Adam Edgerly, the lead pastor for Newsong Los Angeles, spoke yesterday at a training session for young leaders taking part in the Love Santa Ana campaign this weekend. Looking at the civil rights movement in the 1960s as well as the current racial divides and ethnic concerns in society today, Edgerly suggested a radically different process for social engagement. He didn’t say that people just accept injustice. Yet he also cautioned that taking to the streets should not be the first action for followers of Christ. He also said that certain actions may help be a temporary release valve for social tension although they don’t do much to solve the long-term problems. Rioting in the streets and vandalizing businesses may go a long way to hurt a movement instead of help it.
As a black leader and pastor, Edgerly spoke with conviction about real reform coming through the spiritual discipline of civil engagement. This seeks to bring change to public policy through altering the spiritual and physical reality of the world around us. He pointed to the actions of Nehemiah in Nehemiah 1 as a model for social reform. Overcome by the state of his people, Nehemiah sat down and wept over the state of Jerusalem. Its walls had been torn down, and the city was defenseless. Those who lived in the city were vulnerable and in a poor state.
Edgerly commented that the first thing Nehemiah did was to stop and encounter the pain of his people even though they were a long way off back in Jerusalem. He allowed the pain of others to impact his heart and drive him to action. Then, Nehemiah moved from pain to prayer where the concern was brought before God. This released divine guidance, inspiration and power to help impact the situation. Nehemiah started to develop a God-inspired plan. Prayer positions our hearts and minds so that we can hear how God wants to change the situations we see around us.
Nehemiah went from pain to prayer to planning and then to action where he sought the proper time to petition the ruling authorities for access and support to make the necessary changes to bring relief to those who were suffering in Jerusalem.
This involved a substantial risk for Nehemiah. As the king’s cup bearer, he had access to the king, but his request could be interpreted as disloyalty or rebellion. Nehemiah might find himself at the wrong end of the sword by making his request known. And it was never a good idea to be downcast in front of the king. Everybody wanted to put on their best face in the king’s presence. But if you want to make major change, you have to be willing to take a real risk.
Edgerly suggested the following lessons and process from the civil rights movement of the 1960s looking specifically at the example of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
1.) Christians should investigate the situation and collect the facts. Rumor and accusation are not the same thing as true injustice.
2.) Then, Christians should try to negotiate a proper resolution with those in authority.
3.) As the situation escalates, Christians should go through self purification to make sure that they cut any ties or support for the injustice taking place.
4.) Finally, Christians should engage in non-violent direct action to raise awareness of the issue and show solidarity with those who are being abused, hurt, marginalized or negatively impacted by a particular injustice.