Every day it seems there is a new social justice challenge for Christian leaders. Just in the last few months, major headlines have revealed a small example of the complicated issues in our society: the March for Life, new abortion legislation in New York and a viral video of the confrontation between Catholic school students and Native Americans.
According to a new Barna Group report, “Faith Leadership in a Divided Culture,” approximately nine out of 10 Christian pastors claim they believe they have a crucial role in preserving religious freedom in the U.S. However, the report showed 50% of pastors hesitate to speak out about social justice issues.
The data-based analyses from the report came from four years of research derived from national public opinion surveys conducted by Barna Group from 2014-2017.
Not surprisingly, the top hot-button issues among Christian pastors are homosexuality, same-sex marriage and abortion––all of which are topics pastors typically avoid to prevent potential backlash from both their congregations and the public.
Roxanne Stone, Barna’s editor-in-chief, said the study was conducted in order to capture how Christian leaders are responding to cultural and political shifts. Stone said an overwhelming number of pastors expressed worry about dissatisfying church members and potential members.
“The pressure for leaders and especially faith leaders to satisfy everyone on all sides and to avoid offense is very real today, especially in the digital era,” Stone said. “The public nature of social media only increases the stakes.”
According to pastors who participated in the surveys, 46% claim it is more difficult to talk about biblical beliefs related to social issues than it was five years ago, and 49% said the level of difficulty remains the same.
Yet, a large majority of pastors––64%––also feel intense pressure from their congregations to address social issues in the world. For pastors, it becomes a slippery slope: people want the issues to be addressed, but pastors feel limited to do so out of fear of criticism.
This fear is certainly not misplaced. Pastors have a strong sense of duty to reach those who do not know Christ and continue to grow their churches. By speaking out about sensitive issues in our society, pastors risk not only losing congregants, but also potential guests.
Pastors then find themselves weighing the importance with the risks of the two: should I preach what the Bible says about these issues, even if it is not well-received and risk losing people, or should I just keep quiet?
Of course, the issue is not just for pastors or Christian leaders. What are Christians in general supposed to do?
While it is a tough decision, I do not believe God would want us to be silent about the Bible in relation to social justice issues.
When I read through the Gospels, I am continually astounded by the rebellious nature of Jesus as He addressed the social issues of His time. Jesus was bold, to say the least. He befriended tax collectors and prostitutes––the lowest of society. He reminded women of their value in a time where they were nothing more than property.
Jesus showed in words and actions what was truly important. He advocated for lost causes and introduced society to a radical notion of love, while all the time showing these people how to turn from their lives of sin. Jesus rebuked sin, crushed it and destroyed its hold on us so we could live free in the truth of God’s Word.
He was proximate to those who were burdened with injustice, and showed pious religious leaders and rejected sinners alike how to walk in truth and love.
In the same way, Christians cannot afford to remain silent on societal issues. Christians have the burden to speak the truth, even if their voice shakes and is completely rejected by others.