Written by Anthony Moujaes
Activists from across the life of the United Church of Christ are ready to call for change in public policy in the nation’s capital this weekend. The UCC Justice and Witness Ministries office in Washington, D.C., has participated in Ecumenical Advocacy Days since the event began 12 years ago. This year, the office once again has an important role to play, as it convenes UCC members and the ecumenical community to up a vision of a peaceful world.
Ecumenical Advocacy Days (EAD) takes place Friday, March 21 through Monday, March 24. The conference is a movement of the ecumenical Christian community aimed at strengthening a Christian voice and advocating for causes on U.S. domestic and international policy issues.
"I think Advocacy Days plays an important role in gathering the faith community around different issues of justice, and this year is particularly important on the themes," said the Rev. Mike Neuroth, international policy advocate with the UCC D.C. office. "Given what’s happened recently with gun violence in the U.S. and around the world, the faith community has recognized this is a priority and a concern."
The theme of the 2014 Ecumenical Advocacy Days National Gathering, which is "Resisting Violence, Building Peace," speaks directly to the denomination’s work on global peacemaking as a Just Peace church, as well as its continued effort to reduce gun violence.
"We’ve prioritized [gun legislation and Pentagon spending] as two issue priorities for our office. Our support and leadership at Ecumenical Advocacy Days every year is not only to be a witness in the faith community, but to encourage people to network and connect with other people of faith," said Neuroth, who was the EAD event coordinator for two years before joining UCC staff in 2008. For the 2014 EAD gathering he is leading a Just Peace workshop and moderating a plenary discussion.
During the four-day conference in Washington, D.C., participants are immersed in two days of faith-based advocacy training and another day of advocating on Capitol Hill with elected officials. The events on Saturday and Sunday, which will provide EAD participants with advocacy knowledge, include plenary sessions, worship services, denominational gatherings and workshops on more than 50 different issues. From there, attendees take a message of justice and peace on Monday as they meet with their senators and representatives during a Congressional lobby day.
About 800 to 900 people from the Christian community are expected to participate, and Neuroth estimates that 60 to 75 of those people are connected to the UCC and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
"Any of our participants will set up and go to meetings, and our office is there to help debrief people and offer them resource for continued advocacy," Neuroth said.
Some of the recent gatherings have focused on topics from food practices and hunger, to environmental care, to the federal budget. Advocating for the budget will be a key part in this weekend’s gathering, as it is one of the two "asks" by participants when they lobby Monday on Capitol Hill. The other is on gun violence.
"We’re becoming not only concerned with how the budget pie is divided, but how big the share is for other programs compared to discretionary spending to things like poverty," Neuroth said. Spending by the Pentagon has doubled in the last decade, according to EAD research, to $575 billion in the 2015 budget.
Pentagon spending accounts for more than half of the federal discretionary spending – spending that Congress is required to make on programs for education, housing, science, transportation, and energy and environment. As for gun violence, Ecumenical Advocacy Days is bringing the attention to the ecumenical community by supporting legislation that would make it more difficult for people with hostile intentions to buy guns. EAD organizers estimate that 3,000 children in the U.S. are killed by guns each year.
"Although legislation to strengthen background checks on gun purchases is still before Congress, most political observers give it little chance of moving in a midterm congressional election year," said Sandy Sorensen, director of the UCC office in D.C., in a recent commentary. "But perhaps it is just such a time as this when we need to redouble our efforts to prevent gun violence from continuing to take its tragic toll in our nation. Truly our silence will not protect us."