Back in November, I posted a brief review of an excellent new resource put out by IVPress by Mae Elise Cannon. “The Social Justice Handbook” is a wonderful broad, yet highly accessible guide to the ideas and challenges on many type of social injustice around the world through the lens of a Christian worldview. As promised, I am now posting my interview with Mae for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!
JAR: What inspired you to compile this amazing and thorough resource?
MEC: When I was working at a large predominantly white church in the Chicago suburbs, I had the opportunity to be introduced to a number of individuals working in racial reconciliation and social justice ministries in Chicago. I was intrigued and inspired by their work and began to ask the question of what it might mean to “do justice” in the white suburban context. I began to search. I read books. I went to seminars. I met individuals who do amazing work as activists on behalf of the gospel. I was exposed to some of the greatest leadership and wisdom about the questions of social justice. I have been blessed by the wisdom and council of experts in the field: John Perkins, founder of CCDA; Jim Wallis, leader of Sojourners/Call to Renewal; Brian McLaren of Emergent Village; just to name a few. While I am deeply indebted to these leaders, I came away from these encounters somewhat discouraged. I couldn’t seem to find a place where the specific questions that I was asking for myself or on behalf of the church were being answered. Social Justice Handbook is the result of that journey… questions about race, poverty, and gender. The book is my attempt to understand the very basics of social justice, the biblical context, the down and dirty pragmatics of how to live out justice individually and corporately as the body of Christ.
JAR: What does it take for churches and individual Christians to “move from apathy to advocacy” in the face of injustice?
MEC: There are many different components of moving from apathy to advocacy. I wish there was a four-step process, but the movement toward advocacy is much more organic and is different for every person and community based on the circumstances. For Christians, the movement toward advocacy is provoked and inspired by the Holy Spirit. There are several components that I believe are often present: prayer, awareness, lament, repentance, partnerships, sacrifice, evangelism, and celebration. Social Justice Handbook goes into greater detail about why each of these components is important and about how they support and encourage us on the road to advocacy. There are many different types of advocacy that include: spiritual advocacy, social advocacy, legal advocacy, and political advocacy. Individuals and churches need to be committed to intentionally and prayerfully moving beyond compassion and to pursuing justice by becoming advocates for the sake of the poor and the oppressed.
JAR: What personal experiences shaped your own commitment to social justice?
MEC: Growing up south of the Mason Dixon Line in Southern Maryland, I experienced a lot of racial tension between the black and white communities. However, it wasn’t until going to college in Chicago that I became aware of some of the amazing challenges that communities of color face in the United States, even in the 21st century. These challenges became very personal when my husband and I began the process of adopting an African American little boy who we were caring for through a pre-foster care program. He came to us at a year-and-a-half and during the months he was with us we feel in love. We were amazed by the racial questions people asked. We couldn’t believe the way we were sometimes treated. We learned so much about ourselves and about racial tensions that still exist in our culture. It was the most precious gift for us to be able to care for him during that year, but I think we grew more than he did! We have had many others who have walked alongside of us to teach us about truth of oppression and injustice. We have also participated in many awareness experiences such as the Evangelical Covenant Church’s Journey to Mosaic (J2M) and Sankofa. Both of these trips are intentional encounters between whites and people of color to learn about the historical context of oppression in the United States (See www.themosaiccenterpswc.org to learn more). These trips and many other direct encounters have compelled me in my journey and commitment toward social justice.
JAR: Was there anything that you could not include or later wish you had included in the book?
MEC: This is a hard question! Yes, the main thing that I wish I had included in the book is the topic of “WAR”. It is certainly a justice issue, but I did not feel like I had the experience or exposure to be able to write about it adequately. The question of ‘just war’ and what the Bible has to say about war is an incredibly challenging one. Books and books have been written about that topic and I wasn’t sure that a quick summary in the issues section could begin to broach the important aspects that would need to be considered.
JAR: Why do you think social justice is returning to evangelical attention at this time? Is it more than a trend?
MEC: I hope that it is more than a trend! I believe that all people desire to live meaningful lives. We want our time and efforts to count for something. Because of modern technology and the increased globalization of the world, the problems and challenges facing the poor seem to have come much more to the forefront. I consider all of the celebrities and news articles that have been written about poverty and global justice – I can’t help but think that they contribute to the attention that is being paid at this time. I wish that I could say that the evangelical church is leading the way, but I am not sure that is the case. I think the church is following a trend that is largely inspired by secular activists: consider Bono (who is sympathetic to the church), Angelina Jolie, the ONE Campaign, Jeffrey Sachs and the UN Millennium development goals. As these initiatives have moved forward, Christians have also joined the efforts and created organizations like Micah Challenge, Jubilee Justice, and other organizations that are seeking to integrate what the Scriptures have to say about justice and what it means to do good in the world. I hope that the church will continue to integrate social activism, evangelism, and Christian discipleship as I believe that each of these components are important aspects of the Gospel.
JAR: Any other writing projects on your horizon that we can look forward to?
MEC: I have three main writing projects on the horizon, they are as follows:
- “Three Decades Later: Credentialed Clergywomen in the Covenant (1997-2007)”. The Covenant Quarterly 67:1 (May 2009) written with Amanda Olson.
- A chapter in Theologies of Freedom, “Strange Freedom: Existential and Social Liberation from a Christian Perspective” – a project birthed out of the 2009 Envision and edited by Peter Heltzel and Linda Thomas.
- A chapter in The Theological Legacy of Dr. John Perkins, “Legacy of Love” – edited by Peter Heltzel, Charles Marsh, and Peter Slade.
JAR: Tell us something unique about yourself that we would otherwise never know.
MEC: Most people don’t know that I am an avid lawn-bowler… When I say that, many people say “lawn mowing”! Lawn bowling (in my opinion) is one of the most underappreciated sports in the world! During my early years of playing, I attended the training camp for the Canadian National Team in Montreal in August 2001. After that I was chosen as an alternate for the United States National lawn bowling team. Now, I don’t play nearly as much as I would like, but it is a great sport!
JAR: Thanks Mae!