Social Justice and the American Dream

By Sam Whittaker

Recently I have been studying the prophets, and their view of social justice. Reading and reflecting on their words has led me to ask what the modern Church needs to hear from them. As a missions pastor, injustice (and the proper Christian response to it) is something that I think about and deal with on a daily basis. The prophetic indictments against the people of God for their failure to follow his commands to care for the poor and marginalized are always chilling for me to read. This week I was struck by the simple command given through the prophet Amos, “Hate evil, and love good…”[1]

It strikes me that while this command seems so simple, it is actually one that is very difficult for the American Christian to follow. What are the “evils” that we are most challenged by? There are plenty of obvious evils to apply this verse to, things like murder, lying, and sexual sin, and those are the ones that tend to get our attention. But the more insidious danger that I see facing the American Church is the prioritization of the American Dream, the pursuit of our own welfare and contentment at the expense of helping the truly desperate.

Evil has become a chameleon, blending in with things that are good.

It’s dangerous because none of the individual aspects of the American Dream appear to be “evil,” and in fact, most of them are not. Providing for and protecting your family, being a hard worker, and being a good steward of your resources are actually good things. They only become evil when they are allowed to become ultimate things, which is what I fear has happened to a large percentage of American Christians. Evil has become a chameleon, blending in with things that are good.

The prophets speak against Israel’s failure to help the poor and downtrodden. This was a certainly a failure to keep the Sinaitic Covenant, but it was also a failure to apply the Abrahamic covenant, in which Abraham was promised blessings which were ultimately meant to bless the world. The People of God have always been a funnel; a conduit for God’s blessing to flow out to the world.

The Church in this country has been materially blessed to a truly unprecedented degree, and that blessing should be directed out from us to the world in the name of Jesus, not hoarded. The temptation to fill our houses and garages with blessings in the name of security and comfort is not just too much of a good thing; it is an evil thing. In fact, it calls to mind one of the woes of another prophet, Isaiah: “Woe to those who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is no more room, and you are made to dwell alone in the midst of the land.”[2]

I am convinced that the Church desperately needs to repent of our disproportionate accumulation of wealth, and actively pursue using the resources that we have been blessed with to expand the Kingdom of God and ease the burden of the downtrodden. This may be the first step for the American Christian to cease to do evil, and learn to do good.

[1] Amos 5:15a, ESV

[2] Isaiah 5:8, ESV

 

 

Sam Whittaker is a M.Div. student at Western Seminary, and serves as a pastor of mission and worship at South Valley Community Church, in Gilroy, CA. Sam will be leading a breakout session at the upcoming ReGeneration Forum, taking place October 22nd in the Bay Area.