In the movie “Amazing Grace,” about the life of the English prophet William Wilberforce, there is a brilliant scene where some of Wilberforce’s friends and acquaintances introduce him to a former slave. The former slave shows him the branding on his chest and the irons that were placed around his neck and wrists. Later in the movie they walk Wilberforce through the holds of a slave transport ship.
Faced with the reality of a system that was stripping people of their humanity, Wilberforce is enraged to the point of action. We never see him throw a chair or go into a fit of rage. But we see a resolute anger that the slave trade is not how things were meant to be, and it transforms him into a political nightmare for the traders.
But fighting injustice is no easy matter. Wilberforce spent 26 years of his life dedicated to the end of slavery. His is a story of triumph and great victory. There are others who dedicate their lives and at the end have seen little progress. Whether our fight against injustice is successful at ending that injustice or not, we can know that the battle will be long and hard-fought.
Only resolute passion and conviction will enable someone to persist in the face of such a difficult enemy. We will only fight against injustice if it makes us angry or breaks our hearts. If we do not have such a passionate and even visceral reaction to injustice, then there will surely be easier aspects of our mission on which to spend our energy.
What would happen if we got absolutely furious about 27 million trafficked persons in the world? Could a group of angry people provide clean water and hygiene for 1 billion people in the developing world that live without it? Are we willing to give our lives for women around the world that suffer rape, violence, and even genital mutilation on a daily basis? What would happen if all 66 million Assemblies of God Christians worldwide began to get angry about the injustices in the world?
In November of 1914, about 350 Christians gathered in Chicago and made the reckless claim that they were starting a movement toward “the greatest evangelization the world has ever seen.” I’m proud to be part of an Assemblies of God movement that went from 350 to 66 million in 100 years. The A/G was also critical to sparking the revival of the Holy Spirit that has occurred among the 500 million Christians now counted among the Charismatic/Pentecostal movement. What if that same kind of audacious and spirit-led initiative was put to the task of proclaiming God’s coming Kingdom of justice?
I’m thankful that Dr. George Wood, General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God, used his influence to help shift the conversation about adding acts of compassion to our four-fold mission during the 2009 General Council. But even now that it is stated as part of our reason for existence, the only way that the worldwide Assemblies of God will make great strides in pushing back injustice around the world will be if our congregations, both pastors and people, get angry about these injustices.
What will it take for our congregations to get angry? It will require the leaders of those congregations to talk constantly about injustice theologically, lifting up the plight of the poor and oppressed, and become true neighbors to the poor. Conduct a pulpit exchange with a pastor from the poor part of town. Travel to the developing world. Host movie nights or small group nights where you watch documentaries that will challenge your people. Learn the names of the beggars and homeless people in your own town. Learn the stories of abused women.
You have a task before you, leader: Confront people with the injustices of our world just as William Wilberforce’s friends confronted him. And trust that the Holy Spirit will bring conviction that this is not how God made the world to be.
Jeremiah Gibbs (ABD-Ph.D., Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary) is the University Chaplain and Director of the Lantz Center for Christian Vocation at the University of Indianapolis. He is married to Jenifer, an ordained United Methodist minister, and they recently adopted their four-year-old son, De’Avalon, who is himself a budding theologian. Follow Jeremiah’s blog at JeremiahGibbs.com