I was having lunch with a friend of mine who happens to be in his mid-40s. We were discussing what we believe to be the impending shift from mega-churches to…well…we’re not exactly sure. We do believe the shift has a lot to do with young people (teenagers through twenty-somethings) disillusioned with massive church buildings and bigger and better building projects instead of helping the poor and destitute.
Eugene Peterson, a notable author and pastor-mentor who has appeared on my podcast (yes, I did just shamelessly promote my podcast), has alluded to mega-churches being nothing more than sarcophaguses. Peterson believes that little spiritual formation is actually happening in the church. Unfortunately, it appears church has become a gathering place for getting entertained by flashy glit and glam combined with an amazingly presented public speech. Congregants leave the service remarking how good the sermon was, get into their cars, go to their favorite restaurant, and by the time they are sitting down to eat, the aforementioned sermon is simply a nice idea that fades into the recesses of forgotten memory.
My friend looked across the table at me and said, “Aaron, this is why your generation is leaving the mega-churches, because they don’t want to be entertained anymore and are taking up the causes of social justice.”
I had to stop my friend. I said, “You are right. My generation and those younger than me are all for social justice. Except they really are not doing anything.”
Let me explain: My generation and younger speaks a lot about social justice. We talk about Darfur, the Invisible Children and other atrocities in different parts of the globe. However, the truth is we can’t change Darfur. The invisible children in Uganda are still faceless and nameless for us. Atrocities are constant, menacing companions throughout the expanse of history. We march in gatherings conducted here in the United States to protest the civil war activities of Darfur, but trust me, Al-Bashir is not sleepless at night due to your marching, nor are you of any great consequence to him.
I think anti-sex trafficking is a more pertinent social justice cause than most other global issues. I think the demonstration walks conducted to bring greater attention to the issue are great, but are we actively writing our senators and congressmen to enact legislation to crackdown on the issue? At the time of this writing, the Kony 2012 video has received 90 million viral hits. How many people who watched the video actually wrote their congressional leaders?
My constant questions lead me to my own sad conclusion: I think our generation has been greatly fooled. I think our self-deception comes from speaking so much and so often about these issues. We speak about it so much we think we have actually become part of the solution and are active in ending the pain. Second, our social media have deceived us into believing by watching a YouTube video, “liking” something on Facebook, retweeting a tweet, or stumbling upon any form of medium related to social justice, we are indeed people of social justice. Let’s be blunt. We’re not. We’re simply consuming media, which is what our generation does exceptionally well, and then we talk about it with our friends, making statements such as, “Isn’t it terrible what is happening in Darfur? I’m so against it. Someone needs to do something. I’ve been sharing the links to all my friends on Facebook.” And then, somewhere in there, we pat ourselves on the back because we have deceived ourselves into believing being aware of a moral problem in the world is the same as combating a moral problem. Again, let’s be blunt, you being aware of a moral problem does not mean you are taking “active” participation in stopping the moral problem. It just isn’t.
This would be like me saying, “I read this book entitled ‘Radical’ by Ted Platt and it’s all about living a life devoted to Christ through knowing him and helping the poor. I’m radical because I agree with everything in the book. However, I don’t help feed the poor, I don’t pray for the nations and I refuse to go on any type of missions trip. But I agree with everything written by Platt. I even ‘liked’ the Facebook fan page for ‘Radical’ and I’ve been tweeting to all my friends about it as well.”
What you have just experienced is what I call, “The Man in the Mirror.” No, not the Michael Jackson hit, but the principle taught by James, a pastor in Jerusalem and brother of Jesus Christ. James 1:22-27 tells us those who simply hear or talk about something aren’t really doing anything. To hear or talk about something and not actually do it is like someone who sees himself or herself in the mirror, and then turns away and surprisingly forgets what he or she looked like. This is what our generation is doing today. We talk so much about so many things, but in actuality we don’t do anything and deceive ourselves into believing we are part of the solution to what we have voiced so much opinion about.
I hope my generation and those following will pursue more worthy avenues of seeking social justice. Jesus calls us to redeem everything around us in preparation for his fully-realized kingdom coming to earth. I think it would be great if instead of “liking” the Kony 2012 video, you get involved locally and have a greater and more meaningful impact by doing something like volunteering or missions. Remember, the “like” on Facebook is not the same as you handing a hungry person a meal.
Note: Aaron Brown is the RHD of EMR Dormitory.