Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. Isaiah 1: 17
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America- New Jersey Synod has roots in Advocacy. In its very first social statement, “The Church in Society: A Lutheran Perspective,” from 1991, our church committed to “work with and on behalf of the poor, the powerless and those who suffer, using its power and influence with political and economic decision-making bodies to develop and advocate policies that seek to advance justice, peace and the care of creation.”
Beginning In 1984 the Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry was established as the vision of then Bishop Herluf Jenson. The Lutheran Church in America was establishing public policy offices all over the USA at the time. In NJ, the Lutheran Church in America, American Lutheran Church, the American Evangelical Lutheran Church also with Lutheran Social Ministry and the NJ Council of Churches were all partners in this endeavor to create the Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry. Advocacy in NJ has always been done in community.
Carol Kasabach was called to serve as its first director on April 15, 1985. She was an Associate in Ministry, laying the ground work for decades of effective witness. Advocating for just public policy, she quickly became recognized as a champion for the poor. After nearly 15 years of tireless work, she retired at the end of 1999.
The Rev. Bruce Davidson was called in early 2000 to be the second Director. His years of service included the successful repeal of the death penalty in New Jersey. He was also instrumental in creating the Anti Poverty Network which he co-chaired for many years.
The Rev. Sara Lilja was the next Director of the Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry. She accepted this call in March of 2012 after Bruce Davidson's retirement. She has integrated e-advocacy into the strong foundation that has been laid by her predecessors. She also has gathered multi-faith leaders to an advocacy round table to strength our voices on matters of justice. Sara is integrating her commitment to parish ministry into the ministry of advocacy by helping to equip congregations to live into their calling to be a public witness of their faith.
On May 1, 2015 the Diocese of New Jersey and the Diocese of Newark joined this advocacy effort! Lutheran Episcopal Advocacy Ministry is the fruit of this exciting partnership. In June of 2015 we had our first board meeting and officially began our ministry of advocacy together.
The Episcopal Church brings a strong commitment to justice work.
For the first 150 years when the Episcopal Church’s focused on growth and expansion, the social justice and advocacy ministry of the Episcopal Church consisted primarily in creating regional and community institutions that sought to demonstrate the power of God’s love at a time when government was loath to intervene in the market place. After the Civil War, the Church began to establish hospitals, day and boarding schools, and orphanages in both urban and rural areas, and took a lively interest in the well-being of immigrant and refugee populations. Organizations such as the Seaman’s Institute endeavored to provide a safety net for the sailors and longshoremen in the massive urban ports all around the nation, where abuse and ill-treatment was rife. In one case, that of the Native Americans, the Church directly petitioned the government to put an end to the exploitation of the reservations by Agency officials. The “institutional church” model of parishes with robust social services and full fellowship opportunities served as formation ground for the Church’s engagement in the real world and in human concerns.
Early Episcopal advocacy was achieved by putting Christian principles into practice. With the New Deal, however, federal and state government began to fund programs to alleviate poverty, disease, housing, and child and elder care. The Church began to withdraw from these traditional areas of care and advocacy, and Episcopalians turned their energies to new challenges. The devastating effect of 20th century warfare gave rise to a courageous and fruitful advocacy for peace through non-violent resistance, public demonstrations, and organizing, as in the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Social Gospel voices drew attention to the plight of working people. Numerous Episcopal City Missions, rural church workers, and deaconesses promoted the care and cause of the homeless and poor. The Church took a prominent role in advocating for holistic approaches to addiction, as exemplified by the North Conway Institute.
These efforts set the stage in the late 1950s and 60s for a grass-roots response to the most compelling issues that the institutional church had still not fully engaged: civil and human rights. Advocacy in the Episcopal Church now centered in a process of listening to afflicted communities to better understand their concerns and ideals. This approach informed groups such as the Urban Bishops’ Coalition and the Church and City Conferences, which brought policy-makers and community members together to aid each other in tackling inner-city problems. Today that tradition lives on in Jubilee ministries, which seek to alleviate poverty through a diverse group of 600 local ministries across the country, combining direct services with advocacy work on the ground.
Acting from a deep conviction that the life of the Church is inseparable from the lives of the most marginalized and vulnerable members of our society, Church groups and organizations focus on educating parishioners and others about poverty, racism, special needs, aging, and other issues. The Episcopal Public Policy Network (EPPN) and the Office of Social Justice and Advocacy Engagement work to enact changes and raise awareness on these issues, as well as other points of concern such as climate change, nuclear proliferation, and foreign policy, with the EPPN advocating for policy changes at the federal level and the Office of Social Justice seeking to mobilize Episcopalian activism at the local and state levels.
Advocacy on behalf of the needs of others has led in turn to a remarkable transformation of the Episcopal Church. Having emerged on the American landscape as the “establishment” Church, the Episcopal Church had to learn how to listen and lead, rather than follow a comfortable path in social justice advocacy. Its strength is a history anchored in the relational ministries of parishes and dioceses where individuals stood up, joined with other brave voices, and dared to encounter Christ in whatever way we are called to see him, for “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.” (John 9.30)