What do a pastor, a politician, and a pop star have in common? Until recently, not much. But Bono, lead singer of the band U2, has managed to unite these unlikely groups around the issue of social justice. As a self-appointed ambassador for the poor, Bono has helped the evangelical church in America become more sensitive to those in need around the world and awakened our marginalized, or in some places forgotten, call to seek justice. But, is the new focus on social justice just another pop-Christian trend? This week Dan Kimball, pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California, ponders that question.
I had a very, very haunting conversation with a good friend who is a pastor at a church in southern California. We hadn't seen each other for awhile and as we were catching up he was excited about a ministry he was starting with used clothing stores where all the profit goes to orphanages. My friend has had social justice and compassion ministries as major part of his church ethos since it began many years ago, definitely in the PB (pre-Bono) dispensation.
As he was showing me photos of his latest venture with the clothing stores he stopped and said, almost with embarrassment, "This sounds really trendy, doesn't it?" What was haunting to me and what I have thought about since the conversation I had with my friend, is what if it is true? What if social justice and compassion projects are simply the latest trend?
In recent years many churches have become involved in social justice issues, or at least talking about it. Saddleback and Willow Creek have both jumped onboard very strongly, including being a global voice for AIDS. I rarely ever go to a Christian concert, but during the last two I attended videos were shown of the band members in Africa talking about helping with Compassion International and the Invisible Children. And lately it seems at every leaders now bring attention to some international compassion or social justice project they are supporting. This is all so wonderful and must please Jesus so incredibly much.
Bono has certainly caused us all to really evaluate the "sleeping giant" (what he called the church several years ago) and how the church was ignoring the poverty, injustice, and AIDS crisis. He recently said the church has woken up and has now taken notice. But, will it last or will it fade like every other trend?
My friend's comment got me thinking because over the years I have seen the church get excited about "small groups", or about being "seeker sensitive," or "Vineyard worship music" and other various bandwagons the church jumps on for a season. And there have been many other trends that I wasn't a part of like cell churches, or using the baseball diamond for assimilation, or the breakouts of laughing in the Spirit by certain types of churches, or radio preaching, or whatever it may be. Whatever the trend the routine is the same. First there is excitement, then early innovators adopt them (maybe not the laughing in the Spirit), then in time most churches may do it. But eventually, it passes and we wait for the next "new" thing.
I keep wondering if all the attention the church at large is now rightfully and biblically giving to social justice could fade through time. Will we still see Christian bands showing videos of themselves in Africa five years from now? Will conferences spend time promoting compassion ministries and AIDS awareness five or ten years in the future? Will all the pastors and church leaders who today are such strong voices justice to the people in their churches still maintain that voice in the years ahead?
Of course, even if for some Christians and churches it is only a short-term trend even doing something short while still helps people and is greatly needed. So, I don't want to dismiss those who jump in while the conversation is prominent, as any help is very, very welcomed. But it seems horribly sad if this rising interest in justice is only-short term. I hope that is avoided, and the rising interest in compassion for the poor, AIDS, and caring for those with needs locally will not simply be a "trend." Hopefully it won't fade away, but instead we will come to see it as central to what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. I guess time will tell.