Mae Elise Cannon, Beyond Hashtag Activism: Comprehensive Justice in a Complicated Age, (IVP)
Mae Elise Cannon wants to take us beyond simply expressing solidarity with a range of social justice issues by our likes, reposts and retweets on social media, to a more active engagement, fuelled by some proper knowledge of the issues at hand. She’s not against “hashtag activism,” but it’s only a starting point.
Dr Cannon is a minister in the Evangelical Covenant Church and is aiming primarily at a Christian audience, though the cogent explanations of the various issues and the practical suggestions for engagement would be relevant to anyone with an interest in seeing the world become a better place.
The author wants us to understand that faith either holistically encompasses all of human life, seeks justice and equity and expresses itself in self-sacrificing compassion, or it’s not faith at all. At the beginning of the book, she addresses mistaken approaches to faith in American evangelicalism and then carefully outlines why social engagement ought to be an integral part of the gospel. Sadly, I’d think that the people who most need to hear Dr. Cannon’s well written, theologically astute and well researched chapters are the ones least likely to read them.
As well as being an ordained minister, Mae Elise Cannon is the executive director of Churches for Middle East Peace and has worked for World Vision. Her considerable experience working for justice and peace enables her to address competently the various issues she covers, which include poverty, racism, gender, and the Middle East, amongst others.
She begins with two chapters situating issues of justice firmly within the biblical narrative and the gospel. “The gospel of Christ,” she says, “cannot be fully expressed without both salvation and justice being integrated and pursued.” She goes on to explain the biblical imperative for advocacy, which can be undertaken in a variety of ways, and the need to seek change in the world through prayer, solidarity, political action and protest. Her hope is that the fear which seems to dog evangelicalism in the US could be replaced by hope, “the pursuit of power with the cultivation of humility,” and nostalgia with proper history.
There then follow eleven chapters, each dealing with an issue of social justice. These are engagingly written and presented, with good information laced with stories to illustrate, leading to practical suggestions of how we might be part of the solution to the problem. At the end of each chapter Dr Cannon provides a few references for further reading and some questions for discussion, making the book ideally suited for groups to read together.
The problems addressed in the book are serious and entrenched. Around 4 billion people in the world – half the population – lives on under $5.50 a day. Disease and hunger ravage great swathes of the world’s peoples and the levels of inequality continue to increase. The degree of poverty in the US, particularly for people of colour, is shameful, and historic racism and injustice blights the lives of millions. Violence against women, both at home and internationally, whether it’s abuse in the workplace or domestically, female genital mutilation, sex trafficking or rape, continues at horrendous levels.
Yet Cannon never lets the stark statistics and the dark stories become discouraging. There’s an urgency in her portrayal of the issues she addresses, but there’s always a note of hope. She’s convinced that there are answers in the gospel to the problems, and there are plenty of opportunities for us to make a difference. Throughout the book, she mentions a number of organizations which are specialists in particular areas, which can be supported either financially, by prayer or by getting involved.
Dr. Cannon’s passion for the gospel shines throughout; she is convinced that the “God of the scriptures cares deeply for the poor and oppressed and responds to the cry of the needy.” Her hope is that, because of God’s goodness, power and justice, “the realities we see in the world today are not the end of the story.”
For that to be the case, we need urgently to hear her wake-up call about the state of the world and her insistence that we move beyond sitting in our armchairs tut tutting at the state of the world and tweeting about something that’s annoyed us, to real advocacy for social justice and engagement. The gospel of Jesus Christ demands no less.