Activism or Slacktivism?


By Brad Hauge

TConfession: I once led a group of students through the 30 Hour Famine and we didn’t raise any money for the cause. Not one single dollar. We fasted and played games and talked about starving children but didn’t raise a dime. I didn’t feel bad about it at the time since the Famine was a new idea to the church I was working at and we did raise awareness within our church. However, I did feel a pang of guilt recently as I stood near dozens of middle school students who had just completed their 30 Hour Famine; students who raised an incredible amount of money in addition to an incredible amount of awareness to issues of justice.

This past fall I found myself sitting in a room in the basement of our church surrounded by eight student leaders from our high school group. These students had committed to helping our community raise awareness and money for Blood:Water Mission, an organization that works to combat the AIDS epidemic mainly through clean water initiatives. We talked about having an art contest where the winner’s design would be turned into a t-shirt we could sell to raise money for the charity, and turning our annual Christmas party into a “Party with a Purpose” with a cover charge. It was no surprise that all of the best ideas were coming from the students but I wanted in on the action.

I thought it would be meaningful, even powerful, if students in Spokane made small steps to use less water in their day-to-day lives as a sign of solidarity with our neighbors in Africa. You know, raise awareness through small stuff, like shaving a minute off your morning shower time or turning off the water while brushing your teeth or committing to only using reusable water bottles. There were a couple polite nods from the students but mostly they thought it was dumb. One girl summed it up by saying, “What is the point of that though? Like, literally, not one drop of water we save here will help anyone in Africa, like, at all. “

It wasn’t my proudest moment as a youth pastor, but I honestly didn’t have a good answer to her question. None of the water saved from my shower would magically appear as clean drinking water anywhere near Kenya. I quickly swallowed my pride and moved on to talk of who was going to make the playlist for our Christmas party.

What is the point of raising awareness? The money we would raise from t-shirt sales and the funds that came in through our 30 Hour Famine participation had clear, direct and visible impact on the people who received them. Additionally, the idea of raising awareness can seem like a way to make us feel better about ourselves without actually doing anything- a sort of slacktivism. But what if raising awareness can be a discipline that changes us as much as those we think we are trying to make aware? What if awareness, truly does, make us aware in ways that ultimately lead us toward more mercy and justice in our lives?

The truth is that when we’re involved in things like the 30 Hour Famine, even if we only raise awareness, we are changed.

As I write this, I’m currently sitting on the back deck of a beautiful lake house overlooking Deer Lake in Washington State. My daughter and her two cousins are eighty feet below me kicking their feet off the dock into the water seeing who can make the loudest splashes. I just ate a delicious lunch provided to us by my aunt and as soon as I’m finished writing this we’ll probably take a tour around the lake in a boat or maybe the Jet Ski if I’m feeling feisty. All that’s to say it does feel a bit weird to be writing about awareness and justice from such an obvious place of privilege.

But, there really aren’t any guilt pangs as I notice our daughters watch in awe as their mother paddles away from shore on a stand-up paddleboard. Why? Because a day at the lake doesn’t change how aware I am of God’s desire for us to live into his way of justice, love, and mercy. I’ve been made aware and now pray more for our neighbors in Kenya these days than I ever had before. I’ve been made aware and am reminded, as I fill up my reusable water bottle, to donate a few more dollars next week. I’ve been made aware and choose how I eat differently though I know not a morsel of my food will end up on a hungry person’s plate. I’ve been made aware and can’t be made ignorant ever again. And I, and my students, have initiatives like The 30 Hour Famine to thank for it.