January 30, 2019 under Faith Based Work
“You can pray until you faint, but unless you get up and try to do something, God is not going to put it in your lap.” – Fannie Lou Hamer
Fannie Lou Hamer lived in a time when religiosity and hate played close cousins. Society was becoming increasingly aware of the disparity between Blacks and Whites and Fannie, along with other civil rights leaders, raised their voices to make the disparity extra clear to those who would listen. When she spoke these words, her audience members were not White nationalists, government, or the well-meaning middle class. She was speaking to faith leaders. She spoke these words in a speech given before a mass meeting held at the Negro Baptist School of Indianola, Mississippi on September of 1964. On this day, Hamer proclaimed that prayer without action does not equal divine intervention. She knew, as we do, that prayer alone will not dismantle poverty and the systems of inequality that keep people poor and disenfranchised. Faith without action is merely an ideal. But faith with action always marks the beginning of change.
There is a distinct difference between social ministry and social action. As faith leaders, we have a proximity to people that make service a natural result of our ministries. When we see the hungry, we feed them. When we see the naked, we cloth them. When we encounter the forsaken and the immigrant, we move to provide them a safe place to rest their heads and resources amid their trying circumstances. We are in the business of immediately addressing communal concerns. We are positioned to be amazing service providers and we find ways to do this with limited resources. But, though this posture feels like direct action, it is not. It is actually prayer.
Acting as a social safety net alone, without serious engagement with state and local government is in-advert prayer. It is the silent hope that as we service the community; someone, somewhere is raising their voice to challenge systems of inequality that hold our people captive and defenseless against poverty, homelessness, the prison industrial complex, xenophobia, unaffordable healthcare, unaffordable housing and inaccessible education. When we serve others without resisting systems, it is a silent prayer that someone, somewhere will have the time to meet with our elected official, show up to Albany to advocate, and be vigilant of federal monies and whether it makes it to our vulnerable communities. In our direct service, we must not forget the structures, policies, and laws in place that perpetuate the poverty we try to address every day with our ministries and eager volunteers. There is no getting around the fact that these systems can only be adequately challenged through service AND advocacy. And who better to hold these two worlds than the faith leader?
Faith leaders, you are not simply a moral guide. You are the trusted eyes and ears of your community. You see your neighborhood as it truly is and can speak to that reality with the gusto of prophetic voice. The time is now! It is time to serve and advocate, protest and protect, press and preach. It is time to push policy makers, hold our representatives accountable, and ensure our constituents are civically engaged and registered to vote. It is time to show up to Albany and get connected to a policy agency like FPWA that will train you on how to navigate a very complex political system. The time is now!
As we enter a new year, let us allow Hamer’s words to carry us forward. God will not put it in our laps. We must serve our communities and act to ensure that this time next year, we are one step closer to a more equitable reality for all New Yorkers.