Striving for Justice and Peace Among All People: Advocacy, Activism, and the Baptismal Covenant

Post Author: Allison Sandlin Liles

During Baptisms, Easter and other special occasions in The Episcopal Church, churchgoers are asked eight questions known as The Baptismal Covenant. It begins as a statement of faith laid out in straightforward question and answer style with questions aren’t all that questionable.

Do you believe in God?
Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?

Then the covenant transitions into questions about how we will live out our faith.

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching, their fellowship, communion and prayers?
Will you resist evil and return to God when you sin?
Will you proclaim the Good News of God in Christ?

And to these three questions we respond heartily, “I will, with God’s help.”

But then there are the last two questions, which have always been far more radical to me than the six preceding them.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.

Again, we respond, “I will, with God’s help,” but I’ve always wondered what crosses through folks’ minds as they respond.

These fundamental promises define who we are as Episcopalians. The way in which we live and move and have our being as Christians is deeply embedded in these baptismal promises. We know that seeking and serving Christ in all persons, striving for peace and justice among all people and respecting the dignity of every human being are things we should be doing as followers of Jesus Christ, but, truthfully, I found living out these promises incredibly challenging while working as a parish priest.

The author with a fellow Moms Demand Action member at the annual Virginia Interfaith Lobby Day for Gun Violence Prevention

The author with a fellow Moms Demand Action member at the annual Virginia Interfaith Lobby Day for Gun Violence Prevention

I believe with all my being that Christians are called to live and work as peacemakers. Crises of healthcare, war, gun violence, poverty, gender violence, racial injustice, nuclear weapons and environmental destruction are not solely political issues. These are all matters of life and death, which means they are first and foremost matters of the Church. Jesus dedicated his ministry on earth to achieving justice for the poor and a vision of God’s reign on earth, and for the first six years of my ordained life I worked in churches while striving to align myself with God’s reign of justice and peace.

This meant showing up at immigration rallies, protesting the Iraq war on street corners, hosting peace vigils in my churches and preaching about God’s love of all human beings at every opportunity. What I found is that while parishioners believed Jesus calls us to live a life in which we strive for peace and justice, a life in which we respect the dignity of all persons, they were not fully on board with their priest doing that publicly. During these six years, I discovered a whole lot of tension between fulfilling these baptismal mandates of our tradition and actually working in a church of that same tradition.

So, I stepped back from parish ministry.

For the past five years I’ve served as the Executive Director of Episcopal Peace Fellowship, an organization founded in 1939 to support Episcopalians striving to live out their baptismal promises. I no longer stand behind an altar within the walls of an Episcopal church, but instead behind altars in the midst of the world around me. Keeping vigil on the evenings of lethal injections, in the offices of legislators, in the pews of prayer vigils, and even on my computer sharing liturgical, advocacy, and educational resources with our members – these are my altars now.

Every day I offer Episcopal Peace Fellowship members tools, contacts and encouragement so they can better live out their own baptismal promises. This sharing of resources brings me such a tremendous amount of joy because I remember what it felt like to be a lone voice crying out for peace from the wilderness. I remember what it felt like to discover letters on my desk Monday morning regarding the nature of my sermon the day before. I remember being so overwhelmed with horrific news that I believed all my work was futile. I know there are folks out there feeling the same way today and Episcopal Peace Fellowship is here reminding them that despair is the opposite of the good, hopeful news Jesus came to share. My job is to revive those weary, compassion fatigued spirits and renew their hope.

Henry Nouwen believed that nobody can be a Christian without also being a peacemaker. It’s not a part-time obligation that Jesus requests of us, but instead a requirement that calls for total investment and dedication to unconditional, unlimited and uncompromising love of all our neighbors. Peacemaking, Nouwen claims, is a “holy obligation for all people whatever their professional or family situation” (Peacework, p 50). I’m so grateful that Episcopal Peace Fellowship allows peacemaking to be part of my professional life.

The Rev. Allison Sandlin Liles is wife, mother, peacemaker and priest learning to navigate life as a new resident of the Lone Star State. After working in parish ministry for six years, she now works part-time as Episcopal Peace Fellowship’s Executive Director focusing on gun violence prevention, death penalty abolition and empowering young adult peacemakers.

Image by: Allison Sandlin Liles
Used with permission
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