January 2014

ADVOCATING FOR GOOD

Shantanu Dutta

The activity of advocacy is a mammoth undertaking.

Over the years, Christians have been known to contribute to the social good in a number of different ways, typically in health and education, but also in a whole range of other areas too. These interventions have been achieved by Christian missions and churches setting up establishments – be it hospitals, schools, colleges, etc., and using them as instruments through which people, irrespective of caste and creed, are served. These have tended to be typically as autonomous as possible and steering as far clear of the government as possible, except for the basic compliance with statutory requirements. Usually, in the minds of most Christians, there is a very strong distaste for the government and all its institutions as inefficient and corrupt, fuelled no doubt by the daily exposés of scams and scandals that we read about in the daily papers.

Biblical Principle
It has been my good fortune, for some time now, to work very closely with the government, parliamentarians, ministers, senior bureaucrats et al, and have had many of my stereotypes challenged and corrected. But that is a story for another time. Today, what I want to do is to present advocacy as an alternate, and possibly more viable, approach to the manner in which Christians seek to serve their society and country. As we contemplate on this approach, it is of course important for us to reflect on the teachings of the Scriptures. Although the word ‘advocacy’ is not used in Bible translations as we find them today, we recognise that the same principle can be found in the Scriptures. It is therefore essential to make an attempt to see what parallels may exist in the Scriptures. We all know that, fundamentally, social injustice is the result of sin in the world. When sin takes full control of the human mind and heart, especially those who possess great political and financial power, the results are often devastating. As Paul says of the wicked in his letter to the Romans,“they are senseless, faithless, heartless and ruthless” (1:31 NIV).

In the midst of this, God is actively involved in the affairs of the world in spite of everything wrong that is going on. He is the preserver and governor of all things. Life goes on. Generations come and go because God is still on the throne. He is not on the throne of every individual’s life, but He is on the throne of His creation. He sees and hears the misery of His people. As Christians, we believe that God sees and hears the misery of the innocent girl or the innocent boy who is trafficked across national borders. He sees and hears the oppressed people in various lands, especially those who have had to escape tyrannical regimes by living as refugees in foreign countries. He sees and hears the marginalised people throughout the world who can’t seem to break out of the poverty cycle. God sees and hears the cries of people being persecuted by religious fanatics.

God’s Agents
Christians who want to be involved in advocacy can look to God and see how the Exodus story was played out, demonstrating His attitude to injustice. God called Moses and sent him into Egypt. One can say that God planned the course of deliverance for the Israelite slaves but used Moses as His agent for bringing that plan to completion. That is what God is continuing to do in the world today. There is injustice, but just as God used Moses to bring deliverance to the Israelite slaves, today He wants to use Christians to be His agents for bringing deliverance, justice and freedom to modern day instances of inequity and injustice.

Today, instances of injustice may be seen in many different ways, but the resulting effect on human lives is, in principle, the same. Egypt was a very powerful country in terms of political, economic, technology and military might. The people of Israel were peasants and therefore had little political and economic power. Their co-existence with the Egyptians made them vulnerable. Therein lays the phe-nomenon of injustice— where those who possess power enslave the powerless.

Role of the Church
Moses worked towards bringing justice to one group of people, the Israelites. He also worked against one group of people in order to deliver the Israelites – the Egyptians. Today the world is a lot more complex than that of Moses and the Israelites. The act of advocacy has to be played out across national boundaries, racial divides, political spectrums, and religious and ideological systems. Overriding all that are the various legal systems compounded by differing cultures of the world. The notion of global village also translates into global crimes, giving rise to global injustice. Like the multi-national corporations of international share-holding with subsidiary companies spread around the globe, ‘criminal gangs’ or mafia seem to work in similar pattern selling injustice to the global market.

One of the compelling reasons why we should be engaged in advocacy initiatives is to honour God. It is God’s will that all vulnerable and marginalised people should be allowed to regain their dignity. Another good reason is that this is the closest that Christians and the church can perhaps get to help shape the way that our country and the states are governed. Most of us are unlikely to be people who will be ministers or parliamentarians and actually govern the country directly. But by working alongside those who are assigned to govern us – be they of whatever faith, rendering them honest advice and assisting them with facts, figures and painting a true picture of how life is for millions who live on the fringes of society, we render a yeoman service whose influence cannot be easily counted. When my colleagues and I meet with members of parliament, ministers and bureaucrats and share our stories and experiences with them, and when out of those countless dialogues, a new policy is framed, new rules are laid down to replace old and obsolete ones, new directives issued, I help a tiny bit in ensuring that India is governed in ways that resemble the character of God.Yes, I know that not every policy will be executed efficiently, not every rule will be followed in letter and spirit, not every directive will be obeyed in the manner it should be. Even so, if they are even implemented partially and not very effectively everywhere, in a country ofIndia’s size, thousands will still benefit from our efforts and somebody, somewhere, who I will never see, never meet will get a small sense of what God’s kingdom will look like. And that is deeply, deeply satisfying.

The activity of advocacy is a mammoth undertaking. The costs are enormous in terms of money, time and energy. The psychological and emotional drain on those who are actively involved in advocacy is no doubt burdensome. But on the basis of God’s actions as evidenced in the Bible, plus the prophetic voice of the Old Testament, as well as the work of Jesus, Christians are certainly tasked to engage in acts of advocacy, if God were to so call them.

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Editorial: LOOKING AHEAD WITH HOPE - Jacob Ninan

Advocating for Good - Shantanu Dutta

FEAR AND FREEDOM - J. N. Manokaran

GOD IS GOOD - Vivek Salins

We are dishonouring the Almighty- M. J. Jacob

TRUST - Oby J. Cherian

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