There are a number of places in scripture where the worship of God’s people is odious to God because of injustice in their midst. Amos says “Take away from me the noise of your songs … but let justice roll down like waters.” (Amos 5:25), and God says through Isaiah, “Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts … I want no more of your pious meetings (Is. 1:13 NLT). His remedy for their useless worship gatherings is advocacy:
“learn to do good;
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17 NRSV, see also Jeremiah 5:28)
Advocacy is in the DNA of those who know and love God. We see the advocate posture in many Biblical stories – Esther, Moses, Daniel – all of whom stood before powerful kings to advocate for an oppressed people. Part of the reason that advocacy is a “genetic predisposition” of God’s people, is because advocacy is one of the chief characteristics of God himself. King David says of God “He is my advocate and will deliver me ...” (I Sam 24:15 NLT), Christ is described as “an advocate who pleads our case before the Father” (I John 2:1 NLT), and the Holy Spirit is actually named “Advocate” (paraclete Gk).
The form of government designed by God in the Old Testament was essentially just a judicial branch. People were to be governed by wise judges who could guard the weak and powerless and ensure the common good, and average citizens were adjured, “do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd” when testifying before a judge (Ex. 23:2). It is not surprising, then, that defending those who are oppressed – advocacy in its purest form – is a basic Christian discipline.
Clement, an early church father, praised the Corinthian church because members of the church were selling themselves into slavery and using the proceeds to purchase the freedom of others. And early Moravian missionaries thought that the best way to bring good news to African slaves in the West Indies was to sell themselves into slavery alongside them. While these acts do not exemplify addressing systemic change, they do display how some Christians have understood our calling to stand with the dispossessed. If we have the Spirit of God inside us, we will take on the nature of the One who delivers from oppression.
My friends in Vancouver held a Pirates of Justice
flash mob at a port where cruise ships dock. They wanted to call attention to the exploitation of cruise ship workers. For them, this was as natural a Christian discipline as reading the Bible or fasting.
How do we grow the spiritual practice of advocacy and deliverance without becoming mired in politics or developing a messiah complex? Some young people working for World Vision helped spawn a youth movement called act:s
which is designed to mobilize young adults to engage global poverty. They, along with International Justice Mission
, are working to animate the spiritual genetics of justice, deliverance and advocacy at Urbana 09
. One way to discover how to properly engage oppressive situations is to enter into dialogue with those who are attempting to walk it out – even if imperfectly.
The desire to live out an advocacy calling is simply an expression of acceptable worship. It is an attempt to grow into our spiritual lineage so that we look more like the God in whose image we were made.
“Father to the fatherless, defender of widows— this is God, whose dwelling is holy. God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy. But he makes the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.” Psalms 68:5-6 (NLT)