Evangelicals have traditionally been socially engaged, in faithfulness to biblical requirements to do justice and to show compassion for those suffering, and as a missional necessity, to demonstrate that we have good works to match our faith. A faith that is lived out, among and for others, is what it means to be a Christian. Evangelical faith is Christological in that Christ is proclaimed as Saviour and we do everything we can to save persons in body, mind, and soul and to bring into the warm embrace of Christ himself. This is why we do things like advocate for action on climate change, run Alpha courses, support refugees, have a Church Missionary Society, oppose the predatory gambling lobby, fund City Bible Forums, and have Anglican Overseas Aid. So, for us evangelicals, our evangelistic energy goes hand in hand with our social concerns, advocacy, and programs.

One problem is the temptation to focus on one or the other. To be an Alpha-Church or a tearfund church. To focus on the evangelistic side or to go all in on social action. A false dichotomy if you ask me, but the temptation is real for either side. But even for those of us who believe in a healthy balance, declaring the word of the gospel while donning the apron of a servant, even our social advocacy/actions face the temptation of being politically partisan.

For me, personally, my two social action passion projects are advocacy for destroying the gambling lobby and advocating for religious freedom. The former aligns neatly with the political left and the later sits more squarely with the political right. It means I get some curious glances from people.

My Tear Fund friends love my opposition to the gambling barons but look at me with confusion and disgust as if I might be a quasi-fascist if I retweet an Australian Christian Lobby article about religious freedom. By the same token, my Australian Christian Lobby friends incorporate my voice into the religious freedom debate but look at me with suspicion that I might be a Marxist sympathiser if I post on Facebook critical of the Liberal party’s stance on refugees and climate change.

I think most evangelicals are committed to a program of social action, and we each have our own pet causes, the one’s that burn our hearts with righteous rage or fill us with pity for those suffering. The temptation is that our interest in social action is exercised partly as an outworking of Christian faith, but partly as a way of aligning ourselves with particular political tribes. The temptation is then, that our social ethic becomes tied less to the Christian church and more to the political tribes that we resonate with. My thesis is that our social engagements, balanced with our promotion of the gospel, must never be neatly aligned with any political tribe, whether conservative or progressive. Otherwise we run the risk that our social action becomes more an act of political affiliation than Christian action.

We are compelled by the love of God to proclaim the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ. And it is our Lord himself who tells us to care for the poor, to show mercy, and to act justly. Social action and social justice are a necessity. But let us not get fall into the temptation of engaging in the social action that is trendy on social media or presages our status in a political tribe.

Let justice roll down like a river, irrespective if those rivers break towards the left or to the right.




Michael Bird is Academic Dean and Lecturer in New Testament at Ridley