By Toya Richards Hill
In a post-modern landscape that includes shrinking congregations, shifting mission priorities, and active parachurch organizations, it is critical that the church focus on its calling of social justice, said noted ecumenist and social scientist Rev. Dr. Eileen W. Lindner.
“I believe that the church will continue, and will now in this post-modern era, once again reformulate its understanding of its … call to social justice,” she told a group gathered Oct. 23 at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. “I believe it, because the church has remembered, however fleeting it is, this element of [the church’s] call.”
“There is an innate human longing for peace,” said Lindner, who serves with the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA and is editor of its annual Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) minister was the featured speaker for The Edwards Peacemaking Lectureship at Louisville Seminary. The lectureship honors Dr. George Edwards, an LPTS Distinguished Alum and Professor Emeritus of New Testament, and his wife, Jean. Together the Edwards have long been active in Christian efforts for peace and social justice.
The Edwards Peacemaking Lectureship was part of the Seminary’s annual Edwards-Presler Lectures on Justice and Mission.
Lindner’s topic, “The Ancient Cry for Justice in a Post-Modern Landscape,” outlined historically how the church over time has veered from its call to “speak out for those who cannot speak” and to “defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
The self interests of the church embodied in “empire” and social justice that is “shallowly defined” and in contradiction to itself, and the swelled egos of mainline churches all helped move the church away from its ancient calling, she said.
Yet in the midst of it all, Lindner said she is encouraged about the future.
“The global reality presses us ever onward to address the matters of social justice,” she said. There is a new generation of young people, she said. “They have hopes and dreams of their own, and they intend to pursue them.”
Lindner contends in the years ahead there will be a continuation of the explosion of issues, including health care and market capitalism, “which must be pursued simultaneously.”
Additionally, “I believe we will have a diversity of methodologies,” and we will see diversity of origins and players trying to address social justice: parachurch organizations, individual congregations, denominations, "networks of persons that have a sense of affiliation with each other" though they may be geographically or denominationally apart, she said.
How will it be sustained? “By faith … perhaps most especially by the Sacraments,” said Lindner, a connectional presbyter of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Palisades Presbytery in New Jersey.
Work for social justice must take place as a matter of “making good on the baptismal promise,” and then through the sacramental meal shared at the table, she said.
“And, hence, our calling to share that Good News with those who are near and those who are far,” Lindner said.
“We are surely shortsighted and blind to some things we should be aware of,” she said. “But we’ve got to get the direction approximately correct and take the first step, trusting the Lord to lead us.”