Have you ever thought of advocacy as an act of worship or a step of discipleship? I hadn't.
So often I feel that I’m not the advocate or the disciple that I wish I was. Although I’ve had numerous classes and spiritual experiences that had potential to lead to flourishing in both realms, the disconnect between a dysfunctional reality and Shalom weighs heavily. What is a person to do?
Last year I had an opportunity that helped me to see that I can be an advocate. I attended the Ecumenical Advocacy Days in Washington, D.C. to learn how to talk with our leaders effectively. The theme for that particular year was “Breaking the Chains: Mass Incarceration and Systems of Exploitation.” I’ll be the first to admit that at the time I knew very little about the prison system in the United States. But experts in the field taught seminars to help constituents like myself to learn how to use the short time with leaders efficiently and remain on the topic we set out to discuss.
After two and a half days of hearing stories of those affected by unfair systems, listening to researchers share what they have learned about how our prison system functions, and learning about how to effectively use our time with our particular representative, we were sent out in groups based on the states we call home. For me, an Iowan, that meant meeting with Senator Chuck Grassley, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. As a self-identified introvert, the idea of meeting with any leader is intimidating, let alone the Senator who thoroughly understands the topics we were hoping to persuade him to change his mind about. I wasn’t able to attend the meeting with the Senator himself, but I was able to speak with a staff member before the rest of the group spoke with the Senator.
Though I didn’t realize at the time that I was practicing a spiritual discipline, I had a verse from Isaiah replaying in my mind to help me remember the importance of the work and to bolster my courage to speak with leaders and their staff. “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke (Isaiah 58:6)?” Advocacy can be an act of worship that allows us to emulate the work of Jesus as he spoke up for the oppressed around him.
Chuck Grassley, though staunchly opposed to changing mandatory minimum sentencing policy, later softened his stance — he admitted there could be room for change in the policy. We saw progress because we were able to demonstrate that his constituents did not entirely agree with his stance on mandatory minimum sentencing. Even one voice counts as we prepare the way for others to do impactful work in the lives of those who surround us. Advocacy not only helps us to see injustice, but also “to loose the chains of injustice … and … set the captive free.” Advocacy works to bring us closer to God by bringing us closer to the people of God.
How can you get a meeting with your representative or write an effective letter? Check out Biblical Advocacy 101 on the Office of Social Justice's Action Center. Canadian and American versions are available.