The arc of the moral universe bends towards justice : evangelical Christians engaging with social justice : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Social Anthropology at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
This research explores how young evangelical Christians frame the concept of social justice, in particular relating to human trafficking. In the last fifteen years there has been a considerable increase in the number of Evangelicals who are becoming interested in, and participating with, initiatives that have an emphasis on social justice issues. This is a change from evangelical missionary activity which focuses mainly on proselytising and ‘soul winning’. My ethnographic research was conducted amongst of a group of young evangelicals who were students at a ‘justice based’ Christian training school in New Zealand. Fieldwork consisted of participant observation of the course lectures and interviewing fourteen students from eight different countries.
I found the main motivator for the students’ interest in social justice were personal experiences they had with God where he ‘broke their heart’ over issues such as human trafficking. How they then engaged with social justice was mediated by digital technology, especially social media. They were also influenced by changing theology as to the character and nature of God, and what it means to be a Christian in a globalized world. Using Bruno Latour’s ‘modes of existence’ theory and Michael Jackson’s Existential phenomenological lens, I argue that social science needs to allow spiritual beings to be ‘real’ in order to understand the worldview of people like my participants, who order their lives through divine encounters and relationships with God. My findings showed that the literature on evangelicals and human trafficking is insufficient because the experiential nature of evangelical Christianity is not taken into account. Experience, rather than belief, is the primary motivation for interest in social justice for young evangelicals.