Initially, I was a bit hesitant in my outlook, thinking that this would just be a glorified tourist expedition under the heading of doing “real work” for the Fellowship. I mean, go to the White House and have someone with a high position actually sit down and listen to what we had to say? I thought: ‘Yep, it says we are going to be here for 2 hours, but I’m sure that we’ll really get 5 minutes and the rest of the time we’ll spend at the Smithsonian or something.’
As my friend Kollin and I made the early morning drive from Durham, N.C., we speculated as to what exactly we might do at this Advocacy in Action Conference. Neither of us had ever been to anything like this and didn’t fully know what to expect, but we were passionate about the issues that were being raised and wanted to see the words on the agenda come to life.
Having now had some time to sit back and reflect on the trip and what we accomplished, I realize now how wrong my initial assumptions were! This was really a great event, and I am incredibly glad that I was fortunate enough to participate in it!
To see CBF focus on issues that affect members and non-members of the church in a very real way then work with the people that can generate actual solutions in an attempt to tackle these problems in our society really encouraged me.
The other topics of our conversations were just as important and valid, but I know from seeing friends and family members first-hand that an issue like payday lending can start off as an innocent, one-time option and before you know it quickly spiral into a hole that the person thinks they may never escape from.
The thought had never entered into my head that this was something that the church could get involved with in terms of trying to help, but after hearing the way it was presented, it makes perfect sense.
When we were told that we would be given information to bring to our local members of Congress, my skepticism led me to believe that this would just be a quick tour of someone’s office and we would be rushed in and rushed out. And if it was going to be anything more than that, I have to confess that I was a bit on the nervous side. However, when it actually came time for this experience, I was pleasantly surprised again at just how wrong I was.
As myself, Kollin and the third member of the Duke Divinity crew, Molly, met with our local representative’s aide, it was really refreshing to hear him stop and engage with us, not just nod his head at everything — or if there was ever a point of difference completely shut us down and move on to a new topic. He wanted to hear what we had to say, and I believe it helped that we were coming across as not openly promoting some kind of agenda,wanting something for ourselves, but instead saying: “Here we are, here is where we stand on this issue and more importantly — how can we help you?”
This laid-back atmosphere really helped put me at ease and I believe it was a nice change of pace for him as well.
Overall, I think the conference was incredibly successful. Seeds were planted — not all of them may grow the way we want, but they have been planted nonetheless.
I am encouraged to be able to go back to my school and my church and say that the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is attempting to make real, tangible changes in these areas that can do such damage to our loved ones and our communities. It was just as inspiring to know that this change isn’t just limited to the small geographical area that my classmates and I represent, but instead there is an ever-growing group that was represented by a small number at this conference that wants the whole nation to be changed for the better! People came from a variety of places around the country to prove it!
I pray that CBF will continue to fight these crucial, important, good fights, and I look forward to being a part of the group fighting with them!
Rob Blackwood is a rising 3rd year Master of Divinity candidate at Duke Divinity School originally from Bradenton, Florida.