Advocacy and the Fear of Being Political

Advocacy and the Fear of Being Political November 30, 2016

By Dr. Doyle Sager

Dr. Doyle Sager, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Jefferson City, Mo.

A church member once visited my office, unhappy with me for “being too political.” (By the way, I’ve noticed a pattern: If someone agrees with my stance on an issue of biblical justice, I am being prophetic; if they disagree, I am being political)  

I attempted to explain to my critic how we unwittingly strip the gospel of its power when we make it only about the next world. I asked him to consider how we have all bought into an anemic, bifurcated gnosticism which grants superiority to the heavenly mandate, while leaving the earthly one optional. I pointed out that both John 3:16 and Luke 4:18 are in our Christian scriptures (in the former, Jesus emphasizes eternal life; in the latter, he highlights the gospel’s liberating power in the here and now).

Someone has said that advocacy is the 21st century method of evangelism. It is our entry point, our way of bearing witness to the Risen Lord in a world that has grown suspicious of empty church chatter.

Several years ago, without any fanfare or warning, I experienced a gradual but powerful conversion to the work of advocacy for the broken and marginalized around me. I became aware that I had not been bearing witness to the fullness of the gospel. Without realizing it,  I had been walking away and leaving unused power on the table—influence which could be used for good. Through a series of encounters, I was challenged to step into the tension and risk involvement in order to make a difference.

Advocacy on behalf of the marginalized is a part of the Church’s mandate. The word advocate comes from the Latin root, vocare, meaning “to call, to summon.” Advocacy is the wise and courageous stewardship of our influence, using our collective voice to call out on behalf of those who have no voice, or who aren’t being heard.

Advocacy is at least as old as the Hebrew prophets and culminated in Jesus’ life and work.

The work of Christian advocacy is nothing new. William Wilberforce, Walter Rauschenbusch, Martin Luther King, Jr., Clarence Jordan, Dorothy Day, Sister Helen Prejean, Desmond Tutu and many others remind us that the Christian’s calling is richly layered with concern for every facet of human existence.

Even the casual observer will notice that advocacy work is costly. No one gives up power willingly. Remember that Jesus was not executed for saying nice things about pretty flowers and tiny seeds; he was “taken out” because his work and witness threatened the delicate power balance between the Roman Empire and a corrupt church.

But the work of advocacy is worth it. Will I be misunderstood? Probably. Will I be opposed?. Possibly. But at this point in my ministry, I’ve figured out that someone is going to hate me for something. I get to choose why. It may as well be for something eternally significant.

The recent election cycle was brutal. In the midst of great cynicism and fear, let’s remember that advocacy is an ancient art and does not depend upon the vicissitudes of a fickle electorate. In other words, win or lose, our work goes on. If there is one clear message embedded in the Advent season, it is that God has not given up on this world. Neither should we. Let’s stop whining and get busy. Let’s stop procrastinating and become engaged. Let’s be Christ’s presence. I for one want to join God in the healing of  creation.

Dr. Doyle Sager serves as senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Mo.

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