The 2012 Election is behind us. Now the question remains: whether as an active citizen or a professional activist, how then should we advocate for the things we care about after any election result? I’ve written about much of this before but wanted to get some additional thoughts off my chest for my own benefit if nothing else.
First, what is advocacy and activism? Issue advocacy and activism can include writing a letter to your legislator, showing up for an event at the Capitol, running for office, posting political opinions on Facebook or Twitter, lobbying, writing letters to the editor, walking in parades for candidates, or discussing politics at a friend’s house over dinner.
If you are a Christ-follower and looking to contribute to a political organization or considering getting involved in any way, here are the top five things you must keep in mind in order to be a good advocate:
1. Be Circumspect.
Definition: “CIRCUMSPECT, a. Literally, looking on all sides; looking round. Hence, cautious; prudent; watchful on all sides; examining carefully all the circumstances that may affect a determination, or a measure to be adopted.”
Proverbs 22:3 – “The prudent sees the evil and hides himself, but the naive go on, and are punished for it.”
Ephesians 5:15 – “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise…”
There is always more than one way to skin a cat. Human nature and human personality is infinitely variable. The Scriptures command us to be wise and circumspect because not every scenario is spelled out for us. He doesn’t frequently direct us audibly. Too often believers base their advocacy on how they feel, their frustration with “the system,” or misguided theology. Just because someone waxes Biblical…doesn’t mean they are wise. There are pastors with high IQs and endless passion that are fools, at least when advocating in the political or public policy arenas. The Pharisees could talk circles around the disciples, quoting The Law and using big words. The disciples learned to be circumspect. Most of the Scribes (the lawyers of the day) and Pharisees were fools.
2. Pursue the fruits of the Spirit.
Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…”
The number one thing most of us struggle with is ensuring that we are known for these nine visible characteristics of a spirit-filled life. If I had a dollar for every time I failed, especially at the Capitol, to demonstrate these characteristics I’d be a millionaire. I believe, however, that most who know me or watch me at work know that I try. Too many evangelical advocates have fallen into the trap of believing that the new gold standard in life and politics is to be more aggressive than the opposition. They try to get a bigger crowd, a louder crowd, and they choose positions and strategies least likely to advance the cause proclaiming everyone else the fool. They slander fellow believers, making sure everyone who will hear knows that everyone else is not pro-life enough, conservative enough, smart enough, etc., etc. They inevitably imply that anyone who disagrees lacks conviction. They are usually poor strategists and lack message discipline because “I just get so mad…” (lack of self control).
Gentleness (also known as meekness) and self control are replaced with unbridled passion and indignation. They may feel they love others but they are seen most frequently by their enemies as haters. They have little patience with anyone who disagrees and they verbally chastise those who pursue peace as compromising weaklings. They look at Scriptures that command we live peaceably with men (as much as is up to us), respect authority, be wise, and love our neighbor and justify their lack of love and humility with arguments like: “…except on this issue! Lives are on the line!” or “Jesus turned over tables in the Temple…” To which I’d like to answer: “Are you sure you are ‘turning over tables’ in the right building?”
3. Love your brother and your neighbor.
As I wrote in my previous post about Christians in politics, what good is it if we speak the Truth to power, but sound like a clanging symbol? What good is it if we challenge authority and culture but do not honor the King? Jesus summed up the Law by telling us to love God and love our neighbor. Is any political battle, any issue, any vote, or even earthly life itself worth dishonoring God by not loving our neighbor and our brother? The lion’s share of people who work at the Capitol, as activists or concerned citizens, engage because they honestly believe in something. They know they are right on the issue. Whether advocating for gay marriage, against gay marriage, for the death penalty or against the death penalty…higher taxes or lower taxes…everyone thinks they are right. It’s not enough. We must be known for our love for one another as believers, as people who love our neighbors, and who love God more than any issue, bill, election, or vote.
Those without a relationship with their Creator often turn government into an idol. It’s their church and the Capitol is their cathedral. They, often subconsciously, believe that we have to figure out how to govern ourselves – it’s their only hope! Too often we act no differently. If God is sovereign and loving Him and others is the most important thing we can do, why do we hope in government so much? Why do we lose ourselves in the process or lead people to believe that our spiritual and cultural problems will be solved in the halls of civil authority? I believe that my job is to love Him, love you, tell the Truth, and work hard. The results are up to Him! He gives and takes away! He is the author of life, the ultimate King, and the Beginning and the End! We can’t afford to lose perspective!
4. Be diligent.
People get frustrated with politics and public policy work because they think they are going to go up to the Capitol and make a difference…today. It takes time. Sometimes many years. If you aren’t in it for the long haul, find another way to get involved. Write checks, pray, show up for rallies or events, etc. Public policy is about relationships and time. The reason why we lose political battles as believers is because we lack patience and fail to exercise the gifts of the Spirit. We also need to keep score differently than those who aren’t believers. Many times, my efforts are much more worthwhile if someone sees Him in me than if I score political points or even successfully shepherd a good bill through the process.
5. Get professional help.
The number one thing individuals, corporations, or organizations can do to be effective is to get a professional lobbyist and/or a good grassroots advocate to work for you. Organize, develop a coherent strategy, work on sustainable funding, and get to work! You will likely be successful if you work hard with like-minded people while setting reasonable expectations! Better yet, join a reputable organization and dive in with them! Why reinvent the wheel and divide your influence?!
The biggest trick is vetting organizations to make sure they are a good place to invest your time and money. Do they, as an organization, reflect the same values you do? Do they fit the same criteria mentioned above? Do they err on the side of being loving and self-controlled (meek) or loud and angry? Do they resort to name-calling or are they relationship builders?
In addition to the things you must do, here are the top five things you should never do while advocating on an issue at the State Capitol:
1. Yelling. Never form or be a part of a gauntlet of supporters anywhere in the Capitol shouting things like “Let Us Vote!” or “BOOOOO!” as elected officials walk by. I don’t care if it’s the Governor’s Condition of the State speech or you just want to harass every employee, lobbyist, legislator, and citizen in the building by repeatedly handing the same person multiple versions of the same flyer. You leave feeling active and sanctimonious. Everyone else thinks you are a jerk and dismisses you and your issue. ICCI, traditional marriage advocates, unions, and many others are guilty of this. It’s tacky and ineffective. It doesn’t represent Biblical values. Don’t do it. Stick to passionate speeches, clapping, and shaking hands. It works.
2. Stunts. Don’t dress in funeral attire, wear black veils, and walk around the rotunda holding signs as if you are in a funeral procession for a Amish panhandler. It’s weird. The same group comes up each year and does this. No one will remember why you were there. They’ll just have photos on their phone of some weirdos. Same goes for any other stunt. It’s one thing to bring Ronald McDonald or a sports Mascot up. I even got a kick out of the florescent lightbulb outfit some power company brought up last year. It fit and was memorably fun. If you can afford to feed the Capitol building lunch, you are a hero. Avoid being weird and avoid stunts; that’s all.
3. Let your freak hang out. If you are advocating for a very niche issue or your issue tends to attract eccentric people, make sure you have at least an equal number of “normal” looking people in your group. You don’t look “diverse” and “passionate” when no one in your group looks like they respect the building or the elected offices they are trying to influence. When in Rome…
4. Bring your vices. Never spit out your chew into a cup whilst speaking to a group of policymakers or lobbyists. It’s happened. I was amused…but I don’t remember what the guy was talking about. I only remember he was tacky and amusing. Keep it classy.
5. Caffeinate your kids. Don’t bring children that are poorly disciplined to the Capitol. If your kid lacks self control – you do your cause a disservice by bringing him/her to the Capitol. If your kid is “free-spirited,” he or she had better be overwhelmingly adorable and extraordinarily bright to make up for it. Do you think the average legislator wants to listen to you long enough to get your point across if you have undisciplined children in tow? Just askin’…
If you keep these things in mind, you are light-years ahead of many people getting started as activists. If you understand that Christians in politics can advocate well if they reflect Biblical values, vet organizations well before supporting them, and keep in mind your message and the basic principles of government; you’ll be a great ambassador for your issues and your Faith. If you see me drop the ball on one or more of these things – call me on it – I can take it and would appreciate it.