Personal is Political Week: My Advocacy and My Faith

The church where I grew up, and where I was married

This is the second post for my The Personal is Political Week, and it’s probably the most personal of all three.

Discussion of religion, of course, is particularly fraught, and I’m never quite sure when, or where, or how it makes sense to share to students as a part of my worldview. For me, in my social work context, it’s not at all about evangelism, yet it’s pretty impossible for me to ignore the very real influence that my faith plays on my vision of social justice.

Last year, when I completed my goal to read all of Taylor Branch’s three-book series on Martin Luther King, Jr., it struck me anew, just how artificial it is to try to seal off my faith from my campaigning for social justice.

Because the day that I’m working towards, ultimately, is what the prophet Amos described, when “justice (shall) roll down like water, righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).

I once gave a speech to several hundred church women who had gathered in Topeka to lobby the legislature on anti-poverty and child welfare policy. My remarks centered on the part of the Lord’s Prayer that says, “Thy Kingdom Come, on earth as it is in heaven.” For me, that means a responsibility, especially for believers, to work unceasingly to make this very flawed planet conform more to that vision of Amos’.

I don’t believe that we pray our way to the political and economic structures that would let justice reign, and I certainly don’t believe in waiting until heaven for the poor, sick, hungry, and outcast to get what they rightly deserve. But the sense that I’m doing what my faith compels has definitely sustained me during some of the bleakest points of my advocacy, and it has also allowed me to make common cause with some unlikely allies who share some of those same principles.

It’s not always a feel-good faith, I’ll acknowledge–I’d love to believe that God is intervening to save the sick and rescue the hurting, but I’ve seen too much sorrow to believe anything but that He expects us to do a lot of the heavy lifting there. I don’t pretend to be terribly learned in matters of faith, and I’m sure that there are contradictions galore in my belief system, just as there are in people’s political ideologies, too. And, certainly, it probably goes without saying that my soul aches for the ways in which those who would profess a nominally similar faith to mine use those beliefs to pursue personal profit, practice the politics of division and destruction, and justify abuses of precisely those with whom I believe my God is most preoccupied.

But I know of few other powers as capable of moving people to do extraordinary things on behalf of others, and that’s why so many successful organizing efforts and social movements, past and present, have woven some expression of faith into their core principles.

What about you? Does your faith, however you experience it, influence your aspirations for justice, and the way that you pursue them? How do you talk about your faith with those who may or may not share it, especially in a social justice context? If faith is not a motivation for you, how do you sustain your heart in the face of constant injustice?

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