In a media world with an over-abundance of news reports streaming images of polar bears stranded on melting ice and narratives about increasing crime, poverty and social injustice, how much of this world needs change becomes hard to discern.
|According to Sarah Miller, chairman of the Florida Conference's Social Justice Committee, social justice is not a passing fad in the Christian community, and churches can make a positive difference in our changing world.|
For churches, social justice and working for the greater good has become a calling card. According to some Florida Conference social justice advocates, it is increasingly important for our churches to have the ability to make positive differences in their communities and our world.
"Social justice is not a passing fad. It is not a buzz word in the Christian community," said Sarah Miller, chairman of the Social Justice Committee for the conference.
"I have a heart for populations on the margins and helping those that have no voice," she said. “While at seminary…I learned the distinction between works of mercy and works of justice.
Works of mercy feed hungry people. Works of justice ask why people are hungry,” she said.
Miller suggests we need to improve systems that "continue to perpetuate a paradigm of the haves and have-nots."
"The Church can make a difference," she stated emphatically. "Our resources are more than financial. We are able to raise awareness. We are able to advocate. We are able to be boots on the ground in marches and rallies," she said.
Serving in a conference that has helped more than 11 million people through community ministries since 2009, Miller says she's aware that additional voices need to be invited to the table. Diversification and impacting more hearts and minds are important to her.
“It’s naïve to think disciple-making only happens within the church,” Miller said. Citing Jesus and John Wesley, she emphasized that most ministries occur beyond sanctuary walls.
"I believe social justice is not a civic concept," said Clarke Campbell-Evans, director of Missional Engagement. "I believe deep down in my heart that social justice is the biblical call to followers of Christ.
"I have seen the Church step up and step out," he said, "and make a dramatic difference on issues large and small.
|Clarke Campbell-Evans, director of Missional Engagement, remembers his early career as a community organizer working to help poor coffee farmers in the Dominican Republic. Their struggle was to earn a living wage for their families.|
"They want to see feet to the faith,” he said of younger generations who will one day create their own change. “They do not want it to be, 'this is what we believe, come believe like us.' They want a church that says, 'this is how we act in the world. Come join us.'
“I look at the people working on social justice issues in the conference and there are more now than there ever have been,” he said. “They have a passion and a deep desire to put their feet in and press their body into the gap.
"We need more courageous voices," Campbell-Evans concluded. “People who are willing to be bold.”
“If we can learn to love as God loves,” said Rev. Janet Horman, executive director of South Florida JFON, “we cannot help but do works of compassion and mercy and seek justice.” She calls it a “confession of faith” to believe God’s love and grace can change the world, but suggests the Church needs to transform and embody that spirit.
Horman, a clergy member and an immigration attorney, recently appointed as a Global Ministries UMC Church and Community Worker Missionary at the annual conference in June, serves hundreds forced to flee their homelands from places like Haiti, Central America and Cuba. Many who come here are engulfed in a firestorm of fear. She emphasizes the need to “find ways to engage our neighbors.
“We need to hear their stories and bring hope,” she said. She adds that we may be saving lives.
“I’ve always thought of my vocation as that of a pastor,” she said. “The laws help me serve communities that I feel we were called to serve. It’s kind of a tool, in my mind, to help the church be a church.”
"I don't think in The United Methodist Church, you really have to wonder if the DNA is really one of servant leadership," said Rev. Dr. Sharon Austin, the Florida Conference director of Connectional and Justice Ministries. She believes the missional effectiveness of any congregation has to do with “whether or not they understand this rich history (of Wesleyan tradition) and then whether they buy into it."
Describing the complexity of today's issues, Austin states there is no single entity—church, government or otherwise—that has all the best solutions. But she does suggest, we are all participants in world change.
"Are we changing the world?" asked Austin. "You'd better believe it."
--Doug Long is managing editor of the Florida Conference