I posted a comment a few days ago on Marty Duren's blog that got absolutely no response whatsoever. I think this lack of interest in what I said was because I opted to write something that I've wanted to say for a long time rather than joining the debate over Donald Miller that started up in the other comments. Now that I've written something I might as well turn it into a post of its own...
A common trend these days is that the farther left a church is theologically the more they preach about social justice. Most of these churches are dead or dying, but of the small percentage that is growing I think their emphasis on social justice is a major draw compared to traditional evangelical churches. Emergent and liberal churches have identified a major deficiency in their evangelical neighbors, and they have done so rightly in most cases. Those of us who still hold to orthodox (little "o") Christianity would do well to take the criticism from the left and follow Jesus's teachings in the area of loving our neighbors. We ought to do far, far more to provide for those who are victims of injustice, whether at home or abroad.
That having been said, one of the biggest problems in most churches–emergent, liberal, or otherwise–who do stand for social justice is a horrible inconsistency in that area. There is an almost comic irony in the arrogance and elitism that often drives these churches. They make the wealthy, respected, intellectual, and hip people of the world the targets for recruitment into their churches and treat the lowly and outcast people as charity projects. It is easy to forget that all classes of people are our equals in the eyes of the Lord and are potential brothers and sisters in Christ. They don’t allow for the possibility that the homeless man downtown could someday be their pastor if social justice is truly carried out toward him.
The New Testament calls us to adjust our concept of social justice to go beyond helping the needy, fighting AIDS epidemics, and lobbying congress to end the suffering in Darfur. In addition to such things, the social justice of the Bible calls us to drop our attitudes of elitism, to eliminate the idea of a "target demographic" for our churches, and to consider ourselves lower than those whom we have treated in the past as charity projects. God takes great delight in saving and calling out leaders for us from among the lowest rungs of society: “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” -1 Cor. 1:26-29. With this (and James 2 and the rest of 1 Cor. 1:18-2:8) in mind, it disappoints me that we are doing so much to reach those whom the world considers to be wise, powerful, strong, and noble, and doing so little to target the foolish, the despised, and the weak. I honestly believe that it is the prideful tendencies of our hearts that makes us want to save celebrities, CEOs, and hipsters more than hillbillies and immigrant farm workers.
Aside from ranting about other people and their churches, my thoughts on this topic actually came about through conviction over my own sin when I was reading the passage from 1 Corinthians that I quoted above. Sometime in my college years I developed a seriously flawed view of myself as one who was elevated above the commoners of the world (which, I think, is a popular sin among college students). This pridefulness wasn't always obvious since I regularly did community projects like volunteering at a homeless mission. But when I was at church my sin truly came alive as I unconsciously looked down on the people who seemed unsophisticated, most of whom had heavy Southern accents. I even felt embarrassed sometimes when I brought visitors from my snooty college to the church because there were so many people there who seemed like walking stereotypes of Southern Baptists. But as the words of 1 Corinthians sunk in, I realized that I have no right to consider myself more deserving of God's grace than anyone else. God loves to save the people that the rest of the world mocks and degrades, and that's what He will continue to do until Christ returns. Let's humble ourselves and join Him in that effort lest we be ashamed at the end of the age when the first become last and the last become first.