Several local politicians scale back their hours in the summer months while continuing to draw full-time pay which hovers between 80 thousand and 120 thousand per year (Oregonian). Working families struggle to make ends meet as they pay rising taxes. One gets the feeling those hard-earned tax dollars are being used, in part, to subsidize the questionable summer work ethic of the above-mentioned public officials. Families with children face mounting healthcare costs with marginal ability to pay for it while money from booming local government coffers is poured into dubious pet projects. Homeless people are kicked to the curb literally, with little to no attempt by public officials to relate personally to them. Street kids in Portland number about 1,500 at any given time, many of them seemingly forgotten by a society which seems more concerned by its ranking in travel magazines, than in the plight of kids addicted to meth, caught up in violent gangs, pressed into prostitution, and generally left to fend for themselves in the harsh concrete realities of the city (Willamette Week Magazine).
Obviously, we cannot rely on government to enact equitably social justice for the poor and weak among us. Maybe it is time for the church as a whole to reclaim its role in tangibly engaging in compassionate ministry. Maybe the church should ask itself, what would the Lord God have us do? James 1:27 says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (New Revised Standard Version). The wise administration of government has its legitimate place in society, but the church cannot afford to wait for that day to come. It needs to rise up with a standard of righteousness and compassion, spending less time arguing over non-essential doctrinal hair-splitting and more time demonstrating the life of Christ among the hurting; less time over outreach practices which seem primarily to attract members of neighboring churches and more time actually getting out into the neighborhoods among people who have not yet been touched by the love of Jesus Christ. I realize there are many fine churches around the world for whom this critique does not apply, but there are a large number for whom it does.
Injustice is a harsh reality of life in the city, and even in the suburbs and villages beyond the city’s horizon. How might the local church be a part of alleviating the suffering of hurting families? The homeless? The orphans and the widows? For me, it has manifested in a number of simple ways over the years. My philosophy has been to emphasize wise compassion, being wary of scams, but willing to take educated risks so as to meet a visible need. Next time I will share a few ideas of what I have done myself and what my church has done collectively over the years. Perhaps it will encourage you personally and as a leader in your church to consider what you might do in your community to impact the local culture for Jesus Christ.