How do we live out practically Jesus' words in Matthew 5:16?
A volunteer with Chemo Buddies in Evansville, Ind., looks at a new delivery of quilts from offenders at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in Carlisle, Ind. (Photo: EthicsDaily.com)
Remember those words in the Sermon of the Mount?
They follow Jesus' words about how his followers are "the light of the world."
Matthew 5:16 reads, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."
How do we let others see the good works of the Christian community?
One very doable and modest way is to host screenings of "Through the Door," such as the premiere screening with a panel discussion scheduled for Bon Air Baptist Church in Richmond, Va., on Feb. 17.
"Through the Door" explores the initiatives of churches and faith-based organizations on the prison front in Indiana, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
These stories of redemption and hope are examples of good works, evidence of how faith in action makes a measureable difference for those in great need.
Now, some might say that Christians ought not to draw attention to their good works.
Indeed, room for caution is merited.
A number of verses after Matthew 5:16, Jesus told his followers that giving alms, praying and fasting ought to be done in secret (Matthew 6:1-18).
On one hand, Jesus said to do good works in public (Matthew 5:16). On the other hand, Jesus said do acts of piety in private (Matthew 6:1-18).
We, Christians, have long drawn a line between piety and good works – acts of mercy and justice. We have long created a gap between the individual and the social, the private and public, the spiritual and social, evangelism and social justice.
This division has sapped us of the necessary energy in the struggle for social justice that needs to draw sustenance from the wells of piety.
Conversely, piety without concrete expressions of mercy and justice is of little earthly good – and perhaps off-putting spiritual arrogance.
Jesus was telling his followers not to parade their piety, drawing attention to their own faith. He was telling them to let others know of their good works, not to draw attention to themselves but to point toward the Father.
What we found in shooting the documentary was that those involved in prison ministry did not draw attention to their good works.
Instead, they gave thanks for the privilege to do good works that pointed toward the Father. They were pietists – and doers of social justice and deliverers of mercy.
In a time when many Christians are seemingly disengaging from church and some Christians take every opportunity to criticize Christianity, we need a good word about the social capital that houses of faith bring to the public square.
We need to tell positive stories about the many good and unacknowledged things that Christianity does.
We think "Through the Door" does this. And we are convinced these stories will encourage greater awareness of prison issues and involve more church members in an area where faith makes a measureable difference.
A good beginning point is with communitywide documentary screenings that are a two-fold tool.
First, they shine light on what houses of faith are doing. Second, they introduce congregational leaders to a moral resource that they can use in their churches.
The short version of the documentary, which runs 28 minutes, sets up the use of the long version, which runs 53 minutes, for use in churches where the real moral education and activation will take place. Community screenings lead to congregational engagement.
The Richmond community and beyond have responded with an energetic commitment to the Feb. 17 event.
Among those Baptists who have said they will attend the screenings and/or share information about the event with their churches are David Benjamin, Mike Clingenpeel, Ron Crawford, Ron Hall, Ken Kessler, Joe Lewis, Tim Norman, Jim Somerville, Reggie Warren and David Washburn.
Charles Williams, a deacon with the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, is on the list to attend.
Since "Through the Door" interviewees reflect a goodly diversity within the faith community, we hope those outside the Baptist camp will feel welcomed to attend the Bon Air Baptist Church event and that Baptists will invite their ecumenical friends.
Interviewee Randy Myers, president, Chaplain Service Prison Ministry of Virginia Inc., has already invited his board, which includes Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists and Presbyterians.
Join us for the February event. Tell your friends. Let your light shine on the good works houses of faith are doing and can do in prison ministry.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.