What if the Church focused on justice instead of “just-us” that insists on conformity, selfishness, homogeneity, and compliance?
The Whips in Our Hands
White Christians decrying Critical race theory in the US. Mass Indigenous graves at church-run residential schools in Canada. Priests refusing Communion to pro-choice parishioners. Anti-masking Christians endangering their neighbors’ lives for the sake of their own freedoms. Christians promoting “don’t say gay” laws. This is what’s making the news these days. And we wonder why people leave the Church in droves.
Somehow, we don’t see the whips in our own hands that we’ve used for generations, to scourge and drive away those who are different. Then, when they leave, we ask, “Why don’t they like our Jesus?”
But it’s not Jesus they dislike…it’s us. For good reason.
Why They Don’t Like Us
The truth is people have loads of reasons not to like the Church.
- A nearby homeless shelter will serve you dinner, but you don’t get dessert unless you attend their Bible study.
- A local church says, “If you’re gay, you’re welcome here—but please know, we expect you to be celibate your whole life. Don’t worry, though. It’s okay because friendship with us will replace any longing you have for whole-life companionship! Oh, and forget about finding a place in leadership in our welcoming congregation.”
- Another congregation says, “Everybody’s welcome,” but they only mean people without disabilities. Their Sunday school classes are upstairs, with no ramp or elevator. They don’t allow service animals or emotional support animals into the building. And they don’t have an audio-visual system that accommodates hearing-impaired or visually-impaired people.
- A Christian-owned business refuses to allow trans and intersex folks to choose the bathroom that fits their self-understanding. Instead, they insist that they must use the restroom that aligns with the gender that someone assigned to them at birth, based on external characteristics. These precious people just want a place to pee, safe from being accosted or assaulted by cis people who don’t like how they’re dressed. Yet, devout “Christians” won’t even give them that.
- Because of the ridiculous cost of private healthcare, a Christian alternative offers expense sharing instead of insurance. Yet, to benefit you must believe as they do. Otherwise, you don’t get the special deal that’s only for Christians. And you can forget about the plan paying for birth control, abortions, or gender-affirming medical expenses. And, before you sign up, bear in mind that they’ll deny you if you have any “unchristian habits.”
Hmmm—what’s not to like?
Justice, or Just-Us?
The white evangelical church used to be known for founding hospitals, schools, and orphanages. Helping those on the “outside” used to be sort of their thing. But in the past decades, the Church has become so cloistered that it cares little for those who are outside–unless there’s a possibility of bringing people in and making them just like us. Once outsiders come inside, they need to assimilate—that’s just the rule.
We’ve lost our attention to justice and have focused instead on just-us. US Christians lie when we say we stand for “liberty and justice for all,” when we adopt slogans like “America first,” “Bring back prayer in schools,” or “That’s not abuse–you’re just imagining it.” Well, maybe that last one isn’t a slogan, but it sure has been repeated within Church walls.
Instead of justice, the Church’s focus on “just-us” means conformity, selfishness, homogeneity, and compliance. It means defining who’s included based on whether they sign on a theological dotted line. It means people need to look like we do, talk like we do, act as we do, love as we do, and live as we do. It means if you step a toe out of line, we’ll push you out. And it means we insist that the Church’s standards remain the law of the land.
People Who Don’t Fit
And people who don’t fit that bill, well—
- We lynch them, physically, socially, or financially.
- We suppress their right to vote with slick political tactics that we hope nobody will notice.
- We insist that “all lives matter,” trying to divert attention away from those who are suffering the most.
- We declare the straight white version of history to be THE version of history–and forbid the teaching of anything else.
- We say we’re “pro-life,” meaning we’re “pro-birth,” but we oppose social programs and universal healthcare that promote life and livelihood for the poorest members of society.
- We say we’re “pro-life,” but we support the death penalty, proving we’re pro-life only for those we think deserve it.
- We say we’re “pro-life,” but we reject our LGBTQIA+ youth, ignoring the fact that those “who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.”
- We say we’re “pro-life,” but we support systems that rip children away from their parents and put them in cages.
- We say we’re “pro-life,” but we stockpile weapons and guard the Second Amendment as if it were in the Bible. Is this what Jesus would do?
What if the Church Focused on Justice Instead of Just-Us?
I could go on… The White American Evangelical Church has proven over the years that we’re more interested in “just-us” than we are in real justice. But what if we turned that around? What if, instead of insisting on beliefs ABOUT Jesus, we tried to act more LIKE Jesus–a friend of sinners and advocate for the oppressed?
God’s words through the prophet Amos spoke to a religious people more interested in their demonstration of piety than helping the downtrodden, abandoned, neglected, and marginalized. Those same words ring true for the Church today:
“I can’t stand your religious meetings.
I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
your pretentious slogans and goals.
I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes,
your public relations and image making.
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
That’s what I want. That’s all I want.
What Matters to God
It’s not important to God that we call ourselves Christians. What matters to God is that we act like Christ. All God wants is for us to love God by loving people. Provide for them. Protect them. Promote equality, equity, and justice among all human beings. Extend the same dignity to every single child of God. Give extra attention to individuals who are weak, and people groups that are oppressed and struggling. What if the Church focused on justice instead of just-us?
Justice would roll down like water, and righteousness like a never-failing stream. We would speak up for the oppressed, champion the cause of the fallen, speak for the powerless, and defend the cause of the weak. We would prioritize healing for the hurting, food for the poor, shelter for the homeless, and mental health for the behaviorally broken. Missions would look more like helping people, and less like trying to convert them. We would fully include all God’s children–not despite their faults but embracing their differences. And the Church would be known as the community of God. They say that justice is blind. It isn’t. It sees the needs of the hurting–and gives special care to the weak. So, let’s remove the blindfold that keeps us focused on just-us, and seek the welfare of our neighbors. Only then will the Church be anything like Jesus.
For Further Reading, try my articles…
- Retributive vs. Restorative Justice: Doing Good to Those Who Harm Us
- Not THAT Kind of Christian!