by Brian Kaylor
As cold winds filled the air in Jefferson City on January 23, more than 300 people crammed into the sanctuary at Quinn Chapel AME Church for the founding convention of “Faith Voices for Jefferson City.” This new community advocacy organization is a local chapter of Missouri Faith Voices. The crowd echoed the theme for the night, “Claim the Dream,” each time a speaker mentioned it. In addition to a packed panel of local clergy and citizens, the standing-room-only crowd also heard from Missouri Governor Jay Nixon and local State Representative Jay Barnes. Churchnet Executive Director Jim Hill serves as president of Missouri Faith Voices and spoke at the Faith Voices for Jefferson City gathering last week.
“The Founding Convention for Faith Voices for Jefferson City was a powerful witness to our community,” Hill explained after the evening. “Representatives of 26 congregations and faith traditions came together to say we want to stand for justice in our community. People of faith said we want to speak and act for the voiceless and the powerless in our community by addressing needs and bringing issues of fairness to our community and state leaders. It was only the beginning, but it was a wonderful beginning as we seek to live out our faith in our community.”
One of the three aspects of Churchnet’s First Priority vision is community advocacy, which includes following the biblical witness of speaking and acting on behalf of the poor and marginalized in our communities. Former Churchnet President Doyle Sager, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Jefferson City, also spoke at the event.
The keynote speaker at the founding convention was Catholic Bishop John R. Gaydos, who leads the Diocese of Jefferson City. Gaydos spoke about the seven main components of historic Catholic teachings on social justice, which span the political spectrum. He argued that Catholics have a “moral obligation” to participate in the political process and to help by “promoting the common good.” Noting that people are “sacred” and have a “right to life,” he mentioned the Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, targeting civilians in war, and other affronts to “the dignity of human persons.”
Explaining the importance of putting “the needs of the poor and vulnerable first,” Gaydos explained that the presence of the poor and vulnerable in our communities prove we have not yet become a community. Explaining the principle of solidarity, he argued this requires we seek justice and peace since “we are one human family” and “we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers wherever they may be.”
Gaydos also explained his tradition’s focus on the importance of marriage and families, the dignity of work and the labor rights of workers, and the call to care for God’s creation since it is “not just an Earth Day slogan, it’s a requirement of our faith.” With his passionate discussion of historic Catholic social justice positions, Gaydos established the importance for all Christians to engage in community advocacy as an integral part of one’s faith.
Jeanie McGowan, Churchnet’s Leadership Development Team Leader, attended the event and has been involved with past Missouri Faith Voices efforts. As she reflected on the night, she echoed the call of Gaydos to live our the biblical teachings by advocating for justice.
“When people of faith get mobilized and motivated, only God knows what can happen,” McGowan explained. “Working together for justice is an awesome task! I believe we will one day look back and mark this night as a defining moment of a movement toward radical change in our community—for the good of all our citizens! Our sacred texts, no matter what our faith tradition, bid us to work together for justice and peace.”
The primary three issues addressed at the meeting were: encouraging Medicaid expansion, increasing public transportation in Jefferson City, and promoting a statewide early voting ballot initiative. Nixon spoke on the need for Missouri to accept Medicaid expansion, noting that it “affirms our shared values.” Reverend John Bennett, a retired pastor who attends First Christian Church in Jefferson City, similarly called the expansion “a moral imperative” and “ethical plumb line.”
In addition to Nixon and Representative Barnes, six of Jefferson City’s City Council Members attended the gathering. After singing and praying, the crowd dispersed into the cold air with warm spirits and a renewed commitment to claim the biblical dream that justice would roll on like a river and righteousness like a never-ending stream.