Positive Social Change

Introduction

You’ve probably have heard many sermons over the years that bemoan the fact that there are too many in the congregation that are “Sunday Christians”. They come to church regularly to worship, praise and adore Jesus and to give thanks to God for their many blessings, but as soon as the service is over and they rush to the parking lot, it’s every “man” for himself. What happened to their sense of community and resolve to follow Jesus’ example and his admonition to love thy neighbor? Not just at the Sunday service! Perhaps they just don’t know who their neighbor is.

They seem to have forgotten how Jesus replied when a lawyer asked what the greatest commandment was. Jesus’ reply was that second to loving God, “To love your neighbor as yourself.” When asked who our neighbor is, He did not answer directly, He went on to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan. Remember, it was the Samaritan, who demonstrated compassion and love by caring for a man dying in the ditch, beaten, naked and abandoned from an assault by robbers? It was not the priest or the Levite who saw him their beaten, naked and abandoned. They passed on to the other side of the road, ignoring the victim. But along came a Samaritan, who instinctively showed his compassion. Hearing this parable at that time in history, must have had an impact on those who questioned Jesus, because they would have been very aware that there was no love lost between the Samaritans, who came from the north and Priest and Levite who came from the south.

When asked, Jesus refuses to define who our neighbor is. Instead he asked a question. “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers hands?” The lawyer who asked the original question sheepishly responded, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said, “Go and do the same.” Jesus’ message is clear; loving our neighbor is not limited to family or friends. It’s showing the love of God to all who are in need, whoever they may be, whatever faith they belong to. His message to us is the same, “Go and do the same.”

For us to follow Jesus, we must reflect God’s love by loving one another. Not just in words, not just to those who share our same beliefs, but by our actions to friends and enemies alike. It’s often easier said than done. Jesus is more direct in Matthew, 25:35, when He reminded us who we needed to serve, “I was hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me something to drink… I was naked and you gave me clothes…” etc. Then He was even more explicit in the Beatitudes (The Sermon on the Mountain), Matthew 5-6, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God.” And “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be filled.” Etc. In our current vernacular, He was saying, If you want to follow me, you need to be a “change agent”.

I strongly recommend a website that deals with these issues in great depth, and has references for where to go to get involved in projects you might be interested in. The website is Following Jesus. It has examples of how we might follow Jesus almost two thousand years after his birth. For example, homelessness, visiting the sick and imprisoned, caring for the environment, or working for peace and justice, all have excellent references.

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Types of Social Change

One of my good fortunes that I had on my life’s journey was to be sent by my bishop to study social work at Fordham University, so that I eventually could be director of Catholic Charities in Schenectady, NY. At that time I had no idea what social work as a profession was. I just obediently followed his orders. I soon was introduced and embraced social work, its values and it practice model for . It opened up a whole new world to me. It became my way of being a change agent and follow the social gospel.

I intend to use what I learned in my social work training as a model of change. It’s not the only model but it made sense to me. Social work is basically grounded in our Judaea/Christian heritage, which believes in the dignity and worth of every human being. It believes that we don’t have to become someone or belong to a certain religion, be of a certain gender or be heterosexual, or a member of a certain social cast or income level, rather just by being a human being we are already someone and we can thankfully accept our rights as outlined in the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are
created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with
certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty
and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights,
Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just
powers from the consent of the governed…

For me, the social work practice model fits perfectly with my understanding of the type of action to affect change that Jesus might have had in mind for his followers in the 21st century. Social work doesn’t have the corner of the marked on the model I’m going to describe. Change theory is used by different organizational systems to achieve a higher degree of output or self-actualization. One of the differences with social work and other profession who are change orientated is that social work deals with both small and large systems, Micro and Macro. The underlying theory of social work practice for change is Person in Environment (PIE). As the title indicates, the focus for change is both on smaller system, e.g. individuals, families and small social networks (Micro); while the focal point of Macro practice is on changing larger systems, such as neighborhoods, communities, governments, and other organizations. That is, those systems that impinge on individuals and other smaller systems. Macro practice encompasses a broad spectrum of practice, including planning, program development, community organizing, policy analysis, legislative , program evaluation, task-oriented group work, community education, and human services management.

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PIE is a holistic, since it is interested in effected change at different levels and takes into consideration cultural diversity. For example, a person who is homeless and hungry has an immediate need for shelter and food. Since a hungry person cannot eat retroactively, and has an immediate need for food, we follow Jesus’ example by providing food to the hungry person, but from a perspective we need to help change the other systems that might be causing the problem of hunger and homelessness. This could require advocating for jobs or job training, affordable housing, or programs to meet their needs until they can support themselves.  We need to play both the role of enabler, by helping the person become capable of coping with situations or transitional stress by meeting their immediate needs and advocating for the resources they need to be able to pursue what Franklin D. Roosevelt – The Four Freedoms in his address to Congress on June 6, 1941. The third and fourth freedoms are particularly appropriate for change:

The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.

FDR goes on to articulate what I believe is a mandate for our engaging in . A mandate that I believe Jesus would have given if he lived in America in the 21st century.

Since the beginning of our American history, we have been engaged in change, in a perpetual peaceful revolution, a revolution which goes on steadily, quietly adjusting itself to changing conditions—without the concentration camp or the quick-lime in the ditch. The world order which we seek is the cooperation of free countries, working together in a friendly, civilized society. From Congressional Record, 1941, Vol. 87, Pt. I.

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For a powerpoint presentation on Social Change and Social Action that I developed when I was teaching at Walden University, click here. It provides:

  • A Definition of Social Change
  • Theories of Social Change
  • Roles of Social Change Agents
    • Ameliorator—Health and human service workers
    • Social Reformer—Legislative Activists
    • Social Actionists—Saul Alinski, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
    • Rebel—Students for a Democratic Society
    • Revolutionaries—Simbinese Liberation Army
  • Strategies of Social Action

There are separate web-pages for both and with more in depth information under the headings of Micro and Macro Social Change.

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