Young adults at the PC(USA)’s ‘Jesus & Justice’ conference learn the basics of education advocacy

Their teacher was the Rev. Dr. Alonzo Johnson, convener of the Education Roundtable

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Dr. Alonzo Johnson leads a workshop during the Young Adult Advocacy Conference. (Photo by Nell Herring)

LOUISVILLE — When the Rev. Dr. Alonzo Johnson isn’t busy directing the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People, he’s convening the Education Roundtable, part of an initiative of the 221st General Assembly (2014) to Educate a Child, Transform the World.

Johnson led a Saturday workshop on advocacy and education as part of “Jesus and Justice,” the Young Adult Advocacy Conference held last weekend online and at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville, Kentucky.

The General Assembly’s most recent paper on education, “Loving Our Neighbors: Equity and Quality in Public Education (K-12),” approved by the 219th General Assembly (2010), is being updated, Johnson said, because “the church understands education is the key to learning and growing.”

“The basic assumption is the call to love our neighbor as ourselves challenges us to confront the evidence of racism and inequality in our public schools,” Johnson said. “We are called to be a voice for those with no voice — those left behind by certain education reforms and by the privatization of public schools.”

Presbyterians “have a long and rich history of commitment to education” for the “formation of faithful and reasoned lives” owing to “the importance of quality public education for the shaping of our common life,” he said. In addition, the “radical hospitality of the Lord’s Table compels us to welcome children in ways that transform their lives and the community.”

Johnson noted Presbyterian pastor and educator the Rev. Dr. Eileen Lindner has said more than once that “If we aren’t going to care for our children, we ought to stop doing baptisms.”

Young adults — indeed, anyone — can avail themselves of direct service opportunities including working with educators to replenish classroom supplies, tutoring, adopting an elementary school or classroom, filling backpacks with school supplies and snacks, starting or volunteering at an afterschool program, or providing weekend food for children and/or their families whose children qualify for free and reduced lunches at school.

There’s a host of resources, of course, for Presbyterians who want to become more involved in education advocacy. One that Johnson mentioned is the Red, Wine & Blue Parent Playbook, available here.

Systemic educational change, the ultimate goal for offering quality educational opportunity for every child, can be defined in this way, according to Johnson: “Working for societal transformation that addresses the root causes so often codified in our societal structures and institutions.” It’s a mission that “calls us as Christians to join God in shaping a world more consistent with God’s best intention for all people.”

“We can’t separate our advocacy from our faith,” Johnson said. “Like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we must integrate justice into what we’re doing.”

There are three things every church can do, he said:

  • Celebrate and pray for educators one Sunday at the start of each school year.
  • Encourage Christian education staff and volunteers, including Sunday school teachers.
  • Meet the building principal of the public school nearest your place of worship.

Here are three things most churches can do, according to Johnson:

  • Offer a sermon on education, knowledge, equity and the way of Jesus.
  • Create a fund that can be used to reimburse teachers for their out-of-pocket expenses.
  • Establish a school board liaison person or team. Host a school board candidates forum or a forum for others running for office.

Those on the Education Roundtable “have realized that direct service is important in providing concrete ministries that embody God’s compassion and commitment to meet the immediate needs of those who are vulnerable, discounted and marginalized,” Johnson said.


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