Sleeping Churches and Social Justice (Pt.2)

Jaime Kowlessar
Last week we introduced part one of this piece. If you haven’t read it, go read it now and then come back here to read this concluding piece. Be aware that this is part of an ongoing series of articles on regional conferences, so be sure to go back and read the ones you missed and keep an eye out for more pieces like this one.

Before we take action and engage in the fight for equity, there is a need for us to identify and distinguish the major difference between “charity” and “social justice.” Charity aims to feed people, visit prisons, clothe the homeless. Justice seeks to change the systems that cause people to go hungry, and mass incarceration. Charity is ok with doing health fairs and but justice will seek to make sure there are more healthy options so people can have access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

We are not only called to a ministry of social justice, but to social action. In the book of Mark his opening statements about Jesus are as follows, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.[1] Ched Myers explains that Mark’s usage of the word ‘beginning’ is the same language that is used in the creation account found in Genesis.[2] Since there wasn’t a New Testament, Mark’s readers would understand this as Jesus bringing order where there is chaos through the good news of the gospel. The verse speaks volumes to us today. We are living in chaotic times. A month has not gone by where the innocent and unarmed are being gunned down. We have a generation of children that will grow up without their fathers because they are either dead or in prison for a petty crime. The quality of a child’s education is determined by her zip code. Car title loan shops and payday loan shops continue their predatory practices on the poor. Inner city communities are constantly crippled by entities like liquor stores and fast food chain restaurants that have a deleterious affect on the physical and mental heath of those who are already disadvantaged.

If we are called to social action and simply charity, we must be careful to choose to put our hearts and dollars where they matter. One of the ways regional conferences can help alleviate the pressures in our communities is by setting up a plan to invest in local banks and credit unions, or developing our own. Major banks historically don’t support the healthy, organic development of impoverished communities; neither do they help to improve the financial well-being of impoverished families. Rather, these same banks will deny poor families loans to develop homes and businesses, while consistently making money off of the bad investments that keep them in poverty. Conferences can also invest in properties and land to renovate and build low-income housing with high quality standards.

Our schools need to excel in the areas of teaching and training our youth to be leaders and not followers, owners and not simply workers. Schools have been chartered with the task of teaching a U.S. History that is one-sided, which leaves the youth misinformed and unengaged when it comes to their true history. Black Adventism cannot be absolved of this responsibility either. The distinctive story of black people must always be taught to our children and parishioners. The inroads that have been made, and the marches that we have participated in should be a requirement for all Seventh-day Adventists. Conferences must also address the issue of “food deserts.” If we preach and teach that the health message is the right arm of the gospel, then how can we be comfortable with the lack of healthy options that are accessible to the poor. The easiest and simplest answer is to develop community gardens and fresh markets that can help to make fresh fruit and vegetables more accessible. Holding health fairs and blood screenings in our communities is great, but we must also make sure that we establish leave things of value in the community like clinics and health and wellness centers.

As we continue to look ahead we must not ignore the issue of white supremacy and white privilege in America. This difficult, but necessary conversation must be engaged as we move towards complete reconciliation. Until we acknowledge that white privilege and supremacy is what allows the dominant group to control resources, wealth, as well as the media, then this cycle will continue. The media will continue to betray black and brown people in America and throughout the world. Economic equality will be trampled, mass incarceration will persist, political power will be imbalanced and the wealth and employment gap will continue to widen. We are called to be agitators that comfort the afflicted, and afflict those that are too comfortable.

For now we cannot afford to be silent. It is far past time that we do for ourselves what others will not do. We are called to be the army that will refuse to be dormant and docile as the wheels of injustice continue to turn. We know that the arch of the universe bends toward justice. However, we will not see it bend unless we continue to agitate. We must continue to sing “facing the rising sun of a new day begun, we will march on until victory is won.” We can hear Isaiah proclaim in the midst of a turbulent and unstable situation for us to “Arise and Shine for thy light has come, for the glory of the Lord is upon us.”[3] God has been, and will always be with us.

For every Pharaoh there is a Moses. For every Goliath there is a David. For every fiery furnace there is a Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. For every lion’s den there is a Daniel. For every Sanballat there is a Nehemiah. For every Herod there is a John the Baptist. For every Agrippa there is a Paul. For every devil there is Jesus Christ. God empowered and utilized each one of his servants to combat the oppression of his people. It will be no different with us. We cannot and will not be silent until the dream is fulfilled. The woods are lovely dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, miles to go before we sleep.


[1] Mark 1:1 NKJV

[2] Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man, (Maryknoll, NY, Orbis Books: 2008).

[3] Isaiah 60:1 KJV


Jaime Kowlessar
Jaime Kowlessar


Jaime Kowlessar is a native of Brooklyn, NY. He holds a Masters of Divinity from Andrews University and recently completed requirements for a Doctor of Ministry at United Theological Seminary as a Gardner Taylor Scholar for Political Activism and Social Justice. He also recently published a book entitled Be Made New. Follow him on Twitter @Muchisgiven.

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