Opinion: The call to Christian advocacy
Written by Diane Ford Jones
October 28, 2011

Christian advocacy has anchored my ministry, defined my role as an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, and led me to accept and experience God in richly unimaginable ways.

Thinking about being able to accept and experience God reminds me of Elmo and KiKi, a homeless couple who lived in an alley in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, D.C. One Sunday morning, Elmo, who sold stolen plastic cigarette lighters for spending change, lit a candle while KiKi prayed over a dog-eared Bible that neither of them could read but had deeply internalized the spirit of in their hearts. I asked them why they were outside after being invited to come to a nearby coffee house for a church service. “Why do you pray in the alley?” I asked.

"Cuz God knows us and we know Jesus, and that's all it takes. Ain't that right?” responded Elmo. KiKi added, "It just takes two."

Stunned, I stammered my affirmation. They had accepted and were experiencing a relationship with God. They understood that God was speaking to them. Like many clergy in pulpits and pastoral care settings that call for care outside the church walls, I walked away with yet another invaluable lesson gained from the so-called “least” of God’s children—whose sanctuary is the streets, prisons, or other unconventional places. I learned that God moves in unexpected ways to reveal unimaginable truths. In places where we least expect it, God offers us opportunities for deliverance from our limitations, assumptions, and lack of awareness. And God does so while bringing us to greater clarity through shared connection.

Deliverance and connection are among the gifts God shares with, and promises to, Christians who stand in solidarity with the Elmos and Kikis of the world. Yet our simply being in solidarity with them is not enough to right the entrenched, systemic wrongs that besiege them. Christians are called by God to partner with and advocate for those who suffer. When we intentionally open to God’s movement through us to challenge and mend the broken structures that precipitate endless despair, those structures and systems are opened to extensions of God’s deep concern for all.

Christian advocacy is the act of witnessing to God’s love while speaking truth to power. It’s about our intent to be in solidarity with the movement of the Holy Spirit in our world. It invites us to be open, take faith-inspired risks, and be transformed through God’s grace, while helping to mend our broken world. Christians who appeal to their members of Congress to protect funding for programs that serve poor people, for example, are includible advocates, who receive abundant spiritual gifts because of their commitment to poor people.

Effective advocacy, however, requires steadfast faithfulness to the Lord. For ultimately it is God’s creatively-renewing Spirit moving in our time that prevails.

Throughout the Old Testament, God sees and hears the cries of poor and vulnerable people (Exodus 2:23-25, Isaiah 3:13-15). God delivers and acts (Exodus 12:31-13:16). The Psalms and Proverbs portray the Lord as upholding the cause of those who are oppressed and providing for hungry and poor people—people such as Elmo and KiKi (Psalm 146:5-9; Psalm 72; Proverbs 22). 

Jesus came into the world in humble circumstances (Luke 2:7) to preach good news to poor people and to fulfill the scriptures from Isaiah that proclaim freedom for prisoners, sight for the blind, and the release of the oppressed (Luke 4:18-21).

As we follow Christ’s example, we who are confined to indifference, ignorance, disdain, cynicism, or apathy are set upright to walk the path of wholeness. The blind are set free to see. All held captive are released.

When the faithful—especially those of us who are privileged—listen anew to the sounds of poor and oppressed people, when we walk in faith-filled solidarity with them—as two or more are open to the movement of the Holy Spirit—our openness intensifies our being in lockstep with God’s intentions. We are connected anew. We are saved from the confinement of our hearts to back alley ways of inactivity. All are thrust into the rich byways of God’s love. And this is good news, indeed!

The Rev. Diane Ford Jones is a senior associate for national church outreach with Bread forthe World.