Saturday, July 5, 2008

Doing Justice

I want to do a couple of intramural posts, on a subject that frankly shouldn't be controversial among Christians. It's the subject of engaging in human rights issues, of doing justice at home and around the world.

At my church, Antioch (of Bend, Oregon, a church plant in October of 2006), we care about such issues of justice. We help feed and clothe the homeless in our own city. We have a partnership with a ministry in Uganda, where we will be adopting a very poor region, helping with providing water and education, and sponsoring children orphaned by AIDS and by rebel attacks. We're helping with efforts to free Nepalese women and girls from sex slavery and to provide them with a new life. One of our number is establishing schools in an earthquake-ravaged region of Pakistan. We're helping women in Kenya, Burundi, and Rwanda to make a living for themselves. And the list goes on.

But here's the problem. Believe it or not, there are many Christians who are skeptical of--or even opposed to--such efforts. Both the skepticism and the opposition are ill-founded, and each requires a response. But for now, let me lay out (as best I can) how these Christians tend to articulate their position.

Those skeptical of Christian efforts at justice generally offer one of two justifications. One, they may be confused into thinking that when we say "human rights" we are somehow thinking of abortion rights or homosexual rights. It is, of course, to be regretted that proponents of the homosexual agenda and of abortion-on-demand have successfully hoodwinked the general public--including Christians--into seeing these as issues of human rights. They are not, which is why many blacks take great offense at attempts to equate same-sex marriage activism with the civil rights movement of the 1950's. (But that's another post.)

Second, some Christians equate 'social justice' with liberal churches (those who don't really believe the truth of Christianity) or with secular organizations. Indeed, theologically speaking, some jump to the conclusion that we 'do' human rights thinking to earn our own salvation.

Those Christians opposed to such humanitarian efforts often come from a particular eschatological interpretation, one that says that things will only get worse (and that they can't get much worse than they already are), that Jesus will come back very soon and do away with this Earth and create a new heaven and a new Earth. On this view, the only worthwhile endeavor for the Christian is to evangelize--to teach people that the end is near but that there is salvation for their eternal souls. Thus, any attempts to make living conditions better (for the poor, the orphan, the man dying of AIDS) is like (in the words of D.L. Moody) "polishing the brass railings on a sinking ship."

These, then, are the illogical views that I'll take a stab at addressing in the next few posts.

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