Everyone in advocacy circles around #ChurchToo issues appreciates the image of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s a biblical concept. We are told overtly that those who present themselves as safe to lead the sheep can sometimes be the exact opposite.
Indeed, there are many places in the Bible where God shows us the image of false shepherds, for instance, Ezekiel 34. So how are we to discern who are true shepherds from those who are false?
First of all, we need to appreciate that advocates in the #ChurchToo space are leaders. They, by their words and their deeds, have promised to be shepherds. We can expect they will be worthy of the trust placed in them.
But like in all matters of life, there is a vast distance between saying and doing.
It is far easier to be eloquent with words and to be able to tell stories with words of what an advocate has experienced, but it is far harder to LIVE these ideals in the manner of advocating for the abused and traumatized — to the outcomes of tangible justice and of keeping them safe.
Both are inseparable. If one is to be an advocate by word, they also need to be an advocate by deed. If someone spruiks about matters of abuse, they speak from the position of the advocate, and they can expect that the abused will seek them out.
Importantly, if an ‘advocate’ does nothing, it is far worse than doing nothing.
Because in doing nothing, the message that is sent to the one who has been abused — who is and needs to be advocated for — is, “I’m not believed.” They will feel like their advocate isn’t going to step in for them. They will feel unworthy of the help that they’re asking for.
Doing cannot be separated out from speaking. If we speak, we must be prepared to do what the role of advocacy requires of us.
If we speak out for victims generically, i.e., state a position of advocacy, then IGNORE the victim who comes our way, what level of support do they feel? Worse than none.
Their experience of abuse is magnified. Doing nothing by refusing to engage when they come to us for help, is doing them a bigger disservice than if we didn’t speak at all.
I’m writing this because there are ‘advocates’ like this, who like the kudos but don’t do the heavy lifting.
When we don’t back our words up with doing, usually because we don’t want to take a fall for someone, or we fear disenfranchising the other side, we make an error that has considerable consequences for the person who may not be able to speak or do the doing for themselves.
This is an example of horrendous hypocrisy.
JESUS – THE BIBLICAL IMAGE OF ADVOCACY
There are many images of advocacy in the Bible, and several images of Jesus as an advocate. But it’s Jesus’ role with the woman at the well (John 4) that I find is most salient.
Jesus stands in the gap for a woman wronged by an entire culture. She is ostracised, condemned, and rejected.
But NOT by Jesus — indeed, to THIS pariah Jesus comes to announce his Kingdom!
She has become an exile in her own land and must come in the heat of the day to draw water. Jesus meets her, greets her, encounters her, and teaches her with brevity — the coming of the Kingdom. In short, nothing can separate her from her God when she worships in spirit and in truth.
She has been misrepresented, misunderstood to the extreme, used up, and abused. She suffered without causing anyone suffering. She’d done nothing wrong (Jesus doesn’t say anything like, “leave your life of sin”), yet she had a ‘reputation’.
Jesus became her advocate. He did something to say, “I see you and I believe you.” She responded by telling everyone she could about this man who knew everything about her. Jesus was the life of encouragement to a despairing person.
Jesus was an advocate who stood for others even though nobody would stand for him. People wilt for a lack of even one person willing to advocate for their cause.
Like for the woman at the well, we can easily imagine, that when nobody will act for us, Jesus will come to us in our aloneness — as the Advocate — the Holy Spirit — who literally comes alongside us in our travailing. Coming alongside — this exactly what the Holy Spirit is called (paraclete) and what the Holy Spirit does.
In being an advocate, we’re being like Jesus.
THE NATURE OF ADVOCACY IS GAP-STANDING
Advocacy is a prophetic gifting usually, though not always, given to those who have experienced in some way what they’re advocating for. It is very much a DOING gift. It isn’t just about the words we speak. It is action-oriented.
Therefore, as what was done with the biblical prophets, we will often find it a costly exercise to act as advocates. The most salient biblical image I can think of is the verse out of Ezekiel 22:30 where God expects someone to stand in the gap.
Advocates stand in the gap between injustice to facilitate justice. Even if they cannot help bring about reconciliation — impossible with a narcissist — they facilitate justice by seeing and serving the one they’re advocating for; to be believed is its own justice, and when someone believes an injustice has been done, they set about addressing it as far as it’s possible.
While much of advocacy might consist of words written and spoken in direct context for the support of a person or group, it’s not an advocacy to espouse the theory and not support people in practice.
James 2:24 is clear to this point: “You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.” Righteousness by faith is evident by action.
I’ll conclude by quoting advocate, Ruth D. Hutchins:
… advocates who have not endured [life-altering] trauma have to step up. Yes, it is stressful and painful and really hard work, but at least we don’t have a trauma response on top of that.”
There is no excuse for advocates without trauma response to not act in support of the abused. But it is more than understandable for advocates with trauma responses to hold back for self-protection where necessary.
Saying you’re an advocate when you never really advocate for people — when you never follow-up with them, when you show them no care, or make no effort to help them — is, let’s face it, hypocrisy. People can believe in all sorts of things, but with advocacy, it’s more about what you do than what you say.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on Tribework