Whether you are an experienced grassroots organizer, or are considering advocacy for the first time, as a Christian you belong to a long tradition of political advocacy. Many Christian teachings are political: they dictate how individuals and communities should behave, make decisions, relate to each other, and share life together. The Bible is full of examples of overtly political stances. For example, the equal treatment of immigrants: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, you shall not oppress the foreigner. The immigrant who resides with you shall be as the citizen among you… You shall have the same law for the immigrant as for the citizen” (Leviticus 19:33, 24:22). Such passages are overtly political because they affect the laws Christians should live by. Many of Jesus’ prophetic teachings were also political. He discussed everything from payment of taxes and distribution of wealth, to care for the poor. As such, it is completely appropriate for modern religious bodies to preach with a prophetic voice that both names God as the source of all salvation, and holds the secular government accountable in the service of the common good. The Church is uniquely poised as a moral, prophetic voice speaking truth to power.
How can you or your local congregation engage the political process to affect social change? As a citizen of the United States of America, you have every right to: vote, publicly demonstrate, submit opinion or editorial letters to your local newspaper, donate money to causes or candidates, and contact your representatives. As Christian citizens, we can lift up our best values while living out God’s call to love our neighbors through the democratic process. In the United Church of Christ we are guided by Scripture and the life of Christ. As such, we can demonstrate the role of spiritual and moral discipline in finding common ground for the greater good. As Christians, we can be examples of what civil discourse and engagement should look like. Be a voice for the voiceless, and a witness for justice through public advocacy.
Entire congregations can also legally engage in advocacy, and participate in the political process. An important portion of the tax code known as the “Johnson Amendment” prevents churches from becoming financially enmeshed in the partisan campaign process. Under terms of the 1954 legislation, churches and other nonprofit organizations cannot collect contributions on behalf of political campaigns, or make any statement for or against a particular candidate or party. Churches can legally hold nonpartisan voter education activities and voter registration drives. Pastors are free to preach on social and political issues of concern, and congregations can even publish “issue guides” for voters. Congregations simply cannot support specific candidates. In other words, under the Johnson Amendment, churches can be political but not partisan. This is an incredibly important distinction that still allows for meaningful advocacy.
If you are searching for advocacy opportunities on specific justice issues, I highly recommend the links below. If you or your congregation is in need of scripts for calling your local representative, example letters, or other advocacy resources, please contact the PSEC Justice & Witness Mission Team.
~ Rev. Leslie Mamas
Chair, PSEC Justice & Witness Mission Team
UCC Justice & Witness “Take Action”: http://www.ucc.org/join_the_network
PA Council of Churches advocacy opportunities: https://www.pachurches.org/advocacy/