It was Saturday afternoon and my daughter and I were running errands. We approached a busy intersection where a cluster of protesters on each corner were trying to draw the attention of passers by with shouts and bright signs that read “Honk if you hate puppy mills!” As we drove by I asked my daughter how she thought the world would be different because of the horn-honking protests, to which she poignantly stated, “It’ll make the world louder.”
She’s right. In a world that already screams brokenness, I fear that sometimes our protests just create more noise.
Don’t get me wrong; I am for activism. The world we live in needs activists now as much as we ever have. However, it seems that we are missing the mark when our attempts to elicit change are relegated to proverbial horn-honkings radical retweets, pious profile pictures, and courageously clicking “Like” to broadcast our beliefs.
I am for awareness and education. I am for demonstrations of unity among people toward causes. But compassion without action is mere pity. I am afraid we have entered a new era of bumper sticker Christianity found in cyber-slacktivism. How unfortunate that we, the Millennial generation, whose great desire is to believe that our lives can make a significant impact, could be rendered largely impotent by the technologies we believe make us effective.
So how can we be careful to move from mere awareness in our activism . . . to actual action . . . making a practical difference instead of just more noise?
We can mourn deeply.
We are inundated with information about what is happening around us. And although awareness of current events has benefits, the volume of information that passes through our minds on a daily basis gives us little room to process, and thereby little time to consider the implications of tragedies and grieve before we move on to what is next. When we rush grieving, staggering numbers of orphans or horrifying death tolls are reduced to impersonal statistics rather that stories of human beings suffering. Without taking time to process the pains of the world we can become desensitized to the actual needs of the world. It is good for us to pause and mourn deeply the brokenness, hurt, and oppression in the world. In order to care enough to seek practical action for change, we must take the time to allow our hearts to break for what breaks God’s heart.
We can pray tenaciously.
Contrary to what we may feel at times, prayer is not inactivity. Consider Nehemiah who prayed tenaciously for months about one cause — praising God for His greatness and loyal love, confessing sins against the Lord, and pleading with the Almighty for redemption (Nehemiah 1:4-11).
The news and social media only expose a fraction of the brokenness, destruction, and tribulation in our world. As the world looked at Paris in the wake of terrorism there, we mostly ignored the natural disasters in Japan, and the devastating oppression in Beirut. While we should allow news coverage we see to influence our prayers, we shouldn’t wait for the news to pray. God has already given us a thorough agenda: pray for the orphan, widow, foreigner, refugee, homeless, hurting, naked, hungry, thirsty, imprisoned, oppressed, persecuted and even our enemies.
We can witness diligently.
Do people know more about what you’re for or what you’re against? I know the people protesting on the street corner were against puppy mills. But I couldn’t tell you what alternative causes those people were for?
When we stand against an injustice in the world, we need to remember to not only communicate our dissent, but to witness to those around us what (or, Who) we are standing for. Missiologist Christopher Wright suggests in his book, The Mission of God’s People, that there are two major dimensions of witnessing: we give witness to God’s trustworthiness, and we give witness to God’s truth. Our attitude and behavior toward other Christians and unbelievers will help restore trust in God, while our words testify of God’s plan, purposes, and ultimately redemption through Jesus Christ, thereby establishing truth about God. Great power lies within a diligent witness, displaying and declaring to the world that God is for life and life abundantly (John 10:10).
We can act sacrificially.
Activism is a combination of doing and undoing. The work before us is both personal and corporate in nature. Individuals, churches, and non-profits all play important roles in addressing the problems at hand. We are called to “do what is right and good in the eyes of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 6:18), while we also undo the systemic injustices that perpetuate brokenness and oppression. In doing so, we take part in the work of our heavenly Father who has commanded us to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him (Micah 6:8). Consider that in God’s economy these “do,” “love” and “walk” are actions to be carried out, not simple ideologies.
While prayer prepares our hearts, it also creates an environment for the Holy Spirit to stir our affections and empower us to join God’s redemptive work in the world. Although we cannot participate in every act of mercy and oppose every injustice, God will certainly give different burdens throughout the Body of Christ. When He does, we must act sacrificially with a willingness to give our time, resources, and abilities.
If you have trouble identifying what burdens you try asking yourself, “What causes me to cry at night, that I want to fight for when I wake up in the morning?” Once you identify that, consider yourself unleashed! Find out who is working towards the same outcomes and serve with them. If no one is, you may feel compelled to start something new!
And lastly, if you truly want to be a part of something that matters, try giving more of your time and resources away towards what burdens you. After all, where your bank account and calendar goes, there your heart will be also.
Start small. Be Faithful. We want blockbuster change, but if we’re not good stewards of little, why should we be trusted with much?
Gabe deGarmeaux oversees local and global outreach and small group ministries at Pathway Church in Pennsylvania. He earned an MA in Cross-cultural Ministry at Dallas Theological Seminary. You can follow him on Twitter @gabe_deg.