Over the past few days I have been reflecting on two very different perspectives of ministry for the South End. The first focuses entirely on social issues and it stresses the need to advocate for the oppressed against dismissive powers (i.e. businesses and governments) that are failing to meet real needs. The second perspective stresses that for a community to change it must be the result of individual transformation. Poverty and injustice are problems of the heart. According to this perspective what is needed is transforming love through relationships.
I find myself tempted to focus solely on meeting social needs. The questions I ask people are socially based. My conversations are socially based. But, if I were to focus solely on these issues, why am I doing it in the name of Christ? Don't get me wrong, I know Jesus cares about justice, and the preservation of each person's dignity - but He addressed these issues through personal relationships. People realized their worth because Jesus valued them. Jesus' revolution was based on people not causes.
The danger of focusing solely on causes is that they will not carry you far. Rather they can lead to a lot of frustration. To lose the perspective that the best thing we can do for people is to love as Christ does is a fatal flaw. It makes any effort seem bland and lifeless.
On the other hand, I do believe that people's lives would be enriched by encountering Jesus. Christians are called to embody Christ's love and in so doing to be the living expression of Jesus' healing care. Advocacy for people's rights begins with intimacy. Intimacy with Jesus and intimacy with others. As I realized in a conversation with a local clergy person, such intimacy produces patience and hope as Jesus' transformative power is observed personally and in the lives of others.
As I think about this, I realize that I cannot be looking for a way to provide for a social need or cause only. Rather, I will view such causes and needs as connection points. These are ways of expressing God's love that will allow for a connection between the people I want to serve (and who will also serve me) and the Spirit of Christ Jesus. This may be a simple thing, but the difference between this and a sole focus on advocating for justice issues is profound.