We are nearing the end of our Lenten series “Walking in Solidarity.” For our theme this week, Russell Testa shares with us a process to identify and act on social justice issues we see in our communities.
Francis began his conversion in the Church of San Damiano, when he heard the crucifix challenge him, “Francis, repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin.” Throughout the course of his life, Francis came to realize that the “house” that was in need of repair was his own contemporary society and Church.
St. Francis’ response to “repair my house” is a good place to continue our reflection on the Lenten theme of promoting solidarity. This “home repair” is to focus on the structures of our society and represents a move from personal individual conversion to social conversion. Another word for this work is advocacy. Advocacy in the Christian context is an active application of solidarity, the virtue of living as community.
Like any act of conversion, whether personal or social, advocacy work requires a few parameters if it is to be effective.
First, the advocacy must clearly name what is in need of conversion; in essence, “the social sin” must be clearly articulated. At present, efforts to bring about comprehensive immigration reform are underway. The need for comprehensive immigration reform arises because an outdated legal system forces 11 million people in the U.S. to live in the shadows. They are forced to live a “second class” personhood which is dehumanizing and breaks the relationship that enables them to live the justice that all deserve.
Second, once we name the sin–we need to make a clear and unwavering call to ourselves and others to do to what we humbly believe will “repair the house.” In comprehensive immigration reform, we call for a new law that will lead immigrants to a pathway to citizenship and allow people to move out of the shadows and enjoy full human rights. These policy calls are best done in coalition with others that have studied the complexities of our modern systems and can be trusted to help us attain the best change possible.
Third, once joining groups like Justice for Immigrants, we must express this call to solidarity to our elected officials. Such a call can take years. We recognize that change is a slow process and that the entire broken relationship that results from the social sin may not be repaired all at once. Thus, we need a local community with whom to share the effort, to support us and to whom we can give support. Tools available to help us to this end include—electronic post card campaigns, visits to members of Congress, attending rallies. All these actions represent the work of organized people standing in active solidarity for change.
Finally, in all that we do, the manner of our advocacy must reflect our Christian convictions. We cannot demonize those who might be against the change. Following Christ’s example with the woman found in adultery (John 8: 2-11), we condemn the sin not the sinner. The methods we use must be non-violent. The motivation for our work should arise from contemplative prayer tied to action.
Advocacy, the application of solidarity for social conversion, is a process that often seems to move slowly or even backwards. As Christians we are fortunate to be graced with the virtue of Hope. Such a virtue is born out of the pain of Calvary and tied to the promise of Easter.
Russell is the founding Executive Director of the Franciscan Action Network (FAN). He has served as the Animator for the Office for Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) of the Holy Name Province of the Order of Friars Minor since 2000.