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Mike Denton speaks at Eastern Washington advocacy event

PNC Conference Minister Mike Denton offered theological reflections on the Jan. 31 Eastern Washington Legislative Conference theme, “Raising Prophetic Voices: Faith Communities Advocate for Justice.”

mike denton

Mike Denton reflects on "Raising Prophetic Voices."

Believing speech and action are about biography, he shared his context as a sixth generation pastor in a family with a tradition of involvement in social justice as an expression of faith. Adding to his insights is his experience as parent of a two-year-old, Leo, who changes his world and worldview.

“In raising prophetic voices, we, like my son Leo, need to be sure we know we are loved, our basic needs are cared for and we care for others,” said Mike, expressing his pride when Leo first shared a book with another child. 

“We need to set boundaries, encourage and then step out of the way,” he said. “Our goal as parents is an ongoing relationship with him, not him fulfilling our dreams for him.”

Just as children are at different places as they develop, Mike said that communities of faith are places where people start at different points, moving from faith to service to social justice. 

“A holy tweak or nudge may come in the news or an experience,” he said.  “It may sit there for a while.

For some, interest in social justice may have started with signing a petition, from listening or from praying.

“It may stop there, but at a the time of a holy tweak, it may become bigger,” he said.

Mike said charity often grows from relationships with people.  Learning of a need, “we may give what is needed—money or a can of black beans.  Sometimes, that’s  where it stops,” he said.

Sometimes charity is a part of a bigger delivery network that has structure.

“That’s service.  We make time for it.  It’s not excess.  We build relationships within the faith community,” Mike said.  “In service, something else happens.  We recognize what is happening around an individual life and also that it is happening because of a systemic issue.”

All along, it’s necessary to pray, study and listen, he said. 

Some are called to service, and some are called to advocacy, which brings an intentional increase in risk.

“Each step is not a clear progression,” Mike said. 

The largest number of people recognize a call to give to a charity. 

The next largest group participates in a service. 

The smallest number are involved in advocacy for justice.

In the process, friendships emerge, and involvement shifts from time to mutual support.

“Then, once in a while, we glimpse what the church community is called to build, the Kingdom of God, a world filled with love, care, mutuality and more,” Mike said.

The role of elder needs to emerge today, he said, given the increasing amounts of gray in faith communities. Mike observes that most congregations are intergenerational, many with up to five generations involved.

“Most U.S. institutions are set up for two-and-a-half or three generations.  Then people retire and die,” he said.  “We do not know how to do the role of elder.  We need to redevelop that role.  We need to encourage the younger generation to listen closely.”

In the last five years, Mike has seen significant moves by adults to listen to ideas. 

• The Occupy movement is part of movements around the world that have put economic inequality on the front burner for leaders.

“We refuse to accept abuse of the poor,” Mike added.

• The environmental movement grew from young people.  The world calls people to change their ways.

• GLBT concerns and conflict have led to changes in the social system.  I support marriage equality.

• Black Lives Matter has led black youth to expose racial and gender inequality police brutality and the anger of those who mourn too soon. 

“They challenge that the racist criminal justice industrial complex is based on slavery and oppression,” Mike said.

• The only cultural group to die more are American Indians, who have experienced genocide, neglect and abuse of their rights. 

“We need to listen as elders and wisely join when we are invited to lay our lives on the line so prophetic voices emerge,” Mike said.

“We offer our facts, speak and listen.  We join voices and call others to join.  We keep our eyes on the local and bigger pictures,” he said.  “We speak out when we see something is wrong.  It’s a call and gift to recognize the need to be challenged on racism.

“We need to look for ways to raise our prophetic voices and look for ways we need to be challenged,” he said.

“Fifty years ago, we did not have an idea we would retire and help our parents. Five generation photos mean there’s more of that,” he said. 

“We need to ask what we need to be better helpers,” Mike said, suggesting ways to support younger clergy, and helping establish a culture of elders.

After being leaders and up front, there is need for the role of elder to develop, so people have voice and respect when they have less energy.  

“Relinquishment is a gift for those who follow,” Mike said.  “It’s important also to honor the experience of youth, to respect youth, rather than work to be respected by youth.”

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Copyright February-March 2015 © Pacific Northwest United Church of Christ Conference News


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