The Rev. Shavon Starling-Louis urges conference-goers to ‘speak up and speak out’ for vulnerable people in today’s society
by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — 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 Saturday, the second day of the Jesus and Justice Young Adult Advocacy Conference in Louisville. The event, which began Friday and ended Sunday, 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.”
She noted Old Testament prophets such as Isaiah, Micah and Amos constantly called for justice, often challenging oppressive systems and facing painful realities because of that.
“Doing the right thing isn’t always easy,” she said. “Matter of fact, powers and principalities will regularly make sure it is not. That’s kind of when you know you’re on the right track, unfortunately.”
But “the great cloud of witnesses, I believe, are rooting for you and they are rooting for your path that sets loose the captives from chains … that might dare to make us not see the image of God, the Imago Dei, in the other.”
Jeremiah felt inadequate for the call on his life, and those in Saturday’s audience might too, Starling-Louis said. “Yet and still, with God’s guidance and God’s empowerment, you will be able to do exceedingly and abundantly more than you could ever hope or imagine.”
She also revisited scripture that had been spoken on the night before from Matthew 25 about the importance of taking care of those perceived to be the least.
It’s important to stand up for those “who are really hungry, really thirsty, really in need — wherever we find ourselves,” she said. “Faith without works is dead, so you’ve got to do something when you know something.”
At times, she said, she has cried out to God for demonstrations of more compassion, love and justice in the world. She also encouraged conference-goers to “experience the blessing of blessing somebody else” and requested that those in the room turn to someone near them and say, “You are a blessing.”
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.”
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Categories: Advocacy & Social Justice
Tags: jesus and justice, office of public witness, presbyterian ministry at the united nations, Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, rev. shavon starling-louis, young adult advocacy conference
Ministries: Matthew 25 in the PC(USA): Join the Movement, Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, Office of Public Witness