By Jennifer Reyes Lay
“When Christians come together, transformation happens.”
These were some of the opening words at the 2017 Ecumenical Advocacy Days (EAD) gathering in Washington DC, where hundreds of Christians from a variety of denominations came together to reflect on Martin Luther King’s message in his “Beyond Vietnam” speech 50 years earlier, warning about the giant triplets of racism, militarism, and materialism. As we spent time with his prophetic words and reflected on our currently reality, we quickly realized that despite the passage of 50 years, racism, militarism, and materialism continue to infect our communities and world, challenging the realization of the beloved community.
In a pre-conference panel sponsored by the National Council of Churches (NCC), these giant triplets of racism, militarism, and materialism were prophetically called out as nothing less than idolatry by the Rev. Dr. Shannon Craigo-Snell. Idolatry denies dependence on God; it is putting our trust in something other than God and designating worth as coming from something other than God. Racism and white supremacy create worth based on proximity to whiteness. Materialism creates worth based on wealth. Militarism creates worth based on might, force, and control. She challenged us to address the idolatry that is fueling injustice, but make sure that we are not simply replacing one idol for another.
The official program kicked off with a powerful keynote by Tamika Mallory, one of the co-organizers of the Women’s March on Washington. She challenged us to take an honest look at ourselves. Are we really part of the problem, or part of the solution? What kinds of conversations are we having in our families, in our churches? Because the reality is an overwhelming majority of white Christians voted in this current administration. And she reminded us that it is what we actually do, that speaks to what we really believe. We have to get uncomfortable and be ok making others uncomfortable. One of my favorite lines that she said was, “If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club.” Powerful words for us to reflect on.
In thinking about the work that predominantly white churches have to do, we listened to a powerful keynote from the Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer, current President of the United Church of Christ, on America’s Possessive Investment in Whiteness. The UCC has developed a curriculum for churches to engage this topic and have the tough conversations, and it is free to download.
A good portion of EAD focused on education around the president’s proposed budget and other important pieces of pending legislation such as the health care bill and tax reforms. This was important information because on Monday, after two and half days of intense presentations and conversations, we went to meet with our congressional representatives and senators to speak to them about these very issues from our faith-based perspective. We heard from lobbyists and policy experts about the negative impacts cuts to both local and foreign aid would have. These cuts would impact the most vulnerable in our communities and around the world, and we have a moral obligation to speak up on their behalf. One of the speakers from Bread for the World helped us make the connections between militarism, racism, and materialism in our foreign policy. The US is more proliferate in selling arms to other countries than sending food and aid. We ignore human rights abuses for profit from wars.
In addition to the stimulating conversations and powerful presentations EAD, being a gathering of people of faith, included multiple opportunities to gather together as a faith community in praise and worship. I found this one of the most hopeful and moving experiences of the entire conference, to be able to gather together across denominations, recognizing our connectedness as Christians, and celebrate that faith in a unified way. Together we sang songs of freedom, lament, and praise, received the Word through moving and challenging preaching, and placed our collective prayers for peace and justice before our God. In these spaces and moments it didn’t matter what church we went to back home or what theological disagreements or dogma separated us; we were one family, centered in the love of God, and joining together around a common commitment to live our faith in a way that takes us one step closer to the kin-dom of God, the beloved community. “When Christians come together, transformation happens.” I saw and felt the truth of that declaration in the Spirit present at EAD. This same Spirit called us forth out of that safe space and into the halls of power, meeting with our Congresspeople as a unified, faith-based voice advocating for the protection of the environment and the protection of all programs and services that support the most vulnerable.
Besides the congressional meetings, two other prophetic actions many participants of EAD engaged in were a march to and prayer service at the Pentagon and a faith leaders press conference and march to the Senate building where a handful of leaders were arrested for civil disobedience. At the Pentagon we lifted up our laments for the lives that have been lost or destroyed, and joined hands to pray peace into that space and commit to working for greater peace and nonviolence in our own hearts, in our communities, and in the world. At the press conference faith leaders cried out for a moral budget that would support the common good, protect the vulnerable, and care for the environment. They then led a march to the Senate building where seven faith leaders were arrested for participating in an act of civil disobedience.
You can learn more about the 2017 EAD Conference on their website here: https://advocacydays.org/2017-confronting-chaos/. There are videos of the keynote speakers, photos, and you can also download their lobby day ask resources to add your voice to this ecumenical advocacy effort and contact your own representatives and senators about the issues we discussed.