By Jenny Lee
On Sunday, March 8 I preached as a guest at a church in North Carolina. I was the first ordained woman to take the pulpit in the history of this church. I proclaimed to the congregation that sometimes “good church” looks like turning over tables and stepping into the holy tension created in the space between the status quo and justice. The next day I travelled to Washington, D.C. to attend Advocacy in Action, a conference dedicated to precisely that work.
Advocacy is using the power of the gospel to unapologetically intervene in systems of injustice and oppression with creative, nonpartisan solutions.
Over the three days we were together, the Advocacy in Action participants learned, shared, and took action. The conference was front-end loaded with seminars on constructing a theology for advocacy, payday lending and immigration reform. Throughout the conference, we made visits to the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Bread for the World, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Leadership, and National Memorial Baptist Church. We also had the opportunity to engage with representatives from New Baptist Covenant, CBF Religious Liberty, and CBF field personnel.
Finally, each participant had one or more appointments with the offices of a senator and/or congressperson from their state.
As a child, I dreamed of being in politics. My grandmother still loves to tell people that I am going to grow up to be the President of the United States.
While I don’t still have that particular dream, I was nothing short of exhilarated to be in a position where my call to ministry overlapped with my interest in politics and policy-making. The night before going to my appointments (I met with both a senator and congressman’s offices), I stayed up late researching. I wanted to present the issues I cared about with clarity and accuracy.
Also, I was nervous, and knowledge (and righteous indignation) is a good remedy for nerves.
I wanted to talk about payday and auto title lending. The issue may be unfamiliar to you, but more than likely, you pass the storefronts in your town daily. Essentially, these companies offer quick, easy loans that also come with a short turn-around and oppressive interest rates. According to the Center for Responsible Lending, the average interest rate is 400% APR. There are more than twice as many payday lending storefronts than Starbucks across the country. Millions of Americans are struggling under the burden of payday loans in arrears.
So I talked with the congressional aide about predatory lending. I shared facts and I shared from my heart. I explained that while I am concerned about this issue from an economic perspective, I am also concerned about it because my own community has nearly 70 storefronts. My neighbors and fellow church members are the people who have fallen prey to these business practices.
When I finished, I stepped out of the Dirksen Senate Office Building into the D.C. rain. Nothing had changed because I spoke to a senator’s aide about payday lending. I had not fixed any problems or relieved anyone’s burdens. Nonetheless, I left with joy in my heart. I was, and am hopeful. Stepping into the holy tension to advocate on behalf of others was a sacred moment.
When I was in 9th grade, I finally mustered up the courage to interrupt a bully’s taunting of a classmate. I was anxious and afraid of retribution. Despite the inequity in our high school social capital, he stopped. When I spoke up, he stopped.
Standing there in Environmental Science, I learned that sometimes all it takes for injustice to end is someone stepping into the holy tension and naming it. Advocacy in Action was the opportunity to practice the fortitude required to live in the holy tension where the Spirit of God is.
Rev. Jenny Lee is currently pursuing a Ed.D at East Tennessee State University, and is an alumna of Campbell University Divinity School. She lives in Kingsport, Tennessee with her husband, and will be interning with Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship this summer.