By Hope Watson
With cold hands shoved deep in my pockets and my head tipped all the way back I spun slowly under the covering of the Jefferson Memorial to read his words engraved around the dome, “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”
He didn’t just promise—he swore. He didn’t plainly commit—he pledged eternal hostility. He wasn’t simply battling political pettiness—he faced tyranny over the mind of man. Just as my shoes echoed on the memorial’s stone floor that first morning in Washington D.C., so did those aged words in my mind as the trip progressed.
That day found me far from my campus at the University of Missouri, and in a different kind of learning environment than I encounter daily at college.
I met others who had gathered there for their own reasons. Some were curious, others were personally affected by the topics we addressed and some hoped to learn skills they could relay to their home congregations. Regardless of motivation, we had all gathered to educate ourselves on advocacy.
That first evening, we heard from speakers regarding their first-hand experience running a ministry for immigrant families, as well as a discourse about the exploitation involved in the payday lending industry. Finally we discussed tips with the seasoned advocates among us in preparation for our visit to The Hill the following day.
As I made my way to my hotel room—nearly overwhelmed by the quantity of knowledge we had absorbed that day—I thought again about Thomas Jefferson’s words.
If he were willing to make a pledge that solemn and momentous, his first step must have been making sure he knew what he was getting into. He did not blindly bind himself to eternal hostility without being informed about the nature of his cause.
Falling asleep that night I thought about myself and about how I understood the nature of my cause—a cause aligned with and motivated by the desires of God’s heart. I realized I felt compelled to commit to that cause just as Thomas Jefferson must have.The following day provided many opportunities to exercise my commitment.
We began with a trip to the White House to meet with the Director of Faith Based Organizations and Special Assistant to the President Melissa Rogers. During her presentation, she discussed a broad range of topics including the importance of continued congressional support for free and reduced lunch programs. She discussed her position and the responsibilities—and in turn the difficulties—of the impossible task of considering every religious denomination when assisting the President in relevant matters.
Her fierce independence and expertise made her inspirational to our group as we moved forward.
We were then welcomed to Bread for the World, a faith-based organization whose purpose is to fight hunger both domestic and international through political advocacy. Their presentation further sharpened Rogers’ discussion of hunger issues in America and led to our authoring of letters to our congressmen and women on the topic.
Information provided by Bread for the World was popular in terms of talking points for our meetings on The Hill that afternoon. Other important topics many of us addressed in the meetings were payday lending, immigration reform and the necessity of religious freedom.
I met with Congressman Blaine Leutkemeyer’s office and Senator Claire McCaskill’s office to convey my concerns. The primary goal of these meetings, as this was my first advocacy attempt, was to establish a relationship with their office to create an avenue for future discussions.
After debriefing from our meetings, we finished out the day with burgers at the legendary Washington D.C. Hawk and Dove. With full bellies and a day of advocacy under our belts, I felt I had done right by my fervent pledge that day.
Our final day began with a visit to the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Freedom. They spoke of the importance of defending all religious freedom—even if it means taking up the less popular side of an issue.
It was particularly interesting to hear the significant relevance in Supreme Court cases as a “friend of the court” in cases regarding religious freedom. Their knowledge of the capital city’s political climate and court system made them a valuable resource to our group.
The trip ended with a visit to the National Baptist Memorial Church. Pastor and CBF Moderator Kasey Jones spoke to us about the mission of her church as the hands and feet of Jesus. The reach of their community ministries and their effort to feed those in their neighborhood amazed me. It is proof that God can use any amount of resources and any group people if those people are unapologetically committed to doing God’s work.
I thought about the pledge I had made and how seriously I had taken my commitment to my cause. While I may not have vowed “eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man,” I thought about how dear old Thomas chose that cause because it meant a lot to him, because he felt compelled to defend it. Then I thought about why I made my pledge and realized we had the same reasoning.
I felt called to advocacy by a God who not only knew my strengths but who gave them to me. I felt He was amplifying my personal rallying cry for the “least of these.” I realized advocacy was the avenue God has given me to raise my voice.
Hope Watson is a student at the University of Missouri and a member of First Baptist Church of Jefferson City, Mo.