Skeptical of Christian Statements and Resolutions? Here’s Why They Matter | Sojourners

Skeptical of Christian Statements and Resolutions? Here’s Why They Matter

San Antonio residents sign a petition in the hallway while waiting to enter a political rally on Nov. 22, 2013. Photo: Bob Daemmrich / Alamy via Reuters Connect.

As president of an organization committed to the biblical call to social justice, I get asked to sign a lot of letters, statements, and resolutions. Sometimes, I help write these statements myself or organize other leaders to sign on with me. Over the past year, I’ve signed on to a quite a few, including a letter calling on President Joe Biden to take urgent action on the crisis in Sudan, a letter urging Congress to pass an expanded Child Tax Credit, and the Call to Civic Discipleship for which I was lead writer, organizing 30 other Christian institutions and denominations to embrace a less polarized but still robust faith in our civic life and politics.

When I think about why I sign these letters, I think of verses like Proverbs 31:8-9, which commissions us to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” While I always want to empower and support people to speak for themselves, I see statements and resolutions as an instrumental way we can amplify people’s voices, demonstrate our solidarity, and defend the rights of those who are so often unheard or marginalized.

But I also know it’s easy to be skeptical, even cynical, about the value of sign-on statements as vehicles for achieving any true progress. The key criticism I hear is that these statements and resolutions don’t actually do anything. To some folks, signing on to statements might seem performative or even harmful: a way to soothe our consciences over the brokenness we see all around us by making us feel an illusory sense that we have done something, a sense that creates the permission structure for us not to take any real action to solve the issue in question. To others, these statements aren’t useful because they don’t change anyone’s mind on the issue in question, and instead merely “preach to the choir.”

To be honest, there’s some validity to that skepticism. We always need to be on guard against any statement or resolution that serves as a substitute for more tangible direct action. But we often misunderstand the purpose behind these statements. I often sign on to statements and support resolutions because they shine a spotlight on an issue and serve as catalysts to inspire direct action.

Here’s an example: After the horrific Oct. 7 massacre by Hamas, I publicly joined with many others in issuing a statement condemning the attacks and calling for an immediate cease-fire. Since then, I’ve lent my own name — and my organization’s name — to a number of statements and letters renewing that call for an immediate cease-fire that leads to the freeing of hostages, addresses the dire humanitarian crisis, and creates new momentum to ensure the long-term dignity and security of all Israelis and Palestinians, including through a two-state solution. But here’s the key: Signing these statements is only one facet of how I and others at my organization support peace and justice in the Middle East. Our editors have worked to publish extensive coverage of the escalating violence, including an interview with an Israeli lawmaker opposed to the war and an essay by a Palestinian peace activist, to give just two examples. Our campaigns and mobilizing team has created action alerts that press elected officials to take our concerns seriously. I have also spoken about the need for a cease-fire at several ecumenical and interfaith protests and vigils, and have met directly with Biden administration officials.

Often, sign-on letters pave the way for in-person meetings with decision-makers where we can make our case to them directly. While it can be frustrating that these and so many other efforts haven’t succeeded in the way we want, I do believe that they have played some role in influencing and pressuring the Biden administration, including through the more recent and hopeful action of publicly backing and putting forward a peace plan.

The same can be true for denominational resolutions, which do not often contain any actual policy changes but rather lay down a marker of where a denomination stands on a particular issue. Last year at its biennial assembly, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) denomination adopted a formal resolution condemning Christian nationalism. By taking an official stance and concrete action to counter this harmful and heretical ideology, the denomination put themselves in a unique place in terms of the institutional church in the U.S. In the statement, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) “denounces Christian Nationalism in all its forms as a distortion of the Christian faith, and commits to opposing it wherever it appears, for the sake of the gospel and the good of the human family.” The resolution also emphasizes the ways in which Christian nationalism promotes violence and authoritarianism, including “white supremacy, antisemitism (and other forms of religious bigotry), xenophobia, persecution and scapegoating of LGBTQ+ persons, misogyny, and ableism” by appropriating “the name of Jesus Christ and the language and imagery of scripture to promote this ideology, in direct contradiction to the gospel Jesus preached.”

While this resolution isn’t binding on the denomination’s congregations, the statement does provide guidance and pressure. I appreciated that the statement doesn’t treat the heresy of Christian nationalism as simply a problem to be addressed “out there” beyond our churches or ourselves, but instead offers repentance for the ways in which all of us can promulgate both subtle and overt beliefs aligned with Christian nationalism. In talking with the denomination’s general minister and president, Rev. Teresa “Terri” Hord Owens, I learned that the resolution started with two dozen congregations that joined together to propose the resolution to the wider denomination. And though leaders had anticipated the resolution generating controversy at the denomination’s 2023 assembly, it passed resoundingly. But again, the Disciples of Christ didn’t stop with a resolution: Since its passage, the denomination has been developing and providing resources to further support congregations in discipling people away from Christian nationalism. The denomination has partnered with the Baptist Joint Committee to equip other ministries and make resources available to their 31 regions.

Another way to understand the power of statements and resolutions is to look at the negative impact they can have on rights and freedom. Just last week, the Southern Baptist Convention made headlines by passing a resolution at their annual meeting opposing in vitro fertilization, or IVF. The resolution, which calls for governments to “restrain actions inconsistent with the dignity and value of … frozen embryonic human beings,” positions the largest Protestant denomination in the United States as (at minimum) sympathetic to efforts that could make it harder for couples facing infertility to have children — which may in turn embolden activists and legislators to support such measures.

Statements and resolutions have the power and potential to illuminate injustice, raise awareness, galvanize action, and build desperately needed social and political will. The question isn’t whether we should utilize this tool, but how can we deploy it in ways that are most strategic to advance the cause of liberation and justice.

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