Advocacy Works!

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When I began working as the Policy Analyst and Advocacy fellow for the Office of Social Justice (OSJ) in August, advocacy was a new practice for me. It seemed daunting. But I've learned that advocacy is something that almost everyone can participate in -- it’s accessible and simple.

As Christians we are called to seek justice and show compassion to all people, especially the widow, the orphan, the stranger, the hungry, the poor, and the sick (Isaiah 1:17). The Bible contains inspiring examples of advocates. People such as Esther and Moses spoke alongside marginalized and oppressed people who were greatly affected by decisions made by people in power. There is a biblical and moral call to serve as advocates for systemic change.

Jesus’ teaching and example point us to the command “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39), which calls us to extend our compassion to neighbors throughout the world. This motivates me to practice advocacy consistently. But to be honest, it is also motivating to know that advocacy actually works.

Recently, the Global Food Security Act passed in the U.S. House of Representatives and in the U.S. Senate. Many organizations were advocating for this important bill, including OSJ, because it focuses on the critical 1,000 day period between the beginning of a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday.

It is shown that without breaking the cycle of permanent damage caused by malnutrition during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life, later economic, education, and food interventions do not have the same effect or value that they otherwise would. Therefore, bills such as the Global Food Security Act make the poverty focused development work of World Renew and other agencies that much more effective and sustainable.

As part of World Renew’s Maternal & Child Health Sunday on May 22 this year, OSJ and World Renew decided to incorporate the opportunity to advocate for the Global Food Security Act. The two agencies worked together to provide a leader’s guide for churches to write to their members of Congress in support of the act.

OSJ then sent out an action alert via email, Facebook, and Twitter urging CRC members to email Congress -- 92 emails have been sent. The office also partnered with the Health Advisor to World Renew, Alan Talens, to make sure that what we were saying lined up with his expert knowledge.

Before sending out the action alert, OSJ held meetings with members of Congress about the act, to communicate the critical need for the bill and to find out what these representatives of districts where CRC members live thought of the bill. Many legislators were interested in the economic perspective rather than a purely moral argument. So we used what we learned about their perspectives to shape future messaging--we emphasized that the impact of malnutrition early in life has irreversible effects. These effects reach beyond generations, resulting in economic loss for countries from diminished productivity and high but avoidable healthcare costs.

OSJ signed on to letters with other faith-based organizations urging Congress to take the act to the floor for a vote. Finally, a year after it was reported out of committee, the House placed the act on its schedule for a vote. That day, OSJ asked Twitter followers to call their members before the House vote. Letters were sent to undecided members of Congress with whom OSJ had been communicating. Alan and OSJ also personally called these members of Congress before the vote.

Then the Global Food Security Act passed! The majority of members advocated by OSJ voted in favor of the act -- some changed their previous positions on the legislation.

OSJ sent letters thanking those who voted in favor and asked CRC members to call to say thank you as well. The office also revamped its action alert to focus on the Senate -- to urge Senators to continue the momentum and pass the Global Food Security Act.

Eight days after the House passed its version of the act, the Senate passed its own version. Because the two acts are slightly different, the chambers will either have to reconcile the differences in a conference or choose one of the versions to pass. At this point, it seems more likely that the House or Senate will re-vote on one of the other’s bills -- so there is still work to be done.

Together these actions may seem overwhelming. But by initiating discussions with Congressional offices, forming relationships, listening, being persistent, and following through -- advocacy worked. Even just one of these actions is an important part of stewarding your voice and power to stand with mothers and children throughout the world.

Interested in practicing advocacy yourself?

You can advocate on any issue -- learn the basics of advocacy by using our new Biblical Advocacy 101 resource. Click here for the USA version or here for the Canadian version.

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Community Builder

Indeed, advocating is not all that hard.  The far more difficult thing is figuring out exactly what to advocate for.  It's a tip of the iceberg vs the base of the iceberg thing, maybe a lot worse.

Especially when we claim to represent others when we advocate -- like OSJ does -- it is really important that we question whether our advocates really have the subject matter expertise as well as the analysis/decision making skills and experiences that one should have when he/she leads others (advocating is leading).

In the CRC, for example, we require that pastors have considerable formal education, and other training/experience, before we allow them to lead/advocate as a pastor does in our churches.  Those pastors are equipped, for example, to do their own original research, knowing the original biblical languages, before suggesting what scripture says when they stand behind a pulpit. They have formal degrees and real training from "industry experts."  This is so important to us, we've decided, that we've established a school where just these things are taught as a specialized area of concern.  The degrees conferred as specially name.  

Question: does the CRC do likewise when it takes on the role of advocating about political, legal, ecomomic and scientific matters in behalf of, and to, CRC members?  What is the preparation/experience of those who advocate in the denomination's (our) behalf about these matters?

Are you suggesting that all CRC Deacons and CRC staff who advocate with people who are oppressed or on the margins receive special CRC specific training and accreditation like Pastors do before they take on such work as part of the institutional church? That would be interesting. Obviously, CRC specialized ministries and agency staff people who do this work have degrees, experience, and outstanding records of effectiveness in the fields where they serve--if you want to question the legitimacy of that claim it would probably be more appropriate for you to ask those questions offline.    

Community Builder

The advocacy that is being discussed in this article is not, as you characterize it Kris, "advoca[cy] with people who are oppressed or on the margins" but rather lobbying of the government to persuade it to pass certain legislation, done for and behalf of the CRC and its members.  The difference is enormous.

If I advocate in behalf of others that the government pass this law or that law, I should have the expertise/ability to be able to competently evaluate "this law or that law," as well as the likely effects of passing this or that law.  The requirement to be competent should not be ignored by my saying I'm merely "advocat[ing] with people who are oppressed or on the margins" -- saying that doesn't accurately express what I am doing.

Let's bring this concretely to the "advocacy" (more accurately and commonly called lobbying) discussed in this article.  If I were to lobby government in behalf of a client/constituency as to the Global Food Security Act (whether pro or con), I would probably want to read the intended statute (the bill).  I'm a lawyer and so I would of course bring that set of skills and experiences to bear in reading it.  I can read the nuances of "legal language," and I know from experience that drafted bills are often intentionally deceptive in some ways, as evidenced when bills are so often given names to suggest they have an effect other than what have.  It is not uncommon, for example, for large companies or industries to want legislation that benefits them (allows them to sell goods/services) and so they lobby for bills that purport to help those in need (their intended revenue source).  Thus, for example, if the US dairy industry wanted more revenue from its surplus supply of milk, it might propose to the government that it pass nice sounding legislation, like "Global Food Security Act," which predominantly benefitted the dairy industry by requiring the federal government to buy the industry's powdered milk supplies and delivery them to third world counties overseas.

After reading the bill, I would then want to check out more details about the potential problems I found with the bill.  For example, would this law really just help the US dairy industry by giving milk supplies to lactose intolerant third world populations?  Or, do the provisions in the proposed law virtually guarantee that in some, many or most cases, the real recipients will be corrupt governments or not-so-corrupt governments that are allowed to intercept or repurpose funds given them?

Another thing I'd likely want to examine as to a law of this kind is how much "hurting more than helping" it might do.  If, for example, the proposed law would export powdered milk to third world countries, would it be having the effect of destroying or damaging a local milk industry in some of those countries?  That would be nice the US dairy industry but damaging to dairy providers in those other countries (who can compete with the price of zero after all?)

These are the kind of inquiries/investigations hired lobbyists (which OSJ is when it engages in activities aimed at passing legislation) should make/do as to any legislation it lobbies for.  And doing those inquiries/investigations required expertise and experience.

So when this article concludes with "You can advocate on any issue [too] ...", I think it is important to point out that "advocating" (lobbying) for or against legislation, done well, involves much, much more than just convincing people to say "yes" or "no," or getting CRC members to tell their political representatives to say "yes" or "no," to proposed legislation.  The latter is, as I said, just the tip of the iceberg, at least if the lobbying is to be done well.

I would certainly appreciate, off-line if you like (you have my email address), an indication of credentials OSJ brings to bear when it lobbies for or against legislation like the Global Food Security Act.

 

 

Since the title of the handout is Biblical Advocacy 101 I think it's fair of you to say it's the "tip of the iceberg." If you want people's credentials you would have to ask agency directors or someone more important than me. Personally, I think that is an odd request to make in the comments section of an article about an advocacy 101 handout. I hadn't caught until now that you are a lawyer. That sounds like a really interesting line of work. 

Doug, the best qualification on this issue is being disabled yourself! You can advocate for something without being the writer of the law! You just have to understand the issue in a intimate way. 

Admin

Doug and Kris, 

While I appreciate your discussion, this conversation may be better over email, as you had mentioned. Please feel free to email me at [email protected] if you'd like me to connect you in that way. 

Thanks,

Staci DeVries

Network Community Manager

As a disabled person, I too question expertise of advocates and those that throw their opinions out on a subject that they may think they are informed! Until you experience the affects of what a major disability, it’s hard to really understand what we go through! I am still thankful that they try but I pray they really listen to the disabled on the issues that affect them. Unfortunately, there are lay people and experts assuming they know what is best for us! I was guilty of that before becoming disabled. A lot of life has to be experienced to have a real understanding.