In Pursuit of Justice, Passion Is Not Enough
An interview with Rev. Alexia Salvatierra, Director of Justice Ministries for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
I am excited about the work of the Holy Spirit, raising up a generation of believers who are discontent with The Hole in our Gospel and are seeking to fill the hole in tangible ways within their homes, churches, and local communities, and throughout the world. Having a conviction and passion, however, is only the beginning of pursing justice God’s way. We must remain faithful in prayer, get educated about the issues, equip ourselves for the work, humbly engage others to join us on the journey, and care enough about people that we continue this work until Christ returns or calls us home.
It was my honor to sit down with Rev. Alexia Salvatierra, Director of Justice Ministries for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, to discuss this exciting time and the challenges we face in the pursuit of justice. Rev. Salvatierra also works for a variety of organizations like World Vision and InterVarsity. Her counsel to women, and to all of us who want to pursue justice: get trained, reconcile with those who are poor, and read.
Rev. Salvatierra: It’s very important for members of churches to be trained and equipped to do justice and engage with organizations like World Vision that can actually give them a context for doing justice. World Vision will come to interested churches and offer an eight-hour training in public policy advocacy under the conviction that God is real and Jesus has risen, because God is real and Jesus is risen. Therefore, we teach people why they should be doing public policy advocacy and how to do it, so they are doing it in a way that is pleasing to God. And that brings the unique gifts of the church to the broader movement for social and economic justice.
Currently, World Vision works with approximately 6,000 churches around the country. Many of the churches get started by doing child sponsorship (for which World Vision is most known) and then they realize they want to do more. They come to realize that child sponsorship is beautiful but it’s not enough and if we really want the fullness of life for all children, we have to work together to address the root causes. We have to change the systems and the structures.
Reconcile with Image-Bearers Who Are Poor
Sometimes I get uneasy when I hear privileged Americans talk about helping “the poor.” It unnerves me because we are speaking about people as if they are objects. “We” (the collective group of passionate, privileged, and powerful Christians who care about justice) are going to help “the poor” because “they” are incapable of helping themselves and can’t make it without us. We become the victorious heroes for the poor, lost victims, and that makes us feel good about ourselves. None of us want to address people as if they are stray animals or lost objects, but that’s how we speak, not realizing what has settled into our hearts concerning these image-bearers whom God loves.
I often think of the true fellowship of the church in the Book of Acts, when…
“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had…There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need” (Acts 4:32, 34-35, NIV).
I read and I wonder if we miss the opportunity to experience God in true fellowship because so many of our churches are economically and socially segregated.
Rev. Salvatierra: It’s very important to make the connection between churches that are primarily poor or primarily minister to poor folks and churches that are better off financially. We need real peer relationships of mutual ministry and mission because that’s where people are changed. Through relationships, people really come to understand why justice is important and begin to feel a passion for justice in their own hearts. They must have intimate relationships with people who are suffering unjustly for that to occur and for the Scripture to come alive in them.
The Scripture says that the last will be first and the first will be last, and the perspective of the poor in a very critical way is the perspective of our Lord. When he says, “Whatever you do to one of the least of these you do to me,” it’s not just our Lord as victim; it’s our Lord having the wisdom that comes from below. This is my understanding of Matthew 25:31-46, when Jesus says whatever we do for the least of these, we do for him. He sees through the eyes of the marginalized, and those who do not hear the poor will themselves not be heard when they cry out to God (Proverbs 21:13). So we should not see the poor only in terms of their need but in terms of the gift that they bring and how much we need each other. Financial stability is not the only measure of the resourcefulness of a local church. In pursuing justice in fellowship with all God’s image bearers regardless of socio-economic class, we have an exchange of resources that is critically important. We want to love as intelligently and as fully as possible.
When Jesus gave, he gave everything so we want to give everything. We want to be good stewards of our influence because helping the poor and the oppressed helps the entire body of the church. That’s a fundamental lesson learned from a sermon by Rev. Timothy Dearborn who was as part of World Vision staff for many years. When he spoke these words, he was talking about Galatians 2:10, where Paul says that the only part of Jewish law he wants to make sure the church of Galatus keeps is to remember the poor. Rev. Dearborn says we have to understand the context of being members of one body, so that when the poor are neglected or forgotten it’s as if a part of our body is cut off and for the body to be well and whole, we have to literally remember the dismembered parts of our body. We must reconnect the poor. Recognize the connection of the well-being of the poor to the rest of us.
Rev. Salvatierra is currently writing a book with her good friend Rev. Peter Heltzell (professor, New York Theological Seminary) about faith-rooted organizing for Intervarsity Press. It’s a how-to book for young, Christian leaders who want to do justice in the church. In the meantime, you can connect with Rev. Salvatierra through her website: www.alexiasalvatierra.com/index.html.
Does your church or organization offer justice training? How does your church reconcile image bearers across socio-economic classes?
Natasha Sistrunk Robinson is a full-time student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC campus (Christian Leadership). She also serves as co-director of the women’s mentoring ministry at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. She is a blogger, a writer, and the founder and President for His Glory on Earth Ministries. You can connect with Natasha through her blog, Twitter, or Facebook.