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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.

  1. Introduction
  2. Discerning the Need
    A. Possible Objections
    B. A Theology for Advocacy
  3. Advocacy In The Mennonite Church Canada
  4. Understanding Requests For Advocacy
  5. Which Issues Are Addressed
  6. How Issues Are Processed
  7. 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 church’s ministry of public advocacy, and to suggest criteria that can guide us in doing so.


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. . .

  1. The church ought not to be concerned with politics.
  2. The church and state must be separated, and this precludes the church speaking to the state.
  3. There is a danger that the church will be co-opted to provide a religious gloss to political ideology.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. The church does not have expertise on many issues.
  7. The church’s voice is small, and will not make a significant difference.
  8. 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:

  1. The church is called to proclaim that peace and justice is the will of God.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 church.
  4. "Kingdom," "Rule" and "Reign of God" is political language. The church is concerned with how power is used.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. The church is a voice for justice. It needs to be heard, especially as it speaks for those who do not have a voice.
  8. The church is called to witness and trust in God’s Spirit to effect transformation in the world, even when its voice seems small.
  9. When speaking results from listening, discerning and seeking to understand, then the church’s voice is our interpretation of God’s Word to the world.
  10. Since the ministry of speaking God’s word is so awesome, it must be approached only in humility and servanthood.
  11. 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 Christ’s compassion for all people and to proclaim Christ’s 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)
  12. We are called to pray for the governing authorities.
  13. 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.


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 Canada’s 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.


A request for advocacy, as we understand it, is…

  1. a call for the Mennonite Church Canada to speak with the support of its members and congregations.
  2. 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).
  3. typically a request to speak in the interest of others.


To respond to an issue, the following criteria must be met:

  1. It arises clearly out of the discernment of the Biblical message and the Anabaptist tradition.
  2. There is identifiable Mennonite experience and conviction on the matter.
  3. It has relevancy to most or all of constituency (ie. of broad or national concern).
  4. 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…

  5. has been addressed in the past, and requires follow up or continued vigilance.
  6. is not something which is already being addressed by another part of the Mennonite Church Canada.
  7. is not sufficiently addressed by related Mennonite organizations or institutions.
  8. is a request for advocacy from an area, national or international conference.
  9. is a request for advocacy from a Mennonite Church Canada congregation (with the consent of the congregation).
  10. is a request for advocacy from an associated agency or organizations (MCC, CPT, etc.).
  11. is at the request of other agencies, governments, or advocacy groups.
  12. is the request of an individual.


We must work towards sufficient unity and sufficient understanding of the issue in the churches before advocating a position. Specifically, we must…

  1. be assured of a wide base of congregational support.
  2. appeal to clear statements made through approved structure (Confessions, resolutions).
  3. consult among conference leadership.
  4. consult with MCC Canada, especially the Ottawa office, for counsel and coordination.
  5. have confidence that sufficient research has been done--background facts, informed opinion, church positions, etc.
  6. give attention to the resource potential--how can the process resource, educate and stimulate dialogue in congregations & society?
  7. make statements available and accountable at annual conference.


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…

  1. writing letters to the appropriate government authorities or organizations.
  2. testifying before public hearings.
  3. obtaining signatures for a petition.
  4. writing a news release stating the position, for church and/or secular media.
  5. proposing a resolution for discussion and vote at annual conference.
  6. developing a congregational resource.
  7. other forms of action.