Slacktivism (sometimes slactivism or slackervism) is a portmanteau of the words slacker and activism. The word is usually considered a pejorative term that describes "feel-good" measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little physical or practical effect, other than to make the person doing it feel satisfied that they have contributed.
April marked the 1 year anniversary of the Boko Haram kidnapping of 200
girls from the Chibok Government Secondary School. The media coverage
commemorating the milestone was met by a collective “oh yeah…that” by
the internet. Just 12 months before, it had been all the rage to
transform your social media profile pictoagraphic of the words“Bring
Back Our Girls” or a selfie of yourself holding a sign with the slogan.
Prior to that, it had been, “Catch Kony”. It didn’t matter that the
Lord’s Resistance Army had been significantly weakened since the first
Invisible Children documentary had been released; no need to let facts
deter the collective feel good spirit of internet denizens. From ice
bucket challenges to posting a token on our pages, we like to make as
big of an impact on the world as we can while exerting the least amount
of energy and commitment. Whatever the trendy cause to raise “awareness”
is this month, it will hold our attention until the next plot twist
episode of a Shonda Rhimes series distracts everyone. Such is society.
Is it also true for the church?
In March, the GC hosted Global Youth Day dedicated to having young people perform acts of service. Although there is already a “secular” Youth Service Day—besides highlighting our church’s odd proclivity to make an alternate “Adventist” version of things that already exist—the GC event wasn’t a bad idea in and of itself. However, I wonder if it only helped feed our slacktivist ways. A church member lamented that we hadn’t planned a big event for the day. Admittedly, I didn’t. Instead, I try to plan service activities for our young people on a monthly basis. Our acts of service ordinarily are quiet affairs with significantly less fanfare that the GC’s big day. Even monthly isn’t what I want. I want to cultivate a regular habit of service in our young people. The church event was great—as are all the ideas designed to raise awareness on different important issues. But each of these things should act as an entrance point to greater involvement: a beginning, not an ending.
Now it’s true that we can’t be all thing to all people. And it is impossible to be committed to all causes. Yet, we should be committed to something. Many in our church have an actual aversion to social involvement. We like the optics of helping to improve a situation for a day, but we recoil from the prospect of investing energy into improving the root causes that led to that situation. It’s baffling to me, but I’ve found that terms like “social justice” get a bad rep in some Adventist circles. I will always remember from my days as an academy Bible teacher and chaplain having a parent upset that I taught that God wants the Church to actively work for the good of others. She stated that I was supposed to be teaching Bible class and asked, “what does service have to do with the Bible?” Isaiah 58:13 is well known in Adventist circles, but we act like the preceding 12 don’t exist.
If we are the people of God, we should look for ways to be actively engaged in the improvement of the world around us. Yes, we know this world will be ultimately destroyed and recreated, but so will our bodies and that doesn’t stop us from proclaiming the health message! As we see poverty, homelessness and disease all around us how can we not be moved by Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 that encourage us to look after our fellow human beings in need? Viewing the violence, systematic inequities, and corruption toward the marginalized, how can we not step in to help bring reconciliation? If we are not the blessed peacemakers of Matthew 5, then who are? Some hesitate because they believe that involvement necessitates partisanism. Trust me, the folks in shelters don’t care who you cast your ballot for when you’re filling their needs.
Some criticize churches for becoming too involved in social causes—too concerned with worldly agents. How we’ve forgotten that Christ’s people used to be trailblazers in compassionate action! We’ve fallen away from that. Now that secular organizations have picked up that mantle, we wrongly forget that we were at the forefront of service! It’s not too late. We can be trailblazers again. Let’s start by breaking the cycle of slacktivism.
Courtney Ray is a pastor in Southern California Conference.
Pastor Courtney, thank you for this reflection. I’m particularly attracted to the conclusion, where you say that the church can “be trailblazers again.” The social issues you identify–which, for the record, I also think deserve the church’s attention–are issues that many in society are actively trying to address. But what issue is the church called to lead the charge on?
To be perfectly transparent: my fear is that the church’s activism is often an indicator that it has lost faith in the relevance of its own message and, confronted by the prospect of its own obsolescence, opts instead to become a location for community organizing. Churchly involvement with social action is clearly permissible, and sometimes praiseworthy. But surely there is something that the church is called to say and to do in this world that the world cannot say and do for itself. I think that those churches which avoid social issues are mistaken if they think that there is an opposition between the gospel and the way human communities are organized. However, is not Christian activism not also guilty of that same opposition, just by choosing activism instead of proclamation of the gospel?
I’ve heard a lot of recent discussion in several church forums about the ongoing “black lives matter” movement–a movement that has my support. But I’ve heard awfully little from churches that is in any way distinct from what secular society is already saying or offering more insight into the issue that the secular world cannot, on secular terms, produce. This troubles me.
All this to say: apart from the moral mandate of being Christian in the world, in what way does the gospel itself demand to be spoken in the world right now? That, for me, is a question that always must be answered if we are to actually call ourselves the church.
There are at least a couple of levels of involvement when it comes to “social” issues. As a church, there is the institutional involvement; and there’s personal involvement. The church is interested in involving itself when it can promote itself. It’s taken the “light under the bucket” analogy of the Bible to another level. For the institution, social involvement is advertizing. Personal involvement is another thing, both, in depth and scope. If we have to search around to find a cause to be involved in we have a problem. Just open the door in any city and you will find causes staring back at you.
…then there’s also the national involvement. How responsible are we, as citizens, as to what causes our money gets involved in. This is where our involvement in politics come in; and you know where the church stands on that.
Sooooo, it’s not a matter of soup kitchens and handing out of some old clothes every now and then. It’s complicated.
Those plans that come from leaders at union of division offices promoting special “days” and programs are necessary for them to show their departments are devising new projects and themes to justify their positions.
Each congregation should know many specific needs in their own community to become involved in; there is no limit to available needs that should be determined by teaching all members to be aware of those needs and present them for work they can be involved with on their own. Centralized planning cannot observe local needs as well as each member where he lives.
I would suggest Matthew 25:30 and forward, but you know, there is another sermon to be listened to and shared on FB… Thank you for helping quiet any nagging doubts about the proper relationship between sermonizing and helping the beggar on the street.
In my view, Matthew 25 together with Matthew 5-7 defines Jesus plan for his followers. Unfortunately, and likely for the very reasons you mention above and which Mr Read endorsed just now, I dont see much of it in Adventist churches. I end up asking myself, if the church cant be bothered with following Jesus plan for his followers, out of fear of losing its relevance and its message no less, why should I bother with the church? Are you not a pastor Mr Burdette? What advice do you have for me?
No, I am not a pastor. I think a cursory look at even just what I have previously written for this site would give ample explanation as to why I am not. I can’t speak authoritatively about what Adventist churches are doing or not doing. I am certain that some congregations are doing far more than we have heard of, because they see no need to publicize it (just as Jesus commanded).
Why bother with the church? I am one of those people who thinks that one cannot have Jesus without the church. You cannot say to him, “I love you but I hate your body.” The church is Christ’s body, because that is where Christ has decided to make himself uniquely present in this world. And the miracle is that the church really is Christ’s body, despite our persistent failure to live up to that identity. Christ’s promise is to be with us to the end of the age, and he has assured us that the gates of hell will not prevail against his church. I am a disciple of Jesus, and I believe what he has said. I have been disappointed and mistreated by Adventist institutions and individuals numerous times, but I still have hope for Adventists. And there are Adventists who are dedicated to faithful discipleship to Jesus, especially as he describes discipleship in Matthew 5-7. One example that comes to mind is the Adventist Peace Fellowship; I am close friends with two of its leaders, and have myself volunteered some efforts with certain of their projects.
The church does not need many faithful disciples to live out its calling–only a few. This is true of a local congregation, and I think it’s also true of the whole Adventist denomination. I think we should avoid the temptation of waiting around for other people to start doing what we think ought to be done. In the end, we’ll each answer for how faithfully we answered our own calling, for whether we said what difficult thing the Lord commanded that we say, or whether we did what impossible thing the Lord demanded that we do. There will always be a shortage of wheat, and no shortage of tares. Yet the wheat grows.
I think this is better focus point. I feel it is hubris to think we have a special role that is omnipotent. We are not and have never been. With that said, a group of humans, as inbred as Adventists are, will have a unique perspective. Where I vehemently disagree is that this uniqueness is somehow more important than the bigger mission. This is where Adventists have lost their way so the uniqueness is now an idol not worth the words we are typing here.
I see one fundamentalist and probably others agree with you. What is new? They love belief and orthodoxy more than anything.
I don’t think I understand your comment. Are you under the impression that I was saying that the Adventist church has a special role that is omnipotent? I would never say that.
The church as such does have a unique mission that God has given to no one else, and Jesus did assure his disciples that the church’s mission would not fail. That isn’t omnipotence or claiming to be special.
As for who is agreeing with me… Well, I can’t control who agrees with me.
I think you are saying that the mission is pre-eminent and holy. Omnipotent maybe over stating it, but that is how many treat it. I am saying Adventists can have a unique perspective, but cannot claim to have a special place in Gods’ relationship with the world. Adventists cannot claim to be the target of Jesus’ reflection. That is plain hubris. There is no evidence of this; in fact one can make the argument that the greatest disappointment is already here - the death of the church in the developed world.
My point is simply that this viewpoint represents an idol that clearly gets in the way of our primary mission on Earth.
Can’t meet Jesus without a church? This is near heresy. One can say a community is valuable and important, but not an entry point. If one defines the church as Jesus appears to - those that follow me - then it may make sense.
You might also consider that the focus should be God, not Jesus as a reflection of God.
If by “church” you mean the only church Christ mentioned but left to his disciples to propagate, organize and instruct, it was never identified as any denomination; to do otherwise is arrogant assumption. There has always been ONE Christian church; and A Christian individual.
But then, one must answer to the texts in Romans and Revelation that heaven will not be limited to those who knew or accepted Christ. Christians will not be the only inhabitants of heaven and it is not a ticket to that place, either.
I am one of those people who thinks that worldwide christendom is Christ’s body, rather than any individual denomination. So the question regarding the (adventist) Church remains.
Gates are defensive structures. The gates of hell will have no problem prevailing while the church is quietly having a bible discussion and leaving them alone. Gates have problems when someone is pounding on them and trying to force them open. But again, it seems to me that this kind of action is one of those that “indicate that [the church] has lost faith in the relevance of its own message”, because pounding on gates is an action rather than words.
Maybe I misunderstood your meaning, but Scripture indicates that the focus should be on Jesus. Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. John 14:6. And then there is John 14:9–Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father.
And there is plenty of evidence from Scripture that Christians are to meet corporately and not isolate themselves. Paul raised up churches; Jesus wrote letters to 7 churches, not 7 individuals. I don’t believe anyone one is claiming that one cannot meet Jesus without a church, but that they will not deliberately isolate themselves from the corporate body of believers.