As Christ-followers, we have a citizenship in Heaven but that doesn’t rule out the importance of our citizen status here on Earth. Margie Jansen looks at what it means to be an active citizen and why our influence matters.
When I was a second-year-student, I did a varsity project centred on the life of Emmeline Pankhurst, the British political activist and leader of the suffragette movement that helped women win the right to vote. In 1999, TIME magazine nominated Pankhurst as one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century. “She shaped an idea of women for our time; she shook society into a new pattern from which there could be no going back,” the article read. Studying the life of Emmeline Pankhurst helped to shape my own view of the impact a group of determined citizens—marginalised women at that!—could make.
A few years later, I learnt about other remarkable change agents: William Wilberforce who tirelessly fought for the abolishment of the 19th Century slave trade, Nelson Mandela, of course, and other South African stalwarts such as Prof. Jonathan Jansen, South Africa’s first black dean, and Dr. Mamphela Ramphele, an activist and academic known for her strong pleas for active citizenship.
We live in a country with an infamous past and socio-economic disparity that is hard to ignore. As our hearts soften towards those marginalised in our society, we respond with acts of kindness. And what a beautiful picture it is, pulling the Kingdom towards Earth with every compassionate action and every prayer of intercession. What a wonderful place to start, but what a great pity it would be if we were to stop there.
In studying the lives and qualities of activists that effect true and lasting change and transform society, I have come to recognise a few common traits: Activists are usually ordinary people with a burning passion to see change happen in the world. They tend to focus on changing just one element of their society’s problems. Activists seem to tackle the root of the problem – rather than merely treating the symptoms – by taking one, intentional step at a time. They’re usually part of a group of like-minded people, playing to their God-given strengths and leveraging their spheres of influence. And what seems to keep them going is a dream of what the future might look like. I find it encouraging to remember that, although it seems that some people were born to be activists, no-one steps into the role overnight. More often than not activists don’t quit their day jobs, but speak-up, with credibility, from the front lines.
“Freedom is participation in power,” Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman statesman, lawyer, scholar and writer, said. It rings as true today as ever, especially in a country with a constitution that is widely regarded as the most progressive in the world. Our freedom to participate has been won for us.
It’s important that we see ourselves not only as individuals, but also as citizens who together make up society. In fact, the Bible often prescribes cultivating a community in which everyone works together for the common good. If we extend our participation in community beyond church life to include the whole city, if not the whole country, we will, necessarily, notice the injustices happening around us. As the Holy Spirit does His work among us, we will each feel prompted to respond to a particular issue that strikes a cord in us. Speaking up, then, will more than likely be the natural overflow of a brewing passion.