Pietism or Activism?

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Pietism or Activism?

By Frederica Mathewes-Green


Both extremes wrong

It seems to me that there is something wrong with both the traditional extremes - the people who emphasize personal spiritual growth, and the people who emphasize engagement with the world and social activism. The labels are usually "pietist" and "activist." The same thing is wrong with both of them: the temptation to vanity.


Same temptation

I kind of rap the knuckles of the etherealists here, but get the same spiritual vibe from activists who preen themselves for their noble work while judging others (eg, the exhortation to "stay angry"). The former are in danger of violating Matthew 6:5 (being ostentatious about their prayers, for the admiration of others) while the latter are being tempted to ignore Matthew 6:2 (trumpeting their alms, for the same reason).  


Same cure

Just as the temptation is the same, the cure is the same.


Love and humility the answer

The most important spiritual discipline is loving other people. This creates humility - the prized goal of any worthwhile spirituality - while increasing compassion and sensitivity to other's needs and a growing desire to help. If we were doing it right, there would be no distinction between activists and pietists. Everyone would labour to practice love for others as much as they do centring prayer or labyrinth-walking. And the impulse to do good would be framed by deep humility and tenderness, rather than the "anger of man [which] does not work the righteousness of God" (James 1:20). Funny, I just checked this, and the Greek says "man" [aner] not "human" [anthropos]). Maybe I'll write about that some time.