Fasting and Praying in the Shadows of the Capitol

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By Jim Wallis, CP Guest Contributor
December 10, 2013|9:40 am

The small tent, about the width of a subway car, sits on the National Mall in the shadow of the nation's Capitol. In a town where power and influence is determined by money and access, what happens inside this tent might seem irrelevant. But over the last few weeks this tiny structure has become a potent challenge to the ways of Washington.

Each day, people arrive at the tent to fast and pray for immigration reform. Some are powerful political actors and cultural icons. The President and First Lady, Cabinet Secretaries, several celebrities, and members of Congress from both parties have all visited.

However, most visitors are far less well known, though their stories are no less compelling. Some are undocumented immigrants themselves with heartbreaking stories to tell-and most are people of faith. Some have close relatives who are undocumented. Others testify to their own immigrant histories. Many are people whose faith inspires them to support common sense immigration reform.

Everyone wants to fix our broken immigration system, but knows that doing so requires addressing political dysfunction. With legislation stalled in the House of Representatives, the tent has become the gathering place and symbol of a nationwide Fast for Families witnessing to this unresolved moral crisis and pleading for action by our political leaders.

I'm honored to be part of this spiritual movement that could change our country's politics. I was blessed to commission the first fasters on November 12, and they commissioned me and others on December 3 to take up their fast. For the last week, I've subsisted solely on water. We are sacrificing food in the hope of drawing attention to the incredible sacrifice, even to the point of death, so many immigrants make each day because of Washington's failures.

Many pundits are surprised that Congress has failed to solve this issue, given the number of polls showing broad support for immigration reform from all our political parties-every two out of three Americans. Yet, institutions inflicting harm on people instead of serving the common good is far from new.

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The Bible is clear that government has a purpose and authority. Properly understood, it is a gift from God intended for the benefit of all (Romans 13:1-7). However, the Apostle Paul also explains in Ephesians that:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (6:12).

Christians know both scripturally and intuitively that our individual desires can become focused on the wrong things in ways that lead to sinful behavior. What we often forget is that our civil and religious institutions are capable of the same corruption.

When justice is blocked-when we have done all we can and all the traditional avenues for change have been exhausted-Christians must respect the authority of our leaders but faithfully challenge them to serve people over politics and restore our best values.

Washington is obsessed with political power, which makes it easy to believe there is no greater goal than winning elections and no greater good than serving one's political ideology. And in a place that is plagued by the cynicism created by partisan gridlock, apathy becomes the norm.

But there's too much at stake for us to give into these false idols of ideology and apathy. Especially when it comes to immigration reform, more families will be torn apart and our undocumented brothers and sisters will remain second-class citizens in a nation that claims to treat everyone as equal.

So we fast and pray. We lift our petitions to God, asking that our leaders might have wisdom and courage to pursue what is right and moral instead of what is easy and beneficial to their own self-interests. Our prophetic witness challenges both those who have the power to act but refuse to use it and those so called pundits and experts who have declared the push for immigration reform "hopeless" and "dead."

After all, we don't trust in political power but in spiritual power. Hebrews says that "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

Whether by coincidence or Providence, this fast is happening during the season of Advent, when Christians wait and expectantly hope, knowing that even as the days grow darker God's miraculous Light will soon burst into the world.

Some of the cynics in Washington believe immigration reform would be a political miracle. But that assumes the powers and principalities can't be changed. Everyone who visits the small tent realizes this fast is becoming a spiritual force that is more than capable of transforming Washington.

That would certainly be a miracle, but Christmas is a reminder that we should expect nothing less of God.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners and author of On God's Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn't Learned About Serving the Common Good. You can follow Jim on Twitter: @JimWallis.
 

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