Thanks for all of the great feedback and interaction on my earlier post “When Activism and Affirmation from God get all mixed up.” This drew from my own experience of the polarization that comes from the relationship between identity and activism in Christian circles, and that is something I am still wrestling to reconcile.
Those words can mean quite different things depending on the reference point, so here’s a quick summary of what I mean by each. When I use the word identity, I am drawing a line between the experience of the Baptism of Jesus, the need to grow in our ability to internalize the blessing of God, and where it is that our identity is ultimately anchored. In short, It’s making the case that while there are many factors that come into play as a person’s identity forms, there is none more critical to our development than our status as sons and daughters of God.
This is something I believe strongly. And yet, I have often been flummoxed by the disconnect between Christians who care a lot about identity, yet don’t seem to translate that into activism.
What do I mean by activism? I find the etymology of this word helpful. It comes from the Latin word actionem, which means “to put something in motion.” Therefore the idea of Christian activism is a simple one – it is faith put into motion. It’s those who believe that one of the most tangible signs of God’s presence comes in the form of holistic proclamation of the kingdom of God and holistic demonstration of that kingdom with the pursuit of justice, reconciliation, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. James, brother of Jesus, described it like this:
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if people claim to have faith but have no deeds… Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?’” (James 2.14-16)
Identity and Activism are designed to be two sides of the same coin. One feeds the other, and vice versa. Yet for some strange reason, it just doesn’t happen that way very often.
Shane Claiborne is a long time friend, humble leader, and great example of the needed integration between these two. He summarizes this conundrum well in his book The Irresistible Revolution. He recounts a letter from a friend who was trying to make sense of this fragmented view of faith. He said it like this:
“I am alone, surrounded by unbelieving activists and inactive believers. Where are the true Christians?”
That says it so well:
It was never meant to be this way. When Jesus affirmed the centrality of the Great Commandment, he created a harmony between Identity and Activity.
The impetus was an expert in the Law who asked Jesus, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22.36) Jesus famously responded: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
This is the simplest, most distilled form of Christianity: love (and be loved by) God with all of your being. Love (and be loved by) your neighbor in the same way.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to love. So simple, yet seemingly so complex.
Rick McKinley says it beautifully in a recent blog:
“The scriptures always call us back to love as the starting point and the ending point of everything… So many times we get trapped in duty, which is a place we may need to start from but it’s a horrible place to end. Jesus started with love. Love that he experienced and expressed from his relationship with the Father, and love that pours over into our lives through his death and resurrection… Jesus was compelled by love for you, and when you taste that revolutionary power of love then it overflows from you to others. It builds a fire in you that burns with love for other people and compels you to love with boldness.”
My prayer for both myself and for you is so simple. May we “taste that revolutionary power of love,” and may it build a fire in us that “burns with love for other people and compels you to love with boldness. May those of us who are inactive believers turn into faith filled activists, and may those of us who are unbelieving activists be filled with faith and belief.
Ultimately, may love have the final word.