June 19, 2015
By Elizabeth Starr
DALLAS – The 2015 Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly continued Friday with an afternoon full of a diverse workshops, including one on Christian advocacy in congregations led by Stephen Reeves, CBF’s associate coordinator of partnerships and advocacy and Katie Ferguson Murray, who serves as Christian advocacy specialist for Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas.
With pastors and other ministers in attendance, Murray and Reeves discussed approaches for easing a reluctant congregation into conversations about public policy.
“I think it’s important to be sensitive to people in your congregation who might be a little nervous about the word ‘advocate’,” Murray said.
“CBF Baptists know, understand and love religious liberty and the separation of church and state, and we should not let that silence our voice,” Reeves said. “You can love separation of church and state, but you can also talk about important things at church that might have political implications.”
When discussing reasons that pastoral staff should consider providing platforms for advocacy in their churches, Reeves cited the general idea of missions.
“CBF folks understand compassion, missions and charity. I see [advocacy] as an example of that,” Reeves said. “The best advocacy is loving neighbors in the community, and loving them means you use your voice on their behalf.”
Reeves and Murray took turns describing methods to use and those from which to refrain when becoming involved in Christian advocacy. Pastors were advised to partner with other organizations, such as coalitions and nonprofits, in which congregants reveal a passion or vested interest. Often, Reeves explained, pastors need only to their own congregants for expertise.
“You have experts among you who can lead to good, informed advocacy work, and you may not even be thinking about them in that way at this point,” Reeves said.
Murray and Reeves encouraged the audience to educate themselves about current events in the community by meeting with public officials, attending meetings of local coalitions and being in conversation with members who attended their churches for reasons of benevolence.
“What was really great about [visiting nonprofit and coalition meetings] was the response from nonprofits I would get, who would say, ‘Wow, it’s so great to see a church here!’” Murray said. “That really opened my eyes to the fact that we’ve been missing an opportunity to engage our community in that way.”
Murray outlined Wilshire Baptist’s three-year partnership with CBF, as the two organizations create a plan for creating a model of congregational advocacy. The plan evolved following establishment of the church’s strategic planning initiative in 2013, Vision 2020, in which Wilshire set congregational goals for the next 7 years.
“Part of what we heard from the congregation was a desire to continue in our development and understanding the mission of God, and looking at advocacy and justice as part of that equation,” Murray said. “We felt like this was an area in which we needed to spend some intentional time.”
Debunking the church’s misconception that public policy must be connected with partisan politics, Reeves discouraged pastors from pushing their own agendas when engaging congregants in advocacy.
“Do not start with politics,” Reeves said. “Our churches are uniquely bipartisan, and I think knowing that and having a sensitivity to that is how CBF can be really good at this work.”
Both Murray and Reeves emphasized the church’s specific opportunity for successful advocacy, made possible by the passions and interests of congregants themselves.
“We have an opportunity in this democracy to speak out in effective ways, and we can’t neglect that,” Reeves said. “You have the ability to develop an identity as a church that speaks out on behalf of people.”
To keep up with news, photos and videos from the 2015 CBF General Assembly in Dallas, Texas, please visit www.cbf.net/Dallas2015.