Several FOL staffers and members attended the Christian Community Development Association’s (CCDA) annual conference last week in Los Angeles. While we were dazzled by the talented worship team, inspired by visionary speakers, encouraged by our peers and colleagues, and educated by workshop facilitators, an underlying theme emerged and is growing in my heart and mind: The Christian Church needs to decide how to respond to pervasive injustice and the broken systems around us. Will we continue sliding by, disagreeing silently and conveniently, or will we take to heart this Biblical exhortation: “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow”? (Isaiah 1:17)
As one of the plenary speakers (and my personal hero), Rev. Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil prophetically proclaimed, we, The Church, are at a fork in the road. Racial and social tensions and violence are not only more broadly publicized, they are actually increasing. The Body of Christ is reaching a point of monumental decision. We can either fester in complacency, or we can vocally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually advocate for immigrants, people of color, the First Nations, and the many people directly affected locally and globally by the intentional, structural, and encompassing systems of oppression. Additionally, we need to be willing to face uncertainty, unpopularity, and, sometimes, even danger, to truly advocate for the oppressed and each other.
The question in my mind, and I’m sure the minds of many others, is, “How?” How, with so many well-intentioned messages, many of which are not Biblically-founded, can we proceed in our mission of justice and equity while serving the Lord and our communities? Thankfully, the many speakers and workshop facilitators provide insight and instruction on how to practically address structural systems of oppression. Alexia Salvatierra, a faith-rooted advocacy trainer and consultant for CCDA, implored us to identify the needs of our community in their different scales, including direct service, community development, and broader system reform; to find ways to collaborate in bringing down unjust systems; and to pray for change. While many of us are able to identify and meet direct needs, such as buying a meal for a hungry person, it becomes more difficult to take on the issue of hunger in our city (requiring community development), much less the United States (requiring system reform). When we are able to see the needs of people, we can find what social and legal structures affect these needs. Salvatierra says we must use the gift of democracy to bring about change by identifying what branch of government deals with the needs we see, create a vision for change, form a coalition with other like-minded people and groups, and use the tools of research, voting, protesting, and speaking with government officials to work towards policy change. We are called to understand what scripture says about the poor, the naked, and the oppressed (Isaiah 58:6-7), find ways to advocate for these people who bear the image of Christ, and pray that God will move miraculously through us, through our government, and through those for which we advocate. There must be a balance of receiving from God (through His word and prayer), and acting upon what the Bible calls us to do.
While this does not fully encompass the vision and goal of the conference, it provides a tantalizing taste of the lessons and ideas that nourished us last week. I, for one, feel activated, energized, encouraged, and determined, and grateful after this experience.
If anyone wants to know more about the conference, or wants to chat about my experience and resolutions, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.