Throughout history, we have been graced with countless revolutionaries, each one leaving a lasting impact on humanity. Jesus too was a revolutionary, who showed His followers a new way to live. The successful revolutionaries live on forever, with their followers echoing their teachings to the future generations. Some of the world’s greatest influencers and changers were Christian, and their beliefs played into the contributions they made during their time with us. These great individual Christian peace and justice activists were inspired by Jesus and lived out His example in all aspects of their lives, ultimately contributing to a better world. They embodied courage and faith, standing up for what they believed in, inspiring others to do the same. Here are five Christian who were social revolutionaries inspired by the book “Christianity Matters” by David T. Maloof.
Sojourner Truth was perhaps the most famous African-American woman in 19th century America. For over forty years she traveled the country as a forceful and passionate advocate for the dispossessed, using her quick wit and fearless tongue to fight for human rights.
Inspired by her conversations with God, which she held alone in the woods, Truth walked to freedom in 1826. Although tempted to return to her former plantation, she was struck by a vision of Jesus, during which she felt “baptized in the Holy Spirit,” and she gained the strength and confidence to resist her former master. She called on God for the power to survive injustice and oppression.
With the start of the Civil War, Truth became increasingly more political in her work. She pushed for the inclusion of blacks in the Union Army, and, once they were permitted to join, volunteered by bringing them food and clothes. She became increasingly involved in the issue of women’s suffrage but broke with leaders Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton when Stanton stated she would not support the black vote if women were not also granted the right. Truth also fought for the land to resettle freed slaves, and she saw the 1879 Exodus to Kansas as a part of God’s divine plan.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian who was active in the German resistance to the policies of Hitler and Nazism. During his life, he wrote extensively on subjects of theological interest, including “The Cost of Discipleship” a study on the Sermon on the Mount. His writing argued for greater spiritual discipline and practice to achieve ‘the costly grace’. He wrote, “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate”.
In his book, “Life Together” he puts in a place the model of what life in community should look like. He also stressed the importance doing small acts of service to others, rather than being solely focused on acts for material gain.
Martin Luther King once acknowledged Bonhoeffer in this way, “If your opponent has a conscience, then follow Gandhi and nonviolence. But if your enemy has no conscious like Hitler, then follow Bonhoeffer.” Bonhoeffer was arrested and executed during the last month of World War II for his opposition to the Nazi regime. Though he was taken from this earth more than seven decades ago, his wisdom lives on.
Although the public associated Eleanor Roosevelt much more with social justice than religion, for her, these two overlapped greatly. In her 1932 speech titled “What Religion Means to Me,” Roosevelt defined religion in this way: “To me religion has nothing to do with any specific creed or dogma. It means that belief and that faith in the heart of a man which makes him try to live his life according to the highest standard which he is able to visualize…in all cases the things which counts is the striving of the human soul to achieve spiritually the best that it is capable of and to care unselfishly not only for personal good but for the good of all those who toil with them upon the earth.”
Roosevelt prayed nearly every evening. She pushed her husband to support federal ‘anti-lynching’ laws, although they didn’t pass due to certain Southern legislators’ opposition. Following the death of her husband, whose efforts led to creation of the United Nations, she pressed for the U.S. to join it and served as our country’s first representative. Her life greatly modeled her faith.
Nelson Mandela was an inspiring man for many reasons. Not only did he keep strong and focused through so much hardship, he showed no bitterness or urge to revenge against the system that kept him prisoner for so long. Mandela recognized that religion was a great divider of peoples and he envisioned a world where acceptance and tolerance outweighed the alternatives. He once said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of their skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite”. His religious views were on display during the Commission on Truth and Reconciliation process, set up with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. During this time, Mandela showed forgiveness, even if some of the experiences that devastated his life and the lives of many others could never be forgotten. He truly followed Christ’s command to forgive.
Born to wealth in Britain, Florence Nightingale believed that God spoke to her and called her to service while in her garden at the age of 17. While many recognize her from history as a nurse who gave her entire life to the cause of alleviating conditions of the poor, especially in hospitals and workhouses, she was also a radical theologian and it was her mission to change things. She knew that she was guided by God and used the knowledge and strength provided by Him to write and publish several books on hospital planning and organization which helped save thousands of lives. She also realized God’s role for women and did an incredible amount of work to help the movement of women, showing that nursing was an acceptable role for women to take. Nightingale is a great example of how God can use an ordinary person to do extraordinary things.
Each individual’s relationship with Christ shaped them into revolutionary figures and allowed them make lasting change. What’s amazing about these figures is that they were no different than you or me. Against all odds, they were able to accomplish what they set their mind to.