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How Faith and Justice Build God’s Kingdom

An interview with pastor and author Mae Cannon

In 2009, Nicholas D. Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, set off a firestorm with their national bestseller, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. In the book, this power couple lays out "an agenda for the world's women focusing on three particular abuses: sex trafficking and forced prostitution; gender-based violence, including honor killings and mass rape; and maternal mortality, which still needlessly claims one woman a minute." This is an agenda that evangelical women all across the country are grabbing hold of. Kristof and WuDunn write, "Women aren't the problem but the solution. The plight of girls is no more a tragedy than an opportunity."

Through small groups, friendships, writing, speaking, advocating, and generous giving through online networks, churches and nonprofit organizations, evangelical women are taking a stand for justice and covenanting to be part of the solution to turn oppression into opportunity for women and all who are oppressed throughout the world. They are advocating and doing this work of justice with a strong conviction that kingdom building is the work of the church. I was honored to sit with author, pastor, and World Vision advocate Rev. Mae Cannon to discuss the challenges and convictions concerning justice, advocacy, and the work of women in the church.

What is the role of the church?

To consider the church's role from a biblical perspective, we really need to look at the Scriptures in terms of what they say about God's mandate for the church. Too often in our Christian American tradition, we have bifurcations where some churches think that the role of the church is social engagement and responding to the needs of the poor. They look to Matthew 25, which presents our responses to the needs of the least of these. They believe we should respond to those in Jesus' name and that's the role of the church. On the other hand, we have churches that look at passages like Matthew 28 and conclude, "Make disciples of all nations. We are going to evangelize and teach people about Jesus." I believe the church's role, in terms of holistic mission and engagement in justice, is the combination of those two, and we should not bifurcate them. So it's not evangelism apart from justice, but it's evangelism for the sake of God's justice being manifested in the world.

In that regard, as an evangelical leader and pastor, I believe part of what the church needs to reclaim is God's perspective concerning the kingdom of God on earth, which is inclusive of teachings about the person and work of Christ and evangelism. The kingdom of God on earth is also inclusive of responding to the needs of the least of these and being advocates for justice by looking at systemic issues that cause poverty, grief, and suffering in the world.

I see that you share the conviction of the Lausanne Congress 2010: The whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world. How does your experience in advocacy and as a pastor inform your view of the local church's role in meeting the needs of our world?

As an advocate and pastor, I've seen a lot of Christian leaders who engage in works of mercy and justice, but it's not sustainable because we get burned out and we take upon ourselves this mission of trying to change the world.

I address this concern in my newest book, Just Spirituality: How Faith Practices Fuel Social Action. By exploring the lives of notable Christian leaders and advocates like Mother Teresa; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; Watchman Nee; and Dietrich Bonhoeffer; I attempt to look at how we can stay intimately connected with God through spiritual disciplines such as Sabbath, prayer, and Scripture.

When we intimately engage with God, we can allow his presence to fuel our engagement with the world so our work can be sustainable. Ultimately, God does not need us to do his work of justice. He is a just God, he is a good God. He doesn't need me to make the world right, but he chooses to use us in that way. So by being disciplined we can stay intimately connected with God, and allow him to work through us.

Given this understanding, What is your hope, your dream for women, particularly Christian women, and their contributions to the church and the world?

My dream is that women will be free to fully be who God created them to be, in whatever capacity—it's not just pastoral leadership, but it does include leading the church. When considering Christianity in America, there are still so many ways that the church is suffering because women have not been set free to use their gifts. I was just having this conversation with the wife of a dear friend of mine. She said to me, "Mae, it's not the man who runs the conference that invites you to the table. God gave you the gifts, so he's going to give you the space to use them." So I answer your question with a question, "How do we honor God by stewarding the gifts that he has given us, and not be confined by power structures that might limit the role women can play?"

Connect with Mae Cannon: https://www.facebook.com/justspirituality and @reverendmae.

Natasha Sistrunk Robinson is a full-time student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC, campus (Christian Leadership). She also serves as co-director of the women's mentoring ministry at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. She is a blogger, a writer, and the founder and president of His Glory on Earth Ministries. You can connect with Natasha through her blog, Twitter, or Facebook.

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June27, 2013 at 8:00 AM

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