With the renewed focus on race relations and social justice in the U.S., many Americans, including American and even worldwide Christians feel the pressure to re-prioritize, or at least review our hierarchy of values and ministry efforts. So what should we focus on?
The Great Commission of Jesus is certainly our highest level priority, which has two parts: preach the gospel and make disciples. This individual-focused command has two foci, the unconverted (preach) and the converted (disciple). We are to proclaim the gospel in words and deeds, and we are to nurture believers to maturity. It may be argued that all of what we do should fall under these two categories. If we are not fitting our lives into these two priorities, we are probably NOT following Jesus.
But how does this translate into impacting and healing our cultures and societies? How do we love our corporate neighbor? Are we to be pietists who focus inwardly and let the culture slide into damaging and unhealthy worldviews, or do we do intellectual and spiritual battle through proclamation and service in the organs of culture such as government, education, and entertainment?
The best answer I can find is that we MUST work these realms to bring justice, wisdom, and virtue, not by coercion or manipulation of the system, but by the patient and bold persuasion of proclamation, education, and demonstration of the biblical truths that lead to life. Education and loving service to our fellow man are the methods. But on what issues of social health should we focus?
The Evangelical Center and “For the Health of the Nation”
Evangelicals themselves now have a considerable left/right split in the US which has existed for decades, though many may only be aware of the conservative side of the spectrum. In fact, a movement known as the Evangelical Center was pioneered by leaders of the Evangelical Left like the late David Gushee and Ron Sider, attempting to bridge the gap between the priorities of the left and right ends of the Evangelical spectrum.
Most people don’t know how successful they have been in some major Evangelical expressions, notably in moving the focus to the center at Christianity Today, the flagship Christian magazine started by Billy Graham, and the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE).
In 2004, the NAE published a thoughtful list of civic priorities for the Christian entitled For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility, which contained a helpful list of priorities on which the Church should focus our efforts in discipling and healing our culture. This list brings together the priorities of the right and left (right towards the top, left towards the bottom, with the more shared priority of helping the poor in the middle of the list. I still find this list comprehensive and helpful for our efforts:
- Protecting religious freedom and liberty of conscience
- Safeguarding the nature and sanctity of human life
- Strengthening marriages, families and children
- Seeking justice and compassion for the poor and vulnerable
- Preserving human rights
- Pursuing racial justice and reconciliation
- Promoting just peace and restraining violence
- Caring for God’s creation
Each of these categories have some sub-parts to focus on, but this forms a nice overview of what we should be focusing on. Yes, racial justice and reconciliation is our current focus, but let’s not lose focus on the entirety of what we should be doing while the Master is away.