Activism is fast becoming a regular part of Western society. No matter where you turn, someone is advocating for the rights of women, people of colour, and refugees. There are climate change activists, those who fight against poverty, and there are those who fight for all-around equality in the hope that political and social reform will make the world a better place. I believe much of this activism is well-meaning. People genuinely have a vision for a good world and desire to be a part of that positive change. However, what are Christians to make of all this? Should we be activist ourselves? Or should we retreat into churches and monasteries and pray that the Kingdom would come?
In a previous post, I argue that politics are unavoidable because:
- Christians live in a kingdom ruled by a king (Jesus).
- As a result, Christians are inherently monarchists who bow the knee to King Jesus.
- Therefore, when we vote for specific policies and work towards political reform, we do so with our King in mind.
- Our choices in the political world display God’s character.
- That influencing the political world happens first in and through the Church.
So with this in mind, should Christians be activists? Yes, but not in the way you might think.
Activism, at its most basic level, is fighting for those who can’t fight for themselves. It’s protecting that which can’t defend itself. It’s giving a voice to those who can’t speak for themselves. Furthermore, it is equipping the marginalised and oppressed so that they do have a voice, so they can receive rights and work towards change themselves. Christians, however, need to work towards these things within the Church first before they work towards it in the world. Unless we can get things right in the Church, unless we begin to confess our own sins and participation in this stuff, unless we love one another as we love ourselves and find our God-ordained unity in the person and work of Jesus Christ, we cannot hope to be effective in the world around us.
The Church needs to understand and work through a few fundamental theological ideas so that we can work towards this goal:
- The doctrine of the imago Dei. Everybody, regardless of colour, gender, or creed, is created in the image of God. While humanity has largely failed at living this out as God intended, in Genesis 1, there is an ontological dimension that endows humanity with something unique that connects them to the Creator. If the image of God is something we do (that is to protect and keep the Garden, i.e. the world), you can see how the embers of the image still remain in those who advocate for social and political change even today. However, this is something the Church is to now take up yet, unfortunately, the Church has mostly been silent on the issue of environmental protection. No matter where you sit on the topic of climate change, one thing is abundantly clear, Christians are to do their part in keeping the world and guarding it.
- Unity in Christ. Every person who has placed their faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, and who has given their allegiance to Jesus as king has been united to God through Christ by the Spirit. As the Apostle Paul says, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit, we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor 12:12-13). When the Church is compared to any other religion, organisation, movement or group, it is the Church that should have an eminent sense of racial and gender equality as it united in the person of Jesus, as they gather to worship their God who shows no favouritism (Romans 2:11).
- The Gospel. If the Church truly understood, and I mean really understood the life-giving, heart-changing, mind-boggling, awe-inspiring message of the Gospel, it would produce in us such humility and passion to love others that we could have such an impact on the world that the Church would be that city on a hill (Matt 5:14-16) a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9), reconciling the world to God (2 Cor 5:11-21). We would be a Church that the world would struggle to criticise for doing wrong.
Finally, with these three ideas in mind, as the Church unites, heals, and preaches the Gospel; this will organically flow out into every other area of life both politically and socially. The Church should be the group that every other person looks to for guidance in these matters. Activism, change and reform happen in our hearts before it happens in our laws and the only thing that can make that change is Jesus Himself. So if you’re a Christian, can you be an activist? Yes. But fight for equality in the Church first. Fight for human rights in the Church first. Fight for environmental protection in the Church first. How? By advocating for the image of God, our unity in Christ, and the Gospel that saves.