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Religious activists attend advocacy ‘boot camp’

The Rev. Clayton Childers processes with photos of Iraqi children during a worship service at the Ecumenical Advocacy Days in Washington, D.C.
UMNS photos by Kathy L. Gilbert.

By Kathy L. Gilbert*
March 13, 2008 | WASHINGTON (UMNS)

More than 700 people participated in a four-day "boot camp" for religious activism culminating with a day on Capitol Hill to advocate for "true security" around the world.

The sixth annual Ecumenical Advocacy Days, held March 7-10, provided hands-on training for speaking with U.S. lawmakers on justice issues ranging from the war in Iraq to rebuilding the Gulf Coast in the United States.

The Rev. Mark Lomax challenges participants to stand up and put
their faith on the line.

A movement of the ecumenical Christian community, Ecumenical Advocacy Days is designed to mobilize and strengthen Christian voices to advocate on U.S. domestic and international policy issues.

The Rev. Mark Lomax, pastor at First Presbyterian Church, Atlanta, opened the event by challenging participants to stand up and put their faith on the line.

Reading from the Book of Daniel, Lomax retold the story of the "three Hebrew boys" who stood up to King Nebuchadnezzar and refused to worship his golden statue. They were thrown into the "fiery furnace" for their stance.

"Where has that kind of faith gone?" Lomax asked. "In 2 Timothy 1:7, God gives us a spirit of power. We have the power to make a choice in someone else's favor––to get in the way of a bullet."

In the first plenary session, Lisa Schirch gave a lesson on using "Aikido," a Japanese martial art, on members of Congress. Schirch, professor of peace building at Eastern Mennonite University, explained that Aikido focuses on using the opponent's energy instead of kicking and punching to gain control.

"Using military power is like taking a hammer to a beehive," she said. "It is a fantasy that you can get security through firepower."

"It is a fantasy that you can get security through firepower," says speaker
Lisa Schirch.

Schirch told participants about the 3D Security Initiative that promotes conflict prevention and peace building in U.S. security policymaking. She urged activists to support the $249 million Civilian Stabilization Initiative, including funding of civilian experts who specialize in training police, running hospitals and schools, improving farm production and other civic and humanitarian services.

Building networks

More than 70 United Methodists attended the gathering which allowed participants to choose tracks that focus on conflict prevention and increased diplomacy and development assistance in the United States, Middle East, Asia-Pacific, Africa and Latin America.

Crickett Nicovich, a mission intern with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, was especially interested in issues concerning Africa. She said the people she met were "spirited, passionate and knowledgeable."

"These are people who work on missions, work on policies in their own communities; and this is a chance to come every year to work with a whole group of faith-based people," she said.

The St. Camillus Multicultural Choir
sings during worship.

Nicovich planned to meet with members of Congress from her home state of Mississippi to address security, Africa and domestic issues that affect Mississippians.

Chad Boling, a United Methodist student in New Jersey, said he was leaving the event with a lot of stories and resources to take back to seminary.

"I have always thought you could look at a church or a nation's budget and see what their priorities are," said Boling, who attended a workshop on the U.S. budget. "We are spending so much on military. Only about 4 percent is going to nonviolent ways of communicating with other people."

Elizabeth Katn-Narbell, a member of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., said a highlight of the conference was meeting 86-year-old Lois Baker who is still out there "fighting the good fight."

Suanne Ware-Diaz leads participants in a Native American prayer.

"She told us about her run-in with the law last Friday when she was protesting the war in Iraq," Katn-Narbell said of a March 7 protest rally in Washington. "It is really exciting to see a woman who you would see on the street and just think she is an innocent grandmother, but she's got a lot going on."

Do your homework

During the final plenary session, experienced activists offered practical tips and tools for lobbying causes on "the Hill."

Jean Sammon and Jos Lin, two social justice lobbyists, led the gathering through a role-playing exercise to give participants an idea of what to expect in their meetings with members of Congress. Organizers made more than 200 appointments for conference activists to visit lawmakers.

"Practice, practice, practice," said Linn. "Know what you are talking about and know who you are talking to."

Participants were anointed with oil at the closing worship service.

Anne Murphy anoints Janet Ott with oil
at the closing worship service.

"We pray that by this anointing, our hands and hearts may be strengthened for the work that lies ahead, that we may be compassionate to human need, courageous in the face of injustice and faithful to our commitment to peace," the participants prayed as they anointed each other.

Virginia Farrell, a young Presbyterian from Princeton, N.J., was moved to see many denominations represented at the event.

"The preacher this morning was Greek Orthodox, and I'm not used to seeing that," Farrell said. "Presbyterians usually don’t interact with Greek Orthodox or Catholics, but seeing everyone coming together for this common goal gives you hope for the future."

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org


Crickett Nicovich: "This is a chance to really make a difference."

Elizabeth Katn-Narbell: "There is slavery still going on in the world."

John Gaus: "We are working on what is going on in jails."

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