Until the Reagan presidency, Evangelicals often shied away from activism. Activism is defined as “a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action, especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue.” It can help bring about justice as well as social, economic, and political change, yet the word itself evokes mixed emotions and reactions within the evangelical community, perhaps because it was often associated with more liberal causes and connoted unbiblical rebellion or images of hippies protesting American military involvement in the Vietnam War.
Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer laid the theological/philosophical foundation for the advent of the Moral Majority in the late 1970’s. As a result, Evangelicals became increasingly comfortable with activism by protesting abortion, sex-education in public schools, or even entertainment companies with any perceived anti-family agenda. They also became vocal advocates for homeschooling, religious freedom, and conservative political candidates. Though the Moral Majority petered out by the late 1980’s, Christians by then realized that exercising their voice and influence in current affairs and politics could bring about a political agenda in America that could be regarded as “faith-based.” While evangelizing and making disciples were still paramount in a Christian’s walk—at least in theory—becoming politically involved suddenly took on an increased priority.
In the last several years, new movements and issues have surfaced, confounding and dividing Christians. In 2017, the #MeToo movement sought to call attention to and perhaps justice for sexual assault victims. Many Evangelicals remained relatively quiet or even opposed it, despite the countless harrowing testimonies of even prominent Christian women, including Bible-teacher Beth Moore and former gymnast, Rachael Denhollander. #MeToo was followed by #Churchtoo, a parallel movement shedding a light on the dark cover-ups of sex abuse victims and predators in churches.
In 2020, we witnessed marches and protests against racism and police brutality. Following the death of George Floyd, activism proliferated as hundreds of thousands of people marched in cities around the world in protest. Marches became a daily staple of our social media diet.
Prominent Christian leaders encouraged believers to redirect their energy to simply preach the Gospel and evangelize, arguing that spiritually changed hearts were the only solution to minimize these types of evils in society. The admonition to only preach the Gospel for a select group of social issues creates a difficult quandary for the Christian community. If the Gospel alone is sufficient to counter the sin of racism or sexual assault and harassment, why is this not the same prescription for abortion, sex trafficking, gay-marriage, or other issues that galvanize believers? What qualifies as a worthy cause or injustice in order for a Christian to become an activist in that area?
I think we can find five principles to consider when asking these questions on Christians and activism:
1. Sharing the Gospel is always a priority.
Jesus commanded us to share the Gospel. This should be at the forefront of our minds when we interact with our family, friends, and co-workers. We are all perishing and condemned to hell for our sins, yet God provided a remedy for redemption, salvation, and eternal life through the perfect and sinless life and sacrificial death of His Son. There is no greater hope than that of the Gospel—it should permeate our lives through our love, words, and deeds. God uses the Gospel to open our eyes and hearts to love him and others more than ourselves. We should all be activists for Christ and His redeeming love in a world desperately bereft of hope (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15–16; Romans 10:17).
2. Love should be the guiding principle for activism.
The second greatest commandment from Jesus was for us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31). We’re to apply the principle of the Good Samaritan (unclean foreigner) when defining our neighbor. Loving our neighbor entails learning about them (Prov 20:5), understanding their weaknesses and celebrating their strengths (1 Thess 5:14), counseling them (Prov 27:9), and ministering to them when they’re suffering (Gal 6:2; 2 Cor 1:3-6). When those who are made in the image of God are hurting, our love for Christ compels us to help them, even if that means advocating or seeking justice on their behalf. We do this for the unborn, disabled, elderly, victims of sex trafficking, and the persecuted Church, among others. Why would we also not do this for immigrants who live in dangerous or impoverished countries, for our brothers and sisters who face discrimination based on the color of their skin or the shape of their eyes, or for those who have been sexually abused by someone, including a prominent Christian leader?
This guiding principle of love needs to be applied equally across the board for all people and injustices; otherwise, the world rightly views us as hypocrites as we’re highly selective about whom we’re to love. If someone or a group of people claim to have suffered a miscarriage of justice, are we quick to hear and slow to speak (James 1:19), or do we impose our own presuppositional ideas and beliefs based on our own experiences? We often forget that Jesus Himself not only shared the Gospel and called everyone to repentance and faith, but He also ministered to, fed, and/or healed those who were spiritually and physically afflicted (Mark 2:1-12, John 9:1-41).
3. Activism is a means of grace to help restrain evil in a fallen world.
Since we live in a fallen world, God instituted laws and government to constrain lawless, evil, and sinful behavior (Rom 13:1-14, Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13-17). Though our American government enforces laws to improve life for its citizens, oftentimes the citizens themselves demand better and more accountability by participating in non-violent protests, marches, or contacting their governing authorities or media. We can credit activism for empowering women and citizens of any race to vote, people of different ethnicities to marry each other, children with disabilities to have access to a free and appropriate public education, and the country to abolish many tenets and practices of segregation.
Think of the Clapham Sect of the early 1800s. This group of government, business, and religious leaders, were motivated by their Christian faith to deal with social injustices of their time including slavery, child labor, and the unfair penal code. How would our Black brothers and sisters have had better access to resources were it not for Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, John Lewis and countless others from the Civil Rights Movement? Activism owes much to the early followers of Christ who became radical advocates for children, the sick and diseased, and the powerless despite sometimes violent opposition from hostile political authorities.
4. Reserve judgment against your brother or sister who passionately advocates for justice.
Being outspoken in support of people or an issue involves risk—it may alienate a Christian from their family, friends, and fellow believers. Each of us has lived a unique life, ordained by God, and each of our experiences may inspire us to get involved with a different issue compared to others. As an Asian American female who has personally experienced the damaging effects of racism and sexism as well as being raised in a financially struggling single-parent home will speak up more readily about particular issues unlike someone who may not have had similar experiences. Though we may not all share the same belief on what deserves our attention and time, we can rest in the fact that we’re all part of the body of Christ and God uses all of us to advocate for one another in the public square.
5. Don’t allow your social and political activism to become an idol.
While activism can be a means of grace to improve the lives and conditions for other people in temporal kingdoms, we have to ensure it doesn’t take the place of Christ and His eternal kingdom. If we spend more time and energy in activism than we do worshiping God and meditating on His Word for our daily bread, we can become disillusioned or even hopeless when positive changes don’t occur according to our timeline. We have to remember that God is sovereign and through immediate or secondary causes, He alone can bring about the change we’re seeking (Eph 1:11).
When it comes to a Christian’s role in activism, we must remember that God can use all things to work together for good to those who are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28). Preaching the Gospel continuously plows the hearts of people who are hardened against injustice, but it is also the common grace of God to allow legal and systemic changes, brought about by activism and awareness, to improve the lives of others. God commands us to seek and do justice and correct oppression (Is 1:17; Micah 6:8). Not only is it not a sin to be an activist, when the motivation is to love your neighbor and your goal to counter oppression and injustice, it can be a part of discipleship.
Sonja Piper Dosti spent over 20 years working in the entertainment industry as a film and television executive and producer at Walt Disney’s Hollywood Pictures, Universal Television, and Ron Howard’s Imagine Television, among others. She has worked with and developed projects with many writers, directors, and production companies, including Academy Award nominees and winners JJ Abrams, Aaron Sorkin, Francis Coppola, Sofia Coppola, and Kathryn Bigelow, to name a few.
She left Hollywood behind after the birth of her first son and when her husband became a pastor of Harvest Fresno. Sonja has continued to provide consulting services to writers, directors and studios through her website, sonjapiperdosti.com, and has a screenplay and TV series in development.
She currently serves as a Communications and Public Relations Officer at a local school district, overseeing district-wide communications, media relations, crisis management, and social media best practices training.
She loves to read books, listen to 80’s music, and spend time with her husband and two sons watching movies, traveling, visiting family and eating all types of ethnic food.