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Why don’t churches do more to change things?


Question & Answer

Q: By Jackson
“I stopped going to church because it just seems to be the same thing all the time. Same sermons, same actions, same results. I’m not sure we were actually changing anything. We helped the poor, but they always came back still needing help. Why don’t churches do more to change things?”
A: By Rev. Mark Sandlin
Dear Jackson,

Unfortunately, most spiritual communities have become much better and much more comfortable at giving people a hand out than giving them a hand up.

Put simply, we prefer the self-serving feelings of charity to the self-sacrificing realities of justice.

We feed a person for a day, we turn their power back on for now, we give them shelter for a night, and that’s a good thing, but we fall miserably short of challenging and changing the systems that will have those same people starving in a week, sitting in the dark next month, sleeping in the streets all too soon.

Charity does help those in need, but only temporarily. Who it helps the most is those of us who have a need to help, who feel it is our calling to aid those in need. Charity lets us feel like we are doing something to respond to need in a world that is overwhelmed with people in need. There’s really no risk in it and people are usually very supportive of such efforts.

Justice, on the other hand, is hard.

It frequently requires a great deal of sacrifice and you probably aren’t going to get a lot of people cheering you along the way – probably quite the opposite. So, most spiritual communities simply don’t do it.

Justice looks like activism and spiritual communities tend to shy away from that.

Justice requires you to not make nice with abusive systems; it requires you to rock the boat a bit and to take a stand on issues that are frequently political hot buttons. For too many churches, that sounds very… well, un-Church like. Too many of us think being Church means being liked and all that standing up for something means standing against something and we just don’t like the thought of people not liking us because of it.

But here’s the thing, Jesus not only confronted systems of injustice, but he tried to teach us to do the same. He did it standing in the tradition of great prophets of Judaism who never failed to stand up against abuse of power. They risked everything. They frequently were run out of town or put to death for it.

Maybe that’s what we’re afraid of – the proverbial crosses we’d have to bear.

I’m not sure.

The thing I am sure of is that charity is love for the moment and justice is love extended into the future.

Or as Dr. King once said, “Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.”

Don’t get me wrong, we must not stop doing the necessary and much needed work of charity, but we also must not stop there. We must push on, risking ourselves, risking ridicule, risking our places of privilege, and reclaim the biblical and prophetic voice of justice. We must stand in the footsteps of the likes of Dr. King, Dorothea Day and Gandhi for without justice, charity falls short.

Because, you see, charity and justice? They are a matched set. It is time to let justice roll.

~ Rev. Mark Sandlin

About the Author
Rev. Mark Sandlin is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) from the South. He currently serves at Presbyterian Church of the Covenant. Mark also serves as the President and acting Co-executive Director of He is a co-founder of The Christian Left. His blog, has been named as one of the “Top Ten Christian Blogs.”  Mark received The Associated Church Press’ Award of Excellence in 2012. Follow Mark on Facebook and Twitter @marksandlin.

*** This Q&A was originally published on Progressing Spirit – As a member of this online community, you’ll receive insightful weekly essays, access to all of the essay archives (including all of Bishop John Shelby Spong), and answers to your questions in our free weekly Q&A. Click here to see free sample essays.

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