The first day of Voices For Justice 2018 finished with an address from keynote speaker Rev Adam Taylor, the Executive Director of US Christian advocacy group Sojourners.
In a wide-spanning sermon, he touched upon the rise of Trump and the need for Christians to pair their charitable efforts with seeking justice. The main theme was ‘The transformative power of charity and justice.’ This drew on how the concept of ‘Public narrative’ helps to inspire actions and campaigns.
An ordained Baptist minister, Rev. Taylor has had a wide-spanning career that has included working for World Vision, a role with the World Bank, and his current position with Sojourners.
Among other things, his advocacy efforts were shaped by his parents’ interracial marriage from the 1960s, an act that was still illegal at the time in many US states.
One argument that family and friends used against the marriage was that any children would lack a strong identity.
“My biracial identity has been one of the important and enriching things in my life,” Rev. Taylor said.
Learning about his parents’ struggle motivated Rev. Taylor to read up on the era. It also helped affirm his belief that justice was a crucial part of faith.
“Not to speak is to speak”
Rev. Taylor said he was also proud to be from the same faith tradition as Dr Martin Luther King Jr, whose legacy he said had been sanitised.
“Many people have a reductionist view of Dr King,” he said.
“Dr King preached against the three triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism.”
“He was killed…fighting for a living wage.”
“Almost the entire Bible was written from the underside of oppression.”
This, he said, “should shape our hermeneutic”.
“Biblical injustice requires us to address the root causes of people’s pain.”
“[It] requires solidarity with the world’s most [marginalised] people.”
Despite the biblical mandate to seek justice for the vulnerable, “Many churches are reticent to engage in activism because it [would be seen as] political and offend certain members.”
“Sometimes our churches don’t engage in political issues because that [might corrupt] our faith,” Rev. Taylor said.
Against this, he evoked Bonhoeffer’s warning that “not to speak is to speak.”
“We are called to engage in politics in both transformational and bridge-building ways,” he said.
Churches, he said, needed to be careful in their campaigning to not be partisan. This included being “Involved and engaged but never used.”
“We don’t want to be [just] used for photo ops,” he said.
The church, he argued, is called to be not the servant of the state but the conscience of the state.
As an example of one instance where the church had filled this role, Rev. Taylor cited how a predominantly Republican congress had knocked back President Trump’s attempts to cut foreign aid by 40 percent. This, he said, was because Republicans have been “converted” to seeing support for aid as a way that America projects its values.
“A Threat to the Soul of Democracy”
Rev. Taylor touched upon the presidency of Donald Trump, which he described as “a threat to the soul of democracy.”
“There are many of us who are not only alarmed but trying to speak out,” Rev Taylor said.
Against the stereotype that US evangelicals were Trump supporters, Rev. Taylor highlighted that thirty three percent of evangelicals are Latino, almost all of whom voted against Trump.
However, he stressed he was not making a partisan point, and that he was concerned about the wider trend of populist ‘strongman’ leaders.
Earlier in the day, delegates heard from Rev Tim Costello, who said that the church should not pitch charity against justice.
The lobby groups also met for the first time.
Voices for Justice is a conference organised by Micah Australia. From 1 to 4 December, it engages Christians in two days of training and two days of lobbying politicians at Parliament House to engage in more and better aid.
Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor