An Editorial Note from Our National Director
One of my initial convictions when I became the National Director of Missio Alliance was that the incredible theological work that we were doing needed to find its equivalent expression in our actual communities, particularly as it related to justice-seeking and confronting systemic inequalities. Naming injustice and expounding on its theological foundations is not new for us. However, finding ways to take practical steps to address the issues facing communities on the margins has been a growing edge for Missio Alliance. In light of this, I’m thrilled to add Join the Resistance by Michelle Ferrigno Warren to our Missio Alliance/IVP line of books, and to use this space as a catalyst to further expand our efforts in bringing our robust theological convictions about justice to the grassroots level, where they are most needed.
In this spirit, I asked my friend Michelle to help us not only think deeply about the work of advocacy and activism as followers of Christ, but more importantly, to call us to move forward in responsive action that beats with God’s heart for justice and wholeness. I pray that her reflections will clarify how you are to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).
– Lisa Rodriguez-Watson, National Director
Lisa: At Missio Alliance, we believe that the pursuit of justice is crucial to reshaping the church’s witness in the world. How do we engage in the work of advocacy and activism in a healthy and transformative posture? Where do Christian leaders who are beginning this work start?
It’s important to realize you cannot fix problems you do not understand. That is why I believe justice work starts by becoming proximate to it. Leaning in and learning from those impacted by social concerns is the most important first step to the work of social change. Getting to know people impacted by issues and not simply learning about those issues enables natural next steps to join them in what becomes your shared efforts toward justice and restoration. It’s important to realize you cannot fix problems you do not understand. Leaning in and learning from those impacted by social concerns is the most important first step to the work of social change. Click To Tweet
I teach a seminary class called Political Advocacy, Doing Justice in the Public Square. On the first day of class, I always ask my students to write down which areas of injustice motivated them to take my class. Eagerly, students quickly scribble down all types of injustice that need to be confronted. That question generates a lot of energy in the room even though I never ask them to verbally share what they are writing. I then ask them to write down how many years they plan on working on these issues. The energy begins to fade as they are challenged with committing to a timeline, knowing that the work of justice is not instantaneous—otherwise it would already be done. Finally, I ask them what I believe is the most important question of all: Do you personally know anyone who is directly impacted by these issues? By the time students write down their answers, usually the room is quite deflated. I realized over the years that almost no one actually knows, interacts, lives alongside, or has long-term relationships with people directly impacted by systemic injustice.
A common phrase used in community development and organizing work is “Those who are closest to the pain are also closest to the solution.” We engage in the work of alleviating injustice by drawing near to those impacted and joining them in solidarity.
Another crucial element in transformative activism is the posture of humility. Micah 6:8 is a concise and helpful guide to honoring God: Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly. Micah’s charge to jump in and do justice is important and powerful. We need that kind of high-level action to actually move barriers. Loving mercy—constantly giving, forgiving, and responding with kindness and grace to all, which includes those who do not agree with our ideals or our methods, and who may even work against our efforts—is really hard to extend.
The final one—walking humbly—is the one I often wish was listed first. That unglamorous posture of submission and following after God is the key ingredient to an activism that can be defined by health and transformation. This transformation begins with us and compels us towards a posture that centers others.
We see Jesus’ incarnation as the best example of humility. Jesus left heaven, emptying himself of his rights and privileges to become human, to walk among people he was restoring and redeeming. Jesus—God himself—came to serve the work of the Father’s restorative plan (see Matt 20:28, Mark 10:45). Defining a posture of humility is paramount as we walk deeply into the work of advocacy and activism alongside those impacted, all with the mindset of serving the broader movement.
Lisa: In 2022, we have arrived at a moment in our cultural dialogue where the vast majority of people see social media activism as activism itself. In other words—I retweet a statement or throw a post up on Instagram, and I have done my part to demonstrate my solidarity. We both know that #activism falls deeply short of true solidarity. What more is needed?
Advocacy involves bringing your convictions to the public square to make change. Social media can put you out there with your opinions, but it is outside the real work of impacting substantive change. The reason I believe this to be true is twofold. First, social media centers commenting on issues and not actually doing said work. Secondly, the digital space prevents you from physically participating in, joining with, and influencing change alongside people who are directly impacted by injustice.
Advocacy involves bringing your convictions to the public square to make change. Social media can put you out there with your opinions, but it is outside the real work of impacting substantive change. Click To Tweet
I am a mother of sons. There’s a lot that can be said about this, but for this moment I share it because although I do not enjoy football, I have a fantasy football league. During football season I faithfully change out my team roster each week and work to not be an embarrassment to myself as I attempt to participate in this modified version of the sport. Fantasy leagues give you the idea of being involved in the teams. It gets your competitive muscles moving, your quick-witted smack talk at the ready, and your adrenaline surging as though you’re actually on the field yourself.
Sure, it can be fun (and frustrating!); but it’s not actually playing football. It doesn’t contribute to the actual success of any player or team. No matter what opinion I may or may not have on Dak Prescott’s broken hand this season, my virtual commenting is not contributing to anything of substance. I am on the sidelines in the virtual world, feeling connected, but not making any lasting impact or providing any real support to those who are.
Social media is very similar to this. It can fuel a lot of emotions and opinions and even make you feel brave as you put your comments out there in public. But again, this is not where the real work of reversing injustice is done. Systemic oppression needs voices attached to bodies, moving forward, talking to power to work toward its reversal. Social concerns, injustice, and oppression don’t have silver bullet solutions. Often, when you begin to unravel one aspect of injustice, you become aware of the need to pivot to the next. Building ongoing skill sets for advocacy as well as relationships with those in power enables you to stay at the table and do the long work of reversing injustice.
Social concerns, injustice, and oppression don’t have silver bullet solutions. Often, when you begin to unravel one aspect of injustice, you become aware of the need to pivot to the next. Click To Tweet
Social media can help support the subtle shifting of societal norms by sharing what is happening in the streets, the halls of power, and the public square. It can help tell the story of change that is being done, but it’s not an effective effort that results in the deep, ongoing transformational repair that we need.
Faith-rooted activism that includes advocacy is full-body movement forward, putting our commitment of love on full display. Jesus’ radical, confronting message of a new kingdom defied power, religious practices, and superiority. Evidenced in humbly dwelling on earth, he demonstrated for us a new way forward, weaving together the justice of God with the sacrificial love of Christ. We see in 1 John 3:18 that it is not enough to simply love in words and speech, but we must love in action and in truth.
This long, restorative justice work is the slow work of the kingdom. Whether pursuing the justice of God toward individual, societal, or structural entities, we join with Christ in his redemptive work of restoration, not just in word. Our living public witness to the wholeness of God’s restoration is the good, necessary work of the people of God.
Being able to see the pain, brokenness, injustice, and oppression is a grace; to tell its truth is transformative.Once we see the truth, we can accept our commission to join Jesus in his ongoing redemptive, restorative work. This restorative justice work gives birth to and compels us toward honest action that resists oppression and injustice at every level, especially the oppression of the vulnerable. Being able to see the pain, brokenness, injustice, and oppression is a grace; to tell its truth is transformative. Click To Tweet
Lisa: Decades ago, Dr. Martin Luthur King said, “True peace is not the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice.” Now is a prophetic time for the church to understand and reengage her role in peacemaking, which is distinct from peacekeeping. How has the wide cultural disruption of the past few years set the stage for the church to live more holistically and faithfully as peacemakers?
We have a choice—an opportunity to be honest about what is happening in the world—to see its evil, hear its evil, and speak its evil. Injustice does not just happen, and it does not repair itself, so how are Christians supposed to confront it? I believe they need to do it by truth-telling and repair.
Since the beginning of time when everything that was good became broken, putting evil on full display, humanity has been working to cover up its guilt and shame. It began with the story of Adam and Eve working to hide and cover what they had done from God. It continues with people today. Humanity has excelled at running from the truth of its past and present, trying hard to avoid any blame.
I have always appreciated the leadership and work of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. As the leader of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he was given the responsibility of bringing a divided country toward restoration. He was committed to honest restoration that began with the truth. “There [can] be no reconciliation . . . without the truth. The truth prevents us from pretending that the things that happened did not happen.”
The truth is powerful! It shakes up the core of what is really going on. The prophets’ truth-telling led them to be hated, brutalized, and even put to death. This is why telling the truth is really hard to do—it comes with a price. However, it’s the only way we are going to move closer to a more proximate justice. There cannot be transformation, healing, or restoration without truth. The truth shall set you free (see John 8:32).
Being truth-tellers should not be hard for Christians who say they are defined by following Jesus, who called himself “the Truth,” and yet we struggle and squirm when faced with it. We need to be committed to bring what’s going on in our own hearts and minds, in our churches, and in our wider societal systems out into the light so that its truth can be told. Only after an honest reckoning can we move toward repair. Tutu shares, “We are not responsible for what breaks us, but we can be responsible for what puts us back together again. Naming the hurt is how we begin to repair our broken parts.” And we need to repair our broken parts.
In Amos 5:24, the prophet paints a metaphoric picture of streams and rivers where righteousness and justice generously flow downward so that all can benefit from its waters. Righteousness, from the Hebrew word tsedaqah, calls people to right actions beyond individual piety, encapsulating the rightness between people regardless of social differences. Justice, or mishpat, moves well beyond judgment for wrongdoing to include fairness and equity. Restoring people, structures, and systems to their most productive place, misphat (justice) centers restoration of the whole, especially the poor.
Where tsedaqah (righteousness) calls people to do what is right, those actions become mishpat (justice) when the people of God embody and put them into practice. To live a righteous life requires working toward the health and restoration of the whole, ensuring that people, regardless of wealth or station, have equitable societal structures. To live a righteous life requires working toward the health and restoration of the whole, ensuring that people, regardless of wealth or station, have equitable societal structures. Click To Tweet
This commitment to righteousness and justice brings about repair and restoration. Peacekeeping allows the status quo to remain intact, whereas peacemaking works toward the righteousness and justice of individuals and their societies and systems. Peacemaking is therefore rather simple in its structure—be honest about what has and is really going on, and work toward its healing and repair.
Missio Alliance encourages you to order your copy of Join the Resistance today.