Pastor Richard Freeman
Social Justice: The Heart of the Church – Luke 4:18, Isaiah 61:1, and Micah 6:8
I recently read a Facebook post that claimed only 13 percent of Black churches supported the social justice work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. while he was alive. Given the high esteem with which he is recognized in the Black church today, I found that statistic to be mind-blowing. How can almost 90% of the black church abdicate its role in leading the way to freedom: Freedom for those occupying its pews?
There are two possible explanations for such a reality:
The church and the world at large have accepted the sterilized image of Rev. Dr. King that bears very little similarity to the real man in which we need to re-read his writings.
Or neither the church of Rev. Dr. King’s era nor the church of today see the work of social justice as central to the Gospel of Jesus.
While engaged for five years in the work of social justice as President of the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network (PIIN), my beloved congregation cheered me on. I strived to teach that the work of social justice was not a ‘side activity,’ but a central demand of the Gospel. As children of God, we are all called and anointed to make a difference in the lives of those we come in contact with.
At the beginning of his earthly ministry, Jesus invoked the words of the Prophet Isaiah. The first words are, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” (Luke 4:18) The Spirit that is upon Jesus is the same Spirit that now lives within all believers. It is the Spirit that empowers us to fulfill the decree of Jesus when He said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.” (John 14:12 NLT) What works did Jesus do? Progressing through the Luke text, we say that Jesus
Preached the gospel to the poor,
Healed the brokenhearted,
Recovered sight to the blind,
Set at liberty the oppressed, and
Proclaimed the acceptable year of the Lord.
We, as children of God, have missed the fullness of our anointing (consecrated assignment), because we limit this work to just the Spirit domain. Therefore, helping people to think spiritually became PIIN’s objective. Most churches behave as if people’s poverty, broken heartedness, blindness, and oppression are someone else’s responsibility. We, the church, are not the source of resolution to the social ills. However, we must be the prophetic voice demanding, “Let my people go,” as Moses declared these words but they were the divine command of God!
The miraculous works of Jesus punctuated His calling and ours to declare a pathway to spiritual wholeness. Tending to immediate, physical needs preceded any discussion of the spiritual for many who experienced Jesus’s miracles. In fact, sometimes the discussion of the spiritual never occurred. In Luke 17, after healing ten lepers, only one returned to worship Jesus. Jesus indeed recognized the slight, but of greater importance is the slight did not stop him for setting others free from their immediate bondage.
This work did not just begin with Jesus, nor is the unstable condition of the modern church witnessed only today. Indeed, the Prophet Micah was used of God to call the children of Israel to repentance (turning away from their current behavior and thought). Micah used these powerful sets of words: what is good and what does the Lord require of you. The things that follow in the passage are not suggestions. They are central to living out authentic relationships with God. Those things are, “But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8b, NASB)
When the church actively engages in the work of delivering people from the immediate hell they find themselves in, it makes the truth of our witness of deliverance from a spiritual hell that more credible. Social justice, like preaching, does not guarantee people will accept the claims of Jesus. But, like preaching, social justice work makes the journey more desirable.