Church and Social Action

Church and social action is a form of Christian ministry that is concerned with the way in which religious adherents serve others in order to meet mankind's disparate needs. It is based on the teachings from the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, as well as the belief that his mission and message constitute the fundamental revelation of a divine universal plan. The way in which the social ministry of the Christian Church is manifested is directly colored by the career and person of the historical Jesus as described in biblical accounts.

There are minimally four major themes derived from the ministry of Jesus that directly influence Church social action. The foremost of these is the inevitable establishment of absolute sovereignty of the Judeo-Christian God on the worldly plane. According to the message of Jesus, the ethics of man (supremacy of the great over the small, the rich over the poor) are not necessarily the ethics of God (which extol the meek and the humble over the proud and the haughty). It is, therefore, considered the duty of men to prepare for the establishment of a heavenly reign by reshaping individual wills to reflect God's will. The main source for this concept in the Christian New Testament is found in the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:10).

The second theme found in the Christian New Testament is the notion that the moral conduct of a Christian is marked by love for neighbor as one has love of self, and this love is a reflection of love for God (John 4: 7–21). According to the parables of Jesus, the love of a Christian had to come from an internal inclination to do God's will, and that love had to be inclusive, i.e., not only limited to fellow Jew or countryman but extended even to one's enemy as well. Based on the New Testament, God no longer maintained a distinction between Jew and gentile; therefore, the love of one of his followers had to be ecumenical without regard to race, nationhood, gender or class. Finally, the love had to be insistent, reaching out to those who were not the easiest to love and bringing peace between fellow men.

The third theme that can be extracted is the concept that God is the ultimate arbitrator in the lives of men and the fate of the world. According to Christian teaching, no amount of moral behavior or ethical action could merit divine favor or could build a heavenly kingdom on earth, and it is God's choice when to bestow redemption on humanity (Mark 4:26–32; Luke 17:22–37; Matthew 13:24–30).

The fourth and perhaps most relevant theme to social action within the Church is the establishment of the Christian Church as the "Body of Christ" and the vehicle by which the Christian ministry can effect change. The Church today is viewed to have been bequeathed these lessons about God and, having been inspired by their knowledge of God through Christ, makes efforts to spread these moral and ethical principles. Together, these themes form the foundation of Christian social action.

At the crux of Church and social action is the collaboration of Christian clergy and laypersons to bring about positive change and justice in various world arenas (e.g., war, poverty and civil rights). The goal of these efforts is to create social and spiritual capital, facilitate corporate social action and allocation of resources, and, finally, to encourage individual civic action. As a result, there are several sectarian as well as nterdenominational organizations that seek to achieve these goals in one or more ways: charitable fundraising, direct intervention and government lobbying.

One example of Church social action in the promotion of racial equality and civil rights is the African-American civil rights movement (1955–68) in the United States. Throughout the movement, the Black Church held the main leadership role in the collection, organization and dissemination of resources critical for the many marches, protests, sit-ins and public demonstrations that constituted a strategy of action in the mainly nonviolent struggle. Another example of Church action in social revolution was the role of the Catholic Church in the People Power Revolution within the Philippines in 1986. The use of Catholic-owned radio stations to inform the masses and instill solidarity against what was deemed social injustices ultimately helped to oust Ferdinand E. Marcos.

Perhaps one of the most recognized figures in the arena of Church social action is Mother Teresa, founder of the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India. Prior to her death, she was internationally known for her antipoverty advocacy and humanitarianism, helping those afflicted with poverty and hunger, HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis. Beginning in 1950 with only 13 nuns in Calcutta, the ministry has spread worldwide and has grown to more than 4,000 religious workers.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Church and Social Action: A Critical Assessment and Bibliographical Survey
Roger T. Wolcott; Dorita F. Bolger.
Greenwood Press, 1990
Christian Faith and Social Action: A Symposium
John A. Hutchison.
Scribner, 1953
The Church and the Social Question
Franz H. Mueller.
American Enterprise Institute, 1984
The Church and Social Responsibility
J. Richard Spann.
Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1953
Religion, Mobilization, and Social Action
Anson Shupe; Bronislaw Misztal.
Praeger Publishers, 1998
American Catholicism and Social Action: A Search for Social Justice, 1865-1950
Aaron I. Abell.
University of Notre Dame Press, 1963
FREE! Religion in Social Action
Graham Taylor.
Dodd Mead, 1913
The Politics of Religious Conflict: Church and State in America
Richard E. Morgan.
University Press of America, 1980 (2nd edition)
Spiritual Direction, Social Justice, and the United Church of Christ
Gladson, Jerry A.
Journal of Psychology and Theology, Vol. 30, No. 4, Winter 2002
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