Prophetic Activism for a New Generation: An Interview With Adam Taylor
Will social justice ministries in the next ten years be the same as they have in the last ten?
That's a good question. There's already been a pretty significant shift particularly among younger Christians around how they define and embrace social justice. In the past, social justice has been mischaracterized and sometimes dismissed as a purely liberal or progressive set of causes or issues. Certainly, the Religious Right, particularly in the 1980s, convinced a lot of Christians that the real issues Christians should be concerned about in the social realm were hot-button issues like abortion and gay marriage. Those are very important. But our concern with those issues should not be to the exclusion of a whole set of issues that are central to the gospel, issues like poverty and the environment and modern-day forms of exploitation and slavery.
So there has already been a broadening of the Christian agenda, which has been very encouraging to see. One of the things that needed to happen in order for that broader agenda to have a sustained political impact, is for young people and Christians in general to be better equipped and empowered in terms of how to act on their faith and organize their communities in a way that will make a difference politically. One of the obstacles is that there is still a great deal of cynicism and disillusionment around our political process, especially because it has become so acrimonious. So, it's critical to show that we can become involved in politics without that involvement corrupting our faith.
But overall I'm really encouraged. Over the next ten years we're going to see more and more Christians getting involved in issues that transcend political debates and aren't easy to peg as liberal or conservative. An example is the issue of human trafficking, which has really gained traction in the church and not as a conservative issue or a liberal issue. It's about the abuse of power. It's intolerable that more people are trafficked now than they were during the transatlantic slave trade. And the more people come to understand why that's the case, and what's causing it, we'll see greater commitments to ending it.
My hope is that activism in the next ten years can be less ideological than it has been in previous years. The baggage of the 1960s deterred a lot of Christians from getting involved in politics and may have given them a negative image of social justice. But one thing that should unite us as Christians is a keen concern for the most vulnerable and the most marginalized. That concern rings through scripture and the prophets and the words of Jesus. We can disagree on the best way to protect the vulnerable and the best way to advance opportunity and justice for those who are shut out. But it's becoming almost impossible for people to disagree that that is a central tenet of the Christian faith. Once we can unite around that central tenet, we can really change some of our national and international priorities.
What does social justice mean to you?
The way I look at social justice is through the lens of the kingdom of God. As Christians, we're trying to be instruments of God's kingdom come. To me that resembles a world in which every person's dignity is valued and intact. It's a world in which everyone can realize their full potential because they have opportunities to do so. A world in which people's differences, particularly racial differences and gender differences, are respected. A world in which we prioritize the common good above our narrow self-interest. And a world in which people are free from exploitation and abuse. Look at Isaiah 65 and how it describes the new heaven and the new earth. In some sense it's utopian, but it's what we're called to create in faith.
Dr. Timothy Dalrymple is the Associate Director of Content at Patheos, and writes weekly on faith, politics, and culture for Patheos' Evangelical Portal. Follow him at his blog, Philosophical Fragments, on Facebook or on Twitter.