I have a confession to make. I was not always interested in social justice and reconciliation. As a matter of fact, at one point I could care less about it. It was not because I thought feeding the poor and relieving their plight was a bad idea; but in all honesty the whole idea of justice made me feel uncomfortable because I was too consumed with my own thing. I felt like to do justice and to seek after the reconciliation of all people would take me somewhere I did not want to be, somewhere I did not want to go. I thought that it would require too much of my heart, too much of my time and too much of my resources. And so in spite of the drama going on all around me and even in the world, I stayed in my little comfort zone. Every time I saw images of those who were poor, including when I traveled overseas for missions work, I reasoned that if the people just prayed enough and gave Jesus their hearts that they too could experience the liberation that they desperately sought for.
In order to maintain this stance towards justice, you have to imagine that I ignored certain passages in the Bible. Such was the case anytime I read Matthew 25 where Jesus talks about the judgment and blatantly tells his disciples that they will not enter into the kingdom of heaven if they do not feed the hungry, provide drink to the thirsty, house the homeless, clothe the naked and visit the imprisoned. To be honest, I thought that his description here was only an exaggeration and that I would be fine if I just continued to preach the Word of God to those who were in need. That was the way that I felt about a lot of passages in the Bible that addressed justice, oppression, exploitation, poverty and the like, that as long as I told people about the Lord, as long as I preached great sermons that ‘wowed’ crowds and led to the conversion of many, that I would be alright.
Through the years, things started to change. I am not sure what prompted the initial desire to address the systemic issues around injustice in the world, but I do remember the moment that I abandoned my prior ideology and adopted a new way of thinking. My moment of conversion, if you will, took place the summer of 2007 as I read ‘We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families’ in preparation for a trip to Central Africa. Let me tell you, it is not a book for the faint-hearted as it speaks of the graphic details pertaining to the genocide of the Tutsi people that took place in Rwanda in 1994. This spanned 100 days and led to the deaths of 800,000 people. I was shaken to the very core of my being to learn that as this unfolded, that the world stood by and did nothing yet this was not what moved me to tears. What did it for me was knowing that all of this took place between two people groups – the Hutus and the Tutsis – who lived in the same land, went to the same schools, attended the same churches, walked the same streets, and lived in the same neighborhoods. Pastors turned against their members, teachers against their students, neighbors against their friends. Besides the tribal differences, these people were the same. Oh, and they also claimed to love God.
I did not get it, I just could not wrap my mind around it. How could these things happen amongst a people that were much more alike than they were ever different? How could these things take place in a country that was supposedly a Christian nation? How could pastors and clergy who ministered to their congregants one week be so ready to turn against them with machetes the next? How could hatred and bitterness exist to such an extent that in the matter of 100 days one people group nearly wipes out another by killing almost a million of its people? As I asked myself these questions, I felt this righteous, holy anger rise up within me. I began to get a glimpse of the heart of God concerning this and began to understand that he was calling his people, he was calling this people to reconciliation.
And then I went on the trip. In August 2007, the day after the 35W bridge collapsed I left for the small country of Rwanda. All of the reading in the world still did not prepare me for the things that I saw while I was there. I visited one of the genocide museums that detailed story after story of men, women, children and infants who had lost their lives as a result of extreme hatred. I saw tombs and burial sites where 50 to 100 bodies where buried 6 inches deep in one casket. I visited a jail where we beheld the people, the prisoners who inflicted this wretched curse on their country and while there we sang “You are Alpha and Omega, We worship you oh Lord, You are Worthy to be Praised…We give you all of the glory, you are worthy to be praised.” Even in the midst of an environment as such, God is still worthy. At such juncture, it was becoming more and more clear to me that God desired reconciliation for this broken and bruised people.
Later on in that trip, God granted me the opportunity to preach in a room full of pastors and leaders on what he was stirring in my heart. I can’t quite remember the words but I do know that after preaching, one of the people in the audience asked how they were to make reconciliation? How does such take place between a people who were so broken and bruised as they were? How does such take place when the other party, person, nation, or state does not want to have anything to do with such? Although I did not know it then, I have come to realize that such only takes place in the context of the cross.
One of the first things that I did once I came back to the States was change my degree as well as my focus. As a result of what God was doing me, I was beginning to see that God was not calling me to stay within the four walls of some church preaching to the same congregation week in and week out for 20, 30, or 40 years. Perhaps this will be where he will lead me when I am 70, 80 years old and am less mobile, but for now, I see him leading me a different direction. The Rwandese are not the only people who need reconciliation, as we as a human race are so desperately in need of this grace. We need it between male and female, we need it between our social classes, we need it in our church denominations, we need it in our families, we need it our work places, we simply need it wherever two or more people exist as Cain has shown that wherever two different personalities exist, there lies a tendency for one to exploit the other. Yet such only happens in Christ, Christ who has torn down the dividing wall between Jew and Palestinian, Black and White, Hutu and Tutsi, the slave and free, male and female and even Republican and Democrat.
Since that moment almost four years ago, God has taken me on a journey. He has allowed me to see and understand that there is so much that needs to be done in the work for social justice and reconciliation. And the roots, the problem here runs deep, deeper than we could ever realize mostly because we fail to understand the potency of sin and evilness. Both can make people do some really crazy things. They can cause people to turn against one another like what happened in Rwanda. They can cause things a lot more subtle in nature, like passing certain laws that make it next to impossible for certain racial groups to break out of the cycle of poverty that they find themselves in. They can also cause inaction and indifference, as was my case.
Sometimes, I think that it is the inaction and indifference that can be the most powerful force of evil in our world. When we don’t care about something and are indifferent to it, we are willing to let anything fly. When we fail to care about those who are suffering, those who don’t have jobs, those who don’t have access to health care, those who are being wiped out by their sadistic dictators, we not only make it possible for those things to continue to take place but for worse to happen. Its time that we start caring, start being concerned about the needs of those around us, even if their well being does not affect us directly. Its time for us to put aside our own agenda and all of the things that we are so wrapped up in and really listen to the cry of the hungry and weak around us.
At the beginning of the 19th century, the church in America experienced what is called the Second Great Awakening. It was a period of intense revival and outpouring of the Holy Spirit in an unprecedented manner. Theologians note that in it there was great emphasis on personal holiness, but that social activism, denominational growth, evangelism, and a care for the disabled also took place, all of which resulted in people coming to Christ by the droves.
Could this be the moment for a third great awakening? As we obey the Word of God and really take social justice seriously, could we experience that which has not been felt since the early 1900s? Some may not see the connection between social justice and revival as easily as I do, so let me point to the prophet Isaiah. After illustrating that God desired for Israel to be a people who ‘loosed the bands of wickedness, let the oppressed go free, divide their bread with the hungry, and to clothe the naked’ this is what he says:
8″Then your light will break out like the dawn,
And your recovery will speedily spring forth;
And your righteousness will go before you;
The glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
9″Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
You will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am ‘
If you remove the yoke from your midst,
The pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness,
10And if you give yourself to the hungry
And satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
Then your light will rise in darkness
And your gloom will become like midday.
11″And the LORD will continually guide you,
And satisfy your desire in scorched places,
And give strength to your bones;
And you will be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.
I do not know about you but I want the light to break forth like the dawn in our world. It is so full of darkness, so full of evil, that we need a little bit more light. I desire recovery and restoration, I desire righteousness and the glory of the Lord to be revealed in and among his people. I am willing to pay the price. But let me ask, are you?