Americans live in a cocoon. This cocoon—made from the interwoven silks of economic, political, and ideological freedoms—effectively isolates us from connecting to (or fully understanding) the way in which the vast majority of people on this planet live. Here are some basic figures about life outside that cocoon: One third of the world—that’s about two billion men, women, and children—lives on less than $2 a day. That’s $60 a month, $720 a year. Some of us spend that much on our cars each month (car payment, insurance, gas, and so on). That ought to be enough for us to realize there’s a need.
Our national economy and political freedoms are not the only things that separate us from understanding the way the majority of the world lives. We further separate ourselves as believers by refusing to educate ourselves on the more than 2,000 verses in Scripture that clearly reveal the following perspectives: God’s heart for the poor and oppressed; the true condition of our world; our responsibility and opportunity to spread the gospel by serving others in need; and the promise that God will empower His children to accomplish His goal of justice and mercy for all the world through His Son, Jesus Christ.
As Christ-followers in the United States, we tend to feed ravenously on every passage of Scripture that refers to the blessings we receive from God. While we gorge ourselves on those verses, we by and large give very little time to the many passages that speak of self-denial, service, sacrifice, suffering for the sake of the gospel, and sharing in the misery of others.
As quick as I am to judge our actions as the people of God toward the poor and oppressed (I put myself at the front of the line), I’m equally quick to absolve most believers from blame for our collective inactivity. In fact, I’m surprised that we aren’t even less aware than we currently are of the global crises that plague the majority of humankind. Given how sparingly Scripture regarding God’s desire for our involvement in social action is preached, it is amazing that these issues are acknowledged at all. This is our first and greatest problem.
The cynical side of me thinks that social justice is not preached because people who are poor and oppressed can’t do the two things that most preachers want everyone to do—attend their churches and give to their causes. Additionally, my own experience as a pastor helps me understand that these topics are not addressed from the pulpit because “service” and “sacrifice” in Jesus’ name is difficult to teach in today’s consumer-driven church culture.
In such a culture, the preacher is only as good as his last sermon. He is rated by the straw poll every week as people gather in the lobby to talk about their approval or disapproval of the day’s message. In this environment, many preachers stay away from the controversial subjects out of concern for reprisal in the form of lower attendance.
Secondly, our churches aren’t structured toward responding effectively to these global issues. Many churches in the U.S. today, especially the larger they get, become like country clubs rather than spiritual hospitals. Over time we become concerned about our needs more than the needs of others. We become so focused on our own personal or corporate growth and maturity in Christ that we miss out on countless opportunities to grow and mature through service and sacrifice.
Church slowly becomes all about us and little else. Reggie McNeal puts it this way: “[Church] members obviously have needs for pastoral care and spiritual growth. It is critical that these issues be addressed. However, I am raising the question of how many church activities for the already-saved are justified where there are people out there who have never been touched with Jesus’ love? The answer is a whole lot less than we’ve got going on now.”1
Excerpted from the Threads short-term study Get Uncomfortable, by Todd Phillips.
Reggie McNeal, *Present Future* (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003), 32.