Ferguson, Ice Bucket Challenge, and Slactivism

Evan Forester —  August 25, 2014

It’s been an interesting few weeks on social media. Newsfeeds have been flooded with content revolving around ISIS, Robin Williams, Ferguson, and of course, the Ice Bucket Challenge. Many people have rejoiced at seeing such attention drawn to things like ALS, but others have had a more skeptical view.

I recently learned a new term, “slactivism.” Essentially, it means this: when you discover a problem in the world, you do nothing more than share a link or video on your social media. Slactivism is all about awareness, but rarely about actual action. For this reason, some people have criticized things like the ice bucket challenge.

Before moving forward, let me just say that I have nothing against building awareness. I work in marketing and generating awareness has actually been my number one priority for the last two years. Awareness is important, because without awareness there is no action. I definitely support posting things to social media, and I love seeing how something as silly as a bucket of ice water can unite people and change the way a nation perceives a horrible disease like ALS.

I also support discussion, especially when there is an event like what has been happening in Ferguson, Missouri. Even if we don’t know all the facts, it is vital that we communicate with each other and work to understand the broken world we live in. Thabiti Anyabwile, for instance, explains how speaking out has helped challenge and clarify his position on how the Gospel should transform the situation in Ferguson.

Awareness and communication are good things, but we need to be wary of doing nothing more than talk. I majored in philosophy at the University of Georgia. I remember students would hang around Peabody hall and discuss how they would solve world hunger or politics or family structures. The only problem was, they never left the hallways of the school. They just sat there, smugly pretending they knew how to fix everything.

I’m all about awareness, but I want that awareness to lead to action. Here are 7 ways you can ensure that you don’t become a slactivist:

1) Don’t Forget

It’s amazing how quickly we forget things. You might read a story about sex slavery in Thailand that upsets you. You share the story online, and you might even pray about it. But how will you feel in 2 hours? In 2 days? Or 2 weeks? The danger of social media is the mass quantity of messages you hear, and because of this it’s hard to keep anything in focus. When you truly desire to change something, don’t let the next Miley Cyrus publicity stunt replace it in your memory. Write it down in your prayer journal, pray about it daily, and keep looking for ways to make a difference.

2) Put your money where your mouth is

Many causes require more than word-of-mouth, they require funding. Philippians 1:3-6 says this, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Most scholars believe that this “partnership” Paul refers to is a financial one. Later on, Paul refers to their donations as “a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.”

The reality is, you can’t be everywhere and help everyone. But you can support people who are serving in places you can’t reach. Do take the time to research and consider the organizations and people you choose to give to, and remember that God will carry the work you helped start with giving unto completion.

3) Get your hands dirty in your local community

You may not be able to resolve racial tensions in Ferguson, but you can work to increase freedom in your own community. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with the problems of the world – there are so many issues I cannot possibly solve them all. The reality is I’m not supposed to solve everything. I can, however, actually make a difference in my own neighborhood, and so can you. Engage with the people in your life and seek opportunities to change things.

4) Actually go to the community in need

If there is a place or situation God has truly laid on your heart, prayerfully consider actually going to that community. The older I get, the more I realize that no problem has a silver bullet solution. If you truly want to make a difference, you will need to build relationships and listen and work for an extended period of time. This is no small challenge and requires substantial commitment. Most likely God is calling you to your own community, but every so often, He calls people to another city or country.

5) Choose Carefully

Being a slactivist for some causes is perfectly fine, as long as you’re still an activist for something. Becoming an activist takes time, however, so you must choose carefully. I am horrible at this and frequently spread myself too thin. Don’t make this mistake, but instead bathe all your decisions in prayer and choose how you will make a difference with wisdom. A while back, Brian wrote a helpful guide to identifying your calling that is an excellent start.

6) Remember that prayer actually works

I sometimes feel like prayer is a cop-out, like I’m not really doing anything. But again, the Bible is clear that prayer matters and God listens. The great revivals were all preceded by outpourings of prayer, and nothing we do can compare with God’s ability. If anything, I need to pray more. I often pray for something once and then forget about it. But we must make every effort to pray with passion for God to bring healing, justice, and peace.

7) Make Disciples

Jesus made a famous command (or commission) before leaving us in Matthew 28. It wasn’t to go and post stories to social media, but rather “Go and make disciples.” There is nothing short and sweet about discipleship: it requires time and life-on-life relationships. Very few of us will ever be able to impact millions or billions of people at once, however, we can each have a deep influence on 4 or 5 people in our life. Once you have invested in others, once you have changed their lives, they can begin discipling people as well and you will begin to see multiplication.

Discipleship is the method Jesus gave us to change the world. A pastor in Atlanta, Randy Pope, oversees a congregation with more than 5,000 members. In his book, Insourcing, he actually states that if the elders came to him and said, “you must choose between pastoring the church and discipling your small group,” he would choose discipleship. Why? Because it works – it changes lives, families, and even communities.

Leave a comment: What do you think about slactivism?

Img source: By Rauglothgor (Own work) CC-BY-SA-4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Evan Forester

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This post was by Evan, an adventure enthusiast learning to #LiveFully in New Zealand. He now writes for Embracing Exile.