Kicking off our "Advocacy 101" series, World Vision's advocacy mobilization specialist, Amanda Morgan, digs into the basics of advocacy -- and the biblical model that forms the foundation of our approach to it.
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Confession: I’m not a very good team player. When I was 7 years old, I would cheat at games like Candy Land and UNO® -- against my grandfather -- just so I could feel the satisfaction of winning. In high school and college, I dreaded group projects where I couldn’t fully control the outcome of our performance. Call me Type A if you want to, but I had a record to keep.
Through the years, I’ve since grown in my ability to work with others and play games with integrity. But I knew at 7 what only became more apparent as an adult: You really are only as strong as your weakest link. If one person struggles to keep up, we all actually pay the price.
Unfortunately, this truth has become elusive for us in the United States. When working on a class project, the need for everyone’s contributions is readily apparent -- but in real life, I don’t feel any weaker, even though the systems aren’t working for everyone.
Still, whether I feel it or not, my righteousness before God -- my rightness -- is actually determined by how well we all do together. There are multiple concepts of justice portrayed in the Hebrew Scriptures, but I think "leave no one behind" sums them up well enough.
It’s what God said to His people through the prophet Jeremiah when He sent them into exile in Babylon, to live among a people who didn’t know God or respect His ways: “…seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7, emphasis mine). Bad news for my competitive spirit: I’m not really ahead if I’ve left you behind.
This is why advocacy is such a vital component of World Vision’s work and the U.S. Church’s response to global poverty. It tends to get overshadowed by charity, the “darling child” of Christian witness. But without advocacy, the Church will fail to tell the whole story of our God.
Getting ahead feels good, but our God leaves no one behind. Advocacy, in fact, is in His very nature:
Our God defends the poor and oppressed: God, upon hearing the cries of the oppressed Hebrew people in Egypt, didn’t just extend a hand of charity; He confronted the unjust systems keeping them down and committed to them in the long journey to freedom. As people of faith, the commitment of the U.S. Church and World Vision to bring the realities of the poor before those in power and to journey with them in seeking systemic change points to a God who does the same.
Our God understands advocacy: Both the Holy Spirit and Christ are referred to in Scripture as our Advocate, our Defender despite our sin, our Counselor, our Comforter, and our Helper. The Church’s willingness to come alongside the powerless with defense, counsel, and comfort reflects the Father’s heart to strengthen us in our weakness and to impart His grace in the midst of our troubles.
Our God speaks new things into being: In the creation account, the Lord spoke -- and things came into existence. Indeed, the eternal Word of God, Jesus Christ, spoke into being the possibility of new life that the world had never before known. What’s more, we are created in the Imago Dei, the very image of our God, and our words, too, have creation power. The Church’s advocacy -- our speaking up to those in power in accordance with God’s will -- helps create the new reality of God’s kingdom and reflects a God of endless hope and possibility, who has the final word.
Our God associates with the powerless: World Vision does not bear witness to a God who stayed high on His throne, but rather one who left His position of power, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2: 6-8). Paul goes on to call us to have this same mindset in our relationships with one another -- to not use positions of power for our own advantage, but for the benefit of all.
The word for advocacy comes from two Latin roots that together mean “called or summoned to another” (Oxford English Dictionary). In other words: refusing to leave anyone behind.
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example of our Father, who spoke new realities into being and who confronted the powers that oppressed His people…
example of Christ, who relinquished His own power so that we might all be lifted up…
example of the Holy Spirit, who pleads our case and strengthens us in the journey…
…lead the way for our competitive souls as we encounter the poor and seek to steward our influence on their behalf.