This Advent season, we issue an invitation to celebrate the role of civil society — churches, voluntary citizens’ groups and other non-profit organizations — by joining MCC in encouraging our governments to protect and support their important work.
In a world of violence and injustice, living into hope is a faithful, courageous witness. For over 100 years, MCC has witnessed and walked alongside churches and grassroots organizations in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and North America who have modelled speaking out against violence and defending hope in the midst of injustice. In these contexts, hope is strong and audacious, radically demonstrating the upside-down order Jesus embodied: a Kingdom where children lead (Isaiah 11:6), the dead live (Matthew 28:6), the poor in spirit are blessed (Matthew 5:3) and the captives are set free (Luke 4:18). It is an Advent hope, an upside-down hope of waiting for and living into the Kingdom of God.
An active civil society is vital for our collective global wellbeing. Whether tackling climate change, providing trustworthy health information or supporting human rights work, organizations MCC partners with around the world play a pivotal role in upholding human dignity. Local civil society organizations are doing the hard work of peacebuilding, preventing and mediating conflict, documenting human rights violations, and daring to challenge power and violence through advocacy work.
For many of these organizations, a rise in conflict and authoritarian regimes, coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, have made these acts of hope more challenging as spaces for civil society to participate narrow. In Latin America, community leaders and human rights defenders face threats from armed groups, some of whom are acting at the behest of multinational corporations or government in contexts with weakened democratic checks and balances. In Myanmar (Burma), MCC partners speak of crimes against humanity perpetrated by the military against civilians and religious groups. Many people who have spoken out against the military have been imprisoned or have disappeared since the coup in February. In Palestine and Israel, civil society groups working for human rights are labelled as terrorist organizations. In Nigeria, non-violent protesters have faced violent repression in their efforts to stop police brutality. In Canada and the United States, we witness a similar pattern of militarized policing and violent responses to non-violent demonstrations. Broad-based sanctions that restrict travel, people-to-people engagement, development, and peacebuilding work in locations around the world and a lack of global access to COVID-19 vaccines further narrow the ability of civil society groups to function.
We are invited by partners to defend hope rather than power, to protect hope rather than wealth, and to bring hope in place of hopelessness — even, and perhaps especially, when those struggling to bring justice and peace are met with threats and overt acts of violence. We ask our governments, and governments around the world, to join us in this work to support human dignity and protect global civic space by actively supporting civil society organizations. We invite governments to see civil society organizations not as opponents, but as partners and allies in responding to this current moment.
Today, as we mark the Advent season, a time of waiting and working out hope, we recognize and say to our global brothers and sisters: We stand with you. We walk with you in speaking out against oppression. We join with you in calling on governments to protect the important role of civil society organizations in the work of relief, development and peace.