Which Social Cause Is Right for Your Congregation (and Denomination)?

Forbes magazine has several tips for businesses to find the proper outlet for their social activism that may also be instructive for churches wanting to enter the social justice field.

1. Look in the mirror. When it comes to defining your social mission, start with your business mission. Increasingly, we find it helpful when these two are aligned from the start – even if your company makes widgets. Strategic leaders recognize that giving back can be baked right into your corporate DNA, such as with equity pledges, where companies offer a small percentage of their equity to nonprofits. Regardless of your organization’s structure, your business mission will help inform the most aligned direction to harness your corporate energies and offer the best opportunities for pro bono volunteering and other engagement.

2. Go on a listening tour. As you consider your mission and values, it’s important to get your employees involved so that they feel “heard.” Surveys are a common tool to cull employee interests around causes, including where many of them may already be volunteering and giving. Sure, you won’t be able to prioritize every cause, but you may be able to find patterns of common interests, which will help when it comes to increasing volunteer participation if you decide to pursue these causes. And even with the many causes that you don’t elevate to the corporate level, a volunteer platform will empower employees to pursue many different interests as a part of their volunteer work.

3. Do your research. When it comes to selecting specific nonprofits to ally with or support, tools like Charity Navigator provide insight into organizational history, financial health, accountability and transparency. Make sure that you do your due diligence in assessing how your company can make the biggest impact at the most minimal cost.

4. Get help. Experts in the field can serve as invaluable translators helping companies and nonprofits speak the same language, align expectations and goals and establish relationships destined for success. Guidance from a trusted expert in the nonprofit world can help steer your company to the cause area and nonprofit that is the best possible match.

Since confessional churches rely on word and sacrament, perhaps activism related to literacy, wheat farms, and grape growing is the best fit. Here‘s a story about wine cellar workers at Woodbridge who want to join the Teamsters. Perhaps your diaconate could help.

Also, the National Association of Wheat Growers has several items on its list of policies that might guide a session or diaconate’s thoughts about social justice.

Too bad, though, that cellar workers and wheat growers are not high on the list of causes that motivate millennials. The top five are:

Civil rights/racial discrimination 29%
Employment (job creation) (tie) 26%
Healthcare reform (tie) 26%
Climate change 21%
Immigration 19%
Education (K-12) 17%

The runners up:

Respondents also sited wages (15%), environment (14%), college/post-secondary education (13%), poverty and homelessness (13%), mental health and social services (12%), criminal justice reform (11%), women’s rights (10%), women’s health and reproductive issues (9%), early education (8%), sexual orientation-based rights (8%), and literacy (4%) as issues they care about.

That’s a boat load of activity for any single congregation. Even a denominational agency, like the Committee on Social Justice, would have a hard time meeting at most three times a year to give due attention and resources to all of these matters.

The encouraging news, though, is that millennials have a fairly low bar for what constitutes social activism:

Researchers also asked respondents what types of actions they take on behalf of the causes important to them. Voting topped the list, in order or priority, followed by signing a petition, no action, posting on social media, and changing purchase of products and services. Voting, researchers surmised, is seen as a vital form of activism; the survey found that nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of respondents said they had voted in the 2016 presidential election.

So, if your officers are voting, Tweeting, and posting on Facebook, they already have a social-justice ministry.

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Every Member Ministry Means No Christian Soldiers

Only a few neo-Confederates and Covenanters may disagree, but most Reformed Protestants assume that men ordained to the ministry of the word may not serve in capacities that involve the use of the physical sword (police, military, and even civil magistrate). The logic goes something like this:

Civil magistrates may not assume to themselves the administration of the Word and sacraments; or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven; or, in the least, interfere in matters of faith. (Confession of Faith, 23.3)

One could well suppose that if magistrates (who hold the civil sword) can’t have the keys of the kingdom, those who do have the power of the keys shall not assume the power of the civil magistrate. That fits with what the Form of Government says about ecclesiastical power:

All church power is wholly moral or spiritual. No church officers or judicatories possess any civil jurisdiction; they may not inflict any civil penalties nor may they seek the aid of the civil power in the exercise of their jurisdiction further than may be necessary for civil protection and security.(3.4)

So imagine what happens to this delicate balance between civil and ecclesiastical power when all of a sudden every Christian is a minister. How could we ever allow a minister to fight in a war, to operate under the authority of the Department of Defense, to bring criminals to justice?

Pope Francis may have the solution — to turn Christianity into a pacifist religion by opposing capital punishment and abandoning just war theory.

If Christians may not serve as soldiers or as executioners, then we need to revise assertions like this:

Public life is not just about politics but all the areas of human activity — thefamily, the workplace, shops and restaurants, leisure and the arts. It is the specific role of lay people to sanctify each and every environment of the world.

Sometimes “every” and “all” make you wish for dualism.