Moving From Protective to Transformative Social Action

Evangelical political action in the 20th Century (and even into this century) was marked by a protective ideology.

In the world of “Left Behind” (and before that, “The Late Great Planet Earth”), Christians have had an escapist and defeatist attitude toward the world around them. The thinking is this: "Until the return of Christ, social reform is ultimately futile and a waste of time."

But this has not stopped evangelicals from being politically active – it has just skewed the way we have done it. For the escapist/defeatist, social and political action is motivated by a protective ideology that tries to keep the secularists from hurting the Christian way of life. Social action is not meant to be transformative, just protective. Social action is seen as a defense of Christian values for the sake of the Christian community rather than as a redemptive power for the good of all in society (though this defense of Christian values is seen as what is good for all society since it reflects God's will). The Religious Right that sprung up in the late 20th Century epitomized this protective political action.

This is why we see evangelical Christians so active for creationism to be taught in schools but not very active for the plight of the poor and oppressed in the world.

Evangelicals move toward social action when a James Dobson says something in the humanist/secular culture is a threat to Christian values – for instance, gay marriage. Our political involvement has been impulsive based on fear of a threat to our values. It is a political action based on fear: "We must protect ourselves from this threat!"

However, as a result of this protective social action, any injustice in the public sphere that is not seen as a threat to evangelicals is left unnoticed by them.

In this election season (especially here in Ohio), we have seen it all over again. the “Evangelical Base” is targeted by Republicans to “get out the vote” for the sake of issues like gay marriage and abortion.

We need to move from a merely protective social and political action into a more transformative social and political action. We are taught by the New Testament NOT to hope to escape this world or to have a defeatist attitude toward the world.

After a whole chapter devoted to the resurrection of Christ and the hope of resurrection for believers, the Apostle Paul does not end by saying, “Therefore, hope that you’ll escape this wretched earth. It’s going to hell-in-a-handbasket, so working for transformation in this world is all in vain. Christ is coming soon, and therefore just wait for that.”

No. Look at his words: “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1Cor 15:58)

Also see: More on Protective vs. Transformative Social Action for a video that proves my point!

technorati: , , ,


Cultural Savage said...

You hit it here Bob.

I grew up in the escapist/defeatist mentality. One thing that this way of thinking completely misses is the idea of revolution. Jesus, Paul, And all the prophets seemed to have this idea that the people of God make up this alternative society, with counter cultural beliefs and values, that lives within the existing socio-political structure. From this place, this alt. society have the power to revolutionize the people they encounter every day (their neighbors), inviting them into this new way of living (counter cultural, based on Love and Faith), and thus seeing the Shalom of Yahweh start to find its plantings. And these plantings will come to fruition on the day of the Lord, even as they bare fruit (loving mercy, doing justice, walking humbly with God) withing the world system they find them selves in until that day comes.

So, we say, "Come Lord Jesus!" and look to offer redemption and revolution to the world we find ourselves in.

Good post here; good thoughts.

Ted Gossard said...


This distinction you make is illuminating to me. An excellent point. And so much in keeping with the gospel/good news we have in Jesus. Thanks.

Missional Jerry said...

I wish all our follow believers could read this.

Heidi Renee said...

Thank you for explaining this so well. I too was raised in the dispensational church and could never lay hold of the defining difference between the two.

I can remember as a teen hearing that if we didn't recycle Jesus would come back more quickly... destroying the earth for the kingdom come... sigh.

Great thoughts!

Paul Carusoe said...

This makes the distinction between missional and attractional church better than anything I've heard. Nice job!