Have Christians Assumed a “Slacktivist” Approach to Their Faith?

Slacktivism, a term coined in the mid-1990s, refers to the increasingly popular phenomenon of casual activism that is so easily accommodated by the Internet. Critics argue that slacktivists will eagerly click “like” on an issue or cause on Facebook and passionately promote it but do little or nothing in terms of meaningful activity that actually makes a difference. 

Slacktivists, critics argue, have their consciences pricked by some appeal to moral outrage over this or that issue only to satiate their moral response through the benign act of “sharing” on Facebook. As a result, the slacktivist feels as if he has done good when in reality he’s done nothing of any consequence.

The recent “Kony 2012” campaign is one such example. This online campaign, which was produced and launched by a nonprofit organization called Invisible Children, went viral in February and March of this year, reaching millions of viewers who were encouraged to share the video on their Facebook pages. The campaign seeks the arrest of Ugandan guerrilla group leader and head of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) Joseph Kony before the end of 2012. 

Following the massive media coverage, celebrities like Justin Bieber, Diddy and Nicki Minaj were quick to “tweet” their support, and millions of (mostly young) people shared the video campaign on their Facebook pages, pleading for “justice” from the confines of their comfortable homes in an act that literally took seconds — and then they were done. 

Advocates of the Kony 2012 campaign argued that awareness was their goal and to that end they were no doubt successful; but any real solution to tyranny and injustice demands much more than mere awareness. Unbeknown to most, the U.S. government deployed one hundred special forces troops last October to East Africa in an effort to track and capture Kony and his top commanders. It is unlikely that any of those who participated in the online campaign were rushing to enlist in that effort.

I tend to agree with the critics of slacktivism. Americans today seem to have a much greater tendency toward arms-length engagement with issues and needs that involve no real effort or sacrifice on their part. It isn’t that there is an absence of issues and needs; they abound, and the relative feelings remain intense. In short, Americans still seem to have strong opinions and positions on any number of issues but lack the convictions to act.

Something has changed in American culture and I wonder if this same passivity is not present in large order within the church today.

Being Christian does not allow for mere intellectual agreement or belief apart from obedience and action. To follow Christ is to surrender to one’s own comfort, desires and interests and instead assume the interests of Jesus. Doing this no doubt demands sacrifice in one form or another. My friend David Bryant rightly refers this as a “consequential Christology.” 

However, a slacktivist approach to the Christian faith may lead one to think that occasional participation in a mission trip or regular church attendance will satisfy one’s obligations to God and leave him free to live life on his own terms. 

The famous German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonheoffer referred to this as “cheap grace.” Accommodations to self and culture in lieu of obedience to Christ are an affront to the gospel. We who were once dead have been made alive in Christ to bear witness to what life looks like under the rule and reign of God. This demands much more than voluntary participation in the church calendar or self-directed efforts at outward piety.

The committed Christian begins by recognizing his desperate condition of sin and alienation from God. There is a profound sense of shame that leads one to repentance for having offended a holy God, followed by the humble recognition of God’s great mercy in which he bore our punishment. This summarizes the story of his grace and leads us to the end of our selves in a lifelong quest for holiness — a relationship in which the Christian seeks daily dependence upon God and pleads for the grace to be transformed into his likeness for his glory and use.

This is your new reality that is salvation in Christ — a reality in which the orientation of your life and all of its activity is now directed toward the redemptive mission of Christ. For the faithful Christian, this is not drudgery, but rather the joyful expression of one’s gratitude toward so great a Savior!

But this means sacrifice! We sacrifice our interests, plans and desires in exchange for what interests him, for his plan in the world; his desires become ours. In other words, your life no longer belongs to you but to him who has saved you (see 1 Cor. 6:19–20, Gal. 2:20).

Friends, it isn’t enough to “like” God or “friend” Jesus. We must love him, and to love him is to die to self and obey him (see John 14:15, 21, 23), and to obey him is to act with love on behalf of others.

© 2012 S. Michael Craven

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S. Michael Craven is the president of the Center for Christ & Culture and the author of Uncompromised Faith: Overcoming Our Culturalized Christianity (Navpress, 2009). Michael's ministry is dedicated to equipping the church to engage the culture with the redemptive mission of Christ. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture and the teaching ministry of S. Michael Craven, visit www.battlefortruth.org.