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A Theology of Advocacy - Musings of a Practitioner

Many years ago, the Rev. M.P. Bill Blaikie  explained to Church leaders that it’s important for people of faith to show up in legislatures as often as the Canadian Fire Fighters Association does - every year, like clockwork! , Blaikie’s point was and remains straightforward: relationships and regular presence create opportunities to bring constructive ideas to our leaders that become our faithful contribution to the journey of justice.  Relationships and presence are core to what I call a theology of advocacy. And like any good reformed preacher worth their salt I offer you three principles for a theology of advocacy.  

Responses to these tragedies... need to be rooted in a deep affirmation of human dignity.

First: Imago Dei or ‘in the image of God.’  The history of genocide - crusades, slavery, colonialism and the ever-present stain of ethnic conflict -  speaks a clear message: When people groups are considered less than human injustice and death are the result. In each of these cases, ‘the other’ was and is considered less than fully human.  Response to these tragedies and the prevention of them need to be rooted in a deep affirmation of human dignity. As Christians we understand all people are created in the image of their Creator.

Let our actions echo that of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet.

But too often an Imago dei affirmation of human dignity and rights  – is a lip-service theology that is not fully lived. Church participation in the arrogance of colonialism is a case in point. African American theologian Willie Jennings explains that “Christianity wherever it went in the modern colonies, inverted its sense of hospitality.  It claimed to be the host, the owner of the spaces it entered, and demanded native peoples enter its cultural logics, its ways of being in the world, and its conceptualities.”  So we urgently need to follow the transforming example of Jesus  with hospitality, intimacy and humility. Let our actions echo that of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet.

We need to seek the good of the city where God has placed us.

Second, our friend Jesus Christ is for the world, and we – the body of Christ – are, therefore, to be for the world as well.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer encourages Christians to be people who take responsibility for our role in history. This responsibility means that we need to be for the world in all its messiness and exasperating contradictions.  Therefore, we need to root our justice work in our love for the world and our neighbour, and work graciously for change. In the words of Jeremiah, we need to seek the good of the city where God has placed us by seeking justice for all – not just ourselves as a people of faith – but for the good of all of Creator’s image-bearers, and indeed for creation itself.  The point is, our advocacy work is not about us, its about joining Christ’s work of reconciling all things, all of the world.

A light week for most Parliamentarians in Canada is about 70 hours

Finally, I’d like to turn to Roman’s 13 command for us to respect the governing authorities as “God’s servant’s to do us good.”  Walking the halls of Parliament now for many years, I’ve learned some things about these servants: I can tell you stories about many great people who are in public office for noble reasons – across the party spectrum.  A light week for most Parliamentarians in Canada is about 70 hours – much more for cabinet members and party leaders. It’s a demanding calling and people work hard in all parties for the good of our communities, the country and the world – yes indeed God’s servants for our good.  It’s our sacred duty to support them with prayer and good ideas.

As advocates we listen for the needs of communities.

With Roman’s 13 in mind, we support these leader-servants with workable ideas - for their God given task of seeking the good for all of us.  As advocates we listen for the needs of communities, reflect on the layers of responsibility, and consider the constraints, opportunities and unique responsibilities of political leaders to address those needs for the good of all.  This should include righteous indignation at injustice but it doesn’t stop there. It’s a humble approach that seeks respect, relationships and collaboration on the long path of justice and reconciliation.    

These three foundations – Imago Dei, Christ for the world, and supporting and serving God’s servants to do us good – illuminate the biblical call to be salt and light through political advocacy.  The principles help us to join in Christ’s work of reconciling all things.

We talk about this all the time but if these ideas are new to you and you’re wondering how to get started we suggest our action center, which allows you to send hopeful and helpful ideas we’ve researched to you MP via email.  We’d also love to support your in person MP visits!  

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