I eventually recognized this feeling as God calling me to the Gospel ministry. As I explored and tried to faithfully answer this call, I felt myself simultaneously pulled toward serving specific communities and engaging the governmental and social structures that so affected them. In the midst of this tension, my relationships within the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship along with insights from Advocacy in Action conferences helped me forge a personal theology that both allowed and demanded that I serve in both capacities.
The Advocacy in Action Conference struck the perfect balance between providing theological rationales for engaging policy makers with pragmatic hands-on advocacy experiences. The superb theological work of Dr. David Gushee and other CBF scholars provided sound biblical models and principles to guide public advocacy while allowing conference participants to make their own decisions about to which side of a particular issue they fell (we are Baptists after all).
Once participants where on sound theological footing, the conference moved from the theoretical to the practical.
Visiting CBF partners such as Bread for the World, The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and the White House Office of Faith-based Neighborhood Partnerships granted us up-close views of real world advocacy work from community and government perspectives. Afterwards, we took our new-found theological understandings and advocacy skills to Capitol Hill where we met with our members of Congress and/or their staff. During these interactions, we were able to clearly articulate our understandings of how the biblical mandates to love neighbor and care for “the least of these” translated into specific public policy stances.
On the final day of the conference, we met with Rev. Kasey Jones, CBF Moderator and Pastor of National Baptist Memorial Church. During the visit, we were introduced to ways she and the congregation partnered with others to meet the needs of the local community and the uniqueness of public advocacy in a city so influenced by the federal government but lacking the full representation of statehood.
On March 26, I traveled to Richmond, Va. and joined members of local CBF congregations and CBF staff in participating in a Consumer Financial Protection Agency hearing about predatory practices within the Payday and Auto Title Lending Industry. Within this industry, interest rates as high as 700 – 900% are routinely charged to individuals in desperate need of financial assistance. During the hearing, we added our voices to the chorus of leaders from other faith communities, business owners and concerned citizens to speak out against abusive practices designed to exploit those most in need (the least of these).
We urged state and federal officials to implement legal safeguards, such as interest rate caps, that would help ensure those seeking credit would not find themselves trapped in an ever-tightening spiral of oppressive debt. While far from being resolved, this issue seems to be moving in the right direction in part due to the actions of CBF, its partners and like-minded organizations. I’m thankful for the opportunity to add my energy to this cause and am convinced that the resources and experiences provided by CBF and the Advocacy in Action Conference helped prepare me for this and future opportunities to live out my faith and answer God’s call on my life.
Andre Towner serves as the Youth Pastor at Westwood Baptist Church in Springfield, Va. He is pursuing his M.Div at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., where he has focused on the various ways faith influences community life and public policy.