ADVOCACY WRIT LARGE

God presides in the great assembly. He judges among the gods. "How long will you judge unjustly, And show partiality to the wicked?" Selah. "Defend the weak, the poor, and the fatherless. Maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy. Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked."                                                                                                Psalm 82:1-4 WEB

If you have doubts concerning the absolute necessity for strong advocacy in the search for justice, consider the verses you just read. Not one is about charity; all support advocacy. You can’t “defend the weak, the poor, and the fatherless” using only charity. Somewhere you must realize that charity alone will only alleviate the problem, not remove it.

Nor can you “rescue the weak and needy,” except by “delivering them out of the hand of the wicked.” Under charity, they’re still in the hands of the wicked; they just don’t feel it as much.

Notice that the admonitions are delivered to the “great assembly,” where the Almighty God “judges among the gods,” or lesser religious figures. And what does the Supreme God say to those lesser entities, obviously representing domination figures having some power upon earth: Stop unjustly judging and being partial to the wicked; defend the weak, poor, and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed, rescue the weak and needy, deliver them from the hands of the wicked. These are not options; they are the commands of God for those who would obediently follow him.

These are not passive statements made by philosophers, theologians, and psychologists---they are direct commands from God Himself. They are active and powerful, having potential to uproot kings, nations, systems and the entire earth. So how can we lesser church bodies hope to carry them forward?

We can begin by acting in Jeremiah’s prophetic mode when he said that God had touched his mouth. “Then Yahweh put forth his hand, and touched my mouth; and Yahweh said to me, Behold, I have put my words in your mouth: behold, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down and to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (Jer. 1:9-10).

It wasn’t charity that Jeremiah used in response to God: It was full-blown advocacy using actions as well as words. Notice the active verbs in God’s charge---“pluck up,” “break down,” “destroy,” “overthrow,” “build,” and “plant.” These words are dynamic and frightening in their scope as we begin to comprehend just how destructive, yet creative, acting on God’s word can be.

If we wish to stop showing partiality to the wicked, we could step back from our almost worshipful attitude toward ultra-wealthy people who often have gained whatever they have at the expense of others. Under God’s values they are not inherently evil, but have become so by abusing and cheating on the way up, and remaining arrogant and merciless as they struggle to maintain their ill-gotten statuses.

Should we choose to defend the weak, poor, and fatherless, we could open our mouths for those having neither voice nor rights in society. We could gently refute the claims of those who persist in blaming the poor for their own predicament. And we could speak up for justice when we hear of the poor and vulnerable being trashed publicly.

If we wished to maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed, we could actively support laws and judgements favorable to them, instead of merely turning our backs when we hear of good laws being mishandled against the poor.

And should we desire to rescue the weak and needy from the hands of the oppressor, we could begin by learning a bit about oppressors and their inroads on peace and justice at all stages of history. The sad story of how oppressor-created systems claiming to provide justice end up doing just the opposite is another story for another time. Meanwhile, hang on because God is still driving the bus.

 

 

 

 

STAND IN THE GAP FOR THE LAND

By Jim Jordal

 Her princes in the midst of it are like wolves ravening the prey, to shed blood, [and] to destroy souls, that they may get dishonest gain. Her prophets have daubed for them with whitewash, seeing false visions, and divining lies to them, saying, Thus says the Lord Yahweh, when Yahweh has not spoken. The people of the land have used oppression, and exercised robbery; yes, they have vexed the poor and needy, and have oppressed the foreigner wrongfully. I sought for a man among them, who should build up the wall, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found none. Therefore have I poured out my indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath: their own way have I brought on their heads, says the Lord Yahweh.                                             Ezekiel 22:27-31, WEB 

If you read the entire 22nd chapter of Ezekiel you’ll see that the author’s land was in serious trouble from national leaders who ravaged society, shed blood and destroyed souls in their mad search for power and economic gain. Supporting this awesome failure was the continued dysfunction of a captive ecclesiastical prophetic class as they “whitewashed” this extensive perversion by issuing deceitful explanations for the failures while falsely pronouncing God’s favor on those practicing this evil.

The overall culture was also faulty in that it allowed and even encouraged the public to practice robbery and oppression against vulnerable groups in society---the poor, needy and foreigners. Literally thousands of biblical passages decry this cruel, heartless situation, yet it continues to this day as tyrants manage to gain ecclesiastical blessing for their sins amid the troubling silence of the generic church.

Because of these extensive self-inflicted sins God had determined to bring judgment and punishment upon the land. Before undertaking this move, God searched for someone to “build up the wall and stand in the gap” so that he could relent in his desire to punish the nation. But there was no one to stand in the gap for the land, so the promised punishment proceeded.

The phrase “standing in the gap” refers to the ancient practice of building defensive walls around cities. If that wall were to be breached by the enemy, then came the necessity for some strong person or group to “stand in the gap” to save the city. The phrase has come down through history as a metaphor for any attempt to protect one’s people or interests by standing heroically against oppression and in favor of those who cannot stand or speak for themselves.

Those serious about advocating face considerable risk as they prod a reluctant domination system toward increased justice and mercy.  It seems as if everybody favors charity since it makes both the giver and receiver feel good. Not so with serious advocacy because it sometimes steps on tender toes that have enough power to fight back. Hopefully, those of us who advocate do so as our necessary response to what we know in our hearts. We have experienced God’s unending love for us, so we respond to that love by attempting to transfer a bit of God’s mercy and justice to suffering vulnerable groups and to those in power that they might better comprehend their role in that suffering.

So who stands in the gap for the many Americans today that cannot stand or speak for themselves? Who cares enough to confront an establishment that seems ready to leave no stone unturned to maintain the status quo with its massive transfers of wealth up the economic pyramid and its egregious sins in seducing legislators into providing laws allowing this injustice to continue?

Why not you? You, too, can stand in the gap with letters and calls to people in power. You can read and study on what now occurs, and let your voice be known. And you can see if your church has a social justice committee and join it, or create one if you do not have one. And above all, you can pray that God will act to hasten mercy and truth for our land and for the earth.

 

 

HUNGRY CHILDREN: WHY WE NEED ADVOCACY

By Jim Jordal

By this we know love, because he laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and closes his heart of compassion against him, how does the love of God remain in him? My little children, let's not love in word only, neither with the tongue only, but in deed and truth.

I John 1:16-18, WEB

A few weeks ago reports from Utah indicated that some school districts were turning children away hungry from school lunch lines if their lunch fund accounts had fallen below zero. Some lunchroom workers evidently seized and tossed in the garbage the already served lunches from students whose lunch accounts were short. Others reportedly went so far as to ink stamp on the hands of elementary kids the words MONEY or LUNCH. Some of the more enlightened lunchroom managers replaced regular hot lunches with cold cheese sandwiches, fruit, and milk.

All in all, this news did not sit well with Americans who immediately fired off hundreds of thousands of social media messages asking if this was true and why it was done.

On Tuesday, February 11, 2014, it was revealed by delving reporters that some school districts in Minnesota were doing the same.

Now let’s not get too tough on the lunchroom workers who were no doubt only following orders. That doesn’t make their actions right, but it does help us understand the pressure-packed situation. Unfortunately, things like this happen every day, although we don’t generally hear of them because no one wants to take the risk of exposing friends or co-workers.

The treatment of these needy kids touched a nerve of the American public. The immediate cry was "for shame!" That was closely followed by public promises, including that of Governor Dayton, to do something about this situation. Governor Dayton says it will take between 3 and 4 million dollars to solve this problem for a year, which he will include in a forthcoming budget request bill.

This unpleasant reality has evidently been hiding in the bushes for some time. Pressed by school budget constraints and lacking adequate operating funds, school districts have been forced to do things they don’t approve of, just like what happened. And it seems only to grow worse as the vaunted Recovery fails to reach the bottom half of the nation’s people.

It takes advocacy to reveal hidden situations such as this. Charity would attempt to remedy the shortage of lunch funds by either giving individual poor kids gifts of food or money, or perhaps by bestowing larger amounts directly to the school districts. But the problem would only be temporarily lessened, not solved as it should be.

That’s why we need advocacy. Advocates go beyond charity into exposure of evil acts and bad situations. Advocates name names and assign responsibility. Advocates dig into the nitty-gritty of public policy and ask by what right things are done. Advocacy holds the public’s feet to the fire because they point out that these evils exist only because the public has abandoned its moral duty of voting and paying taxes responsibly and expecting honesty and service from elected and appointed officials. It takes advocacy to go beyond the limits of charity.

Perhaps the major Bible verses on advocacy can be found in Proverbs 31:8-9, WEB: "Open your mouth for the mute, In the cause of all who are left desolate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, And serve justice to the poor and needy." The poor kids denied lunch or embarrassed by having MONEY or LUNCH printed on their hands were left mute and desolate, as the verse says. But somebody opened their mouth in exposure and protest to serve justice to the poor and needy.

That’s advocacy, and we need lots more of it!

WHAT WOULD CREATE THE GOVERNMENT WE NEED?

BY Jim Jordal

 “Wash yourselves, make yourself clean. Put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes; Cease to do evil. Learn to do well. Seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow."            Isa. 1:16-17 WEB

From virtually everywhere come the reports of ineffective, aggressively partisan, conflicted, and increasingly moribund government. But trouble keeps appearing, leading some to despair of any presently existing government being able to staunch the tide of bigger problems with fewer answers.

But that’s how God intended it to be. We were intended to live in harmonious relationships with one another under God’s rules for peace and justice. But we can’t or won’t live under God’s banner, so we face continuous unrest and fear over what transpires upon the earth.

The earth and its inhabitants cannot survive much longer under growing threats of terrorism, war, financial disaster, racial warfare, rampant crime, broken families, ecological collapse, and a general decline in public honesty and cultural decency. What we’re doing now is unsustainable in every regard, yet in our arrogance and resistance to God we cannot admit our true condition.

We don’t need new constitutions, strategies, political parties, programs, or threats of violence. What we need is to finally pay serious attention to what our Creator said concerning the wayward human condition and his answers for it. The prophet Jeremiah perhaps said it best: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jer. 17:9 KJV). Our condition aside from God is deceitful, cruel, haughty, arrogant, and supremely self-satisfied.

As you can tell from the news, many human hearts are indeed deceitful and desperately wicked. This condition is always present and has been resisted down through the centuries by God and religion, but seemingly to little avail. What’s needed now is to switch this struggle from individual sin and deeds to national sin and its even greater perversions.

Isaiah specifies clearly the actions we must take to regain God’s favor and anointing. Judging from the context of this passage, God’s anger is directed more at nations than at individuals because the damage done on the national level is far more pervasive than what individuals acting alone can achieve. Yet we understand that there really are no systemic behaviors that are not initiated by individual decisions. In the larger sense God tells our leaders and nation: “Cease to do evil.” He means to stop making laws that are oppressive. Stop initiating wars, not to gain freedom, but to protect foreign markets. Stop paying workers starvation wages while bosses reap the vast preponderance of the returns for increased productivity.  An example is that of every new dollar of income arising from increased productivity of labor, 99 cents goes to the top one percent of the economic pyramid.

Next he tells us to “learn to do well.” It won’t do much good to stop doing evil if we do not also learn to do well for others. Doing well then becomes a social value based upon respect for others and a deep concern for their welfare---something not very evident in American politics today.

Then we hear the command to “seek justice.” This is not merely waiting for justice, but actively pursuing it in all aspects of human interaction. Justice literally means doing what is best for others.

Finally, Isaiah turns to specific behaviors toward vulnerable individuals and groups of society: “Relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.”  This is advocacy that begins with charity but moves far beyond it to determine and correct those cultural conditions that perpetuate human dependency and dysfunction.

 Human arrogance complicates the search for justice because we lean toward our frail learning and wisdom as sources of deliverance. But as we see every day, that source of deliverance is severely limited. It’s very simple, depend upon God’s word and his favor for deliverance, not upon merely human resources.  

THE JUDGMENT OF NATIONS

By Jim Jordal

 Then the King will tell those on his right hand, 'Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in; naked, and you clothed me; I was sick, and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me.' "Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you; or thirsty, and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger, and take you in; or naked, and clothe you? When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?'  "The King will answer them, 'Most assuredly I tell you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers you did it to me.'

Matt. 25:34-40 WEB

Matthew 25:31-46 details the judgment of the nations. In the interests of brevity I quote only part of it, although in its entirety it is one of the most vital passages in all Scripture. You may wish to read the remainder of the account to see what God’s decision is for those who fail to consider the distress of people oppressed by calculated, entrenched systems of domination.

Some questions. Does this passage indicate that it is nations rather than individuals that face God’s judgment? Can nations do the same things as individuals in alleviating suffering and speaking out in favor of the oppressed? Does God reward and punish nations as well as individuals? Why were the "good" people in this account so unaware of their acts of charity and advocacy?

Individualizing and spiritualizing Scripture leads one to believe there are only individual sins. The concept of national sin is therefore irrelevant because nations are composed solely of individuals. But God seems to believe in national sin, defined as what happens when the very character of nations changes as they ignore God’s clear commands concerning justice, righteousness, mercy, and truth.

I think it obvious that nations can commit the same sins as individuals. They can also practice the same forms of justice, but with one great exception. Individuals can influence others by personal contact or exhortations toward justice. Nations have the advantage of being able to create laws and issue money, thereby allowing them to reach far beyond individuals in either obeying or ignoring God’s will.

God also rewards and punishes nations as well as individuals. Consider the throes of Israel during their time of the national formation, first under the judges and later as a kingdom. The prophets made it clear that national obedience merited God’s favor, while disobedience loosed a horde of national disasters from weather to war, from famine to disease, and from freedom to slavery. So it appears that God does punish nations as well as individuals.

Why were the "good" people who merited entry into Christ’s kingdom so unaware of what they had obediently done? And why were the people cast into outer darkness outside the kingdom also unaware of their evil behavior? In the first instance, perhaps it’s because doing good had become so internalized that they never realized the scope of their charitable actions. Doing justice in response to God’s freely given grace had become an integral part of their lives and experiences. Therefore they did good as part of their nature.

In the case of those cast away for their ignorant, callused, cruel behavior; we might assume that they were so arrogant and distant from true faith that they never understood the extent of their sin. It’s as Jeremiah said: "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil (Jer. 13:23 KJV). They were so far from God’s way that it would virtually be impossible for them in their present state to do God’s revealed will.

It’s a serious matter, folks! It’s important to do justice and righteousness, not because of our fear of impending judgment, but because of our loving response to God’s grace.