The Fine Line Between Advocacy & Politics

A fascinating conversation took place between a drug rep, a government affairs person, and myself.  We were discussing how to further legislative advocacy amongst a specific patient population.  There were many frustrations that arose.  But the truly intriguing part was that we all identified seeing organizations that are supposed to be patient advocacy groups becoming entrenched politically, rather than truly working diplomatically on behalf of their population.  That would almost transform these non-profits unwittingly into political action committees.  And that is very dangerous territory for a 501(c)(3) organization to be treading indeed.

Looking back to last year at this time (see my post “God of the Few?”), I detailed for readers my history of legislative advocacy outside of our ministry.  Because of that work, I can see pot holes, that many ministries need to avoid.  I would like to share with you some bullet points to aid your organization along the way:

  • As one of my pastors, Mac McCarthy put it recently, “Jesus isn’t pro-everyTHING, but He IS pro-everyONE.”  In your work, it will stretch and grow you personally if you remember that Jesus loves and came to save that very person who might be a challenge in your advocacy.  Use gracious language on your ministry websites and ministry postings rather than getting people charged up with fear and un-holy anger.
  • On the flip side, it is okay to have a personal opinion on topics.  People who know me, know I have a strong position and political view.  However, they also know that I will speak respectfully to people of a different position.  I am unafraid to challenge ideas that oppose mine, for the most part, because I realize that when I discuss issues with those of a different view, I can do so lovingly.  If they still choose to be angry or abusive in their speech to me, I know that if people were unkind to the Savior of the Universe, they’re surely going to take more than a few swipes at me.
  • Be a good-finder.  While I know many of you will smirk at this comment, Jesus was neither a Republican nor a Democrat.  There is no perfect political party.  Humans are depraved and sinful, and that’s why we need a Savior.  That being said, there can be good and bad agendas in each political party.  Try to find common ground, encouraging the good points.  Democrats do not have the corner on the market for compassion, and Republicans do not have a corner on the market for responsibility.  In Christian ministry, we should be encouraging positions in favor of life, humane safety nets, and respectful treatment of those dealing with special needs.
  • Position your ministry to provide solutions.  Government programs, specific lawmakers, and even public policies are not the answer to our challenges in this life.  Jesus is!  Social behavior will not change until hearts change.  Remember that God tells us in 2 Corinthians 9:7, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (NIV)  We, in ministry, are in a position to work one-by-one to change the general view of Christians towards those who are marginalized.  When we change their view, they become cheerful givers rather than those under compulsion.  By providing charitable programs and church ministries that “stand in the gap” left by a godless world, we shine the light of Jesus and model for others the transformational life He alone can give.  When we align ourselves with only one political view, our light is far more dim.
  • Inevitably, if it becomes obvious to others that you are aligning yourself with only one party, you will only reach half the people Jesus intends you to reach.  While it is good to say, “We are solidly for life,” we must still make it known that we won’t let that position become an obstacle in loving and serving a person.  While it should be obvious that we are champions of inclusion, accessibility and emergency assistance, if we appear to be in the pocket of liberal politicians, the generous souls who have a heart for those same things, but are more conservative, may close their wallets, stop their volunteering or prayer support, and walk away.

These are just the highlights of a topic that needs to be taken seriously by those of us in non-profit Christian ministry.  We are given a high privilege and unique position to serve.  We must be disciplined in our focus on what Jesus cares about rather than projecting what our own opinions.  Everything must be run through the filter of God’s Word and prayer.  We must be willing to work with everyone and reach everyone.  Otherwise, we are ultimately self-driven and not Christ-driven.

*For a biblical view on this topic, please view the 3/4/12 broadcast of “Catch 22:  Barriers” by Pastor Mac McCarthy.

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