Why Should I Get Involved in Social Issues?
By the late Esther Madriz* — Updated by Susie Johnson
For more than 100 years, women organized for mission have been involved in social action, often leading the church in the call for social justice. They have worked in the name of Jesus to change legislation, systems, structures, and practices considered unjust and oppressive to others.
Why must the church be involved in politics? Why does the Women’s Division take positions on social justice issues? Homelessness, hunger, poverty, racism, illiteracy, economic justice, war and peace, health care for children, international conflicts: the list of national and global issues with which the Women’s Division has been involved over the years seems endless.
What Does the Bible Say?
In Genesis 1:27 we read that human beings were created in God’s image. Scripture shows that every human being is precious. We are people of different races, different genders, different heritages, and we are all precious in God’s sight.
Genesis 1:31 reads, “God saw everything that was made, and behold, it was very good.” This affirmation clearly states God’s intention that all living creatures, all human beings, and all nature should experience the goodness of creation.
▲ A United Methodist Women member addresses the crowd at a Western North Carolina public education event. Photo courtesy of GBGM.
Institutional structures and social relations that oppress people are instruments in defying the will of God. The gospel breaks down barriers of race, religion, and social class. In the Old Testament, God acted through Moses to free the Hebrew people from the oppression that they were experiencing under the Egyptian pharaoh. This teaches us that the spiritual dimension and the socio-economic and political dimensions are inseparable. Spirituality is demonstrated here as none other than God at work through human beings to penetrate all of life’s basic aspects.
In the New Testament, because “God so loved the world,” God sent Jesus Christ. Jesus mission was undoubtedly a controversial one. It was a challenge to the social order proclaiming God’s reign as the establishment of a new set of human relationships. Jesus aligned himself with the captive, the blind, the oppressed, the poor, the widowed, and the weak. Jesus came to proclaim the “year of the Lord’s favor” (see Luke 4:16-19). The year of the Lord’s favor or the year of the Jubilee that Jesus was proclaiming is nothing less than a call for social justice, a challenge to social structures, and a call for liberation.
Our United Methodist Heritage
Our United Methodist heritage reflects a history of commitment to social justice and social action. John Wesley placed strong emphasis upon the Christian life as a combination of faith and love put into practice. In the United Methodist Book of Discipline, one can read one of the best-known Wesleyan phrases. “There is no religion but social religion, no holiness but social holiness” (see 2008 Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, page 48). Our commitment to social justice can be best represented in the church’s historic opposition to social evils such as slavery, inhumane prison conditions, and child labor. The biblical integration of the spiritual and the social is also well expressed in our Book of Discipline: “We proclaim no personal gospel that fails to express itself in relevant social concerns; we proclaim no social gospel that does not include the personal transformation of sinners” (see 2008 Book of Discipline, page 49). The Untied Methodist Social Principles and The Book of Resolutions speak to the human issues confronting the world from a biblical and theological perspective.
▲ Lois Cochran, a United Methodist Women member, next to her display for a letter writing campaign. Photo courtesy of GBGM.
How Can United Methodist Women Get Involved?
We can all do something toward building a just world, to “proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,” as the Bible and as our Book of Discipline command us to do.
First, choose an issue. Look in your community, your neighborhood, or even the world. Find an issue that interests you. The Women’s Division is always involved in social issues and can be a source of support for you. Examples of issues are economic justice, racial justice, child advocacy, women’s concerns, environmental justice, health care, and global concerns (such as child labor, human rights violations, self determination, and others).
Always ask why the conditions exist. Develop a list of ways you can work to alleviate the reason for the problem in the area of public policy at the institution level and at the individual level.
Second, narrow your focus. Social problems can be very complex. If you try to deal with the whole problem you will become frustrated and overwhelmed. So, find a focus. For example, you may choose child advocacy, deciding to work on an after school program for children of working mothers. The key is to find an aspect of the problem that you know you can manage.
Third, learn about the problem. Knowledge is power.
- Join the Social Action Network at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- To stay abreast about issues that affect women and families, visit www.umwmission.org.
- Receive a monthly email alert or a mailing 3 times a year.
The more you know about a problem, the better equipped you are to deal with it. If you are dealing with a local issue, you should use the resources available in your community that can provide you with information such as you local government, your church and other churches, United Methodist Women’s groups, and local organizations. If you are dealing with an international issue there are also many sources of information: the Women’s Division through the United Methodist Office for the United Nations, newspapers, and local and national organizations.
Fourth, design a plan of action. You have to set realistic goals. Then, plan clear ways to achieve them. Identify the sources of support that you have within the United Methodist Women’s organization, such as your Mission Team Mission Coordinators of Social Action, as well as Spiritual Growth, Education and Interpretation, and Membership Nurture and Outreach. In your conference and in your district you have many resources that can be useful to you. Contact the Secretary of Program Resources in your conference. Use your resources! Identify other resources in your community, your church, your United Methodist Women’s local unit. You can also collaborate with a local group that is already actively working on an issue. Involve others!
Fifth, Act! Your action can take many forms:
- Education of others. Share with other people the skills necessary to effect social change. This is one of the fundamental steps toward the construction of a just society.
- Political action. This includes actions such as letters to elected officials, vigils and public prayers, acts of protest, voter registration, and radio and TV ads.
- Social and economic action. This can take several forms, from boycotting or refusing to buy a product to participation in rallies, marches, and public demonstrations.
- Issue Advocacy. Advocate for changes in unjust laws and regulations that relate to specific social issues.
Get involved in media literacy in your community. Monitor media messages and images. Advocate for fairness in news coverage and wholesome TV entertainment.
Speak out to support the homeless and those who are losing their homes due to foreclosures. Organize forums with elected officials.
Join the Green Team and work with local environmental groups to protect the earth, create green spaces and support sustainable development.
Serve others by working in soup kitchens, food banks, community gardens, and meals on wheels.
Advocate to end violence toward women and protect victims of human trafficking.
Remember, prayer is one of the most powerful sources of support and change in our lives. Let the power of prayer support you in your actions for justice.
- “Partnership in God’s Mission. Theology of Mission Statement.”
- The Book of Discipline
- The Book of Resolutions, the United Methodist Publishing House, 1996.
[*] All scripture references are from the new Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education, National Council of Churches of Christ, USA. Used by permission.
A Publication of the Women’s Division produced by the Communications Unit, General Board of Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church.
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*Esther Madriz, formerly a staff member of the Women’s Division, General Board of Global Ministries, was a professor at the University of San Francisco.