The following is a reflection from Lauren McDuffie, who participated in CBF’s Advocacy in Action Conference in Washington, D.C., March 8-10, 2016. To learn more about the conference, visit www.cbf.net/advocacy.
This election season, and the news cycle accompanying it, have brought us face to face with the reality that our nation is deeply divided in profoundly unhealthy ways. Any issue that could be construed as “political” becomes anathema in polite conversation because it is impossible to imagine that conversation ending without someone getting angry, upset or hurt. And so we in the church especially avoid the “political” for fear of inviting this toxic mentality into our communities…not to mention the fear that a church’s involvement in a political issue could lead to legal trouble.
Of course, the public square can be navigated by churches and individual Christians in ways that avoid rule-breaking outside the church walls and toxicity within them. In my view, this space is found in the work of advocacy…in speaking up for others, and empowering those our society has rendered voiceless. It is what happens when people of faith see the deep needs to which we are called to respond, and step forward to act.
When you think about it, Advocacy in Action could just as easily be called Faith in Action. As I walked out of the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill, having spoken with staff members for two elected representatives from my home state of Tennessee about payday lending reform, I thought of all the other CBF students, ministers, and leaders who were traversing the halls of Congress at that moment.
As I stood there, a minister of the Gospel in the shadow of the Capitol building ahead of me, I thought about how these conversations we were all engaging in – about predatory lending practices and economic disparities, about immigration law and criminal justice reform – were steps in giving life to our prayers. When we ask for God’s help in the face of poverty and intolerance and all the hurt that seems to overwhelm our world…I believe that God’s response is a calling.
It is good for us to gather as the body of Christ and remember the suffering of our world. But when possible, this remembering must serve as a call to action. Some of our actions, like hosting a soup kitchen, or starting a prison ministry, or planting a community garden, are fairly straightforward in their practical response to the needs of our world. Standing along a serving line, we can literally see the faces of people in need, and see the need being met as a plate of food is shared.
Other actions, like writing letters or talking with elected leaders, may seem less directly connected to the literal need of a person who is hungry or sick or in prison. These actions may seem too closely connected to the political sphere that we are often keen to avoid. But conversations like those conducted by Advocacy in Action participants earlier this month are one way that we as people of faith can impact the systems that can change the whole life of the person standing across from us in the line at the soup kitchen.
Jesus once met a government official – a tax collector – whose actions were harmful to many in the community. This tax collector helped perpetuate a system that kept people at economic disadvantage, while exploiting the system for his own benefit in the process. And Jesus went to the home of the tax collector. He developed a relationship with the tax collector. And soon, that tax collector had turned his role in the system completely on its head, to benefit those it had once harmed. (Luke 19:1-10)
As citizens of a democratic nation, we are invited to make our voices heard at the ballot box and in the halls of government. As citizens of God’s kindom, we are compelled to share in the movement of the Holy to respond to the needs of all God’s children. And the work of Advocacy calls us to see where that invitation and that calling might meet, and to let our voices be heard. May we step out in faith to respond to this calling. Amen.
Lauren McDuffie serves as a hospital chaplain in Memphis, Tenn.