Monday, March 12, 2012

Presbyterians Know Much about Mission…Very Little About Advocacy!

Presbyterians Know Much about Mission…
Very Little About Advocacy!
by the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Director for Public Witness
March 9, 2012

I have traveled to over thirty Presbyteries in the past 22 months. My travels reveal to me that Presbyterians of all races are committed to mission, but know very little about advocacy. Although African Americans and women who are Presbyterian celebrate a powerful history of advocacy related to the civil rights movement, today, we are sorely lacking a connection to advocacy work.  We are in need of advocacy and organizing training, given the political realities of our time.

Mission is the response to human and environmental deprivation; it usually seeks to provide humanitarian aid and to reduce suffering. The key to understanding mission is that it is a response after the damage has been done.  We have witnessed the response of the PC(USA) in the wake of many disasters, including the devastation of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast and the earthquake in Haiti.

Many ministries of the denomination are focused on mission-oriented responses to human and ecological needs. Congregations are often engaged in mission trips to suffering communities across the globe to build houses; work in shelters; install clean water operations and a host of other efforts to assist individuals who are suffering because of intense poverty, ignorance, or systemic evil. Mission is needed and it is good.

On the other hand, advocacy is proactive movement to avert problems before occur. Justice advocacy requires us to challenge political and corporate powers to be just, responsive, and fair in their treatment of all human beings. Advocacy embraces a belief that just laws that demand fair treatment of all human beings, will serve the common good and, one day, will hopefully render mission unnecessary.  Our public witness ministry in Washington, DC, is political advocacy with roots in the prophetic tradition of biblical faith. The Prophet Amos’ words are the calling card of this biblical mandate for all Christians to “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24)

Justice is at the center of advocacy work. Increasingly, the fight for community stability during these tough economic times will require advocates to address, plead with, and confront the class, race, and economic issues of local communities. I am pleasantly surprised at efforts of some Presbyterians to keep the hope of advocacy alive in their local congregations and communities across the country.

In 2010, I had the opportunity to spend time with Reverend Jimmie R. Hawkins, Pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in Durham, NC, who was arrested with others for demonstrating against a local school board decision to move away from a socioeconomic diversification policy to a system that focused on neighborhood schools. The result would re-segregate the Wake County Schools, which are located in a wealthy community and one of the top twenty largest school districts in the country. The Washington Post ran an article on this issue in Wake County in January, 2011. The Department of Education has weighed in on the Wake County School situation and the School Board Chairperson who held the position at the time the vote has resigned.  As a result of the actions of citizens (including Reverend Hawkins), the national spotlight is shining on a new paradigm for public education in Wake County, with regards to race and class. This is advocacy! The quest for transforming systemic evil into a fair and just pattern of community-building is at the root of advocacy work.

I contend that every mission trip in our denomination ought to begin with participants discussing and developing an understanding of the political, economic, and relational realities that make the mission trip necessary. Simply put, it is not enough to build a home for a family in Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, the Congo, Appalachia, New Orleans, Detroit, or some other deprived people or places, without knowing the context or role that our country and others have played in creating the poverty and unjust environment in which people are living. Then, we are required to commit to deliberate action as Christians to address the issues and policies that would correct the injustices. Micah etches a profound view of advocacy work when he raises a question and then provides the answer amid the foolishness of the temple leadership.  He asks, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

I invite you to learn more, get involved and become an advocate for justice! Register for and come to CPJ Training Day and Ecumenical Advocacy Days in Washington, DC, March 23-26.

The Second Annual CPJ Training Day will take place at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on Friday, March 23, 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM.  At this event, we will educate Presbyterians about the role that the PC(USA) plays in helping people to overcome and survive these difficult times.  The theme for the day will be Presbyterians and Economic Justice. CPJ Training Day is hosted by the Compassion, Peace and Justice Ministry of the PC(USA): Presbyterian Hunger Program; Presbyterian Peacemaking Program; Self-Development of People; Presbyterian Disaster Assistance; Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations; Mission Responsibility through Investment; Environmental Ministries; Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association, Child Advocacy, and Office of Public Witness.  For more information about this exciting event, and to register online, visit 
During Ecumenical Advocacy Days, we will explore the theme, Economy, Livelihood and Our National Priorities through the lens of Isaiah 58You will join nearly one thousand Christians who are working towards a global economy and a national budget that breaks the yoke of injustice, poverty, hunger and unemployment throughout the world, while heeding Isaiah's call to become "repairers of the breach and restorers of streets to live in." Challenging a global economic model based on scarcity, corporate greed, and individualism, we will seek God's alternative vision for global community: one that breaks the chains of injustice and creates the possibility of a sustainable livelihood with dignity for all, thus living into a reality of God's abundance. For more information and to register online, visit

Finally, if you are unable to attend, I ask you to consider sponsoring a young adult. Several Presbyterian college students and other young adults are desirous of attending, but do not have adequate funds for registration and housing. Support may be given through the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) secure website:  Please note “EAD Young Adult Scholarship Fund” in the comments section.