Links

"Organizing is a way to integrate my faith and everyday life"

Grant Stevensen is the pastor at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Minn., and president of ISAIAH, an organization with 90 member churches in the Twin Cities and St. Cloud, Minn., united for social racial and economic justice. He has been involved in organizing for 10 years.

My spiritual tradition (Lutheran) is a part of what sometimes is called "mainline churches." These churches are led by professionally trained pastors who often share the progressive values and convictions of social and racial equity, community and justice. We have rich traditions of theology that support and shape our beliefs that we are created for community and that care for the earth and each other is a godly act.

We also tend to turn our noses up a little bit at those who come from traditions which are not professionalized in the way that ours is, and that preach a "me and Jesus" theology which we find quaint, simplistic and, if we were honest, heretical.

What I find so challenging is that those "me and Jesus" types, or evangelicals, are more likely to act in a communal way with each other and with others than are we professionally trained - but theologically correct - types. I hate to admit it, but there are Biblical examples having to do with Pharisees and Sadducees that would indicate this is not a new problem.

I refuse to believe that having a theology that emphasizes justice and right community somehow leads us away from acting out those values. Yet I am challenged by the reality I see around me and within me.

This much is sure: being theologically smart isn't going to save the world. Organizing has been, for me, a way to integrate my faith and everyday life, because in organizing we practice the tools and disciplines of relationship building and community justice.

Comments

Hi, my name is Nathan--I'm a regular reader and a student at Carleton College.

I think this is a great post that raises a very important point.

You say that evangelicals are "more likely to act in a communal way" than their Lutheran counterparts. If I am understanding correctly, you don't mean that they embody the principles of community through the causes they advocate for, but that they are more likely to be engaged in broad-based social activism to begin with.

So the question implied by your post is: why are those on one end of the spectrum more active than those on the other?

I'd love to hear anything that you (or any of the other BtP contributors) could offer up by way of explanation as to what accounts for differentials in movement enthusiasm.

If I could take a stab at the question: while there may be much more discussion of social justice-related issues in the Bible than there is of the main rallying issues among evangelicals (homosexuality, for instance), it seems that the evangelicals have more effectively packaged their issues as posing a direct threat to the faith itself.

For instance, leading Christian social activists of a more progressive bent--Tony Campolo comes to mind--don't frequently talk about poverty using grandiose language such as "poverty is offensive to God, and if we are complicit in allowing it to continue, we will all be damned!" Among evangelicals, however, homosexuality, abortion, and other issues are frequently cast as epic battles between some insidious force and the decent Christian folk.

To what extent do you believe packaging of the issues is a significant variable? Or is it simply in keeping the peer-to-peer approach of a "me-and-Jesus" framework that people would tap into their peer networks more readily?

And perhaps most importantly, how does one go about closing the activism gap?

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs