The Bible is full of examples of followers of God speaking up publicly and acting in the wider community to advance change, they may not have called it this but they were among the first campaigners. Reflecting on the example of these courageous women and men is helpful to all of us who hope for a better world and wonder what we can do to help bring it about. Below are just three examples.
Esther spoke up and prevented a genocide
The all-powerful King Ahasuerus had taken a serious fancy to this young woman from the Jewish community in exile in Persia. Esther, chosen as Ahasuerus’ latest Queen, learned of a plot – orchestrated by a high official – to massacre the entire Jewish population. Working with others, she bravely decided to speak to the King to expose the plot. As no one, wives included, was allowed to speak to the King uninvited on pain of death, Esther took a big risk by persuading her husband and King of the reality of the threat. Ahasuerus then took decisive action and thus prevented a genocide. As Esther’s uncle Mordecai observed, ‘You [Esther] have come to your royal position for such a time as this’. (Esther 4:14)
Esther’s story can prompt us to ask: Who am I called to defend at this time? Who do I know who has the power to do something about it? We all have local and national political representatives taking decisions that affect the lives of others locally, nationally or internationally. We may know (or even be) local councillors or business leaders ourselves. How can we call on our relationships, contacts, and representatives for the benefit of others or the environment? What position have we been put in to speak into a time such as this?
Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem
Nehemiah was still living in exile in Persia after some of the people of Judah had been allowed to return to the sacked city of Jerusalem from which they had been taken as slaves decades before. Many years after the temple had been rebuilt, Nehemiah learned that the city walls were still in ruins, essentially leaving the returnees and temple defenceless. This deeply grieved him so he poured his heart out to God about it – and hatched a plan. Though Jewish, Nehemiah had risen to become a senior official in the court of the Persian King Artaxerxes. He asked the king for help, including allowing him to return to Jerusalem to oversee the rebuilding of the wall. Amazingly the king gave his backing. So Nehemiah returned, and personally inspired and organised the people to work on the wall. They rebuilt it in just 50 days – annoying a lot of apathetic sceptics in the process.
Nehemiah’s story is a stunning example of one God-serving person’s audacity to advocate for the benefit of the wider community, and their preparedness to work hard to mobilise others and persevere in the face of opposition. It offers a couple of good campaigning tips: and ask the authorities for what you want before you criticise them; sometimes they say ‘yes’ and be prepared to do something about it if they do, such as committing your time, energy and prayer to making it happen.
Jesus acted and spoke out against injustice
Jesus may not have organised specific initiatives to change society there and then, but he certainly prepared people for that in the future. Notably, he gathered 12 friends around him and trained them up ready for what would be their job after he was gone: founding the Church, probably the biggest organisation with a vision to change lives and the world that history has yet known.
He also spoke frequently about fairness and caring for the poor and vulnerable – think of the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 14). And he didn’t simply preach, but acted too, sometimes dramatically, for example overturning the tables of the money changers at the temple in Jerusalem and driving them out with a whip (Mark 11). He was driven by anger at their extorting poor visitors, many of them foreign (hence the need to convert their currency) who had come to worship God, but had to purchase sacrificial animals. Jesus felt so strongly about this abuse of the poor that he took to what we would now call direct action!
Often we can feel overwhelmed with the world’s needs with limited time and resources to speak up and take action ourselves. How do we decide what to focus on? A good starting point is with the issue that you feel most passionate about. Let your God-given interests and passions point you to action.
There is so much more in the Bible with relevance to people of God speaking up and organising to bring about change in line with God’s will so we invite you to explore other people of God in the Bible taking action for society, and what their stories say to you in our current context!