Worth Fighting For: Finding Courage & Compassion When Cruelty is Trending

"An urgent and passionate commentator, [John Pavlovitz] lives in the tension between despair and hope." — Alfred Walker

John Pavlovitz
Westminster John Knox Press, 176 pages
Publishes April 2, 2024

As if on a keystone, this collection of new and previously published writings by pastor and author John Pavlovitz finds its core in the essay appearing at the very center of the book. Titled “Progressive Christianity is Christianity,” it embodies the spirit and passion that simmers just below a boil in Worth Fighting For. “We believe,” attests Pavlovitz, “that social justice is the heart of the gospel, that it was the central work of Jesus as evidenced in his life and teachings: the checking of power, the healing of wounds, the care for the poor, the lifting of the marginalized, the feeding of the hungry, the making of peace.”

In 40 brief essays, Pavlovitz cycles through several themes: ours is a nation in crisis; we (and if not us, who?) are called by our faith to act; and the time is now. An urgent and passionate commentator, he lives in the tension between despair and hope. He opens by listing the good worth fighting for: “a rapidly heating planet … a fractured nation teetering precariously on the edge of implosion … an American church that is poisoned with White supremacy and devoid of Jesus …” before concluding that it’s worth it.

I longed for the author to offer more concrete actions I could take as a progressive Christian (or simply as a Christian). He repeatedly – fervently – urges us to see how our faith aligns with progressive values and causes, and how in an Us and Them dichotomy, we are the Us “who believe that all people have the same intrinsic value without caveat or condition.” The essay “Messy Community” recalls a diverse table gathering Pavlovitz moderated in California, where he explained the non-negotiable “legs” of the table: hospitality, authenticity, diversity and relationship. The subsequent discussion which involved a conservative Christian woman, LGBTQ-affirming folks and several atheists, among others, was decidedly “messy” but not, Pavlovitz writes, “ugly.” Perhaps we can seek out and create opportunities for these conversations in our own communities? But he leaves the search for “faith legs” mostly to us.

Churches and groups on the faith-as-social justice spectrum will find Worth Fighting For immensely meaningful. Pavlovitz provides a foundation for a church session or small group to discuss specific ways to witness in their own community, while an independent reader might consider the book a sort of meditation guide or daily “battery charger.”

As former U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney said in a speech last fall, “Nobody can be a bystander.” This is certainly true for those who aim to follow Jesus; whether we have already found ways to follow his example or are looking to start, Worth Fighting For offers passionate support.

We can admire Pavlovitz for his compassionate heart and fearless outspokenness, the latter costing him a pastor’s job along the way. And we can resonate with a correspondent he recalls named Martha, a native of the Netherlands whose father died as a prisoner in Dachau. She asked Pavlovitz to “keep working for a Christianity that resembles Jesus.” It’s a charge worth heeding for all of us.

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