Slacktivism (sometimes slactivism or slackervism) is a portmanteau of the words slacker and activism. The word is usually considered a pejorative term that describes "feel-good" measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little physical or practical effect, other than to make the person doing it feel satisfied that they have contributed.
April marked the 1 year anniversary of the Boko Haram kidnapping of 200 girls from the Chibok Government Secondary School. The media coverage commemorating the milestone was met by a collective “oh yeah…that” by the Internet. Just 12 months before, it had been all the rage to transform your social media profile pictoagraphic of the words“Bring Back Our Girls” or a selfie of yourself holding a sign with the slogan. Prior to that, it had been, “Catch Kony.” It didn’t matter that the Lord’s Resistance Army had been significantly weakened since the first Invisible Children documentary was released; no need to let facts deter the collective feel good spirit of Internet denizens. From Ice Bucket Challenges to posting a token on our pages, we like to make as big of an impact on the world as we can while exerting the least amount of energy and commitment. Whatever the trendy cause to raise “awareness” is this month, it will hold our attention until the next plot twist episode of a Shonda Rhimes series distracts everyone. Such is society. Is it also true for the church?
In March, the General Conference hosted Global Youth Day dedicated to having young people perform acts of service. Although there is already a “secular” Youth Service Day—besides highlighting our church’s odd proclivity to make an alternate “Adventist” version of things that already exist—the GC event wasn’t a bad idea in and of itself. However, I wonder if it only helped feed our slacktivist ways. A church member lamented that we hadn’t planned a big event for the day. Admittedly, I didn’t. Instead, I try to plan service activities for our young people on a monthly basis. Our acts of service ordinarily are quiet affairs with significantly less fanfare that the GC’s big day. Even monthly isn’t what I want. I want to cultivate a regular habit of service in our young people. The church event was great—as are all the ideas designed to raise awareness on different important issues. But each of these things should act as an entrance point to greater involvement: a beginning, not an ending.
Now it’s true that we can’t be all thing to all people. And it is impossible to be committed to all causes. Yet we should be committed to something. Many in our church have an actual aversion to social involvement. We like the optics of helping to improve a situation for a day, but we recoil from the prospect of investing energy into improving the root causes that led to that situation. It’s baffling to me, but I’ve found that terms like “social justice” get a bad rap in some Adventist circles. I will always remember from my days as an academy Bible teacher and chaplain having a parent upset that I taught that God wants the Church to actively work for the good of others. She stated that I was supposed to be teaching Bible class and asked, “what does service have to do with the Bible?” Isaiah 58:13 is well known in Adventist circles, but we act like the preceding 12 don’t exist.
If we are the people of God, we should look for ways to be actively engaged in the improvement of the world around us. Yes, we know this world will be ultimately destroyed and recreated, but so will our bodies and that doesn’t stop us from proclaiming the Health Message! As we see poverty, homelessness and disease all around us how can we not be moved by Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 that encourage us to look after our fellow human beings in need? Viewing the violence, systematic inequities, and corruption toward the marginalized, how can we not step in to help bring reconciliation? If we are not the blessed peacemakers of Matthew 5, then who are? Some hesitate because they believe that involvement necessitates partisanism. Trust me, the folks in shelters don’t care who you cast your ballot for when you’re filling their needs.
Some criticize churches for becoming too involved in social causes—too concerned with worldly agents. How we’ve forgotten that Christ’s people used to be trailblazers in compassionate action! We’ve fallen away from that. Now that secular organizations have picked up that mantle, we wrongly forget that we were at the forefront of service! It’s not too late. We can be trailblazers again. Let’s start by breaking the cycle of slacktivism.
Courtney Ray is a pastor in the Southern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.