Criteria for responding to requests for advocacy
Approved by the Resources Commission, October 2, 1998 for discussion
and decision by the Mennonite Church Canada General Board. Received by
General Board, November 1998.
- Discerning the
A. Possible Objections
B. A Theology for Advocacy
- Advocacy In The
Mennonite Church Canada
Requests For Advocacy
- Which Issues Are Addressed
- How Issues Are Processed
- Forms Of Action
The church must be intentional and reflective in what it says and does.
Between September 1997 and September 1998, the Mennonite Church Canada
received at least 39 requests to speak on issues of public concern. This
paper is meant to provide a framework for understanding the churchs
ministry of public advocacy, and to suggest criteria that can guide us
in doing so.
II. DISCERNING THE NEED
A. Possible Objections
Not all agree that advocacy is the task of the church. It is helpful
to acknowledge a number of the reasons given. It may be argued that. .
- The church ought not to be concerned with politics.
- The church and state must be separated, and this precludes the church
speaking to the state.
- There is a danger that the church will be co-opted to provide a religious
gloss to political ideology.
- There is a danger of compromise. Governments, in balancing diverse
interests, are likely to adopt policies which, in whole or in part,
are incongruous with Christian witness.
- The church risks using power in ungodly ways. When the church advocates,
it may be tempted to seek to rule, to dominate, or to use questionable
means in order to achieve an end.
- The church does not have expertise on many issues.
- The churchs voice is small, and will not make a significant
- Bringing public and political issues into church discussion will create
disunity in the Body.
B. A Theology for Advocacy
This paper is guided by the following principles:
- The church is called to proclaim that peace and justice is the will
- The Biblical witness shows the People of God speaking to power and
authority in the interest of justice. Moses and Aaron called on Pharaoh
to release the Israelites from slavery. Esther interceded with the king
to prevent the killing of her people. There are many other examples.
- All of life is political. The commentary to Article 23 of Confession
of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective defines politics as "any
structuring of group relationships." The church is concerned about
how group relationships are structured, both inside and outside of the
- "Kingdom," "Rule" and "Reign of God"
is political language. The church is concerned with how power is used.
- The church offers an expertise that is unique and important. This
expertise derives from reflecting on the Word of God, its faith traditions
and its experience as the church in the world.
- One ministry of the church is to interpret our Biblical and theological
traditions in new circumstances. Thus, it is important to speak to particular
and changing issues.
- The church is a voice for justice. It needs to be heard, especially
as it speaks for those who do not have a voice.
- The church is called to witness and trust in Gods Spirit to
effect transformation in the world, even when its voice seems small.
- When speaking results from listening, discerning and seeking to understand,
then the churchs voice is our interpretation of Gods Word
to the world.
- Since the ministry of speaking Gods word is so awesome, it must
be approached only in humility and servanthood.
- Advocacy typically involves the church speaking to the state. The
Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective gives some guidance:
- "We witness to the nations by being that city on a
hill which demonstrates the way of Christ. We also witness
by being ambassadors for Christ, calling the nations (and all persons
and institutions) to move toward justice, peace and compassion for
all people." (Article 23)
- "Christians are responsible to witness to governments not
only because of their citizenship in a particular country, but also
in order to reflect Christs compassion for all people and
to proclaim Christs lordship over all human institutions."
(Article 23, commentary)
- "We witness against all forms of violence, including war
among nations, hostility among races and classes, abuse of children
and women, violence between men and women, abortion, and capital
punishment." (Article 22)
- We are called to pray for the governing authorities.
- Advocacy is only part of the holistic ministry of the church. We speak
publicly only as we worship God, pray, educate, confess our shortcomings,
and respond directly and compassionately to people in need.
III. ADVOCACY IN THE MENNONITE CHURCH
Mennonites in Canada have spoken to government since they arrived in
1786. Often, it was on issues of immigration, exemption from military
service and separate education. Prior to 1945, the Mennonite Church Canada
made several public statements, on voting, gambling, militarism, materialism
and alternative service among others. Since 1945, statements have been
made in opposition of capital punishment, abortion, nuclear weapons, euthanasia,
and the deportation of refugees. Statements have also been made supporting
such things as initiatives leading the employment for Native peoples,
an increase in Foreign Aid and a Peace Tax Fund.
These statements were generally requested as resolutions passed at delegate
sessions. In 1993, it was resolved that the General Board be encouraged
to speak publicly on Mennonite Church Canadas behalf between annual
sessions. They have done so in conversation with the Resources Commission,
who are charged with "peace and justice ministries" and with
resourcing congregations on issues facing the church. The Resources Commission
also understands its role to be that of encouraging and enabling congregations
to become directly involved in advocacy.
Advocacy in the Mennonite Church Canada is not done in isolation from
the wider Mennonite context. The Ottawa office of MCC Canada, supported
by the Mennonite Church Canada, established in 1975, in part to present
a unified Mennonite public voice. At the 1993 Mennonite Church Canada
sessions, the concern was expressed that the Mennonite Church Canada continue
to work closely with other conferences/organizations in doing advocacy.
Thus, sometimes Mennonites may be heard as one voice, as several concurring
voices, and at still other times as diverse voices.
IV. UNDERSTANDING REQUESTS
A request for advocacy, as we understand it, is
- a call for the Mennonite Church Canada to speak with the support of
its members and congregations.
- a request for the Mennonite Church Canada to take a particular position,
over against other possible positions (a request to be a partner in
a project or initiative is not necessarily a request for advocacy).
- typically a request to speak in the interest of others.
V. WHICH ISSUES ARE ADDRESSED
To respond to an issue, the following criteria must be met:
- It arises clearly out of the discernment of the Biblical message and
the Anabaptist tradition.
- There is identifiable Mennonite experience and conviction on the matter.
- It has relevancy to most or all of constituency (ie. of broad or national
- There are sufficient time and resources.
If the above are met, the following ordered criteria are useful in
evaluation. We could respond if the issue
- has been addressed in the past, and requires follow up or continued
- is not something which is already being addressed by another part
of the Mennonite Church Canada.
- is not sufficiently addressed by related Mennonite organizations or
- is a request for advocacy from an area, national or international
- is a request for advocacy from a Mennonite Church Canada congregation
(with the consent of the congregation).
- is a request for advocacy from an associated agency or organizations
(MCC, CPT, etc.).
- is at the request of other agencies, governments, or advocacy groups.
- is the request of an individual.
VI. HOW ISSUES ARE PROCESSED (no order)
We must work towards sufficient unity and sufficient understanding
of the issue in the churches before advocating a position. Specifically,
- be assured of a wide base of congregational support.
- appeal to clear statements made through approved structure (Confessions,
- consult among conference leadership.
- consult with MCC Canada, especially the Ottawa office, for counsel
- have confidence that sufficient research has been done--background
facts, informed opinion, church positions, etc.
- give attention to the resource potential--how can the process resource,
educate and stimulate dialogue in congregations & society?
- make statements available and accountable at annual conference.
VII. FORMS OF ACTION
Having arrived at a position on an issue, we proclaim it faithfully
to the church and the world on behalf of congregations and members. This
may consist of a variety of actions, including
- writing letters to the appropriate government authorities or organizations.
- testifying before public hearings.
- obtaining signatures for a petition.
- writing a news release stating the position, for church and/or secular
- proposing a resolution for discussion and vote at annual conference.
- developing a congregational resource.
- other forms of action.