What does the word “advocate” mean to you? No one wants to be thought of as apathetic, but is advocacy the best alternative? Before exploring the examples of advocacy in this issue of Mutuality, I would like to take a look at some common misconceptions about what it means to be an advocate.
Are advocates just for special interest groups?
One reason the term advocacy can make people uncomfortable is that it is associated with special interest groups, instead of regular people.
Are women a “special interest group”? Are people of color? Are the poor? Martin Luther King Jr. said that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Biblical equality is for everyone. It is grounded in the most fundamental Christian beliefs: our creation in the image of God, our identity in Christ, and our gifting by the Holy Spirit. Advocates for equality are serving human interest.
Are advocates morally, politically, and/or theologically liberal?
At the turn of the twentieth century, fundamentalist leader John Roach Straton zealously defended biblical inerrancy, creationism, the virgin birth, and Christ’s divinity. He also defended women’s right to vote and scandalized his supporters by allowing a young girl named Uldine Utley to preach in his pulpit.
Though he was harshly criticized for taking a stand for women in the pulpit, Straton considered his support of Uldine Utley’s evangelism and teaching ministry to be perfectly consistent with a rigorously inerrant view of Scripture. In response to his critics, he wrote a pamphlet called “Does the Bible Forbid Women to Preach and Pray in Public?” and refused to back down.
There is nothing inherently “liberal” about advocacy. In fact, because of our commitment to living our beliefs, evangelical Christians should make the best advocates of all.
Do advocates have to be famous in order to make a difference?
Sojourner Truth gained publicity when Harriet Beecher Stowe, the famous author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published an article about her in the Atlantic Monthly. This publicity was helpful for Sojourner and her mission, but the article’s tone was condescending and it contained many inaccuracies.
Sojourner sent a letter to the editor reminding readers that they could find an accurate portrayal of her remarkable life in her autobiography, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth. This book would not have been possible if it hadn’t been for a much lesser known woman named Olive Gilbert. As a former slave, Sojourner was never taught to read and write, so Olive Gilbert agreed to help her tell her story in The Narrative. Sojourner used sales from this little book to support herself as she traveled the country preaching and teaching.
Helping people find their own voices and use them is more valuable than being a spokesperson for them. Advocacy is more about being faithful to God’s call to love our neighbors than it is about fame. Jesus described the kingdom of God as a tiny mustard seed. Though it starts small, its unstoppable growth spreads far and wide.