Posted by: Philip Rushton | September 15, 2014

Walking Upstream: The role of social reform in Christian discipleship

“We are walking – humbly, prayerfully, contemplatively, with God – down a road by the river.  Then we hear someone screaming for help, caught in the current.  We wade out to rescue him.  Now we have shown kindness.  Then we hear more screams and pull out a few more drowning people, each time showing more kindness.  Eventually, as a crowd gathers and more and more screams for help fill the air, we need to say, “Quick! A bunch of us need to go upstream and find out who’s pushing people into the river and stop them!” That’s doing justice. If we weren’t walking humbly with God, perhaps we wouldn’t have the courage and compassion to wade into the river on behalf of a stranger.  If we didn’t get wet in kindness, we wouldn’t understand the urgency of justice.  The three elements are inseparable.”  Brian McLaren, Finding Our Way Again, 121

Last night I participated in my first meeting with a new group in town known as, “Interfaith Advocates For Justice.” It is a group of representatives from a number of local churches that are seeking to act as advocates for social justice issues in our community. Our two primary focus areas are economic inequality and climate change.

The vision for this group is to help people take a walk upstream so that we can discover the root causes of some of our major social problems. Rather than patching up the wounded, this group is trying to discover what is causing people to be wounded in the first place.

The idea of exploring root causes of injustice is deeply rooted in the biblical tradition. Job, for example, says, “I was a father to the needy; I took up the case of the stranger. I broke the fangs of the wicked and snatched the victims from their teeth.” He not only provides practical support to the needy, he also addresses the wicked systems that ensnare people. This is also a key theme in the Old Testament prophets. Timothy Keller writes, “the prophets made many ringing calls for social reform. Unfair wages (Jer. 22:13), corrupt business practices (Amos 8:2,6), legal system weighted in favor of the rich and powerful (Deut 24:17; Lev. 19:15),a system of unfairly high interest loans (Ex 22:25-37) were all denounced and opposed by the prophets.” (Resources For Deacons, 26).

For most of my Christian journey I have associated outreach with direct relief and charity work. This is certainly an important aspect of our mission as Christians. As McLaren suggests, this is directly related to our exposure to deeper justice issues. However, I am recognizing that there are other levels of engagement that we are called to attend to as Christians. Advocacy and education around social reform is an important aspect of Christian discipleship.

So I am excited to be part of a group that is seeking to attend to this level of justice work. I’d love to bring our church into this process by highlighting some of the events and projects that we are going to undertake. The first thing I wanted to promote is a series of five seminars called, “Just Economics,” that is going to be hosted at St. Rose Catholic Church. These seminars are going to help us recover a biblical response to issues of wealth, poverty and taxation. They will be taking place on the fourth Tuesday of each month starting on September 30th. The first seminar topic is titled, “From Fear and Greed to Milk and Honey.” I’m planning to attend and would love to open this conversation up to others in our congregation.


  1. Depending on how Victoria is doing,sign me up–Henry

  2. Count me in, love to hear some comments about up-river work.

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