On 6 February 2016, a group of young adult Christians gathered at The Living Room Cafe in Zion Bishan BP Church over brunch to chat about their experience with engaging fellow Christians in their local churches about biblical social justice. The discussion revealed a pessimistic picture about the local churches’ attitudes to justice and mercy, and the glaring need for engagement.
We started by asking the 13 participants the following question: “On a scale of 1-10, to what extent do you think your church members have a positive understanding of social justice? Why did you give this answer?” The average response was 3.82 of 10.
A common sentiment among participants is that church leaders and members tend to see social justice as wholly separate and apart from, not intertwined with, the Gospel. Instead, social justice is seen as a “good to have”, “not necessary”, do in your “free time” sort of thing. Unlike “evangelism” or “discipleship”, “social justice” is not in the vocabulary of the local churches. At best, it is seen as a practical means to some other goal, like evangelism or ‘outreach’. One participant observed that his church members, whose demographics are mainly middle and upper-middle class folks, tend to simply give money and not themselves get involved with anything; he bemoaned the fact that church sermons tend to focus on how to cope with life rather than the Church’s or Christian’s impact on the world. Many participants mentioned that while their churches have some social action programme or ministry, e.g. prison ministry, community outreach, participation is low and even then the understanding about social justice is not holistic.
Not all is bleak. A participant noted that social justice in her church is well practised among members in their day to day lives. As teachers or nurses, many of them live justly and do justice in their work. Another participant opined that social justice is first expressed within the local church and a lot of it done behind-the-scenes and not through some visible programme. Yet, there’s a long way to go before such justice activity spills out of the church community and onto the streets.
One view which emerged is that when the church’s theology is piecemeal, doctrines of this and that, instead of a larger holistic narrative of for instance Kingdom theology, people tend to just do things and live out their Christian lives in such a segregated fashion.
Another interesting view that came up is that many church folks tend to think of a distinction between the local church and the para-church organisation. Many feel the local church is meant to do and teach certain things, whereas things like social justice should be left to para-church organisations.
Someone noted also that some time back, he had written to International Justice Missions to consider partnerships and establishing a presence in Singapore. They wrote back something to the effect that they feel the Singapore Church is “not yet ready“. It is sobering to hear such views from an outsider. The question which was then posed to all of us was, “who’s getting the Singapore Church ready?“
With that question still ringing in my head, I felt all the more burdened that more of us need to commit to this process of readying the Singapore Church, the bride of Christ.