(Nashville, Tenn. – 7/13/2011) – As the 2011 General assembly closed, child advocate Marian Wright Edelman urged churches to work for children’s justice.
In a commissioning service concluding the Assembly and intended to send Disciples into the world to serve, Edelman urged the church to proclaim and be the good news on behalf of the nation’s at-risk children.
At the beginning of the service, Robert Welsh, president of the Disciples’ Council on Christian Unity, read a greeting to the assembly from the White House. As Welsh read, a letter bearing President Barack Obama’s signature appeared on the three large video screens at the front of the Nashville Convention Center’s plenary hall.
"As we face the challenges and opportunities of this unique moment in history, may faith move us to unite in common cause to serve one another," the president wrote. "I hope that you have had a productive and rewarding gathering this week."
After a lone dancer clad in gray and black swirled and leapt across the large stage to the singing of the Assembly Women’s Chorus, multiple voices read the evening’s text from Romans 10. A later reader repeated the text, along with the words, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"
The readings set the tone for Edelman’s application of the gospel to the urgent needs of America’s poor children. Attorney, author, and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, Edelman has advocated for the poor and disenfranchised for more than four decades, receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2000.
"Our children need us to have beautiful feet that bring good news to … the poorest group in this wealthy nation," Edelman said at the beginning of her message. The more than 15 million children living in poverty "need us to bring … the good news of justice, of compassion, good news that God treasures each and every one of them," Edelman said.
To underscore the inequities that mar the lives of many young people in the United States, Edelman asked the audience to imagine God paying a visit to a wealthy American family with five children.
Four of the family’s children sleep in comfortable beds while one sleeps on the street in Edelman’s imaginary family. God watches as the family nourishes four kids with healthy meals but leaves the fifth child hungry. Four get the medical attention they need, but the fifth suffers from a lack of health care.
"And imagine this family sending some of their children to high quality schools in safe neighborhoods," Edelman continued, "and sending the fifth child to a crumbling school building with peeling ceilings and leaks and lead in the paint." Falling further and further behind, the fifth child is "at risk of being sucked into illegal activities and the prison pipeline," she added.
The point: one out of every five children in the United States lives in poverty. "Our failure to invest in all of our children … is morally indefensible," Edelman said, observing that black children are three times more likely than white children to be poor and six times more likely to wind up in jail.
Edelman stressed the growing problem with the nation’s dependence on locking people up to address its social ills. She observed that states on average pay three times more to house a prisoner than to educate a child.
"Let’s organize," Edelman urged the assembly audience. "A lot of people are waiting for Dr. King to come back, or waiting for another Mahatma Gandhi. They’re not coming back. We are it," she said.
"We should ‘Tell It,’ but we’ve got to do it," Edelman concluded, echoing the 2011 General Assembly theme. "Our children are depending on us."
At the end of the final communion service of the five-day assembly, general minister and President Sharon Watkins offered thanks for God’s presence.
"May our eyes which have seen your love seek you among the least of these," Watkins prayed. "May our hands which have held and shared the loaf and the cup reach out in hope to a hurting world."
By Ted Parks