Taking a Stand for Justice: Five Action Proposals for Making a Difference on Campus

NOTE: The ideas of this column and the suggested action plans were discussed with students this past summer and were mostly written prior to the horrible attack on the United States on September 11th and the subsequent bombing of Afghanistan. Please note that, while a voice for God's heart for justice is needed now more than ever, certain obvious sensitivities are now needed as we discuss the history of U.S. involvement in oppressive institutions, especially in the developing world. Further, caution is always wise when offering legitimate criticism of one's own nation so as not to appear disinterested in a legitimate sort of appropriate patriotism. Still, as followers of The Christ, it behooves us to speak clearly, if with a certain respectfulness for those whose national pride is running high, about our most fundamental loyalties and values.

What a privilege to teach and spend time with some of CCO's finest students at the Ocean City Beach Project. This past summer, we spent several intense days reflecting on God's command to be agents of his justice and peace, how to embody (individually, as citizens and as a faith community) both personal kindness and public justice. My son's namesake verse--Micah 6:8--was, of course, often cited.

So, we linked justice advocacy--in racial matters, economics, politics, commerce or ordinary personal life--to both the overt commands in the Bible and, more deeply, to our own knowledge of God and God's own character. A few verses which make explicit the connection between spirituality and social action, prayer and politics, became the foundation of exploring how to pursue God's will "on Earth as it is in Heaven" (Deuteronomy 10:14-21; Jeremiah 9:23-24; Jeremiah 22:13-16, especially 16b; Isaiah 58:6-10; I John 3:17). How do we grapple with the complex ways sin has worked its way into the institutions and structures of our economy? As students are quick to ask these days, we wondered, "what would it look like" to be faithful in matters of social concern, public righteousness, serving others, healthy stewardship of creation and so forth?

At the end of this article, I provide a brief bibliography of key books which are useful for nurturing a sense of social justice. You know how much I believe that such reading should be a significant aspect of our reading diet. (Despite what the Bible teaches, you won't have many preachers "in your face" about these concerns, so if you need extra reminders to be consistent about this aspect of our discipleship, you've gotta keep books like this around. Read "˜em yourself and share "˜em with others!)

But for this installment of the CCO Ministry Exchange (and any of my Hearts & Minds Web site customers who are reading along), I want to simply highlight a few action suggestions which we discussed at OCBP. I f you had student friends there, I beg you to follow up with them: do they recall my challenge for them to get involved in a concrete effort to make a difference back on campus? Perhaps, as some campuses have already done, you could start a social justice organization, a local Bread for the World group, or an Evangelicals for Social Action chapter. Get with others and take on one of the projects listed below. Whatever options you choose, do something! Reach out to other interested students and campus staff. Build a broad coalition of various students, united around a project, working together to mobilize others and achieve strategic, concrete objectives. I am convinced that God will be pleased if we can see a bit of justice and mercy break into history.

Some CCO staff and students at some campuses (you will be encouraged to know) have developed fruitful friendships with activist students who already have a fairly sophisticated critique of globalization and economic injustice and are quite willing to take radical stands for human rights and the environment. These staff will tell you that working cooperatively with non-churched students who are leading social action campaigns is a great avenue for relational evangelism. (I find that the big questions of motivation, hope, truth and the like come up pretty quickly with this crowd.)

Here, though, even more than in most campus subcultures, our willingness to "walk the talk," getting our hands dirty and feet tired (and perhaps, reputations tarnished) is a necessity if we are to earn the right to share the gospel effectively. Conversely, our biblically-inspired, deeply radical critique of the underlying idols of Western culture (unlimited growth, faith in progress, faith in Rationalized science, economistic materialism, technocism, individualism, consumerism and the like) will qualify us to speak wisely and with integrity to those engaged in the front lines of various "issues." That some of the most renowned social critics of our time, like Desmond Tutu or Martin Luther King, are clearly Christians is certainly to our advantage as we feebly try to stand on their shoulders...

And so, here are the suggestions that I offered to the OCBP crew. I trust that a few of them have talked with you about these options for involvement and I commend these projects to you now. If you haven't yet, pick one of them, pray like the dickens, get to know who is already doing work around these concerns and go to town. Call me if you get into trouble.

Fair Trade Coffee
It is an interesting conversation starter to ask your Starbucks® barrista if the coffee that is not designated as "fair trade" is, therefore, to be considered "unfair trade." (To their credit, it should be noted that they claim that all of their coffee growers are paid higher than average and are treated more fairly than is usual in that industry.) It is interesting and good that now consumers can choose the coffee beans that are intentionally grown and marketed with a sensitivity to the needs and rights of the workers.

I would challenge every campus to start a group insisting that the coffee served at the on-campus coffee shop, the cafeteria or the snack bar be purchased from a certified "fair trade" distributor. Of course, this will lead to negotiations with the contracted providers (Marriott®, for instance) and that will lead to a labyrinth of committees, trustees, lawyers, guns and money. (Okay, maybe not the guns, but that's a great song and I couldn't resist.) Who knows who makes these decisions, but your Holy Spirited tenacity and prophetic indignation will be called for if your going to finally get a decision to have at least one financial institution at your campus to agree that they will no longer serve us coffee stained with the blood of the poor.

Interestingly, the very day we discussed this at OCBP, last July, USA Today ran a very nice article explaining this recent shift towards socially-responsible brews. Call TransFair USA at (510) 663-5260 or go to their Web page at www.transfairusa.org for starters. If you've got a local indie coffee shop, they very well may have good information to use, as well.

Starbucks® and other coffee shops also have partnerships with Conservation International, an organization promoting "shade grown" coffee. Shade grown is a slower (and therefore somewhat less profitable) growing process which protects tropical forests and honors biodiversity. As we support more appropriate ways of growing export crops--like this seemingly successful effort where coffee buyers work with farmers to promote conservation--we can make a difference in the concrete practices of multi-national corporations who are trying to be more stewardly and make an important statement about our interest in the larger structural and institutional questions of justice. For Information on Conservation International, see their Web site at www.conservation.org or call them at 1-800-406-2306.

The success of a project like this (even if you fail, at first, to get the college to agree to your proposals), perhaps can be measured by how wide and intense the discussion is on campus. If the school newspaper editorializes against such efforts--it might raise the price of a cuppa joe--and Christians are accused of being troublemakers, rejoice! If faculty from the economics department join in, debating the pros and cons of such efforts, great! If other Christian groups accuse you of failing to be theologically orthodox because you're getting into campus politics, wonderful! (CCO folk are committed to biblical literacy, after all, so we will have to know our stuff.) And if frustrated students are ready to give up too soon, well, isn't there a verse about being ready to explain why believers in Christ are people of hope?

Through it all, you'll learn about speaking about biblical values in ways which can be understood in the public square, you'll have a specific social context to illustrate your Bible studies about jubilee justice, and you'll learn a lot about international trade, ecological sustainability and just how many of our fellow human beings made in God's image are forced to work and live, in some ways, for our benefit. (By the way, for a fabulously wirtten--some have called it exquisite--reflection on folks who make some of what appears in a coffee shop, order Glass, Paper, Beans: Revelations on the Nature and Value of Ordinary Things by Leah Cohen (Doubleday; $13.95). This fascinating book looks at a blue-collar woman working at a glass plant in Ohio, a Nova Scotian lumberjack family, and a Central American Indian woman who works on a coffee plantation, tracing their struggle for survival and dignity in the work of their hands as it flows into the ordinary stuff of our daily lives.)

Green Energy Choices
This is an absolutely wonderful way to bring all sorts of folks together in common cause around a very important practical issue--reducing our dependence on emission-producing, fossil fuel-based, non-renewable energy sources. Did you know that emissions from Pennsylvania alone make our region one of the largest contributors to the damage of the ozone and, hence, of global warming? (Nearby states, don't gloat: there is plenty of blame to go around in this coal-intense area.) Better, did you know that there is actually a plan to reduce Pennsylvania dependency on such inappropriate technologies and make a concrete shift to purchasing and using energy from renewable sources like wind and solar? This is great!

Here's the deal: in our fine state, we can choose our energy providers, just like we can choose phone companies. (In fact, we have to choose, one way or the other.) Some of the providers are registered as "Certified Green E" which indicates that an independent board has investigated their energy sources and has certified that they are only from the low-impact, sustainable sources like wind or geothermal. In the good "˜ol capitalist system, though, there is the rub: the demand needs to be there for the suppliers to supply. That is, we have to ask for and choose a "Green E" energy company.

Recently, Carnegie Mellon University has made the decision that all of their energy use will be purchased from a certified "Green E" supplier. Voila! The demand has gone up and new jobs have been created putting up windmills (not the old Dutch ones, silly--those newfangled skinny ones) out near Somerset. It is good for the environment and good for the economy with a net gain in jobs.

CMU is now the single largest purchaser of wind-generated power in the state. Can you imagine the amount of energy a large institution like a university uses? If colleges, nursing homes, hospitals, schools, churches and other large energy users choose a "green" electric company, it would make a notable difference in the sorts of demands placed upon the energy grids across the northeast, ultimately making a significant difference in the destructive impact of ozone depletion and dangerous climate changes. This is not the place to develop a fully biblical perspective on ecological issues, but the doctrine of creational stewardship certainly is a central cornerstone of a truly authentic Christian worldview.

We are here to care for God's Earth, and the ways in which we've failed in this cosmic, God-given task should cause us to tremble in fear of the Lord. That we can make a major contribution to a history-making shift in energy production is breathtaking. If every college where there are CCO folks were invited to consider choosing Green E--the Trustees get the school's electric from somewhere--it would be an extraordinary blessing for all. There is currently an effort being made to focus on colleges and universities, so the time is right. To be savvy enough to find out who makes such decisions on your campus and to find the right persons to represent the biblical mandate for responsible stewardship, and to be able to make the strategic case well will be a matter of great concern, I am sure. Prayerfully, you will find those right folks, uniting in a campaign to get the institution to do the right thing. CMU has done it, other schools are investigating it. Your college can do it, and--if Christians are in the leadership--the God of all creation can get the glory!

Call Brenna Herpmann at 215-569-9692 (a regional office of PennFuture) for more information. She is a key figure in understanding how to choose a Green E electric provider and is very eager to see colleges move towards greater energy-use responsibility. Interestingly, Sarah Walsh is a former CCO person with a heart for such things who is now working full-time in this exact field with an organization called Interfaith Power & Light, which has a really spiffy Web page: www.ipandl.org (which has many other links and resources for getting involved in this work). Get in contact with Sarah (her personal email is sarah_goombah@hotmail.com) as she stands ready to assist you in working to make your campus more aware of the fabulous opportunity that has presented itself to us here in Pennsylvania. If you are from another state, call her anyway, and perhaps she can link you to similar opportunities in your region.

And while you're at it, of course, choose Green E yourself. Call 1-800-321-7775 for more information today, or go to www.PennFuture.org. Another national Web site is www.green-e.org (or call 1-888-63-GREEN). For information on getting your own church to become a Green E congregation, have your church elders or Board contact the NCC Energy Star Congregation Program by calling 1-800-288-1346. They've got Bible studies and flow charts and all sorts of brochures and folks to help your congregation get green!

While I'm at it, let me give a plug to ESA's nice little magazine called Creation Care. Sign up by calling 1-800-650-6600 or visit www.creationcare.org. Although the political sophistication of PennFuture and the strategic practicality of the Green E campaign is hard to beat, Creation Care needs our support since it is a distinctively evangelical approach, linking ecological concern to the work of Christ, a la Colossians 1:20.

Fighting Pornography
Or, as I prefer to describe it, fighting the degradation of the imago dei and the distortions of human sexuality all while making our communities safer places, especially for women and children. One need not be a Victorian prude to agree that our culture has gotten the sex thing way, way out of control. As bright, young writer Wendy Shalitt has powerfully discussed in the near-brillant Return to Modesty: Rediscovering the Lost Virtue (Scribner, $13.00), the old quasi-feminist push for freedom from sexual constraint has backfired upon women and the subsequent lack of social reinforcement for sexual restraint has now created a climate of immense danger for women of all ages. (I trust I needn't cite stats of date rape and child sexual molestation.) The power-house media critic Jean Kilbourne has shown in her must-read Can't Buy My Love (Touchstone, $14.00) how advertising routinely uses sexuality and even violence against women and this, too, is a part of our current climate which dehumanizes and hurts us all.

While it may be hard to take on the entire sexist culture and the tendency to eroticize everything--on ubiquitous cultural artifacts from TV sitcoms to CD covers, shampoo advertisements to game shows--we can start in one concrete place. We can say not that. Not here. There are schools that sell Playboy and Penthouse in their campus bookstores, and convenience stores near your campus do the same. While these rags are not the worst of hard-core porn, their social acceptability, sold at 7-11 and Border's alongside People and legit news magazines, make them all the more insidious. Carefully worded letters, petitions, meetings, informational teach-ins and pickets all can help to, as the Bible tells us, "expose evil."

Many of you have heard of my success stories convincing two new Sheetz stores not to carry their adult-oriented stuff. (We started with a few letters from community leaders like educators, child-care workers, and businesswomen. We followed with some polite invitations to meet and discuss their decisions about carrying porn and how these may impact the health, well-being and safety of our community. Eventually, polite suggestions were made that we may need to raise awareness with demonstrations and public witness against their awful wares. Didn't take much, really, to encourage them to do the right thing.)

This is a great opportunity to raise questions on campus about the nature of human sexuality, public justice, pluralism, censorship and the effectiveness of things like boycotts to gain a modicum of justice. Strange bedfellows can be fun to create--why not invite the pro-life center (who usually works on abstinence issues, and are often quite savvy about the negative value-shaping power of the media) and the campus feminist group (who most likely are similarly concerned about the sexism of pornography) to a mutual meeting to talk about shared concerns? As above, you will most likely be accused of all sorts of stuff, maybe taunted by macho bullies who are deluded into thinking that they've got some constitutional right to buy whatever they want wherever they want, and some of your students will get discouraged and give up too soon. Again, you'll be coming up against the power of the "almighty buck"--ahh, how quick our times start sounding like ancient Israel's and how soon we need the fervor and hope of Amos, Micah and the other Hebrew prophets.

Call CCO friend Dorn Checkley at the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Pornography (412-281-4565) or email him at pghcoal@pittsburghcoalition.com for tons of resources, ranging from constitutional rulings about selling this toxic stuff to the latest research on the psychological dangers of sexual addictions. Although they spend a lot of their energy on the other predictable issues, which are often a part of the typical right-wing constellation, the American Family Association (www.afa.net) has good information on fighting pornography and can connect you with others working to put pressure on retailers who put profit above decency.

In the midst of your public campaign, you will need to be sensitive to those caught in personal anguish about this stuff. If you develop a pastoral ministry to those caught in such addictions, consider getting Everyman's Battle: Winning the War on Sexual Temptation One Victory at a Time by Steve Arterburn & Fred Stoeker, which is an very helpful guide to issues of sexual purity. Log on to www.NewLife.com for some other helpful resources on sexual addictions, or call Hearts & Minds for suggestions.

Sweatshops
The "no sweat" campaign has gotten immense amounts of coverage and few among us can say we don't know that clothing is often sewn in dangerously hot sweatshop conditions, in factories which are nearly prisons. Poor woman and often young children work in terrible conditions for wages than can only be called exploitive.

One doesn't meditate for long on James 5 or Isaiah 58 to realize what we must do. Christians ought to have been in the forefront of the collegiate movement to insist that college apparel be manufactured without child labor in decent conditions at a livable wage, but, as is often the case, God had to raise up others to do the work. At last, though, evangelical students are joining local efforts to assure that their own college sportswear is made in a setting which at least approximates justice. Has your school pledged such a commitment? Your students buy stuff with your school's name emblazoned on it, and if your college has not agreed to at least honor basic human rights in this area, there should be meetings, press conferences, prayer vigils and public dramatization of the issues.

It is an aspect of the international economic principalities and powers that Satan does not want exposed, yet it is happening. In our generation, this justice issue has been publicized and structures are in place to see justice done in this way. If your campus has not struggled with this issue, wouldn't it be marvelous if the Christian body on campus lead the way? With care, kindness, passion and integrity, we could give God glory the way the Bible teaches God gets glory--by others seeing our good works.

Get into the anti-sweatshop movement by checking out one of the many Web sites and organizations designed to galvanize students. Start with www.usas.org. Do it today.

Bread for the World
I have written about this fantastic organization other places, and I imagine most of you know about BFW. Simply put, this is one of the best examples of Christian citizenship in action. Organized by congressional districts, the national BFW office notifies folks about hunger-related bills in Congress, encouraging us to write letters to our Senators or Representatives regarding how certain votes can help poor people. While getting organized masses (even small groups of masses) to write letters about seemingly arcane legislation regarding foreign trade laws, aid to small farmers in Africa or new regulations about food stamps may not seem as sexy or dramatic as staging a sit-in at the campus bookstore because of their porno-dealing, sweatshop-supporting profiteering, this low-key way to encourage responsible civic involvement literally--literally!--saves human lives. Please visit their Web site (www.bread.org) and get on their weekly email listserve for ongoing up-dates in the battle for just political policies regarding the poor, both at home and abroad (1-800-82-BREAD).

More resources below.

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Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ron Sider (Word, $17.99). Written by a friend of the CCO and an esteemed evangelical leader, this is a remarkable book, a great introduction to the Bible and a must-read for anyone who is even thinking about getting involved in Christian ministries of social justice. The biblical material is immensely useful, the international economic stuff quite readable and the vibrant call to a whole-life social action empowered by the Resurrection makes this a true classic. Even if your younger students want to skip the parts on international trade and foreign aid, have them master the biblical material. It is essential.

Good News and Good Works: A Theology for the Whole Gospel by Ron Sider (Baker, $12.99). Although this is an important theological work, it is written at a popular level and would be a wonderful study for anyone interested in a solidly evangelical view of the relationship between social action and evangelism. Sider deftly shows how, too often, more liberal churches have a strong social agenda devoid of evangelical piety and personal evangelism while the evangelical camp has tended towards a serious personal faith with little time for cultural reformation and social transformation. Only a full Kingdom vision is adequate to bring together the need to see lives transformed, communities changed and public policies reformed. Bring it on!

Human Rights and Human Wrongs: Major Issues for a New Century by John Stott (Baker, $14.99). Who is more reliable than evangelical statesman John Stott? Here, after a few great opening chapters on developing a Christian mind and perspective, Stott weighs in on a variety of issues from the environment to war and peace to human rights. A very wise and balanced resource which I highly regard and recommend.

Good News About Injustice: A Witness of Courage in a Hurting World by Gary Haugen (IVP, $11.99). Again, I have recommended this often--it is the stunning story of a U.S. diplomat who witnessed horrific things like the Rwandan massacres in the 1990s and then started a Christian mission for international justice. From child prostitution to religious persecution, evil often seems to carry the day. The good news, though, is that the folks described in this book are making a difference, rising up against injustice. There is a video that can be used along with this, with Haugen telling some of the powerful stories from the book. Powerful and inspiring.

For the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care by Steven Bouma-Prediger (Baker, $21.99). I mentioned this last month, but cite it again because it is so solid, incredibly well-done, theologically rich and scientifically astute. Very, very good.

Mustard Seed Versus McWorld: Reinventing Life and Faith for the Future by Tom Sine (Baker, $14.99). Sine is as energetic as Campolo, as visionary as they come and offers a biblically-balanced and wholistic sense of Christians making a difference in the modernized globalized world. If your students aren't eager to change the world after reading this, check their pulse!

Seeking Peace: Notes and Conversations Along the Way by Johann Christoph Arnold (Plough, $15.00). What a wonderful collection of spiritual reflections, devout but open-minded considerations about the relationship of inner peace and world peace. Written in a very seeker-sensitive tone, it is still clearly Christ-centered. (Call the Bruderhof, the anabaptist, intentional community from which Plough publishing emerges, at 1-800-521-8011, and ask to subscribe to their marvelous quarterly journal and book catalogue.) With a preface by Buddhist contemplative peace activist, Thich Nhat Hanh, and a lovely foreword by Madeleine L'Engle, this is a book you could give to nearly anyone seeking global, local or personal peace. Simple, humane and loaded with stories, this is a quiet gem for anyone on the journey.

Faith Works by Jim Wallis (PageMill Press, $16.95). Now out in paperback, this expanded edition shows what Jim has learned from nearly a lifetime of religiously-inspired social activism. Starting with his late-'60s student activism days on through his founding of Sojourners magazine and their inner-city community, to his now-renowned work with the "Call To Renewal," this useful volume shows practical lessons for social activists and how to work at being savvy, responsible and spiritually-powered change agents. Very, very helpful as we move from personal faith to social renewal.

Globalization and the Kingdom of God by Bob Goudzwaard (Baker, $11.99). This book collects Professor Goudzwaard's insightful Annual Kuyper Lecture keynote and several responses by other thoughtful Christian thinkers. This is a great, brief primer to the issues of modern economics and a just Christian response. His more scholarly treatment of the underlying worldviews which have shaped and directed the development of modern economic thinking, Capitalism and Progress is a reformational classic!

When Corporations Rule the World by David Korten (Kumarian Press, $19.95). A standard text in many progressive business courses, this is an alarming exposé of the devastating consequences of globalization. Powerful.

No Logo: Money, Marketing and the Growing Anti-Corporate Movement by Naomi Klein (Picador USA, $17.00). I'm tellin' ya--get this book right away! It helps you "take aim at the brand name bullies" and resist the consumerism and marketeering that is so damaging to our lives, world and culture. Vivid examples, compelling stories and engaging social analysis, this is provocative, challenging and very, very useful.

Reclaiming America: Nike, Clean Air and the New National Activism by Randy Shaw (University of California Press, $16.95). An inspiring account of how activists can link grassroots organizing to national struggles. Various projects are documented (like the campaign against Nike's® & Guess's® use of sweatshop labor) and shows how local students can cooperate with a broader, bigger picture. A nuts and bolts analysis of how these sorts of movements are conceived and worked out.

Lastly, for a lengthy interview with yours truly about evangelical approaches to social activism on campus, go to the Ivy Jungle Network Web page (www.ivyjungle.org) and click on the link to "Ivy Jungle Reports." They chose this interview with me from a past issue as a sample to show the sorts of things this collegiate ministry journal covers. They must have thought it worthwhile... The audio tape of a workshop I did on the same theme is also available to order from their tape collection. Is it untoward to recommend it?