Boulder SDA Church & Social Justice
Kevin Bowen and I recently had a conversation via Skype regarding social justice. Kevin is a pastor at the Boulder SDA Church (CO), and he wanted to include portions of our conversation for a sermon to be preached there (Project 5:2). He warned me about some of the questions, so I typed out a bunch of notes, which are now the bulk of this post. Yes, it’s long.
Twenty minutes of our 40-minute conversation can be found online. My continual blinking is most annoying to behold. For this I apologize. It might be better as an audio file rather than a video.
Kevin: Why care about social justice? How does it connect to spirituality/discipleship? How is it related to compassionate acts of service that we think about more commonly?
Jeff: I know we want this interview to be as practical as possible. And for me that honestly starts with good theology. Good theology really is practical. For some of you listening to this in church, the first thing you thought of when you heard the words “social justice” was the argument between Glen Beck and Jim Wallis. We must have the Bible be our starting point for these discussions, not politicians of any party or individuals in the polarizing media-complex. What does the Bible teach about social justice?
We’ll still disagree about implementation and priorities, but we won’t be divided by partisan politics that have little to do with God’s work in the world. Members of the Green Party and Tea Party have to be able to love and respect each other in the church. We have to be humble enough to love others who disagree with us. Our ultimate allegiance and identity is in Jesus and His community, not our political affiliations.
Want to read more, click below…
- Inaugural speech (Luke 4:16-19). Later Jesus says he sends us as God sent him (John 20:21; 3:16). We are the body of Christ (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:12, 27; Eph. 4:12), so now we are sent into the world to reveal God’s character (Jer. 9:23-24). This is our part in the Great Controversy.
Jeremiah 9:23-24 (NIV)
23 This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD.
- Be perfect/merciful like God (Matt. 5:45-48; Luke 6:35-36). We don’t judge people and only help those who are in need because of no fault of their own. We give of ourselves to bless anyone because that is the model Jesus demonstrated.
- This is what our God looks like. The world needs to know how beautiful God truly is. At least get a hint!
- Scandalous grace. When we grasp this extravagance of God, we may begin to see why the “responsible” son was upset in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal.
- Isaiah 1:17-18. “learn to do well; seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.  Come now, and let us reason together, saith Jehovah: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
- Jer 22:16 “He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Was not this to know me? saith Jehovah.” (cf. Matt. 7:21)
- Amo 5:21-24 “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I will take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Yea, though ye offer me your burnt-offerings and meal-offerings, I will not accept them; neither will I regard the peace-offerings of your fat beasts. Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols. But let justice roll down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.”
- Tithe and Justice, Mercy & Faithfulness (Matt. 23:23 & Mic. 6:8).
- Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) & Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:17-49). End with story of the lives built on rock and sand, the teachings are intended for our lives now.
- Jesus peace has concrete ramifications for life now (Luke 1:79; 19:41-42). Because they didn’t learn the things that make for peace, their city was destroyed. This is not just inner tranquility. Compare with “peace of the city” in Jer. 29:7.
- As a prophetic people, we are called to speak truth to power, but our primary area of focus is for us to live our values rather than getting government (the empire) to live our values.
- First, we are a contrast community that reveals God’s character through loving actions toward each other and the world.
- Second, we are a prophetic people who speak God’s word as we understand it to the systems and structures of the world like Jeremiah, Isaiah, Amos and others.
- Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55)
- Allegiance is to “a king and a kingdom” above anything else (Derek Webb, King & a Kingdom, Mockingbird)
- Alien, widow & orphan (Lev. 19:34; Deut. 10:18-19; 14:29; 16:11; 24:17-21; 26:12; 26:13; 27:19; Ps. 94:6; 146:9; Jer. 7:6; 22:3; Ez. 22:7; Zec. 7:10; Mal. 3:5; Job 29:12-21)
- Justice & Mercy (Is. 10:1-4; 58:6-9)
- Sins of Sodom (Ez. 16:49)
- “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.” –Dom Helder Camara
Communication & Respect
- Intelligent, rationale human beings can disagree about methods and approaches. Ellen White stressed “unity in diversity.”
- Communication between Adventists on Adv Today, Spectrum, Facebook and other venues is disheartening. No respect if disagree.
- Instantly jump to…
- Issues are hyper-politicized by the polarizing-media complex.
- We’ve lost our ability to have critical, nuanced thought and conversation in a media culture that turns every issue into a binary 1-0, on-off, Republican-Democrat, right-wrong, intelligent-idiot dichotomy.
- As soon as we talk about “justice” other than criminal justice, many people instantly think about partisan politics and national policy.
- We’ve lost our Anabaptist roots that held the church as a contrast culture. We are to embody a different way, rather than feud endlessly about what the government should do. Our first question should be: What would Jesus have me and my congregation do?
Kevin: Why should Adventist get involved? (the world is coming to an end…right?)
Great Controversy. Character of God is on trial. Not just in the universe, but right here on planet Earth. God’s slow work is to non-forcefully reveal his true character and the character of Satan and sin (“It Is Finished”). We’ve seen earlier that God is a God of justice and mercy.
This is the God of love, and we as the church are his body. So who does my life say God is? What sermon does my life preach about God’s priorities, God’s character? Is his true character being revealed to the world through me, through my local congregation?
Ellen White & SDA History as Further Food for Thought
- Participated in Underground Railroad but didn’t allow members to join Civil War even though the church morally supported the Union cause.
- Spoke against American imperialism (wars in Mexico & Philippines)
- Supported reduction of arms in official letter from GC leadership to U.S. President
- See Adventism and the American Republic (Doug Morgan) and multiple books/quotes by EGW.
Kevin: How can the average person, teen, old fogy get involved?
- Dollar vote (tomorrow’s world depends on our votes today)
- Human Rights
- Issues listed in Zealous Love, Everybody Wants to Change the World & UrbanMinistry.org (see below)
- Hard to do alone. Give fish; teach to fish; get access to the pond & figure out who is polluting it upstream. Need a team to sustain this.
◦ Systems & social structures. Power imbalances.
◦ God is in the business of changing these problems. (3 stories in Good News about Injustice, Gary Haugen)
- Social justice and acts of compassion are not mutually exclusive discrete categories. Yet there is a different emphasis.
- Whether you’re considering restorative justice, commutative justice, procedural justice, retributive justice or distributive justice, you will be looking at systems and societal structures.
- Structures and systems are very difficult to see, understand, and respond to alone.
- The first question is not, “Is my local government or is the national government living biblical values in this area?” Instead, first ask, “Am I living biblical values of social justice?” Then, “Is my congregation living them?” Then you can have some legitimacy to have a prophetic voice to power. Don’t ask society to do what you aren’t actively doing.
- Approaches to discerning personal involvement (not an exhaustive list & not mutually exclusive):
- What issues/injustices make me angry? (Nooma: Store)
- Where do my gifts intersect with the world’s need? “Where our deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet, we hear a further call.” — Frederick Buechner
- What personal pain has God comforted? How might I use this to encourage others? (2 Cor. 1:3-4)
- What privilege do I have in society? How can this be leveraged for the kingdom? Or do I need to renounce this and lead others to do the same?
- What life stage am I in? What issues are relevant to others in this stage?
- Pray for God to open my ears to the cry of the oppressed? Pray that the things that break God’s heart will break mine as well. Pray for courage to take small actions of care.
- Partner with other organizations:
- National and Intl Christian: ACS, IJM…
- Local: Find peace and justice groups. Ask what churches are involved. Contact these churches and ask their perspectives on local social justice issues and needs.
§ Rocky Mtn Peace & Justice Center (Boulder) — http://rmpjc.org/
§ The Center for Justice, Peace & Environment (Ft. Collins) — http://cjpe.org/
- As a church—discernment through prayer. Blue Like Jazz + This Beautiful Mess = Imago Dei prayed over a list of needs in Portland.
- Most personal: How am I spending my money? What systems and structures and practices am I voting for with every dollar I spend? Globalized marketplace means my consumption patterns have ripple effects around the world. Am I aware of what I’m supporting? Am I informed about fair trade and living wage issues? Do I believe supply and demand are the only important factors in the market, or do I also recognize the seldom discussed role of power differentials? [see additional resources for this category below]
- Adventist Peace Fellowship — http://www.adventistpeace.org/
- Peace Messenger — http://adventistpeace.typepad.com/
- Adventist Activism — https://advactivism.wordpress.com/
- Faith for Justice — http://faithforjustice.org/ [co-started by SDA pastor, Ryan Bell]
- Urban Ministry — http://www.urbanministry.org/allchannels
- International Justice Mission — http://www.ijm.org/getinvolved
- Evangelicals for Social Action — http://www.esa-online.org/
- Christian Peace Witness — http://christianpeacewitness.org/
- Sojourners — http://www.sojo.net/ [controversial right now]
- NRCAT — http://www.nrcat.org/
Local places to aid search for what is breaking God’s heart in your area:
- Rocky Mtn Peace & Justice Center (Boulder) — http://rmpjc.org/
- The Center for Justice, Peace & Environment (Ft. Collins) — http://cjpe.org/ [I still get their e-newsletter]
- Fight with Tools (Denver; connected to Flobots) — http://flobots.org/ & http://www.fightwithtools.org/ [a bit on the extreme side for many]
- Sustainable Living Fair (Ft. Collins) — http://www.sustainablelivingassociation.org/thefair/ [for those wanting to connect with others around enviro issues.
SDA Books & Resources
- Adventism and the American Republic (Morgan)
- The Silent Church (Plantak)
- The Peacemaking Remnant (Morgan, ed.)
- Swimming against the Current (Blake)
- Promise of Peace (Scriven)
- Anarchy and Apocalypse (Osborn)
- Community Action Leadership Kit (Monte Sahlin)
- Understanding Your Community (Monte Sahlin)
Assorted Christian & (a couple) Jewish Books
- Zealous Love (Yankoski)
- Everybody Wants to Change the World (Campolo & Aeschliman)
- Poverty & Justice Bible
- Faith in Action Study Bible (World Vision)
- Green Bible
- Good News about Injustice (Haugen)
- Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger (Sider)
- Faith Works (Wallis)
- Politics of Jesus (J. H. Yoder)
- Jesus for President (Claiborne & Haw)
- The Irresistible Revolution (Claiborne)
- Shalom (P. Yoder)
- The Outward Focused Church (Olson & Unruh)
- Toward an Evangelical Public Policy (Sider & Knippers)
- Social Justice in the Hebrew Bible (Malchow)
- Humanitarian Jesus (Buckley & Dobson)
- Make Poverty Personal (Barker)
- Crowned with Glory and Honor (Marshall)
- Seek the Welfare of the City (Winter)
- The Social Vision of the Hebrew Bible (Pleins)
- Justice (Dempsey)
- Six Theories of Justice (Lebacqz)
- Righteous Indignation: A Jewish Call for Justice (Rose, Kaiser, Klein, eds.)
Economic Justice (Personal perspectives rather than national regulatory, fiscal or monetary policy. These are taken from a group assignment in a seminary ethics class last year.)
- Faith and Wealth: A History of Early Christian Ideas on the Origin, Significance, and Use of Money (Gonzalez)
- The Wealth of Christians: A Study of how Christians have Dealt with the Question of Riches through History—with Implications and Applications for Our Own Times (Mullin)
- Toward a Christian Economic Ethic: Stewardship and Social Power (Pemberton & Finn)
- Anabaptist/Mennonite Faith and Economics (Redekop, Krahn & Steiner, eds.)
- Money Mania: Mastering the Allure of Excess (Vincent)
- “Sharing Economic Resources with Fellow Community Members and the Needy Among Us,” (Claiborne) in School(s) for Conversion: 12 Marks of a New Monasticism, Rutba House (eds.).
- “A Christian Perspective on Economics,” and “Christians and the Autonomy of Economics,” in Alternatives to Economics: Christian Socio-Economic Perspectives (Beed & Beed)
- Defying the Beast, March 7, 2010; In God we Trust?, March 14, 2010; Questionable Blessings, March 28, 2010; Panel Discussion, March 21, 2010 (Boyd, podcasts).
- The Relational Tithe (http://www.relationaltithe.com/)
- Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street (Wallis)
- Beyond Tithing (Murray)
- “Simplicty,” in Celebration of Discipleship (Foster)
- “Consuming Responsibly,” (Owens) in Justice in a Global Economy: Strategies for Home, Community, and World (Brubaker, Peters, and Stivers, eds.)
- Global Neighbor (Hicks…)
- Cannibals with Forks: The Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business (Elkington)
- “A Brief History of Consumer Activism,” (Lang & Gabriel) in The Ethical Consumer (Harrison, Newholm, and Shaw).
- Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins, (De La Torre)
- Faith, Morals and Money (Zinbarg)
- No Logo (Klein)
- Culture Jam (Lasn)