Saturday, November 2, 2013

Should Christians Get Involved In Public Advocacy?



Advocacy. We all have heard this word. There are many causes. Human rights causes. Public health causes. Animal rights causes. Lobbying government officials to change laws for the sake of the public. There is no shortage of causes because of all the existing needs in our fallen world. In a perfect world, causes would not exist. Advocacy would not exist. What IS advocacy? It is defined as speaking up on behalf of those who cannot speak up for themselves. Those whose needs aren't being met. Those of us with the Christian worldview see ourselves primarily as having a relationship with God through faith in Jesus. We see ourselves as disciples and witnesses of God's truth and love to the world who needs Him. This translates to prioritizing cultivating our relationship with God, building ourselves up through being with other believers and sharing our faith. As it should be according to the Scriptures.

So where does public advocacy fit in? In the denomination of my childhood and most of my adulthood, public advocacy on the part of Christians is frowned on. Here's my experience: I began to use social networks years ago to raise awareness about missing person cases and soon I was bringing awareness to autism and related, invisible disabilities as well as human rights abuses. I would post these issues to my personal account. On Facebook, I had added many of my past and (then) current fellow churchgoers, as "friends". These were people from past and present congregations in St. Louis, Missouri. Apparently most of them did not want to see such posts in their Facebook Newsfeeds. I was saddened and yes, angry to find myself being "unfriended" by one of them after the other. I know that they aren't bad, uncaring people, though at the time, I ranted and called them "hypocrites" for refusing to "walk their talk." I know that it is what this church body has taught them (and me) about public advocacy and that it is NOT a priority for Christians. This church body in question (like I'm sure others) forbid churches to officially get involved in public advocacy. They do not forbid individual Christians from public advocacy. But many of these Christians confuse congregational involvement and individual involvement.

As a mom of an autistic daughter and a suspected autistic (awaiting diagnosis results) myself, I began an autism petition two years ago. It is found at Change.org. It is also found at Signon.org, where I launched it a year later. This petition calls on the US President and the US Congress to send funds to all 50 states so they can offer autism services to all who need them. I have been saddened at the lack of support for this petition from those in my local church, with only a few exceptions. Months ago, I emailed the pastor of a congregation I belonged to at the time, appealing to him to let our congregation back up this effort as a congregation. I did not realize that this denomination forbids its churches from getting involved in public advocacy, and he made it clear in his reply that our congregation could not back up my efforts. When I appealed to him to do so, he did sign the petition as an individual. But I fear that many, many Christians may believe that they should not get involved in public advocacy even as individuals. Many may see it as a separation of Church and State or that it is not a priority for us as Christians. I understand this. But seeing that there are so many people whose needs aren't getting met and who can't speak up for themselves should give us pause, right?

Yes, I know that so many of these fellow churchgoers who have removed me from their Facebook social networks justified their actions. They no doubt see their walks with God, building themselves up in faith and sharing it with the world, as incompatible with public advocacy. They no doubt see it as getting in the way. Sadly, some may simply choose to remain ignorant about issues that I was trying to bring awareness to. Only they and God know what apply to their cases. I'm sure they may mean well, though I think they are sadly mistaken. I guess they see public advocacy as being incompatible with worship, discipleship, and being witnesses. Why? They don't see God as caring about crime, missing person cases, human rights, disability awareness, and the rest? Doesn't He care about these many people who need advocates, whether you're talking about the unborn, those with disabilities, crime victims, missing persons, persecuted believers, and others? Can prayer, worshipping and witnessing, in and of themselves, meet the needs of these vulnerable people groups? I agree that we ought to pray and that all our advocacy should start with prayer. And these people need to get their spiritual needs met through the sharing of our faith. But without the meeting of their practical needs, these aren't enough! We are told that "Faith without works are dead," but I think many Christians forget that.

I know that not all denominations frown on public advocacy and that some "Christian left" church bodies go the other way. They wrongly de-emphasize the priority of worship, discipleship, and being witnesses. They overemphasize public advocacy! That, too, is equally as bad and as mistaken. I'm blogging from the angle of public advocacy as right for Christians because of my experience. For most of my life, I was in churches to the far "Christian right" and very conservative for many people's tastes. Whatever tradition you came from, as a Christian and are in now, know this: Public advocacy can be a part of your Christian life if you feel passion and a Divine call for it. You can and should start, continue and end all your advocacy efforts with worship, in prayer, and as witnesses. By the way, if you want to advocate, you can do it right here. Please sign my autism petition here. Please sign it too! Thank you and God's blessings!

Photo Courtesy of
MorgueFile.com.

Photo by kconners.

This photo can be found here.
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