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Religious advocates gathered to call for justice in Washington

By John Johnson*

March 11, 2004 [ENS] Christians from every corner of the country converged in Washington, D.C., March 5-8 to participate in the second annual Ecumenical Advocacy Days. Out of urgent concern for four corners of the world in turmoil--Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East--and in support for global debt relief and nuclear disarmament, 37 Episcopalians and more than 500 others representing 26 main-line Christian denominations and religious groups gathered in the nations capital to learn from experts and advocate for global peace with justice to U.S. policy makers.

We are here unashamedly to advocate before our government for priorities that meet human needs and care for Gods creation, said Jim Winkler, general secretary of the United Methodist Church Board of Church and Society, in his keynote address. We engage in this ministry because we have heard the God of Moses calling us to do so.

This years theme was I will feed them with justice, taken from the book of Ezekiel. Other speakers included the Rev. Samuel Kobia, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Rev. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ, USA, and Dr. Bernice Powell Jackson, United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries.

The Washington Office on Africa, headed by the Rev. Dr. Leon Spencer, an Episcopal priest, coordinated this year's Advocacy Days. Ecumenical Advocacy Days confirmed what we suspected, that there are considerable numbers of us within the Church who want US foreign policy to reflect justice, peace and human rights in the world, said Spencer. While the views we shared, especially regarding the Global South, are not marginal in US society, they are hardly in the mainstream within a political environment that is so narrow-minded in its vision of US policy. That Advocacy Days was able to proclaim an alternative vision, one that embraced right relationships and human dignity, energized participants, and I believe there is a promise of energizing our faith communities.

Building the kingdom--on earth as in heaven

The Episcopal Church upholds my spirituality, said Chris Smith from the Diocese of East Carolina. Sitting in the pews may build the kingdom of heaven, but I think we have a commission to build the kingdom of heaven here on earth. Smith came to Washington with the support of her bishop after receiving an announcement through the Episcopal Public Policy Network (EPPN).

I have been on the [EPPN] network for five years, said Smith. It keeps me up to date and gives me a vision of what I can do.

After a visit to the Middle East with his parish, Alan Weirick of the Diocese of Los Angeles developed a passion for peace in Palestine. I think the Episcopal Church has always taken a leadership position and Im proud of [that] leadership, Weirick said. Were starting a task force to educate other parishes about the issues of peace and justice in Palestine.

Training in justice issues

Ecumenical Advocacy Days featured six tracks for participants that included a broad array of workshops and speakers. An Asia track informed participants of the difficult foreign policy issues between North Korea and the United States. A Latin America track focused on challenges facing Colombia, U.S. policy toward Cuba, and debt and trade agreements in the region. Advocates for peace in the Middle East were briefed on the latest developments there and potential political solutions to the crises and prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. The Africa track offered workshops not only on trade and debt but also on HIV/AIDS, the right to water, Sudan, Liberia, and small arms trafficking, to name a few.

A track entitled Jubilee and Economic Justice brought attention to the one-third of the worlds population that lives in absolute poverty and examined how the intersection of debt and trade has created global economic injustice and explored ways to build a world where there is enough for everyone. Finally, a track on Nuclear Disarmament featured opposition to new types of nuclear weapons and expanded roles for nuclear armaments including measures to reduce nuclear danger and eliminate nuclear weapons. All of the tracks included workshops to prepare participants to meet with members of Congress and staff on all of these areas. Maureen Shea, Director of Government Relations for the Episcopal Church, spoke at the Middle East track on lobbying the White House.

John Feeney from the Diocese of Southwest Florida, the state convener for the Florida Episcopal Peace Fellowship, joined a group that met with a foreign policy advisor to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Feeney was surprised by the amount of time that staff spent with his delegation. [The aide] listened to everybody, Feeney said. Everybody had a chance to speak. He was very informed on all of our issues [and] my impression was very positive.

Plans for the future

The gathering was cosponsored or supported by numerous churches, church agencies, and church-related organizations, including: Africa Faith and Justice Network; American Friends Service Committee; Bread for the World; Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); Church World Service; Churches' Center for Theology and Public Policy; Churches for Middle East Peace; Episcopal Church USA; Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Friends Committee on National Legislation; Interfaith Committee for Nuclear Disarmament; Interfaith Working Group on Trade and Investment; Jubilee USA Network; Latin America Working Group; Lutheran World Relief; Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns; Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate Justice and Peace/Integrity of Creation Office; National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA; Peaceful Ends through Peaceful Means; Presbyterian Church (USA); Reformed Church in America; Stand With Africa; United Church of Christ; United Methodist Church General Board !
of Church and Society; and the Washington Office on Africa.

Organizers were pleased with the responses from participants. Molly Keane of the Government Relations Office in Washington, who served on the planning committee, concluded, The good news is that next year is already shaping up with a growing presence of Episcopalians planning to participate and pledging to bring other Episcopalians.

*John B. Johnson is the Domestic Policy Analyst in the Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations in Washington, D.C.