Monday, July 23, 2012

Advocacy Training Needed

Presbyterians Know Mission but Little About Advocacy

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. (John 14:26)

"Justice-centered advocacy work calls nations,
powers, and principalities to account on behalf of
God’s people for the sake of God in the world."
I am grateful for the privilege to have served the PC(USA) as the Director of the OPW for the past two years. The greatest aspect of my work is meeting Presbyterians who are both passionate and committed to the work of justice. My travels have taken me to 44 presbyteries and numerous congregations to preach, train, organize, and introduce persons to the work of advocacy. Oftentimes, Presbyterians will raise the question “why should the Church have an office in Washington, DC?” Or, “Why is the church involved in politics?” I discover upon further inquiry that many Presbyterians are not familiar with the term advocate or the work of advocacy as an aspect of our Christian calling to serve Jesus Christ.

In John 14:26, the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible uses the word “advocate” to describe the Holy Spirit.[i] The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) indicates that the word “advocate” comes from two Latin words “ad” and “vocare” meaning “called or summoned to another.” More specifically, the OED continues, “advocate” means, “called or summoned to plead another’s cause in court.” In this text, Jesus reminds us that God sent us an Advocate, One called to plead our case in the court of judgment. The Spirit is an Advocate. Therefore, we, who are filled with the Spirit, are called to a similar task as we work for the coming Kingdom of God. In our discipleship, we stand between humanity’s brokenness and the need for redemption through the lives we lead for Jesus Christ in the world. It must be noted that we do not serve as redemptive voices because of our righteousness. Instead, we serve by God’s grace.

The writer of I John writes “my little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (I John 2:1b). The word advocate in this passage comes from the Greek word paraklηoς (paraklētŏs – par-ak-lay-tos), meaning an intercessor or consoler. The writer reminds us of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice, which relieves us of our sin, in order to assist us in living in the light. He reminds us of the importance of earnestly confessing our sins, which causes God’s justice to prevail (I John 1:9). In short, justice is sought through speaking truth to power in love.

Justice-centered advocacy work calls nations, powers, and principalities to account on behalf of God’s people for the sake of God in the world. This prophetic work is often misunderstood, but is linked to the work of faith as a preventative measure against unjust powers that deal out human pain. These powers include, but are not limited to political, church, governmental, and corporate entities. On the other hand, mission is our response to the consequence of human pain. Through mission, food is provided for the hungry; clothing for the naked; and visitations are made to the sick and imprisoned. As we, in the OPW, act in the tradition of the prophets, we encourage you to learn more about the work of advocacy that your denomination is doing with Presbyterians, as well as ecumenical and interfaith advocates.

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2012 issue of the Washington Report to Presbyterians. To download the entire newsletter, click here.

[i] In previous Revised Standard translations, the word was translated “Counselor.”