Advocacy done “Christianly”: Faithful Witness in a World of Dehumanization (Part III-Contributions from Yoder’s “Christian Witness to the State”)

Posted: 3 August 2010 in Advocacy
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For Part I of this series go here for Part II go here

Christian Witness to the State

If we return to the definitions of advocacy in the previous part of this series, we see that, among all the concepts, certain ones are central: in advocacy there is an identification of an injustice; there is a “speaking out” against this injustice; there is a “speaking to” those who, in one way or another, have power to do something about the injustice; there is a clear identification of the “speakers”; and the broad goal of the speaking is to bring about change.

In this section I would like to begin to explore what it might mean for advocacy to be done “Christianly” (as the title of this series suggests I want to do!).  To do that I would like to draw on John Howard Yoder’ The Christian Witness to the State (TCWTS) and examine how Yoder addressed the concepts underlined above.  I want to be clear that I am not suggesting Yoder provides a “final” or “best” understanding of how followers of Jesus should engage in advocacy–indeed Yoder did not use the concept of “advocacy” in his book.  Further, Yoder was limiting his comments to the particular issue of how to approach the state and I would like to extend the discussion of the principles and practices of engaging in advocacy Christianly beyond the state in future parts of this series.

Despite these caveats I believe that Yoder provides an opening to explore how Christians might engage in advocacy as we have defined it.  Taking off from Yoder we can then explore various points in more detail later and understand both the value of and limits to his ideas.  I would, therefore like to briefly explore his ideas concerning naming injustice, speaking (witness), power (state), speakers (the church) and change.  I should note that Yoder did not take up the themes of “for, with and by” and, at least for this section we are going to assume we are talking about advocacy that is engaged in “for” those who are suffering oppression or injustice.  That his ideas could be expanded to include advocacy done with and by the oppressed is not in doubt but I will not deal with that issue here.

Yoder is clear at the very outset of the book why he wrote it (recall that it was written in 1964).  As an Anabaptist (Mennonite to be precise) Yoder was a pacifist and, thanks in large part to the writing of Reinhold Niebuhr, there was a sense that pacifist engagement with the state–engagement implying a contribution to setting or correcting public policy–was an oxymoron.  Yoder put it this way (numbers in parentheses from here on refer to pages in TCWTS): “Thus, by far the most current interpretation of this problem in contemporary American ethical thought is that the consistent Christian pacifist must accept the verdict of political irrelevance for his position.” (and in the footnote following that line added: “The most coherent and convincing formulation of the current interpretation which we here summarize is to be found in the writings of Reinhold Niebuhr.”) (7)

Yoder used TCWTS as an argument against this formulation and summarized his project this way:

Our purpose is to analyze whether it is truly the case that a Christian pacifist position rooted not in pragmatic or psychological but in Christological considerations is thereby irrelevant to the social order… (W)e shall here attempt to ascertain on what grounds, according to what standards, and with what hope of success it is nevertheless not only possible but obligatory that the Christian should witness to the social order in a relevant way. (7-8)

I do not think it is necessary to accept Yoder’s pacifism in order to follow his arguments and benefit from his counsel in relation to witness. I am tempted to say that if a pacifist–in the Mennonite tradition–can make the statement above then it is worth examining his arguments because he clearly had to come a long way (intellectually and theologically) to be able to make such assertions.  Writing as he was from within the Anabaptist tradition, Yoder could not take it as given that his (largely Mennonite) readers would agree that Christians should “witness” to the social order.  He was writing from within a tradition that would have questioned both the validity and necessity of doing so. (see Joireman, 2009, Chapter 5 for a good historical overview)

In the midst of these questions and pressures, Yoder moved on to argue that indeed the Christian can and should witness to the state and that this witness could be done in a way that allowed the church to be the church and the state to be the state.  One way of reading his book is as a treatise on ecclesiology alongside a theology of the state.  It is a kind of “clearing of the decks” of a centuries old confusion (for Yoder) about the role of the church vis-a-vis the state with an articulation of how the church can engage the state on the basis of the clear Biblical identity of each.

With this background, let us turn to exploring some of Yoder’s key propositions in relation to the themes outlined above.

Injustice/Justice: An Eschatological Vision of the Kingdom

Yoder begins his discussion of witness with a section on the “ground for the witness to the state” and leads off that section with a discussion of “Christ’s Lordship”.  The section deals with the challenge of the already/not yet nature of Christ’s reign:  already embodied in the resurrection and its meaning for triumph over the “powers” (more on this below); not yet seen in the actual workings of a fallen and rebellious world.  The point of this section is to lay out the centrality of the resurrection as the basis for the church’s work in the present.  Yoder notes: “The church points forward as the social manifestation of the ultimately triumphant redemptive work of God…” (10)  Yoder’s views Christ’s “lordship” not as an ascribed status (dependent on “believers” claiming him as their lord) which he considers a distortion of the biblical meaning, but rather as an “objective” status.

He goes on to explore the meaning of this status in relation to the state but underlines the fact that the church embodies both “an aftertaste of God’s loving triumph on the cross and a foretaste of His ultimate loving triumph in His Kingdom…” (10)  This dual reality gives the church a “task within history” based on the coming reality.  In this sense the church seeks to live into an eschatological reality.  We shall see more of Yoder’s view of the essential identity and role of the church below but the important point here is that it is possible for the church to embody God’s ultimate redemptive purposes–to live (and, as we shall see) speak about justice in ways that challenge the state in the here and now.

In a recent book British Anglican theologian N.T. Wright argues the same point

What you do in the present–by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself–will last in God’s future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day we leave it behind altogether… They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom. (Wright 2008: 193–emphasis in original)

Elsewhere Yoder develops the idea that Christ’s teaching had a political force and proclaimed a coming just order.  For example, he argues that Jesus’ proclamation of his mission in Luke 4 (applying Isaiah’s prophecy to himself), includes what had to be understood to his hearers as the message of economic justice found in the concept of “jubilee” (Yoder 1994: 29 & 60ff)

Thus, the “future hope” is brought into the here and now in the life and work of the church and living into or “building for” the kingdom is to live out justice now based on the expected final redemptive reality of the kingdom of God.  In this sense the identification of and speaking out in relation to injustice is based on the church’s living out of justice in all the ways it is spoken of in scripture: healing of sick, releasing the captive, providing sight for the blind, proclaiming the reordering of economic systems, living peace, reconciling broken relationships, providing food for the hungry, etc.  The “living out” of these things provides the basis for the Christian witness to the state according to Yoder.  More on this in the next section.

Speaking: Witness to the Kingdom

It should already be clear that Yoder holds a very “high” ecclesiology–the central place of the church in God’s plan.  While I develop more on this below, it is difficult to not bring it into every element of Yoder’s writing.  Indeed, Yoder starts a section of the book on “the form of the church’s witness” by grounding witness in its very existence.  Thus the church’s witness to the state is grounded in its existence as a “society” that lives differently–following the law of love. Thus even before a word is uttered the church “speaks” through its life–to the extent that its life is grounded in repentance and faith.  Specifically Yoder sees this in how decision making structures within the church undermine hierarchies, how mutual admonition leads to accountability and how consensus-based decision making models openness and transparency.  Clearly many congregations do not practice these ideals but to the extent that they do their communal lives stand as a witness about how things could be done differently.

In addition to these community practices that model a way of being as a decision making body, Yoder points to the creativity–the “constant inventive vision”–(20) of the church as critical to its witness.  Given that followers of Jesus live in society just like everyone else the church has the opportunity to live an alternate lifestyle in the world.  In this sense the church provides a model for how justice can be accomplished. All of this, again, is based on the living out of the testimony of the risen Christ.

Beyond these points Yoder lays out three criteria that should characterize the verbal witness of the church.  It is worth quoting him at length as these points provide a critical way of thinking about advocacy in this series.  He introduces it this way:

Even when we move beyond the implicit witness which is given by the very example of the church, by her own inner life and her service to the world, and come to speak of particular concerns and criticisms with which she may approach statesmen, the centrality of the church’s own experience in this witness should remain clear.  This would definitely distinguish the witness of which we here speak from traditional “lobbying” efforts of church and interchurch agencies. (21-emphasis added)

Thus Yoder is clearly stating that witness that moves beyond lived example to actual speech should still be based on the lived example.  He goes on to lay out, explicitly, the three criteria.

  1. The witness to the state must be representative of the church’s clear conviction. Legislators and executives have plenty to do with church spokesmen who actually do not speak for their constituencies… Not only does it seem unlikely that such representations to government can be very effective when they do not truly express a shared conviction; it is even more doubtful whether they are honest.
  2. The witness of the church  must be consistent with her own behavior.  Only if she herself is demonstrably and ethically working on a given problem does the church have the right to speak to others. A racially segregated church has nothing to say to the state about integration…
  3. The church should speak only when she has something to say. There should be no sense of responsibility to “cover the field” with a full gamut of statements on every kind of subject that might be of any moral significance. Only such matters as can be clearly identified by the church as presenting a clear moral challenge or abuse can justify their being given more than perfunctory attention. (22, 23 emphasis added)

In laying out these three criteria Yoder narrows greatly the focus of the church’s witness efforts but grounds them in the lived reality of the community of faith.  These points typically raise two questions among students.  First, they want to know what Yoder means here by “church”–at what level is he talking–local, national, international?  It would seem clear in the way that Yoder presents the overall sense of witness here that it is best understood in terms of a local congregation or church of several congregations.  This in itself will narrow the scale of the witness effort and raises the question of what one is to do with larger “justice issues.”  Yoder, in my view, does not deal with this question but it is clear that speaking “locally” based on an observable way of living in that local context would present the most straightforward way to engage in witness.  A second question concerns whether this way of being and speaking is even possible in the world.  This question is born out of a deep sense of frustration (cynicism?) students sense about whether the church is really acting like the church.  Again, Yoder assumes that God has provided what the church needs to live this way.  Part of the purpose of writing this series is to challenge the church to be what it is called to be in the world.  That God has gifted the church with a variety of gifts and given it God’s Holy Spirit to lead it into truth provides a foundation for the church living and speaking in the way Yoder suggests.

Yoder does link the concept of communal witness to the state to the idea of speaking to the individual statesperson and makes it clear that he views this form of witness as a genuine call to discipleship.  This is an important point for many who tend to divide the church’s “social” mission from its mission to “evangelize” the world.  For Yoder this distinction is meaningless and he provides an extended explanation of the meanings of gospel and evangelism to demonstrate that witness to the statesperson is, indeed, a call to discipleship. He notes, after discussing the use of these terms in the Gospels, “…it is clear that the good news announced to the world has to do with the reign of God among men in all their interpersonal relations, and not solely with the forgiveness of sins or the regeneration of individuals.” (23)

Further, and this is critical to his overall argument of what it means to witness, he goes on to say “On whatever level we find a man in the effort to speak to him, what we ask of him is that he accept the gospel… What we ask of him does not cease to be gospel by virtue of the fact that we relate it to his present available options.” (25)  Here Yoder is laying out a key understanding of the concept of witness.  The follower of Jesus addresses herself to the statesperson concerning an issue of concern meeting that person where she is and, as Yoder develops later, using language that she understands.  We will see below that Yoder argues that the witness is often a corrective action we ask the statesperson to take but Yoder is clear throughout that the correction should be based on norms to which the statesperson has already stated a commitment.  As Yoder notes, this witness does not cease to be gospel because it challenges the statesperson on this basis of his “available options.”  In this form of witness we are calling upon the statesperson to take a step of faith based on where she is at the point at which we meet her.

These points provide a core understanding, I believe, for what advocacy might look like for the church.  Advocacy is done based on what the church is engaged in and flows from that engagement and lifestyle. Further, God’s Spirit’s work within the witness is what draws the statesperson to repentance (repenting of a failure to live up to his own commitments), to actions that are consistent with the coming reign of God, and, ultimately, towards discipleship.

Powers: The Identity of the State

While the state is only one “power” to whom we might address our witness (our advocacy efforts), it is the one that Yoder deals with in his book.  To fully understand the sense in which the state (or the corporation, the university or the church itself) is a “power” in a biblical sense will require further development and I will undertake that in a later part of this series.  The biblical concepts of “principalities and powers” is very important for our consideration as we define exactly with “whom” and “what” we are dealing in our advocacy.  Here, the task is more modest.  It is to provide a review of Yoder’s understanding of what the state is in God’s economy.  The ideas introduced in TCWTS are developed more in at least two other works by Yoder (Discipleship as Political Responsibility and The Politics of Jesus) but the essence is provided here.

Yoder argues that, according to the early church and the apostolic writers, states are “the bearers of political authority” and ” are in spite of themselves agents of the divine economy, being used whether in rebellion or submission as agents of God’s purpose.”  (12)  As implied above, Yoder argues that the church does not exist for the state but rather that the state exists for the church–to make it possible for God’s work to be carried out on earth through the peoplehood of the church.  We will explore later how this Anabaptist-informed view of the state compares to those of other Christian traditions but Yoder’s high ecclesiology is matched by a concern that the state not be elevated to a place in which it is viewed as bearing the “meaning of history.”  Yoder’s view of the state is that it has an “essential” task in God’s plan but that this task is distinct from the church’s.

Obviously this will influence the way in which the church approaches the state and while it might seem that this vision would lead to a certain arrogance on the part of the church, Yoder develops the idea that witness, because it is done to to statespeople must be done with “an awareness of our prior concern for the welfare of this statesman as a man.”  (24).  The point here is that the church, in its witness to the state is merely calling the state to be what God intended it to be.  Obviously this implies that the church understands what this role, this task, is.  Yoder describes elsewhere that “the state exists for the purpose of keeping order” and that “The more a state aspires to a higher mission, a semi-religious role or one designed to control world history… the more the Christian will become suspicious with respect to the state.” (Yoder, 2003: 45)  He also acknowledges in the same volume that “The New Testament does not deal with the state in terms of its role in funding school systems, building roads, administering social programs, regulating postal services, and all the other things that we also think of today when referring to the state.” (Yoder 2003: 19)

None of this implies that the church should not speak to the state on these issues but it should provide a word of caution to those Christians who argue that the state should or should not provide certain services and engage in certain actions. What it would seem to imply is that while Christians are free to engage the state on a broad array of issues it should be careful about what its vision for the state is.  Again, we will examine how different Christian traditions have developed their own “theologies of the state” over time later.  Here the point is to acknowledge that the state does have a role in keeping evil at bay while reminding the reader that the church can challenge the state (via the statesperson) to uphold justice based on its own commitments (see above).  Thus, having a view of the state’s role that is carefully circumscribed–and not conflated with the church’s own role–does not mean that the church will speak to the state only about “security” issues, for example. Rather it means that the church will approach the state with a clear understanding that the state is not the “savior” of humankind, even while it has a role to play in ensuring that God’s plan of redemption can move forward.  That the state is fallen and has proclivities to overstep its bounds means that the church must also be willing to call the state to “repent” of its quest to be an object of worship.  The state would like us to believe that it is indispensable in providing for human flourishing but we understand (according to Yoder) that while the state has a role to play in what God is about in the world, that that role is limited and, specifically, that its role is not to bring about redemption or the salvation of humanity.

Speakers: The Church’s Identity (“Polis” in Solidarity)

Yoder had a strong conviction of the central role of the body of Christ in God’s redemptive plan.  This is brought into even greater relief when one examines his attendant view of the state addressed in the previous section.  In another work (Body politics : five practices of the Christian community before the watching world) Yoder develops further his views of the church in explicitly political terms and it is here we draw an initial analysis of the identity of the church as “advocate.” Yoder notes in the introduction:

The Christian community, like any community held together by commitment to important values, is a political reality.  That is, the church has the character of a polis (the Greek word from which we get the adjective political), namely, a structured social body. (Yoder 2001: viii)

He goes on to define further the identity of this community:

Stated very formally, the pattern we shall discover is that the will of God for human socialness as a whole is prefigured by the shape to which the Body of Christ is called.  Church and world are not two compartments under separate legislation or two institutions with contradictory assignments, but two levels of the pertinence of the same Lordership.  The people of God is called to be today what the world is called to be ultimately. (Yoder 2001: ix–emphasis added)

There is no “hubris” in this reality as some might be tempted to conclude.  Rather it merely acknowledges that the role of the church is tied up on bringing about the reconciliation and redemption that God plans for the world. Such a role can only be carried out in humility and Yoder, in exegeting the meaning of Revelation 13 in TCWTS, concludes that the “beast” is a political figure but not the state–rather it is a church that relates to the state in an “idolatrous and unfaithful way” (76). The fact that Yoder insists on this central role for the church should be a sobering reminder of the seriousness with which it is supposed to live in community.  This is also a reminder that its speaking flows from its being–its acts, its common tasks of embodying the reign of God.

Scripture provides some helpful imagery concerning the identity of the church which would appear to be directly relevant to the concepts of witness or advocacy (this section adapted from Davis 2009).  Indeed there are two extremely powerful images of the identity of the follower of Jesus. One might say that these two sides of the same coin constitute our collective identity in Christ.  I Peter 2:9–11 states:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. (scripture citations here and throughout are from the New American Standard Translation–emphasis added)

The writer to the Hebrews uses the same language and describes our ‘spiritual ancestors’ in Chapter 11 explicitly in terms of their “alienness”. Paul adds a critical element to this identity in II Corinthians 5 stating that we are ambassadors of reconciliation – ambassadors of Christ. The verb he uses: presbeuw (to ambassador) means to be ‘elder’ or ‘first in rank’. In Paul’s time, as now, an ambassador was someone who represented the interests of his or her nation abroad. This ambassadorship moves far beyond merely seeking the reconciliation between human and God. This is made clear in how Paul describes God’s ‘reconciliation project’ in Christ in Colossians 1:13–20:

For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the for- giveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. (emphasis added)

This identity places the follower of Christ in a critical position of being an ambassador of a sovereign carrying out the sovereign’s wishes, representing the sovereign’s wishes in the nations of this world in which s/he lives. The Colossians passage indicates that God’s ‘reconciliation project’ is nothing less than the great unwinding of the fall – the restoration of the entire created order into a relationship of peace with God.
French sociologist Jacques Ellul (whose work we will explore in a later section) provides a useful summary of this dual identity and, in naming the critical reality of the Christian’s solidarity with the world, shows how this identity might provide both a rationale for engaging in advocacy and how we might begin to do it.

The first condition of the Christian is a well known reality, but perhaps not sufficiently understood in its total reality: the Christian belongs to two cities. She is in the world, she has a social life. She is a citizen of a nation, she has a place in a family, she has a job and must work to earn money. She lives her life according to the same rules as other men and women and with them. She is of the same natural state and lives in the same condition. Everything she does in the world she must do seriously, because she is in solidarity with others and cannot neglect the responsibilities of any woman because she is like all the others. BUT, on the other hand, she cannot be totally a part of this world. This world is only ever a provisional ‘tent’ (I Peter 1:13) in which she is an alien and a traveler (Hebrews 11:13). This whole thing is a provisional situation – even if it is extremely important, because she belongs to another city. Her family tree (her identity) is elsewhere and she receives her thoughts from outside. She has another lord… She is an ambassador of this nation on earth, which is to say that she must represent the demands of her lord. She establishes a relationship between the two, BUT she cannot represent or take on the interests of this world: she defends the interests of her lord, like any ambassador who represents and defends the interests of her state. (Ellul, 1948: 46, author’s translation)

Thus even as the church is a polis its members’ solidarity with other humans provides a strong rationale for walking with and speaking out on their behalf: we understand their plight because it is our own. And yet our identity requires us to use our understanding of the human plight to speak and act in a very particular way. We represent the desires of our sovereign. We obey the laws of the nations of our residence but we dare not defend (or uncritically accept) their interests or policies. Instead we speak to the powers of the countries in which we live from the perspective of our sovereign. Space does not permit a full exploration of the implications of our ‘alienness’ but that piece of our identity is clearly linked to the issue of our solidarity with the suffering of the many aliens – outcasts, homeless, stateless – people of our world.

Change: Ideal Society or Narrow “Correctives”

Any advocacy work, as we have seen, seeks change–change in policies, practices, attitudes–that reduces injustice and allows for human flourishing.  The question is what is the nature of the change we are requesting when we speak to the statesperson.  It is in this area that Yoder has some very useful things to say to the church–especially the “empowered” church of the global north that lives a privileged existence that assumes its “right” to be relevant.  We will explore in a later section the limits of advocacy and the extent to which the church (in the USA) has gone too far in trusting its ability to influence change via political processes in an analysis of James Davison Hunter’s To change the world : the irony, tragedy, and possibility of Christianity in the late modern world. Here I merely want to lay out a general caution concerning the change we seek by quoting Yoder at length:

Since we cannot say that God has any “proper” pattern in mind to which unbelief should conform, the Christian witness to the state will not be guided by an imagined pattern of ideal society… An ideal or even a proper society in a fallen world is by definition impossible.  the Christian speaks not of how to describe, and the to seek to create the ideal society but of how the state can best fulfill its responsibilities in a fallen society.

The Christian witness will therefore express itself in terms of specific criticisms, addressed to given injustices in a particular time and place, and specific suggestions for improvements to remedy the identified abuse.  This does not mean that if the criticsms were heard and the suggestions put into practice, the Christian would be satisfied; rather, a new and more demanding set of criticisms would then follow.  There is no level of attainment to which a state could rise, beyond which the Christian critique would have nothing more to ask; such an ideal level would be none other than the kingdom of God. (32–emphasis added)

Throughout his book Yoder uses the idea of the church speaking in a “corrective” way and suggests its work is actually an ongoing social critique–what he refers to as “critical witness.” (36)  All of this is consistent with the idea that the church does not seek to “cover the field” in its witness but rather speaks into that with which it has direct experience.

And what of “results” of “impact” of “success?”  We will examine these points in the final part of this series in examining the role of evaluation and assessment of our advocacy efforts.  For Yoder, the results of our witness are not calculable:

(W)e cannot calculate how obedience and success are connected, even though in the long run the right way is also the most effective.  The good action is measured by its conformity to the command and to the nature of God and not by its success in achieving specific results. (44)

While such a view may seem unacceptable to those who have been raised in a “results oriented” world, there is much wisdom in this that we will explore in greater detail in the final part of this series.

Summing Up

John Howard Yoder has laid out some important principles that might act as guideposts for the way followers of Jesus might think about advocacy.  First, the source of our speaking is grounded in an understanding of what God intends for the world (an eschatological vision) and our identity as Christ’s church.  This identity recognizes the important role that the church plays in God’s plan as a society–a polis, a political reality–in the world.  However, the church is in solidarity with the world because its members live as any other member of society does.  Second, to the extent that the church faithfully lives out the eschatological vision in its communal life it will identify ways in which the state is failing to live up to its (the state’s) own standards.  At such times it speaks in a corrective way to the state not in hopes of installing an ideal society but in the expectation that the state will change.  In speaking it addresses the statesperson using language that he understands and calling him to makes changes based on his own standards.  Such a call, to the extent that it is consistent with God’s plan for justice and reconciliation, acts as a call to take a step of faith to the statesperson.  The church can do this because it recognizes that God is also using the state to accomplish God’s plan but that the state’s role is not determinant or “essential” (in the sense that it directs the flow of history).

Advocacy to the state requires the church to live faithfully, to engage in an ongoing social critique and to speak out of a lived experience.  It is done in humility out of love for the statesperson and a desire to see her live a life as God intended and to take a step of faith to make changes that will enable human flourishing and reduce injustice.  In this sense advocacy is a modeling of the behavior that Jesus called his disciples to in Luke 22:

And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest.  And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’  But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant.”

Yoder provides much useful counsel and I will return to several of his points in a later section that discusses a “model” for engaging in advocacy–not just to the state but to any “power”.  Some may feel that these points do not lay out a clear or helpful strategy for how to conduct advocacy and perhaps they do not.  However, my experience has shown me that it is relatively rare for Christians engaged in advocacy to step back and consider things like a) the source of their understanding of justice–or the ultimate ends to which their advocacy “points”; b) their identity and practice as followers of Jesus and its relation to their advocacy work; c) the role of the state in God’s plan; d) how advocacy efforts relate to announcing the “good news of the kingdom.”  My hope is that this section has identified critical issues for the Christian advocate to consider.  If you find yourself in disagreement with Yoder’s convictions that is fine.  My challenge to you–the advocate–would be to at least attempt to lay out your own, theologically-informed, understandings of these issues.

With this background in place I would like to go back through some of these points to explore some of them in more detail.  In particular I would like to take excursions into the themes of

  • “principalities and powers” and what it means for the state (and other institutions) to act as “fallen powers”
  • the church and the state in various traditions and the value each brings to a discussion of “witness”
  • the need to go beyond witness to the state and the reality of the modern corporation as a power
  • the reality of structural sin in light of the concept of the powers and the “power of hope”
  • what it means to use the language of the statesperson (or corporate leader) in witness (a return to Yoder and the concept of “norms”)
  • what the church is really doing in witness: “symbolic acts and telling stories” as a model for engaging in advocacy
  • assessing advocacy efforts–how we might think about change
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