The Rev. Shavon Starling-Louis urges conference-goers to ‘speak up and speak out’ for vulnerable people in today’s society
December 21, 2023
After stepping down from a platform to be closer to young people gathered for an advocacy conference at the Presbyterian Center, the Rev. Shavon Starling-Louis lifted up the words of the biblical prophet as a call to Christians to speak out for the marginalized.
Scripture provides “a clear mandate for advocacy, emphasizing the demand — the divine requirement — offered in the words of the prophet Micah to “seek and do justice, to love mercy, to have joy for mercy, and to walk humbly with God,” said Starling-Louis, Co-Moderator of the 225th General Assembly (2022). “My own translation is to move at the rhythm and pace of the Holy One. Sometimes that means going really quickly, ‘cause God says we are overdue for the work to be done, and sometimes that means slowing our tails down to move at the right rate that we can love those we are called to be in community for.”
Starling-Louis preached during worship on the second day of the Jesus and Justice Young Adult Advocacy Conference in Louisville. The event was hosted by the Presbyterian Office of Public Witness (OPW), which is based in Washington, D.C., and the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, which is based in New York.
The purpose of the event was to teach young people, such as college-age adults and seminarians, how to speak out about, or advocate for, things that matter to them. The need to do so extends beyond ancient prophets to the people of today, Starling-Louis said.
“God has a unique plan and purpose for each of us to speak up and speak out for the faithful discernment of how to care for our communities and our society and our world, and yes, the cosmos,” she said. “This divine calling extends to our advocacy work as we are called to be honest advocates for the collective healing of Creation.”
Starling-Louis spoke before participants broke up to attend a series of workshops on topics that included hunger, gender justice, education and gun violence. She focused on advocacy work that addresses the “social and economic and political factors that would separate individuals from the fullness of life that God intends for each and every one of us.”
Fixing what is broken in this world requires people to want good things not just for themselves but for others, to love their neighbors as themselves, and to make space for the vulnerable in the same way “we would hope that someone would do for us in similar circumstances,” Starling-Louis said.
The work of combatting injustice needs to be done “as faithfully as possible, in ways both simple and complex, ways both local and societal, those thin spaces and those wide gaps, at every age and stage of this living,” she said.
Starling-Louis referred briefly to the story of the Good Samaritan, who assisted a traveler who’d been ignored by others after being beaten, robbed and left for dead. She noted, “We are called to love those who the world would have us expect to not even care about, those we are called to see when they are in treacherous roads and situations and very treacherous living that we find ourselves in. That is where we are to keep our eyes open and our hearts open. That is the gift of this life. And it extends to compassion, over and over again.”
During the benediction, the Co-Moderator said, “We thank you in advance as we leave this place, remembering that you formed us when we were yet in the womb of the one who carried us. You offer peace and guidance and joy and strength in abundance” for the journey ahead.
The Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, who leads advocacy efforts in both Washington, D.C., and New York, was among those who felt energized by Starling-Louis’ message and other elements of worship, including music and scripture reading. “I don’t know about you,” Hawkins said, “but I’m ready to go out and change the world now.”
Darla Carter, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: Rev. Shavon Starling-Louis preaches at the Jesus and Justice Young Adult Advocacy Conference
Let us join in prayer for:
Let us pray
Heavenly Father, thank you for Jesus Christ, who loves us and serves us. May we serve and love you and each other. Amen.
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