trafficking victims who are being raped 15-20 times a day. But this coffee shop’s wifi is too slow so let’s move to a different one, I’ll just have to buy another latte…
Writing as a white male, I’ve also become increasingly aware of the level in the world economy I was accidentally born into. Am I a ‘racist’ because I’ve benefitted from a system that favors me over other demographics, despite the fact that I’ve never cognitively had hatred toward others based on their skin color? I’ve felt pressure to feel guilty the more I learn about history and the creation of the current system in which I live, but I have found that it’s better to turn that feeling into action. I can’t help but wonder if ‘racism’ is becoming aware of these issues and then remaining complacent.
I recently came across an incredibly disturbing work of art while researching for a paper which stirred me so much I set it as my phone background for the past few months. It’s an African piece of art which slams the suffering of Christ into the experience of the black slave. I can’t shake it.
The thing my blog readership has reflected to me is that people are far more interested in themselves, and how their Christianity affects them, than they are in bigger-picture issues like justice and poverty. Thousands of refugees have been evacuated from their home country in the past year, but hey, at least you finally got the right angle for that Insta-selfie. Where are the kingdom-minded Christians? Where are those whose reading of Scripture prompt them to action rather than just a few colorful highlights and maybe a sophisticated Bible study discussion?
The other day I was in a coffee shop and overheard the conversation between two thirty-something married mothers. The more I listened, the more angry I got. I don’t know them or their lives at all, but what I heard made me angry. They were evidently Christians, but it seemed that church was for them, and God’s grace was merely to enable them to live more comfortable lives. They talked about their families and their kids and a dash of local gossip, and anger stirred in me. I’ve wrestled with that anger for a while, asking myself if it’s justified or not, and here is what I’ve come to: Paul calls us to judge those who are inside the church, not outside. So, would I berate those two women for their seemingly consumeristic Christianity? No, of course not! But, am I regularly having conversations with my close Christian friends about how they live, how they spend their money, how they work and how they use their time? Yes.
I wish I could do more to open the eyes of fellow American Christians to the suffering of so many people in the world. It’s so easy to hear a statistic like how millions of people in the world survive on a few spoonfuls of rice every day, close the article and go on with our days.
Today I sat down with a fellow YWAMer, Moody grad, and Denver Seminary student (yes, we’re basically the same person), and we talked about this. “There will be so many Christians who will wake up and say ‘Oh shit! I completely missed it! I was so focused on my job, my marriage and family, and myself that I missed Christ’s call to the rest of the world!'”
“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
God, through the hard words of the prophet Amos rebukes His people for fattening themselves with the very things He blessed them with. To re-translate some of what he says,
I hate the fact that you go to church and sing.
I don’t care that you drop a few bucks in the offering plate,
I don’t care that you have your ‘quiet time’ daily.
The rock concert-style songs you sing are hideous to me
because you’ve taken good things I’ve given you
and stored them up for yourself.
Why not open up your wallets,
and let equality and justice flow?
I literally can’t hear your worship songs
because I see how you live your life.
Is your faith primarily about you?
Are you intentionally keeping yourself uninformed because to become educated on certain issues would demand action? I lived that way for years.
In a recent conversation with a passionate friend of mine, she said something which lingered in my brain: If the ‘Christian’ can still worship unperturbed (unoutraged) at the site of violence and injustice, I say, “take your god back.”
I believe it was Francis Chan who lamented seeing so many Christians who were fiery with zeal in their younger years, but got older, married, settled down, and the sole aim of their life shifted from kingdom things to American Dream things like family, mortgage, and Netflix.
What is the goal of your life? Where are your eyes set?
I know that if you’ve read this far, I’ve done a good job of beating you up, but here’s two pieces of hope to balance it out:
- Not all believers are called to all fields. It is literally impossible for one person to constantly make big differences in the arenas of race, trafficking, refugees, war, and every other issue faced by the world today. I’ve been meditating on this line from Merton lately: “To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”In other words, find your calling. Learn. Become aware. Find what makes you angry and set out to fix it.
- The gospel is not one about doing, but about being. We are not saved because we donate x-amount to charities each year, or pull more people out of slavery than Bob Goff. We are saved through our intimate union with Christ, and that alone. However, the question must be asked: If you have experienced this grace, is it merely enabling you to be more comfortable and eloquent in your coffee shop conversations, or is it a spark which catalyzes social action? If ‘works’ are the smoke which are a sign of the fire beneath, do you have the smoke? Is your faith real, or are you merely imagining a smokeless fire?
My seminary professor yesterday told us not to give up striving for a utopia here on earth. It’s easy to become discouraged by a lack of progress in the world, but that doesn’t mean that we give up and layaway all our hope for the eschaton.
Work to bring the kingdom to earth. Here. Now.
Participate in the economy of heaven in this life.
Pray, Maranatha! Come quickly Lord Jesus and reorient our lives toward justice and mercy.