During the 1990s, I worked for a parachurch nonprofit called Evangelicals for Social Action. We tried to get American evangelicals to share with and to advocate for the poor and the powerless.
As you may guess, that wasn’t easy. Our message was often met with suspicion or even with outright hostility. Some people and some churches could almost grasp the value of “social action” to meet the needs of the needy, but only if it were explicitly a tool for subsequent evangelism — “Soap, Soup and Salvation” or “rice-bowl” Christianity. Others just objected to the idea entirely as a worldly distraction from the calling to evangelize.
I had what I thought then was a terrific response to such suspicions and objections. “Your church is already doing all this,” I would say. “You’re just doing it overseas, but not here at home.”
This was true. Most evangelical churches are committed to supporting missionaries. That support is less zealously consuming than it was 150 years ago at the height of the missionary movement, but it remains a core aspect of evangelical identity. Many evangelical churches have a bulletin board in the lobby or in a Sunday school classroom featuring a big map of the world with pushpins, string and prayer-card family photos of all the missionaries supported by the donations and prayers of the congregation. It’s a big deal.
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