Wednesday, March 28, 2012

US-2s at Ecumenical Advocacy Days in Washington, DC

Joe Hopkins and US-2 colleague, Marjorie Hurder, on the steps of the Supreme Court on March 26, 2012.
by Joe Hopkins

I remember when I was in college as an undergrad at Bucknell University, my response to learning about mass, systemic injustice and oppression was revulsion. I had grown up believing that the United States is a nation founded and maintained by Christian values. Then I learned about so many programs that continue to oppress ethnic and religious minorities, women, and poor folks who were an awful lot like my neighbors in central Pennsylvania.

So I tried to remove myself from the system, and I called myself a Christian anarchist. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and I still admire intentional communities that practice radically counter-cultural lifestyles.

However, I soon also learned how transforming bad policies, especially government policies, can have an enormous, positive impact on people. For example, imagine how the country would benefit if all immigrants could confidently join our political systems without fear of detention and deportation. Friends, that's a beautiful vision.

The hard part is how we get there. Over the past 30 years, across the nation it has become unpopular to stand on our Christian, and yes, our Methodist values to advocate for justice for the oppressed. I was a product of that movement, but now I stand firm on Christian Scripture, church tradition, human reason, and my personal experiences to confidently advocate for justice.

I attended the Ecumenical Advocacy Days in Washington, DC, as a United Methodist young adult missionary and future seminarian. We were unafraid to speak the name of Jesus in the same breath as "health care" and "budget." We were unafraid in praying for our elected and appointed government leaders.

And we were unafraid to talk about our faith in Jesus Christ even in the offices of our elected leaders. I shared my personal story of how my neighbors on the South Side of Chicago joined a campaign to shut down one of the dirtiest coal-fired power plants in the United States. I shared how my sisters and brother in my local parish could not stand to sacrifice our neighbors' health to the god Mammon, which in the United States is denoted with a dollar sign. I shared how we won that fight—that power plant will stop polluting the South Side by the end of 2012.

Sisters and brothers, God gives us a voice to sing praises for what God has done, is doing, and will do. But God also gives us a voice to speak up when others are silenced. This is what advocacy is. We use our voices in worship services, Bible study, and one-one-relationships.

We also use our voices in public. I think it's so appropriate that the Ecumenical Advocacy Days came one week before Palm Sunday, when we celebrate Jesus' triumphal entry in Jerusalem. Jesus was making a Daily Show-style mockery of the political system of the day, and a lot people tuned in. When the powerful people from Capitol Hill demanded that his followers stop shouting and show some respect, Jesus answered, "If these keep silent, the stones will cry out." (Luke 19:40)

Sisters and brothers, why should we let the stones have all the fun?

Joe Hopkins is a US-2 missionary serving as an organizer in the national office of Interfaith Worker Justice in Chicago. He will be remaining on the South Side of Chicago to begin his M. Div at Chicago Theological Seminary this fall.

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