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In My Opinion
A New Altar Call for Social Action

A common experience among many Christians in modern culture is a lack of defined purpose having responded to an altar call. Many of us have begun the journey of faith without much assurance of exactly what we have been “called” to do. However, it seems there is an intuitive sense to work for the common good of society including overcoming poverty, preventing war, protesting for equal rights and caring for creation. Sadly, becoming involved with any of these causes often brands one a progressive, which to many in the Christian community is the dirty unspoken “p” word. It seems to some in this community that social action and progressive advocacy is merely the vocation of young, hopeful dreamers even though such hope is written about throughout the pages of scripture.

Perhaps to address the concerns of those who consider social action and progressive policy liberal code words for unrestrained humanism we need a new altar call manifested from a holistic vision of the message of gospel found in the incarnate Christ. Conceivably, it is no longer wise to end the standard altar call with a simple invitation to follow Jesus. In order to invoke the full meaning of scripture it appears time to encourage more than just a plea to our Father in Heaven to forgive us our sins. Instead we ought to demonstrate our passion of Christ in our commitment to love one another including those who we politically oppose.

“Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” – John 13:34 (NRSV)

A new altar call would not suggest that we are no longer sinners but would confess that we no longer wish to sin by ignoring the daily plight of millions of people who suffer needlessly. We have seen millions suffer poverty, war, homelessness and hunger as we rested comfortably in our homes without the least of bit interest in them or their suffering. In turn our rhetoric of speaking against injustice only makes our commitment to love one another as hollow as the words of most political speeches and speechmakers. Perhaps, it’s because many of us have not heard that loving one another involves action on behalf of those who experience injustice. This includes the mom who works 40hrs a week and can’t afford to pay the rent but makes too much to qualify for assistance, the child in Iraq who no longer has a home or even the family to fill one, or the father who through no choice of his own never sees the face of his unborn daughter.

In this new altar call loving one another would be expanded to include those we do not know but whom we know suffer to exist. Social Action on behalf of the poor, war ravaged or diseased would no longer be termed progressive policy or represent a secular or nave utopian enterprise, but would be transformed into an answer to Christ’s call to love as he has so capably loved us. Then we can truly ask God to “forgive us our sins” because we would now know truly what they were and are, both individually and as a Christian community. Still the question remains - are we bold enough to speak of a new altar call or will this remain hidden in our thinking for another time when such things cause less controversy or embarrassment. Nevertheless if Jesus had not willingly been a cause of controversy and bore the shame of the cross where would we be, could our journey of faith have even begun?

"If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me… and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” – Matthew 16:24 and 10:38 (NRSV)

Clayton W. Smith
Technology Coordinator
Call to Renewal

Since 2000, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) has conducted an ongoing, nationwide public awareness campaign created to help all Americans understand the magnitude of poverty in our nation  

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