By Rachel Gunter-Shapard
People of faith who regularly participate in service will often see patterns of brokenness in the communities in which they serve. In seeking solutions for the sake of transforming these communities, missions alone will not cut it. Faith leaders, both clergy and laity alike, can learn to use their voices in the public square to demonstrate a love for the divine and a love for their neighbors. Faith-based advocacy is the necessary next step when service has opened our eyes to the disparities that exist in the world.
Know Your Why
It is imperative for people of faith to take the time to reflect on your own personal “why” for participating in advocacy. When you have taken the time to discern why advocacy is a meaningful expression of your faith, you will not be easily discouraged when you fall short of a goal. In order to better establish your “why,” think through such questions as: Why do I feel called to the work of advocacy? Why is using my voice in the public square a necessary part of my spiritual practice? What life experiences have made me passionate about the work of advocacy? And if you have not yet felt a personal calling to be an advocate, you may need to ask yourself, “Why not?”
Ready or Not, Jump!
There are matters of dire need in our world that require our attention now. If people of faith wait until they feel prepared to participate in the work of advocacy, they will be too late to affect change on matters that are pressing today. If you wait to call your senator until you feel educated enough about the issue, the vote may have already taken place. If you hold off on testifying in a state legislative committee because you’ve never done so before, who will be there to speak on behalf of the poor? If you don’t write your city council member to inform them that city residents are still living in less than humane conditions 10 months after a disaster, who will speak for them? The work of advocacy is one that can best be learned while in the process of engaging in it.
Recognize Your Humanity
You are one person. You cannot be THE champion for every cause. It is much more practical to consider becoming fully engaged in the work of one or two advocacy issues about which you are especially passionate, and then jump into the shallow waters on other issues that are important to you as they arise. If you spread yourself too thin, you won’t have anything to give to any cause. Practice self care in advocacy.
Be Prepared to Lose
The work of advocacy involves many defeats. Long before you are able to see positive change you will experiences losses. Oftentimes it takes years of effort before a success of any magnitude can be achieved. Don’t get discouraged! Take the time to name everything you gained in pursuit of your goal, even when you didn’t reach your desired outcome. Success can be measured in many ways, such as: the number of people educated about an important issue; the number of advocates gathered together who will now engage on the issue; the number of new relationships formed; the strength gained in a coalition; the amount of earned media generated giving your efforts more reach; new assets uncovered that will strengthen the cause, etc. Be intentional about naming all of the many reasons to celebrate, even if the ultimate symbol of success has not yet been achieved.
You are not the only one who feels passionately about any given issue. Join forces with those in your city, state and across the country who feel the same way about a certain issue and share the load in pursuit of your goal. Not only will you be less tired, you will benefit from the gift of relationship. Connect with experts at the local, state and national levels. There are people who focus their efforts five days a week and eight hours a day on your issue. Find out who they are and learn from them. Collaboration is a must when it comes to advocacy.
Get Over Yourself
This one is important, so there will be no beating around the bush…Stop being offended by the one or two things an advocacy partner stands for that you disagree with and focus on that which you do agree upon in order to meet your advocacy goal. So many would-be advocates walk away from the work because they could not get past a difference in opinion or a perspective that varied from their own. We will never transform our communities unless we can learn to work with those who believe differently than we do. Sometimes we have to suck it up and focus on what is at stake.
Not long ago, I listened to the personal narrative of a mother who shared that she recently apologized to her grown children. “For years,” she said, “I did not use my voice in ways that could have made a difference. I recognize now that I have not always been committed to fervently expressing my views to local, state and federal leaders in order to create change. I did not set the kind of example I wanted to set for my children. No more! I am an advocate. I will live out my calling by using my voice to renew God’s world.”
Don’t wait. We can all be a part of transforming our communities today by participating in the work of faith-based advocacy.
Rachel Gunter Shapard serves as the associate coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Florida.
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