March 30, 2012 by Kyle
I’ve been trying to reconcile the lack of emphasis on issues of justice while going through years of training at various Evangelical institutions of higher learning. I have gone through four institutions gathering a bachelor’s degree and two master degrees. It was only until I reached the last institution that I received some formal training on matters of justice and mercy within the community and society as a whole. This begs the question…why? My father was a pastor of a small Baptist church in South Philly for eleven years. He provided me with a ‘baptism by fire’ introduction into the world of ministry to marginalized people. After my father’s time as a pastor, he established a mission in the heart of North Philadelphia that reaches the homeless and addicts with both the gospel and good deeds. As a PK my introduction into matters of justice and mercy began with an early introduction to James Cone, Cain Hope Felder and John Perkins. It was my privilege to discuss topics like institutional and systemic racism as well as how to genuinely help hurting people who are both desperate and depraved.
Going off to college, I found myself associating matters of justice with the more liberal forms of Evangelicalism. This was a direct correlation to the mostly negative teaching on ministry that addresses the plight of marginalized and oppressed people. In certain circles, social issues were outside of the responsibility of Jesus’ mandate for the church. “Make disciples” was the message and that message did not consist of advocating for the underrepresented in the court system or providing after school tutoring for kids from the projects. We were trained to “preach the word”, exegete the text and leave God to change hearts. The role of the church was essentially that of a theater, spectators viewing and judging the exegetical prowess of the man or woman who would didactically and dynamically expound the text. Please don’t hear me saying that the ministry of preaching/teaching is unimportant but it must accompany good works.
The reality is that for most of Evangelical churches anything beyond a Friday night youth group, or Sunday School or Sunday Evening Pot-Luck or a 5-Day Revival should be left to the mainline elites to provide a temporary ‘Band-Aid’ for poor folk and their pervasive laziness. Let the liberals march for injustice; we have small group and break-out sessions on Thursdays. Many would satisfy their, ‘ministering to the marginalized’ quotient by going on a short term mission trip to a Third World country, then coming back to testifying about how it changed their life… the results last a week and its back to normal. I can remember on more than one occasion friends from undergrad slipping up and giving a back handed compliment about the Black churches’ emphasis on addressing social issues. I cringed back then, but now I recognize that in many ways the Black church was light years ahead of our brothers and sisters who worship in other contexts. The reality is that context matters when it comes to theological emphasis. For many who worship and live within at-risk communities, the themes within the text of Scripture that address justice and mercy are plentiful and undeniable. The notion that those who step to the text can do it without a predisposed cultural lens is untenable. Social privilege impacts the way one views Scripture in much the same way that social disenfranchisement affects the way one views Scripture.
It wasn’t until my most recent seminary experience that I realized just how much the Bible says about justice for all of society. It must be stated that the theme of social justice is not something that originated in the 1960’s during the Civil Rights movement, but instead it goes back to the God’s desire for justice, mercy and humility. (Micah 6:8) A reading of the Mosaic Law gives us insight into God’s prescription for ‘just’ communities where the poor, marginalized, foreigner and widower are important and respected regardless of what they can or cannot contribute to society as a whole. (Exodus 23:6; Deuteronomy 24:10-11) There is so much on the topic of how the people of God ought to treat those who are the “least of these” that it would require more space and time than I have in this venue. (Matthew 25:31-46)
 I don’t mean to be harsh but I’ve seen this so often. A brief experience with the poor in a foreign land trumps real reconciliation with neighbors across the tracks.
 Churches serving the disenfranchised should recognize that they have no choice but to engage in the issues that impact the quality of life for that community. The example of Jesus who was born among the disenfranchised provides an undeniable model of incarnational ministry. It seems that many churches that minister in a privileged context which have not reached beyond their comfort zone may want to take a fresh look at the gospels and perhaps read and hear teaching that is not sourced in their community. A venture outside of one’s context will provide a unique perspective. This is suggested if one is mature enough to discern potential false teaching. It would be good to hear how preachers/teachers from different context approach a passage like Luke 4:16-18.
 Biblical themes of justice, mercy and liberation are so significant for people who’ve been victims of Euro-Colonialism. The history of American style chattel slavery, segregation and the suppressive systems provided fertile ground for the growth of theological systems focused on themes of justice and mercy.