Baptism: Many Starting Points for Advocacy
Amy Reumann, LAMPa Director
For years, I have been presenting and teaching about baptism as the starting point for our advocacy. When I do, I have highlighted the fifth and final part of the covenant declaration in the ELW Affirmation of Baptism, “to strive for justice and peace in all the earth”. This is an obvious point of connection. But over time I realize it is not the only one. The five baptismal affirmations are interconnected, resting upon and reinforcing upon one another. So I am working these days on framing our call to advocacy as something that is rooted in the entirety of our baptismal identity. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far. Please tell me what you think.
You have made public profession of your faith. Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism:
To live among God’s faithful people – Advocacy ministry is discipleship ministry, that calls us into ministry using our God-given talents, experiences and gifts. LAMPa’s advocacy has shifted from a priestly model to focus on the priesthood of all believers. Rather than having a lobbyist in the Capitol we work to equip Lutherans to be advocates where they live and serve. Advocacy of the baptized is characterized by listening as much as speaking – listening to Scriptural, to the cloud of witnesses from our theological tradition, listening to our neighbor, to voices of suffering, listening to those with whom we disagree and of course listening to God. LAMPa advocacy is anchored in teaching congregations to conduct moral discernment so they learn to talk together about hard issues, discern God’s voice and to abide together in Christ with or without agreement. It includes equipping rostered leaders, and congregational members, social ministry, seminary or synod leaders to deliver testimony in the Pa General Assembly, meet with legislators, or address together a local concern. It is also the reminder that we don’t do advocacy alone, but in community with those who are like-minded, and in conversation with those who may disagree.
To hear the word of God and share in the Lords supper – Advocacy is rooted in Word and Sacrament. Advocacy must flow from and be informed by this identity or it becomes activism detached from a faith basis. Faith-based advocacy is a different and unique voice in public policy, always modeling the reconciliation and welcome of Christ as a counter to the rigidity and divisiveness of partisan politics. This rootedness in the sacraments means that LAMPa does not have to adopt all or nothing stances. Although we take part in coalitions we remain intentional about tactics and messaging that recognize the dignity of others. Sometimes our advocacy is serving as a bridge builder and community-creator in the legislative process. The seven deadly sins are on prominent display in world of state government. It is sometimes abusive and ugly and sometimes the process seems irredeemable. Which means this is exactly where the church needs to be as an active sign of God’s presence, reconciliation and love.
To proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed – Advocacy is evangelism, one way that Lutherans share the good news of Jesus Christ with others. It is not proselytizing, but rather the result of faithful reflection on Scripture, the commands and example of Jesus, prayer and deliberation that leads to saying, “Here I stand!” on an issue that impacts my neighbor or community. It is witnessing to faith in the very public and tension-filled world of public policy. Despite the risks, I find advocates invariably come away from meetings with officials exhilarated and renewed at the power of giving testimony and at having acted on their faith publicly. I believe this practice of testimony grows disciples and builds leaders for our congregations and our world.
To serve all people, following the example of Jesus – Our best advocacy is built upon ministry to our neighbor among Lutherans who have discovered the limits of that service. Consequently their faith in Jesus impels them to do more to address why neighbors are vulnerable, hungry or suffering in the first place. We encourage advocacy focused on relationships, with those on whose behalf we advocate and those to whom we bring our advocacy. A current example is creating a visitation program at a jail where up to 900 immigrants are detained, recognizing the need for service now, but also the potential for those doing the visiting to become immigration advocates.
And to strive for justice and peace in all the earth – The advocacy done by ELCA Advocacy is only a small part of the advocacy being done across the ELCA and by Lutheran partners around the globe. A temptation in advocacy is to place the pursuit of justice and peace as the end goal of our ministry. While a “win” is always gratifying, this focus becomes another form of works righteousness.The goal of our advocacy is public testimony to the suffering and the resurrection of Christ and his grace, mercy and justice. We do it out of love for our neighbor and all creation and for their well-being. Our prayer is that what we speak and do in public may lead to justice flowing and peace expanding.