This review was first published at the blog, J. W. Wartick—Reconstructing Faith and is used with permission.
How can we actually practice activism and seek justice beyond the hashtags? It’s a question that seems loaded–possibly discounting the fact that social media has been used to highlight a great deal of injustice which had not been spotlighted before. However, Mae Elise Cannon, in Beyond Hashtag Activism: Comprehensive Justice in a Complicated Age, isn’t downplaying those important acts; instead, she presents a way to learn about major issues of social justice in today’s world and how to combat injustice.
The topics discussed in the book are quite broad. It’s divided into 5 Parts: Biblical Justice and the Gospel, which highlights passages in the Bible about justice and how politics might become involved in the same; Poverty, in which Cannon notes both global and domestic questions of poverty and how we might faithfully combat it; Race, in which Cannon highlights a number of current issues both in the United States and across the globe; Gender, which discusses the many ways gender is used divisively while looking for healing in the body of Christ; and Twenty-First-Century Divides, which addresses issues of sexuality, Israel/Palestine, and religious freedom.
Cannon, as noted before, isn’t dismissive of the notion of “Hashtag Activism.” Instead, she writes “These movements have accomplished much in raising awareness about important justice issues like global poverty and gender discrimination…Hashtag activism is a great place to start, but our social justice advocacy must move beyond the limits of likes, sharing, and click rates” (1). Where to go from there is through the parts discussed above, wherein real-world solutions and activism are outlined related to many differing topics. Each part has chapters that both highlight the exact issues that are being discussed while ultimately presenting ways for both individuals and churches to be involved in bringing real-world justice related to the topic.
There are different types of advocacies, and at the beginning of the book, Cannon draws these out. Protest and resistance are a direct way to fight against injustice, whether through things like sit-ins and marches or directly identifying laws or acts as unjust. Prophetic advocacy is the work to “transform…attitudes, hearts, and behaviors on an individual level as well as on a systemic level” (16). Spiritual advocacy seeks out God’s will on behalf of others and the world (17, paraphrased). “Social advocacy is the process of standing with, walking with, and accompanying those who are victims of injustice…” along with “speaking up when someone in your presence makes a comment that is offensive…” (18). This reader has seen the benefit of the latter approach, as it can lead to greater conversations about justice and the use of language. Legal advocacy is working within the legal system to bring about change or justice for individuals. Political advocacy “seeks to shift regional, state, and national policies” in order to change unjust policies and practice. Economic advocacy includes seeking to make investments that better align with just use of resources, boycotting unjust businesses, and the like (20ff). Along with these various approaches, Cannon notes that there are four best practices for making a difference: having a clearly defined goal; being pragmatic in efforts to accomplish the goal; getting the facts right; and having fortitude, persistence, and longevity in the pursuit of justice (22ff).
One of the best parts of the book is that Cannon presents evidence in an evenhanded way on a surprising topic: Christianity and homosexuality. Moving past the polemics that are often involved in such discussions, she presents factual arguments in a way that lets readers evaluate each position. Cannon presents direct quotes from major scholars on both sides of the debate, concluding that “Well-meaning, intelligent, and godly men and women disagree strongly about the question of whether or not same-sex, monogamous relationships are biblical…Regardless of what we each conclude as individuals…I believe the study of the Word of God and the wrestling with the possible interpretations and relevant implications is critical work that must be done within the body of Christ” (209-210). What is important about this is that Cannon gives an opportunity for people on each side to actually read and try to understand what the “other side” is saying in their own words. However brief that is, it is good for people to know why there is disagreement.
There is so much content in the book that it is impossible to even give an adequate survey over the course of a review. There are recommended additional readings at the end of each chapter for those wishing to pursue a topic further. There are questions for discussion so the book can be used in small groups–though many of the questions would work well for individuals to reflect upon as well. There is a wealth of content in this book, to the point it could become a reference for readers who want to explore many topics more broadly while also trying to work against many forms of injustice.
Beyond Hashtag Activism is a fantastic read. It presents a huge amount of factual information about injustice while also providing a way forward–something many books don’t do–to combat those same injustices. This book will invigorate Christians to work for biblical justice across the world. It could be used by individuals, small groups, college courses, and more. I highly recommended it.