Departing Tupelo minister says serving “the least of these” is central to Christianity

By Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal

The Rev. Sam Shaw preached his final sermon at Hope Church last Sunday after serving the community as senior pastor for three and a half years.
Shaw, 58, came to Tupelo with his wife, Ruthe, after serving as pastor of Germantown Baptist Church.
During his tenure in Tupelo, Shaw, a conservative, evangelical was involved in promoting racial reconciliation as well as aiding the poor and giving shelter to those displaced by natural disasters.
He also worked for years as a missionary in Latin America.
In the coming months he plans to help plant a new church in the suburban Memphis area that will serve the needs of inner-city poor.
Shaw recently shared his thoughts with the Daily Journal about social justice as well as about denominational identity and cooperation between Christians.

Q:Political commentator Glenn Beck recently said that “social justice” and “economic justice” were code words for communism. He urged Christians to “look for the words…on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can.”
In light of the outreach work you’ve done, what do you think about Beck’s comments and how do you think people of faith in Tupelo are doing in promoting a just and equal community?
A:I think Beck’s comments were probably misunderstood. His own church, the LDS (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints), has certainly worked hard to help families and strengthen communities. I believe he was referring to churches whose primary focus and message is social justice and salvation by economic redistribution of wealth.
C. S. Lewis once mentioned that those who have done the most for this world, such as feeding the hungry, and establishing fair and equitable laws for all, have been those who focused most on the next. A great example is William Wilberforce, the primary person responsible for passing laws in the United Kingdom to abolish slavery. Wilberforce repeatedly stated it was his evangelical belief in the gospel of Christ that enabled him to persevere over the years it took to change minds and hearts.
I believe the gospel of God’s grace not only changes our eternal destiny but also motivates us to do all we can in this world to serve “the least of these.” For example, when I read that Memphis is the third most miserable city in the nation and the hunger capital of America, I think, that’s precisely where I should go to plant a church that will be salt and light.
I am so impressed by the efforts of so many organizations, both secular and religious, to serve the people of this area. And yet, there are still pockets of real need here.

Q:You’ve been an enthusiastic member of the newly revamped Greater Tupelo Ministerial Alliance. Why do you think this group is important and what function does it serve in the wider community?
A:As a Christian, I pray, “Thy kingdom come.” This means I desire that the will of God be recognized and followed in this area. Since the kingdom of God is larger than my church or arena of influence, I will be interested in what is happening in other churches and in the lives of those who co-pastor the city with me. I need to know the other pastors and pray for them. We’re in this together. We don’t have to see eye to eye on everything to work side by side for the good of the community. By the way, our people already fellowship and work together. Sometimes, we pastors are the last to do so.

Q:You came from a Southern Baptist background, and you’ve helped grow Hope Church into one of the largest non-denominational communities in Northeast Mississippi. Some people say we’re living in a post-denominational era.
What are your thoughts about denominational identity and ecumenism?
A:I don’t think we’ll see denominations disappear. Denominations provide a common basis for education, church planting, and missions. Some may decline and new ones may surface, as is happening across the country today.
There are dozens of huge and remarkable movements in our country right now that transcend denominations, such as the Gospel Coalition, Willow Creek Association, Together for the Gospel, Acts 29, Purpose-Driven, One Thing, the Ramp, Passion, and others. The common denominator is a spiritual hunger for God and his work and glory.
I have great hope for our country. We are seeing a spiritual awakening of young adults in our country.