Why Justice activists need spiritual healing

(This article also appears at Just Theology.)

Christians who take Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats seriously understand that we are called to serve “the least of these” in love. In addition to individual acts of mercy, many have come to understand that providing aid to “the least” means addressing the systems of inequality that skew our collective resources toward “the most” instead. This leads to various expressions of justice activism.

I am by no means a fervent activist. While I have attended some protests, I am more likely to express my convictions through letter writing, phone calls, donations, conversations, prayer, and service. Yet I know members of my seminary, friends, and those in local activist communities give more of themselves and take much greater risks. And I know activist efforts take a toll. My friends have suffered compassion fatigue, burnout, and shame and guilt at not being able to offer more when community demands are pressing. Working for justice takes a physical and emotional toll. It takes a spiritual toll as well.

As Pentecostal and charismatic Christians, we can offer much to our neighbors who are actively working for justice, even if we are not called to the most visible forms of activism ourselves. Vibrant spirituality and a trust in God’s healing lie at the core of our faith. We can share these gifts with those both inside and outside our faith communities who give so much of themselves for the work of God’s justice.

Here are some ideas, some more ambitious than others, for how your congregation can help support sacred justice work:

Learn about Faith-Rooted Organizing. (You can watch a video by the Rev. Alexia Salvatierra that introduces the concept here.) Perhaps lead a book study. Engage in a season of prayer to see how God may be calling your community toward the work of lived justice. Form partnerships with other churches who are already engaged in this work if you know of any.

Remember that anytime human beings confront systems of evil, we are engaging in spiritual warfare. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:12 NIV). That means that activists need our prayer. If you know members of your congregation who are actively engaging in social justice work, pray for them. In fact, pray for all advocates for justice, not just fellow believers. God is at work in those outside church as well. Prayer is powerful, and God hears all prayer.

Offer services for prayer and healing for justice workers. If you know of a scheduled action in your area like a protest, provide and publicize a time of prayer for activists before the event. And/or after the action is over, offer a healing service. (Update: during Covid times, connecting over online platforms may have to suffice until it is safe to pray in person where you are.) Activism is draining!

Stay open to how God is calling you to live into the work of justice. Pray about how you can more faithfully live into the promise of the kingdom of God that Jesus preached. As Spirit-filled Christians, we trust that God provides us with tremendous gifts that are meant to be shared. Trust in Christ and share your gifts with the world!

Faith Van Horne received her Master of Divinity from the Methodist Theological School in Ohio. She is currently a postgraduate researcher in Theology and Religion at the University of Birmingham. Her thesis explores how perceptions of selfhood and the body influence theological visions of redemption for survivors of sexual abuse. She also blogs for Red Letter Christians UK.

Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please become a member!

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