Our hypocrisy on ‘social action’

Jul 19, 2018 by

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Mennonite Central Committee and other relief and service organizations are often criticized for being too focused on physically bettering people’s lives and not enough on evangelizing them.

Some of the questions raised are: What good is it to educate people and to improve their health and their means of livelihood if we don’t help them with their eternal spiritual needs? And while we should of course offer emergency relief to people who are hungry and homeless, shouldn’t our primary mission be to change people’s hearts and prepare them for the life to come?

Jesus’ life and ministry is a demonstration of the fact that both are important.

According to his inaugural address, Jesus’ mission, and ours, is to “bring good news to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to announce release to captives, to bring sight to the blind, and to free those who are in prison” (Luke 4:18). All of this is in fulfillment of our obligation to love God above every other love or allegiance, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Here’s where our hypocrisy comes in. Few of us pay attention primarily to our spiritual needs. Rather, most of us spend an extraordinary amount of time and money on the kinds of “social action” that benefit ourselves and our families.

For example, we invest whatever energy and resources necessary to make sure we have the best housing in the best neighborhood possible, that our children have the best education available, that our every health need is met to the fullest and finest extent, and that we have all of the recreational and entertainment opportunities we can afford.

In short, these are among the many ways we love ourselves and our own families. And up to a point, we should.

But that’s where the “as yourself” question comes in. Shouldn’t we be equally dedicated to the same kinds of needs in our neighbors around the world?

Of course we can’t do everything needed for everyone in need. But together, as communities of faith, we should never assume that we deserve better than others, just because we are North Americans, or assume that others’ needs are primarily spiritual while ours are by right every bit as earth-based as heaven-based.

It’s at the heart of our Bible: “Love your neighbor AND/AS yourself.”

Harvey Yoder is an ordained pastor and member of Family of Hope, a small Virginia Mennonite Conference house church congregation. He blogs at Harvspot, where this first appeared.

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