by Barton Gingerich (@bjgingerich)
Oldline Protestant lobbying arms and liberal Catholic orders convened in Crystal City, VA this past weekend to discuss and advocate for a panoply of politically leftist causes. The 11th annual Ecumenical Advocacy Days hosted around 750 attendees (with about 150 young seminarians and social workers), focusing especially on hunger and “food justice” issues. On Monday, conference participants traveled to Capitol Hill to ensure that the national Farm Bill protects SNAP (food stamp) funding, maintains high environmental protection standards, and alters the approach to foreign hunger aid from shipping over foodstuffs to purchasing from regional producers.
National Council of Churches president Katherine Lohre welcomed guests, proclaiming, “We’re here seeking peace with justice…to speak truth to power.” Co-moderator Russell Testa hoped participants would “bring God’s justice more in our world.” “We’ll meet together to bring God’s presence [to the Farm Bill],” he predicted. The other moderator, the Rev. Dr. Mari Castellanos of the United Church of Christ’s Justice and Witness Ministries similarly enthused, “We do not join this conversation only as disciples of Christ, but as sisters and brothers with those who hunger and suffer from the injustices of our world.”
The first plenary speaker was Union Theological Seminary’s own Barbara Lundblad, professor of preaching. She referenced Luke 14:12-24, explaining, “Jesus got Himself killed for how He ate…with arms wide open to all.” She frowned upon eating “with the same people throughout your life.” Instead, Lundblad encouraged people to “invite the crippled, the blind, the lame,” but make sure that “they’re not always on the receiving end of these things.” She described this as the difference between “ending hunger” and “food justice.”
“Some people have seen this [parable of the feast invitation] as an evangelistic parable,” Lundblad observed. Indeed, the traditional explanation of the parable is that the rich represent the Jews; the handicapped, Samaritans; and the hedges, Gentiles throughout the world. The Union professor was not so convinced: “Is it really only about that? That way of evangelism is really dangerous.” She contested that the story is actually “about Jesus’ just kingdom vision.” “What kind of person would buy land in 1st century Palestine without looking at it?” she wondered, “And you wouldn’t need that many oxen unless you had a lot of land.” Lundblad concluded that these people who denied the invitation unjustly owned “megafarms.” As for the guest who claimed “I have just been married,” the homiletics teacher declared, “We all have such reasonable excuses…It’s our reasonable excuses that get into the way more than anything else.” There ain’t no rest for the wicked, who apparently consist of wealthy planters and non-activists. “The people in this parable are the same that are being marginalized by our political government,” she insisted. Lundblad also claimed that there must have been women present at the Last Supper and private charities could only cover 6% of the social safety net.
Less shrill and more perceptive was Brother Dave Andrews of Food and Water Watch. He was concerned for healthy local food systems that could better creation and human flourishing. He emphasized the importance of the humane treatment of animals, which is greatly threatened by concentrated industrial food production. He critiqued the “food defamation” laws passed in 19 states. “We have an anti-trust type of situation with our livestock industry,” he warned, “The forces of wealth and corruption have won.” Andrews noted the collusion of the USDA, the Justice Department, and large agricultural corporations like Monsanto. He noted that government officials critical of this alignment have resigned or left their posts: “Something’s rotten in this house.” “Five Catholics followed the teachings of Ayn Rand rather than the Church’s teaching in Citizen’s United,” he furthered. He quoted Alasdair McIntyre’s thesis about the end of virtue in the West, sighing, “This is a new Dark Age.”
The Rev. Michael Livingston, National Public Policy Director for Interfaith Worker Justice, offered the standard Religious Left tropes. He asserted that programs in the Farm Bill “need expansion, not elimination.” He deemed that the “eroding of funding” is killing “proactive creativity” in government. Moreover, the gun lobby has “millions of dollars spent to get its way.” Livingston further berated language regarding immigration since “they are not illegal” and (more absurdly) “everyone has documents.” Continuing his diatribe, the Presbyterian activist condemned how teachers are “poked and prodded…as if failure is their fault and not the poverty of the children and their families.”
“These conditions are sinful and a stain on our nation, and God cannot be pleased with us,” Livingston surmised. It seems America’s wickedness can only be expunged by combating free market apologists: “Even when we win, we don’t get much. Not enough. Not enough to fight the evil of capitalism in our world.” “We must upset the table in our sacred space of the temple of civil government,” he exclaimed, “You speak for God and God’s own people….Win the game!” Reaching a climax, he professed, “We must be the apostles of this gospel—the gospel of engaged citizenry!”
Even with mainline Christianity collapsing in America, its activist vestiges continue to propagate the almighty Social Gospel and partake in the holy sacrament of political advocacy. Ironically, in their pursuit of progressive relevance, the group lobbied the Hill at a time when most in Congress are justifiably preoccupied with immigration and gun restrictions. The upcoming vote on the Farm Bill will reveal whether or not Ecumenical Advocacy Days is on the much-touted “right side of history.”