Social Advocacy

mist at sunrise

Herb Montgomery | May 20, 2022

To listen to this week’s eSight as a podcast episode click here.


“The facts are that the early Jesus community was comprised of those on the undersides and margins of their society who were in deep need of advocacy or justice socially, politically, and economically within their own societal structures.  This is the context in which I understand the work of the Spirit as Advocate to bear the most life-giving fruit.” 


Our reading this week is from the gospel of John:

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. (John 14:23-29)

There is a lot in this week’s reading, some speaks into my following the moral philosophy I see in the Jesus story and some is problematic for me.  What I love about this week’s reading is the reference to the Holy Spirit as an Advocate.

This week in the Western Christian calendar, we are post resurrection, between the resurrection and the ascension of Jesus.  And this week’s reading in John’s version of the Jesus story has Jesus taking about his departure. It is through this departure, in John, that the Holy Spirit is bestowed upon Jesus’ followers.  And this spirit is characterized repeatedly in John as Advocate.

Advocacy is public support for or recommendation of a particular cause, policy or community. It is any action that “speaks in favor of, recommends, argues for a cause, supports or defends, or pleads on behalf of others.” (See here.)

I grew up hearing the Spirit as Advocate as interpreted in some way as an intermediary interposing between sinful humans and a holy God.  Today, I reject any interpretation of this language that places humanity and divinity on polar opposites and a mediator in between. I experienced that bearing bad fruit in my own life and I believe it produces bad fruit societally, as well. 

What I now understand (and love) is the fact that the early Jesus community was comprised of those on the undersides and margins of their society who were in deep need of advocacy or justice socially, politically, and economically within their own societal structures.  This is the context in which I understand the work of the Spirit as Advocate to bear the most life-giving fruit.  

One of the social issues facing Jesus followers in the book of John was being removed from the synagogue. This is a large topic which space does not allow for here.  But I do question whether this actually ever happened. Much of the history between Judaism and Christianity is not characterized by Jews persecuting Christians but Christians persecuting Jews. This was written during a time when Gentile Christians were wanting to distance themselves from their Jewish siblings under the Roman Empire. What better way to do so than to villainize them. The following passages include anti-semitic language. We must be honest about this. My purpose in sharing it is to illustrate that John’s idea of the Spirit as an Advocate was as an advocate between humans in matters of justice not between humans and the divine in matters of sinfulness and holiness. 

Consider the following passages in John’s version of the Jesus story where being removed from the synagogue is a penalty for Jewish people who follow Jesus.

“His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Anointed would be put out of the synagogue.” (John 9:22)

“Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue.” (John 12:42)

John’s Jesus repeats the warning in John 12: “They will put you out of the synagogues.” (John 16:2)

For that first audience, “advocate” would have called to mind actual legal proceedings Jewish leaders initated against Jesus’ followers. The theme of being brought to trial appears in the early synoptic gospels as well:

“When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 13:11)

“When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Matthew 10:19-20)

“So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.” (Luke 21:14-15)

“When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.” (Luke 12:11-12)

The Spirit as Advocate would have first and foremost been heard by John’s original audience as an advocate in matters pertaining to this life.  Early Christians were not concerned with saving people from post-mortem realities as much as they were focused on caring about people’s social condition in the here and now. 

We have confirmation of the spirt as an advocate in the context of people’s social conditions in the very beginning of Jesus ministry in Luke’s version of the story.

  “The Spirit of the Most High is on me,

because the Most High has anointed me 

to proclaim good news to the poor.

The Most High has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners 

and recovery of sight for the blind,

to set the oppressed free,

  to proclaim the year of the Most High’s favor.”  (Luke 4:18-19)

Notice it was the Spirit being on Jesus here (as quoted from Isaiah) that caused him to be an advocate for those on the undersides and margins of his society.  It is also telling that he refers to the Spirit in the book of John as a second or “another” Advocate. (see John 14:16)

This work of Advocacy had deeply Jewish roots and is found throughout the Hebrew Scriptures.  One such example is Proverbs 31:8 “Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute.”

Presently in U.S. society, we are facing a radical departure from progress that has been made over the last four decades in regards to rights of bodily autonomy of women, transpeople and gender queer folk.  With the revelation of the Supreme Court’s intention to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the bodily autonomy of people in these communities is just the latest example of how advocacy work is needed today just as much as it has ever been.  

The words of one such advocate in this fight I found well said this past week.  I have tried to track down their reference. I have had no such luck. All sources of this online that I have found have the author’s name redacted. Nonetheless this is worth sharing here in the same spirit of advocacy we are discussing.

“Here’s the thing, guys. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter when life begins. It doesn’t matter whether a fetus is a human being or not. That entire argument is a red herring, a distraction, a subjective and unwinnable argument that could not matter less. It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about a fertilized egg, or a fetus, or a baby, or a 5 year old, or a Nobel Peace Price winning pediatric oncologist. NOBODY has the right to use your body against your will, even to save their life, or the life of another person. That’s it. That’s the argument. You cannot be forced to donate blood, or marrow, or organs, even though thousands die every year on waiting lists. They cannot even harvest your organs after your death without your explicit, written, pre-mortem permission. Denying women the right to abortion means we have less bodily autonomy than a corpse.”

And one more, this one from Leila Cohan on Twitter:

“If it was about babies, we’d have excellent and free universal maternal care. You wouldn’t be charged a cent to give birth, no matter how complicated your delivery was. If it was about babies, we’d have months and months of parental leave, for everyone. If it was about babies, we’d have free lactation consultants, free diapers, free formula. If it was about babies, we’d have free and excellent childcare from newborns on. If it was about babies, we’d have universal preschool and pre-k and guaranteed after school placements. If it was about babies, IVF and adoption wouldn’t just be for folks with thousands and thousands of dollars to spend on expanding their families. It’s not about babies. It’s about punishing women (and all people with uteruses) and controlling our bodies.” (https://twitter.com/leilacohan/status/1521690766187237377)

As it’s been repeatedly said, you can’t outlaw abortions, only safe abortions.  And, for those who need this to be said, you don’t have to be pro-abortion to be pro-choice.  In fact, there are countless ways to socially, politically, and economically reduce abortions in a society that are infinitely more successful than outlawing abortions and that still protect a person’s bodily autonomy. Outlawing abortions doesn’t stop abortions. It only makes them unsafe. If a person really wants to lower abortions this is the most ineffective way to go about it. 

This week, this is where my advocate heart is moved to action. 

Where, as a Jesus follower, is the Spirit as Advocate impressing upon you to take action, this week?

HeartGroup Application

  1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.
  2. How does seeing the Spirit’s work through the lens of advocacy work impact your own Jesus following? Share with your group
  3. What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone?

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


Begin each day being inspired toward love, compassion, action, and justice.

Go to renewedheartministries.com and click “sign up.”

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 Loving One Another and Justice

dominoes

Herb Montgomery | May 13, 2022

 

To listen to this week’s eSight as a podcast episode click here.

 


“You can’t love another” without desiring that those whom you love have what they need to thrive, and also doing what is in your power for them to have it . . . When we start to really consider what love means, then if we are honest we must begin to perceive love is not only personal, but also social, political, economic, religious, and even global.”


 

Our reading this week is from the gospel of John:

When he was gone, Jesus said, Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:31-35)

After Judas leaves the room, Jesus begins to speak about glorification and love.

The theme of glorifying God and being glorified in and by God is rhetoric repeated through and unique to John’s version of the Jesus story. John defines the closing scenes of Jesus’ life, his arrest, crucifixion and resurrection, as how God and Jesus are glorified.

Another difference between John’s version and the synoptics (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) is that John shifts Jesus message from love of neighbor and love of our enemies to love specifically among Jesus’s followers. The author of John, writing this late gospel, paints this shift as a “new teaching.”

These varying objects of love in the canonical gospels—neighbor, enemies, and Jesus’ disciples—point to the tension of love across three concentric circles. The inner circle is Jesus’ disciples. The next circle is those Jesus’ disciples share society with, whether disciples of Jesus themselves or not. And the outer circle includes those who are those outside the disciples’ society or the community in which we do life together. “Enemy” in this context does not necessarily mean those who do us harm; it may simply mean those who are outside the circle we draw around whomever we define as “us.”

In our time, I don’t think it’s helpful to define others as “enemies.” We can be honest about labeling choices or actions as hurtful or not without naming the people choosing them as “enemies.” And rather than speaking of “loving our enemies,” we can speak of loving those who choose to harm us. This kind of love, too, needs careful defining and explanation to be genuinely life giving and not a tool to sustain harm.

But our reading this week focuses on love amongst fellow Jesus followers. By that love, Jesus says, others would know that Jesus’ followers were the disciples of Jesus. In other words, love was to be the primary distinguishing characteristic others could use to know that we are endeavoring to follow the moral philosophy of that Jewish prophet of the poor from Galilee. That marker is not a bumper sticker, nor what station our radios are tuned to. It’s not what church denomination we choose or voting Republican (I do live in West Virginia).

The marker is not even whether we choose live inside or outside of Christianity’s faith claims. What signals to others that our attempts to follow Jesus are genuine is whether we live by an ethic of love. This is not to say that all who endorse an ethic of love as Jesus followers but that you can’t be a Jesus follower without embracing an ethic of love.

Regardless of which object of love a particular version of the Jesus story focuses on (whether neighbor, enemies, or our own community), it is important to define what that love looks like. How we define love matters: including what we define love to be and what we define love as not. Genuine love does no harm.

 

Love and Justice

To paraphrase the great Dr. Emilie M. Townes, when we start with love, justice is isn’t very far behind. Love expresses itself in distributive justice for all. It includes the desire to make sure the objects of our love have what they need to thrive. When we love, in each area of our lives, we desire that resources are shared so everyone’s needs are met and no one has too much while others have too little. When disparities exist between those whose needs are unmet and those who have more than they could possibly need, all parties are harmed. They don’t experience the same level of harm mind you, or even the same kind of harm, but they experience harm nonetheless.

This principle is at the heart of the Hebrew prophetic justice tradition in which the Jesus we encounter in the gospels stands:

 

Learn to do right; seek justice.

Defend the oppressed.

Take up the cause of the fatherless;

plead the case of the widow. (Isaiah 1:17)

 

Woe to those who make unjust laws,

to those who issue oppressive decrees,

to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. (Isaiah 10:1-2)

 

A bruised reed he will not break,

and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.

In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;

  he will not falter or be discouraged

till he establishes justice on earth.

In his teaching the islands will put their hope. (Isaiah 42:3-4)

 

This is what the Most High says to you, house of David:

  Administer justice every morning;

rescue from the hand of the oppressor

the one who has been robbed” (Jeremiah 21:12)

 

I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak . . . I will shepherd the flock with justice. (Ezekiel 34:16)

 

But let justice roll on like a river,

righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5:24)

In love a throne will be established . . . one who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness. (Isaiah 16:5)

 

“Maintain love and justice.” (Hosea 12:6)

 

Love without justice is hypocrisy. To read Jesus’ words of love as only sentimental, and not as including a call to social justice is to take Jesus out of his Jewish context and transform him into something else for another purpose. Jesus was a preacher of the kind of love that expresses itself in justice for the oppressed, marginalized, excluded, and downtrodden.

This is why Jesus scholars such as the late Marcus Borg and his co-author John Dominic Crossan made such bold statements such as, “The first passion of Jesus was the kingdom of God, namely, to incarnate the justice of God by demanding for all a fair share of a world belonging to and ruled by the covenantal God of Israel.” (Marcus J. Borg & John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week, Kindle location 44.)

 

This is what I think of when I hear Jesus’ admonition us to love one another.

You can’t love another without desiring that those whom you love have what they need to thrive, and also doing what is in your power for them to have it.

All of this leads me to some questions about the intrinsic relationship between love and justice that those of us who are Jesus followers and who share my social location in our society need to allow ourselves to be confronted by.

Are we as White Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love Black people and people of color?

Are we as male Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for women?

Are we as straight Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisxexual, and/or pansexual?

Are we as cisgender Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for transgender people?

Are we as educated Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for those who are less educated?

Are we as middle-class Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for the poor?

Are we as U.S. citizen Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for refugees, migrants, and the undocumented?

Are we as settler-colonial Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for indigenous populations and communities?

Are we as North American Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for those who live in the Global South?

Whom does this list of questions make you think of this week?

When we start to really consider what love means, then if we are honest we must begin to perceive love is not only personal, but also social, political, economic, religious, and even global.

Whom do you think of when you hear Jesus’ words in John?

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

 

HeartGroup Application

 

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. How does loving others translate into societal justice for you? Share with your group

3.  What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone? 

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week

 


 


Begin each day being inspired toward love, compassion, action, and justice.

Go to renewedheartministries.com and click “sign up.”

 

 

Free Sign-Up at:

https://renewedheartministries.com/Contact-forms?form=EmailSignUp

Being Part of One Another

connected network dots

Herb Montgomery | May 6, 2022

To listen to this week’s eSight as a podcast episode click here.


We are part of one another. Yes, some of us see life through one lens, some of us see life through others. But we are still connected. We thrive together. We survive together. What harms some, always in some way harms everyone, even those perpetrating or benefiting from that harm. You can benefit from the harm you do to others in one area of your life while being harmed in other areas.”


This week’s reading is from the gospel of John:

Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomons Colonnade. The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Fathers name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Fathers hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10.22-30)

This story begins with Jesus attending the Jewish Festival of lights, which many today know as Hanukkah. This festival has a rich tradition, and its background can be read in the first and second book of Maccabees.

In 167 B.C.E – 164 B.CE., under the Seleucid empire, Antiochus IV goes to great lengths to desecrate the Jewish temple. He orders a statue of Zeus to be erected in the temple and desecrates the altar by slaughtering as an offering to Zeus a pig—an animal defined in the Torah as unclean. This act sparked the Maccabean revolt.

In the revolt, Mattathias Maccabeus and his five sons successfully push the Seleucids out of the area, and Judas Maccabees, one of Mattathias’ sons, rebuilds the altar, has new holy vessels fashioned, and rededicates the temple. This festival receives its names from the lighting of the lamps during this sanctuary dedication or cleansing: the Festival of Dedication (John), Festival of Lights, and Hanukkah.

In John’s version of the Jesus story, Jesus is often portrayed as celebrating his community’s festivals (see 2:13-25; 5:1; 7:1-13). This can remind Christians both of Jesus’ deep Jewishness, and also how often the language of John is both covertly and overtly antisemitic.

In this week’s passage, it would be more life-giving to us and to our Jewish siblings to read “the people” or possibly “the political leaders” where the text reads “the Jews.” These stories are better interpreted as a struggle among classes within Jewish society, a struggle between the powerful elite and the masses, between insiders and the marginalized. These Jewish voices were having an intracommunal conversation on what faithfulness to the Torah looked like socially, economically, and politically. Not until Gentiles who wanted to distance themselves from Jewish people began to tell these stories did people begin telling and interpreting the Jesus story as a religious contest between Judaism and Christianity.

This section of the chapter also continues the Shepherd theme in verses 1-18. This theme repeats through the gospel of John because it reflects the community’s efforts to define itself. Here, the Johannine community are Jesus’ sheep and Jesus is their shepherd. But I’m afraid they define themselves in a way that harms others. We’ll unpack this in just a moment.

In these verses, the Johaninne community is once again seeking to define Jesus here, too. The gospels repeatedly define Jesus’ relation to Abraham, Torah, Judaism, and to God (see versus 31-42).

These verses define Jesus in the context of the Jewish/Christian debate, within Judaism and between Christianity and Judaism, illustrated by Jesus’ reaction to “the Anointed one,” the Messiah.

But the way the Johaninne community defines Jesus and themselves by implication in this week’s story is not life-giving.

There is a contrast between those who believe Jesus is the Messiah and those who don’t. Those who do are believers, and by implication those who do not are unbelievers. Those who believe are Jesus’ sheep and Jesus is their shepherd; those who do not believe are left out. Those who do believe, will live forever, whereas those who don’t will perish.

This is not a discussion about individuals. It’s a discussion between two communities, the Johannine community of Jesus followers and the Jewish community. The Jewish community saw massive destruction at the hands of the Roman empire in the 1st Century before this version of Jesus’ story was written. But the Johannine community implied through these verses that if they had believed Jesus was the messiah, their community would have lived forever, and because they did not believe in Jesus, they perished.

This is wrong. Whatever political and economic events happened to Jewish people in the 1st Century were simply events born out of economic and political structures (Jesus did have something to say about economics and politics). The people’s destruction or “perishing” under Rome was not an arbitrary divine punishment for Jewish rejection of Jesus as the religious, Christian Messiah.

The Johannine community defines itself as “more than” and those who do not define Jesus the way they do as “less than.” This is an intrinsically harmful exceptionalism or supremacy. It is othering that has repeatedly proven harmful to our existence as humans. It’s not life giving to define ourselves in exclusive categories of “us” and “them.” Certainly there are differences among us, yet those differences are not to divide anyone, and to the degree that we define our difference in terms of “us” and “them,” we create harm. Moving away from “us” and “them” and viewing one another with more subtlety, however, will always be life-giving.

We are connected, whether we realize it or not. Othering and dividing doesn’t breathe life; it breathes harm and death.

Many now see this truth. I think of the following statements that have been meaningful to me recently:

We belong to a mutually beneficial web of connection, well-being, and love. At the root of this connection is empathy; the result is kindness, compassion, respect, and understanding. When religion doesnt center on this mutuality, it can become one of the toxic narratives that, in the end, dismantles self-love. (Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis ; Fierce Love, p. 30)

“Gods dream is that you and I and all of us will realize that we are family, that we are made for togetherness, for goodness, and for compassion.” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu; quoted by Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis in Fierce Love, p. 129)

All men [sic, —and women, and nonbinary people] are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., The Man Who Was a Fool)

Human beings are made for each other and no people can realize their full humanity except as they participate in its realization for others. (Dr. James H. Cone, God of the Oppressed.)

We are part of one another. Yes, some of us see life through one lens, some of us see life through others. But we are still connected. We thrive together. We survive together. What harms some, always in some way harms everyone, even those perpetrating or benefiting from that harm. You can benefit from the harm you do to others in one area of your life while being harmed in other areas.

Last month’s recommended reading from Renewed Heart Ministries was Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis’ book Fierce Love. There are so many life-giving statements in her book, and my favorite that has been continually popping up in my heart and mind is this one:

Our multifaith community (which includes agnostics and atheists) takes seriously the prayer said every Sunday: Gods will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” For us, faith means partnering with God, whom we call by many names—including Love—to make heaven on earth. That means healing the world of brokenness; that means working hard to dismantle systems of oppression. That means accepting this: If there is such a thing as salvation, then none of us are saved until all of us are saved. Saved from poverty, saved from racism and xenophobia. Saved from gender inequality and discrimination based on whom we love.” (Lewis, Jacqui. Fierce Love, p. 185)

Christians should never have othered the Jewish people, and this week’s reading reminds us of that painful history. Repenting of this history also calls Christians to account for ways we have repeatedly practiced harmful othering with different communities also.

Today, we have the opportunity to do better. It will take some effort to undo old habits, for sure. And it’s worth it.

HeartGroup Application

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. What are some of the language choices you use to keep yourselves from othering people who are different from yourself? Share with your group

3.  What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone?

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



Begin each day being inspired toward love, compassion, action, and justice.

Go to renewedheartministries.com and click “sign up.”

Free Sign-Up at:

https://renewedheartministries.com/Contact-forms?form=EmailSignUp