Why is Advocacy Important?
Most people think about whether or not their actions will really make a difference as the basis for their involvement in advocacy. This is an important aspect of the discussion, but we need to start with what God says about justice and our role in seeking it. Unfortunately, many Christians hear the words social justice and immediately equate this term with wealth redistribution and thus shy away from justice related conversations or efforts. This is a shame because justice and righteousness are major themes throughout the Old and New Testament. There are countless calls for God’s people to seek justice and many instructions detailing how the Israelites were to treat each other, the poor, widows, and foreigners. Micah 6:8 is just one of many verses which demonstrates God’s command to His people to seek justice. Also made clear throughout the Old Testament is the fact that God blesses those who seek justice and curses those who do not.
There is also a relationship between Messianic expectation and justice which can be viewed particularly in Isaiah 11:1-5; Isaiah 42:1-2; Isaiah 61:1-4; and in Micah 4:4, 6-7. From the Isaiah passages we see that the Messiah will bring in a reign of justice. The suffering servant referred to in these messianic passages also refers to the Remnant in Israel. They are to administer true justice so that other nations will be drawn to their God. The point of seeking justice is not just to protect others because they are made in God’s image, but to draw the nations to God. The Bible is one narrative of how God is bringing all people to Himself, and seeking justice is a part of that story. The OT narrative is continued on in the NT with the Kingdom of God being ushered in through the ministry of Jesus. We see this so clearly in the way Christ completely upset the religious and social order of the time through his teachings of giving up His own rights and looking out for the interests of others, as well as through His condemnation of the Pharisees. Throughout His ministry, Christ ministered both to people’s physical needs (feeding, healing, casting out demons, ect) and their spiritual needs through teaching the Gospel.
Advocacy is speaking out for people who don’t have a voice and applying pressure to the right authorities on their behalf. Why is it important? The main reason is because God has commanded us to seek justice for the oppressed and to remember those who are persecuted. The first reason for our involvement should stem from a desire to love God by obeying His commands which of course includes loving others.
Open Doors has advocated on numerous persecution issues in the last 7 years and we have seen some wonderful successes. One example of successful advocacy and media pressure was the release of two Iranian women from prison in 2010, Maryam Rostmampour and Marzieh Amirizadeh. They were imprisoned for their Christian activities and pressured to return to Islam. Another great success is that the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) did not introduce a resolution at the UN on “defamation of religions” for the first time since 1999. These dangerous resolutions continued to pass in the UN until groups including Open Doors lobbied countries at the UN, explaining the dangers of this resolution and how it restricts religious freedom, and requesting that they change their vote. Due to these efforts, the resolution lost support each year until the OIC decided this year not to introduce it! There are just two of many examples demonstrating the importance of advocating for persecuted Christians and how our efforts make a difference. Success is only possible through the combined efforts of multiple organizations working on an issue, with supporters taking action, and through media publicity.
I leave you with this sobering thought. Attacks on religious freedom in the United States have increased astronomically in the past couple of years to the point that we may very soon be losing some of our religious freedom. It is incumbent on us as American Christians to not only stand up for our religious freedom here in the US, but for others around the world before we lose that ability. A German pastor during WWII said the following, “In Germany they came first for the Communists and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. They came for the Jews and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. They came for the trade unionists and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics and I didn’t speak up because I was Protestant. Then they came for me- and by that time no one was left to speak up.”