Slacktivism: When Activism Loses It’s “Act”
By Shane Pruitt
Don’t be a what? A slacktivist. What in the world is that?
I was introduced to the word several months ago by a close friend, when he referred to “how much slacktivism is floating around on social media these days.” Not wanting to look ignorant by asking him “Um, what?”, instead, I said, “So true!” Then, I raced over to Google to search for the definition of the word “slacktivism.”
Here’s what my Googling uncovered: Slacktivism, “Is the combining of the two words ‘slacker’ and ‘activism’. It is participating in ‘feel-good’ measures, that supports an issue or social cause, that has little physical or practical effect, other than to make the person doing it feel satisfied that they have contributed.” So, a slacktivist is someone who shows support for a cause, or rails against an injustice (real or perceived), by “sharing” social media posts, by copying and pasting emails, by joining a community organization without contributing to the organization’s efforts, or changing their profile picture, etc. It’s being rich with opinions, while bankrupt in actions. It could be said that the only thing that slacktivism accomplishes is “making us feel better about ourselves by giving us a false sense of accomplishment”.
The reason this can be a trap is because many of us, particularly in the under-40 generations, have become increasingly cause-oriented people. Meaning, we want to be and do something that is a part of something bigger than ourselves. It’s as if our mantra has become, “we’re not scared to die young, but rather, we’re terrified to die old while accomplishing nothing of significance”. Which can be a really beneficial attitude to have especially as it relates to issues of injustice and expanding the Kingdom to the corners of the earth. As Christians, most of us want more out of our faith than praying a prayer, then waiting on blessed assurances to go to Heaven, while filling our time here going to a bunch of pot-luck diners where we interact with others just like us. It’s a good thing that many of us desire more than that! With this attitude the church won’t be stagnant, but active. Movement can take place when we love the idea of doing something that matters.
However, we must ask ourselves, “Is this an attitude, feeling, or idea that is motivating me to action?” Because unfortunately, it seems as though most of our causes are now typed on a computer, and most of our protests are of a digital quality. (Believe me, the irony is not lost on me, typing this on a computer screen). It’s extremely easy for us to blast our causes, opinions, and activism on social media and blogs, while for the most part, doing nothing about it. After all, it’s a lot safer to voice the problem, than it is to be a part of the solution, and at the same time, we get to be known to others as the, “Person who is all about ‘Cause X’” which I’m convinced is the actual heart of much of our digital activism.
But, thankfully, as always, we have an incredible example to follow, even on this issue. . .Jesus.
In the Gospel of Matthew, a lawyer asks Jesus really a great question, “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment?” Basically, he’s asking Jesus to sum up the entirety of the Scriptures. What’s the most important bit of it all? Jesus responds by saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). We are to love God with every ounce of our being; the make up of who we are is made to love its Creator with everything we have. Then, Jesus says there is another command that is equal to the first one, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). This means that there is a reality that we will show our love for God by how we love others. Actually, they are inseparable truths: The best way to love people is from an overflow of loving God, and one of the best ways to show my love for God is by loving the ones whom He has created. Which requires action, it requires demonstrating, and it requires showing, not just telling. We see the greatest picture of this active love in Christ on the cross. While He hung on the cross, He was loving God by being obedient to His Father, and He was loving people by hanging in their place.
A healthy biblical picture of the mission of God involves activism wrapped in the gospel. It can’t be one or the other, because it must be one in the same. For example, it does someone very little good to give them a sandwich as a demonstration of love for them and not share the love of Jesus verbally with them. All that I would be doing is making sure they go to hell with a full stomach. But at the same time, I can’t verbally share the gospel with someone who is physically starving without providing for their physical needs because they won’t hear the message over the roar of their stomachs. The mission of God in activism is saying, “Here is provision for your physical hunger, now let me share with you the Bread of Life for your spiritual hunger.” And that’s not some kind of bait-and-switch, it’s exactly what activism wrapped in the gospel is supposed to look like!
So, for the love of God, don’t be a slacktivist, because it accomplishes nothing, except perhaps the annoyance of others, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1). Noisy gongs and clanging symbols, that’s loud and annoying. Slacktivism is loud and it’s annoying. However, seeing the problem, speaking the problem, and getting involved in solving the problem with the love of Christ is true activism that helps.
Truly loving people will inevitably propel our entire being into the cause: our minds, hearts, mouths, hands, feet, blood, sweat, and tears, all wrapped in the love of Jesus. Now, that is Gospel-activism, perhaps better known as the mission of God.