Rescued by a social justice Christian

by Kristin on March 24, 2010

in Belief, doubt & hope

Photo by 111 Emergency

For two weeks now, I’ve been trying to keep my anger and outrage to a simmer. It was two weeks ago that I read this Sojourner’s post about Glenn Beck, who told his TV audience to leave churches that use the phrase “social justice,” because those are code words for communism and Nazism.

While there’s definitely a part of me that just rolls my eyes at such outrageous statements, and thinks it’s best to just ignore them, there’s another, more feisty and combative part of me that can hardly bear not to throw some punches. I realize Beck might just being saying outrageous things to get people like me worked up, but  I get really upset when I think about the people who swallow everything he says. It’s hard to shrug and walk away from.

Thankfully, many really smart people have already countered Beck’s statements—just look at the variety of posts in response at Sojourners since March 10. And I feel like God has been teaching me, during Lent, to dial back my feistiness. I think he gave me this personality trait, without a doubt, but I also think it can work against me and the larger good I’m trying to promote.

Storytime: One way Jesus handled his outrage

Jesus, after all, was feisty but not argumentative. Jesus often got his point across by telling stories. I have a story that relates to this. It’s not a story meant to prove Glenn Beck wrong as much as it’s a story about why I take this issue so much to heart. It’s a story about being rescued by a social justice Christian.

When I first moved to Central Illinois in 2001, I was going through a very difficult personal time. I was angry at God and was feeling more condemnation than love at the church I was going to. I stuck it out through many difficult months and many long conversations with the pastor and friends at the church, but the situation got worse rather than better. I began feeling like my faith had died, along with my desire to have anything to do with Christian community.

Not long before I walked away from that church, without looking back, a guest speaker named Jeff Trask visited an adult Sunday School session I was in. Pastor Jeff is the mercy and justice pastor at another church, and is also one of the most dedicated mercy and justice workers in our community (I would venture to say THE most dedicated and visible one). The church I was going to at the time does care about social justice issues, particularly economic justice issues—that’s why they invited Pastor Jeff to speak. But the good work they were doing in the community was so clouded over, for me, by the hurt that was taking place within the church.

Social justice Christianity is a part of my roots

As I listened that Sunday morning to Pastor Jeff talk about the great need in our community, and the biblical mandate to do acts of justice and mercy, I felt sad that so many churches devote so much time to relatively petty internal issues. I felt sad that people were being hurt in the church, when that time and energy could be devoted to helping people outside of the church. I remembered my United Methodist upbringing, and the dedicated models of mercy and justice Christianity my parents have always been. I remembered all of the things about Jesus’ life and teachings—his quiet yet powerful acts of mercy and justice—that made me fall in love with him in the first place. My tired, hurting soul was stirring, just a bit.

Brought home by compassion

Months later, after leaving the church with no intention of looking for a new one, I visited my friend Becca in St. Louis. She urged me to give a different kind of church a chance—to not throw the baby out with the bathwater. She had a point.

The next day, back in my own town, I went to a cafe in the evening to get some work done. Pastor Jeff walked in. We chatted for a while about his church and their work. He asked me how I was doing, and I told him about my divorce and that I had left my church. As we said goodbye and I sat down to work, I knew where I would be going to worship that next Sunday.

What is this story really about? Ultimately, for me, it’s about this: The world is hurting—my own community is hurting—yet churches bicker about music styles and homosexualtiy and whether to build a new building or buy a new piano.

Pastor Jeff and his church, New Covenant Fellowship, didn’t save me, of course, and my new church is not a perfect church, either. It is the place, however, that refocused my vision on all of the things about Jesus that have stirred my heart and soul from the start.

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  • Monicarolevans

    I most often read your posts when you tweet them, rather than in my reader. (my reader is overly crowded)

    But to my point.

    Everything I read of yours touches me in a very special way. You amaze me.

    In this post, you summarized so much of my own angst with the church and with “church folk” and why, in spite of that, I’m starting Divinity school in the fall. I don’t understand how some people can claim Christianity, and not practice the beautiful message of Jesus (love , forgiveness, acceptance, and service.

    I’ve also been trying to figure out how to be more “Christian” in my own blog posts. You give a fabulous example here.

    Thank you for another amazing post.

  • Tara Mohr

    Beautiful. As always.

    Yes, the world is hurting and we are all called to pay attention to that.

    When social justice is being discussed as a form of Naziism, we know some part of our world has gone insane.


  • ed cyzewski

    Isn’t it wonderful when we are pulled back from the brink of losing our faith when we learn that we didn’t have the whole story after all? Thanks for sharing your story here.

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  • Kristin T.

    Monica, I will definitely keep tweeting my new posts, then! I try to limit how often I do it, but I’m with you—my reader is too full, and I often visit blogs more spontaneously. Anyway, your comment here made my day! And I’m so excited for you and your journey—to be filled with frustration and angst, but to keep moving in the direction of God’s love and truth by going to Divinity school, is an amazing thing. I’ll look forward to seeing how it all translates to your blog, too. Go, girl!!

    Tara, you’re right—when having compassion and looking out for others is characterized as an evil, dangerous thing, we know things are truly awry in our world. Thank you for being so encouraging to me, and for being a part of the change of perspective that needs to be shared and spread. Your blog is a part of that work, too!

    ed, yes, there were so many parts of God’s story that were missing, or that I had all wrong. I think telling our own stories is an important part of helping others to get a bigger picture of God’s story. Thanks for being one of the good story tellers. :)

  • Susan

    Exactly. I can empathize why so many people are turned off from church, have no intention of going back, or consider themselves agnostic. Church focuses on so many things that just don’t make sense to me. Where’s the unconditional love? Where’s the outreach? The acceptance?

    It just seems like the focus is skewed and doing the opposite of what most religions, including Christianity, actually preach.

  • Sam

    Glenn Beck’s words made me angry, too, and laugh, because he really doesn’t get it. I think he’s eager to court the right wing Christians and yet, dude, what gives? What I don’t understand is that they condemn anyone on welfare or receiving food stamps, but now churches aren’t supposed to feed the hungry, advocate for the oppressed? I mean, if the Church doesn’t do these things, how many more people would depend on the government?

    Okay, but I digress. I love that you were thrown a lifeline in the middle of a really disheartening time. God is so good to us, always providing a way out and through. This is encouragement to me, as it seems like we can’t find the right church to join or invest in, but it’s important that we keep trying. I am trying to remember that no church is perfect, not even our beloved ‘home’ church…

  • Kristin T.

    Susan, where’s the unconditional love and acceptance, indeed!! The irony of it all is that if we were really good at all of that—completely natural—we wouldn’t need Jesus. There’s too much insecurity and pride in our world, and a huge desire for power and control. But even though I can get the fact that we’re not all going to be perfect at seeing people the way God does, I *don’t* get how people can use their religion as rationale for spreading hatred.

    Sam, I know. I don’t get any of it either. Sometimes I think GB knows exactly how ludicrous he’s being, and is just on some huge power trip, making people either swallow his b.s. or get all outraged. And sometimes I think there are a lot of people out there who really believe in the “survival of the fittest” and “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentalities. In other words, they say they just don’t want the government and tax dollars helping people, but in reality, they don’t want to help people at all. It’s SO sad. (In the midst of the mess, you are right: God is so good to us. I know he will be faithful to you in your search for a church home.)

  • Becca


    Thanks for a lovely website and a great posting.

    Do you think you could link to us to help more Christians “do justice”? We connect volunteers based on country/skill/zipcode…we even have opportunities for people to help the poor without leaving home—it’s at

    Becca N.