The Fierce Urgency of Advancing Civil and Human Rights
The United Church of Christ is a co-sponsor and major supporter of the annual Ecumenical Advocacy Days (EAD), an event that brings together up to 1,000 people of faith each year to worship, learn about issues of public policy, and raise a distinctively Christian and progressive voice on Capitol Hill.
This year, the conference will take place virtually April 25-27th with the theme “Fierce Urgency: Advancing Civil and Human Rights.” Advocacy Days will include a sermon from Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, presentations by Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, and content from several other faith leaders and issue experts on the intersections of civil rights, voting rights, and human rights. Attendees will have the opportunity to choose from forty diverse workshops, several of them planned by UCC national staff and including Global Ministries’ partner voices. All of this worship, learning, and advocacy training leads to a virtual lobby day on Wednesday afternoon. EAD is always a powerful, inspiring, educational – and at times exhausting – few days!
What really makes EAD special is the unity that is built across our usual Sunday morning divides as so many denominations and sponsoring organizations come together with a common purpose. The advocacy of our lobby day and the learning taken back to our communities are powerful witnesses to what people of faith can do when we are united in one spirit and voice.
This year, we will focus on Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s phrase, “The Fierce Urgency of Now” in the context of growing cynicism and apathy of his time. King used this phrase as a prophetic prod in two distinct ways, in two famous speeches that align with the dual policy focus that EAD will draw attention to this year.
King first used “Fierce Urgency” in the “I Have a Dream” speech delivered on August 28, 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial. In that soaring speech, King focused on the ways in which Black Americans’ basic civil rights continued to be eroded, suggesting that now was not the time to accept, “the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.” After years of preaching on the need for fundamental voting rights, starting with his “Give Us the Ballot” speech of 1957, King saw in 1963 that the moment was urgent. Ultimately, King’s advocacy helped lead to the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, legislation that has been chipped away at and eroded ever since- most notably with the Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder that dismantled many of the bill’s protections.
The second use of “Fierce Urgency” was exactly 55 years ago this week on April 4, 1967 at The Riverside Church in New York City. In his “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” sermon, King railed against the “giant triplets” of “racism, economic exploitation and militarism.” This speech, given one year before his assassination, pointed to the lack of outrage in the face of unending war and apathy in the face of human rights abuses and atrocities being committed in Vietnam. King warned of the “…bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations [where it is] written the pathetic words, ‘Too late.’” King underscored the urgency of the moment and the moral necessity to take action when lives are on the line.
At EAD 2022, we will call on members of Congress to recognize the urgency of this moment. We will highlight the urgent need to ensure equal voting rights and strengthen the integrity of our elections. Despite the inability just months ago (January) to garner enough votes to pass the legislation, we ardently will call on Congress again to pass the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act, prophetically believing that God can make a way out of no way (Isaiah 43:19). The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy and as people of faith we are called to protect it with all the “Fierce Urgency” we can muster.
Additionally, we will call on Congress to pass the Safeguard Act, a bill that strengthens existing law to include human rights language and prevent the sale, export, or transfer of military equipment to foreign countries that violate international law or engage in human rights abuses. As we see in the news and hear from global partners, such violations of human rights are happening in ever-increasing numbers in the Philippines, Colombia, Yemen, Burma, Palestine, and many other places. All too often, U.S. military equipment is being used by these foreign military and police to brutally repress human rights workers, journalists, opposition parties, indigenous populations, and other communities. As people of faith, we long for the day in which the U.S. would drastically reduce, if not end, such military exports, but until then we must press to ensure that such equipment is not being used to violate international law or human rights.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminds us there is such a thing as being “too late.” We cannot sit on the sidelines of history with apathy to the challenges around us. Instead, we are called to move with the “Fierce Urgency” our faith calls us to, and to work collectively to advance voting rights in the U.S. and human rights around the world. The urgency is real. The time is now.
Join us at this year’s Ecumenical Advocacy Days! Register today!
The Rev. Michael Neuroth is the International Policy Advocate for the UCC Washington D.C. Office.
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