Jesus was a fiery activist. He was executed as an enemy of the Roman state. His parables dealt with dangerous issues, which, as always, mean political and economic issues. He challenged the domination system of his time. He challenged the unjust distribution of wealth.
Bill Herzog writes,
If Jesus had been the kind of teacher popularly portrayed in the North American church, a master of the inner life, teaching the importance
of spirituality and a private relationship with God, he would have been supported by the Romans as part of their rural pacification program.
(Herzog, Parables as Subversive Speech, 27)
This is the scandal of North American Christianity—it doesn’t live up to its prophetic activist roots. Churches belong outside the status quo critiquing injustices, as Jesus did in his own time. This was the strength of the early church. It stood outside the oppressive militaristic Roman establishment and asserted God’s love is the most powerful thing in the world, not military force, not Caesar.
Many social justice activists sideline their spiritual life, leaving themselves vulnerable to compassion fatigue, to bitterness, and to burn out. But spirituality and activism go hand in hand. One of the primary books in the Quaker library is Faith & Practice. Faith and practice weave in and out of each other. We arrive at faith through practicing service. We arrive at effective service through faith.
We start by believing God’s love is the most powerful thing in the world—so powerful nothing can overcome it, not even death. When this is no longer a fairy tale—when we solidly believe, we’re transformed. Then we proclaim along with the Apostle John: “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another (1 John 3:14).” Love of God can only be understood in the context of loving our neighbors.