March 1, 2021
By Aaron Weaver
DECATUR, Ga. — Fellowship Southwest announced Feb. 22 the election of Stephen Reeves, who serves as CBF associate coordinator of advocacy and partnerships, to succeed Marv Knox as executive director of the ecumenical network formed in 2017.
Read more about Reeves’ election here.
In addition to his leadership of Fellowship Southwest, Reeves will continue to direct CBF’s advocacy work. Additionally, John Mark Boes, who serves on the CBF staff as an advocacy specialist working alongside Reeves since 2017, has been promoted to the position of Advocacy Engagement and Programs Manager, a new role which will give him more responsibility for the day-to-day management of CBF’s advocacy work.
Boes will work toward closer engagement with congregations and CBF state and regional organizations, and also coordinate Advocacy in Action and other virtual and in-person events related to CBF Advocacy. He will continue to focus on the intersection of advocacy and global missions, with a particular emphasis on field personnel and Encourager Churches. He is a graduate of Georgetown College and Emory University’s Candler School of Theology (Master of Divinity).
Below is an interview with Reeves and Boes about their new roles and what lies ahead for CBF Advocacy.
Stephen, with your new position as Executive Director of Fellowship Southwest, will you share about your continued role leading CBF’s advocacy ministry?
Stephen Reeves: I’m excited about the challenge of leading Fellowship Southwest and I’m convinced our unique partnership with CBF Global will be mutually beneficial. I’ll continue giving strategic direction to our advocacy efforts and will represent CBF in our national policy work.
Our congregational education programming is poised for significant growth as is our work with CBF states and regions.
I’m also excited about the level of intentional investment by CBF towards racial justice through the McCall Justice and Leadership Initiative. I will continue working alongside Rev. Kasey Jones in these efforts that seek to address historic systemic injustice.
You joined the CBF staff in late 2013 to help launch the Fellowship’s formal advocacy work. What have been some highlights over the past 7 years?
SR: First, I’m so pleased that in a very difficult political and cultural moment, our vision for Christian advocacy has caught on among so many CBF churches, pastors and supporters. I’m grateful that they have embraced this ministry of public witness. I believe CBF folks understand that advocacy is not about partisan politics, but is an outgrowth of our mission commitments and another a way to love our neighbors by being good stewards of our own voice and influence.
We have folks who are connecting to BJC and Bread for The World and there are pastors and field personnel like Scott Stearman and Shane McNary who have been advocates at the United Nations through the Baptist World Alliance. Several CBF states and regions such as Florida, Heartland, Virginia and Arkansas and, of course, Fellowship Southwest, are also encouraging advocacy at the state level. CBF folks have been incredible advocates in support of public education. This includes longtime field personnel Angel Pittman who has recently embraced educational advocacy as her full-time calling. The Pastors for Children network which started with former CBF pastor Charlie Johnson in Texas has now spread to several states thanks to leadership from other CBF folks like Rachel Gunter-Shapard in Florida, Lucas Dorion in Alabama and Sharon Felton in Kentucky.
The work of Elket Rodriquez, Marv Knox and Jorge Zapata in ministering to and telling the stories of immigrants on our border through Fellowship Southwest and CBF Texas has been a powerful form of advocacy. Our Advocacy Action Team for Immigrants and Refugees has given visibility to these issues, telling the stories of DACA recipients and refugees, thanks to Anyra Cano, Greg and Sue Smith and Marc and Kim Wyatt.
I’m proud that thousands of CBF folks made comments to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in support of predatory lending reform. Several hundred folks have joined us for our Advocacy in Action conference to strengthen their advocacy skills and knowledge. CBF is now represented in numerous national coalitions like Faith for Just Lending, the Evangelical Immigration Table and the Circle of Protection. Prior to 2013. we were not recognized as a national religious organization engaged in advocacy. We’re now at the table. I believe in fewer than eight years, advocacy transitioned from something CBF didn’t do, to something we’re known for and that we do well.
How has COVID-19 impacted and shaped the direction of CBF’s advocacy work during the past year?
SR: While it has certainly been a challenge, it has also created opportunities. This past summer, we published The Mission of Advocacy: A Toolkit for Congregations. While we could not hold our in-person advocacy training seminars at churches across the country in the fall, we tried to take full advantage of our online CBF Conversations series in partnership with CBF Communications. We offered a series based on the book that explores advocacy in the local church. We offered several conversations about immigration-related issues and one describing how churches might offer a rescue loan ministry to help those struggling with debt due to payday loans. At my last count, those programs had been viewed nearly 35,000 times.
The pandemic itself offered an opportunity for advocacy. Since this summer, CBF has been more closely involved with a very broad coalition of national Christian organizations called Circle of Protection. Through that coalition, we signed several letters to Congress asking for relief for our most vulnerable and impacted population. I participated in numerous virtual lobby visits with elected officials and their staff in Washington.
Finally, following the tragic murder of Ahmad Arbury, we partnered with CBF Georgia to engage, educate and encourage CBF advocates in this state to call for a hate crimes bill. That bill has now become law. Many of our folks were engaged because of our promotion of the need and opportunity.
Here in March 2021, what does the future of CBF Advocacy look like? What’s next?
SR: CBF Advocacy is poised for continued growth. With the publication of The Mission of Advocacy, our work in encouraging and equipping congregations for integrating advocacy into their ministry will expand.
This will be a focus for John Mark Boes. I’m so grateful that after his years of service to CBF, he is stepping up into more leadership roles following this transition.
I’m hopeful about the current political landscape as it relates to our two key issues of predatory lending and reform of immigration and refugee policy. Our work over the past seven years has positioned us as a national faith community ready to play a key role in this progress.
I was delighted to see President Biden name Melissa Rogers as executive director of the reconstituted White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. She will also have a role on the Domestic Policy Council. Melissa is a good friend who knows CBF well and is very familiar with our advocacy efforts. I hope that this means our perspectives will be invited, considered and appreciated. I’m certain that immigration reform will be a major focus of this congress and administration. I’m also confident that our collective voices for compassionate, comprehensive reform can make a difference.
John Mark, you are now serving as Advocacy Engagement and Programs Manager for CBF. Please share a little about yourself.
John Mark Boes: As the son of a Baptist pastor and teacher, I have always cared about the local church. Seeing poverty in my community growing up led me to ask how our church was working to help folks.
After graduating from Georgetown College, I moved to the metro Atlanta area and taught high school math as a corps member with Teach for America where I was exposed to a new understanding of systemic injustice and how people of faith could speak to the need for real change. My calling and passion for advocacy come from consistently asking what our churches can do and from my own experiences seeing systemic injustice firsthand.
Our congregations can be great avenues for systemic change in a broken yet hopeful world. Advocacy is a natural outgrowth of our calling to build the kingdom of God. I am excited to find ways to connect this work to the good work our congregations are already doing in their local communities. Even more so, I feel called to help congregations find ways to connect their mission work, a hallmark of many CBF churches, and the work of public witness. I firmly believe that churches offer a hopeful voice to the marginalized and oppressed in the midst of a world that seems without hope.
You’re certainly not new to CBF Advocacy. What has been your work focus during your time serving CBF Advocacy?
JMB: I began at CBF in a part-time capacity in the fall of 2014 when I was a first-year student at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. After graduating in 2017, I became full time. Much of my work has been facilitating and guiding advocacy efforts for CBF.
Assisting with the production of CBF’s Rescue Loan Ministry Resource has been a real highlight of my work. This resource lives directly at the intersection of advocacy and our call to mission work. I was able to tell the story of congregations in CBF life who saw a need in their communities which they could help solve. This is now a resource for other congregations who are searching for ways to build the kingdom of God as they care for the oppressed and marginalized.
With this elevated responsibility, what will your work look like? What are you most excited about?
JMB: The focus of CBF Advocacy will always be on helping congregations advocate for the marginalized and neglected in their communities. While congregations might not view advocacy as their forte, the unique moral voice of our congregations means that we must continue to lift these voices up. Now is the time for a renewed focus on engaging congregations in the work of advocacy. The interconnectedness of our advocacy work and our Global Missions work is primary evidence for this need.
Congregations can and should be a positive faith voice for policies that embody the person and work of Jesus Christ. When we enter into a post-pandemic world, we will be confronted with the need for our congregations to speak and act for those whose voices are not being heard. We will need to make sure our voice amplifies their voices.
Now is the time to work more deeply with our state and regional organizations. Now is the time to seek out and uplift more diverse voices throughout our beloved Fellowship. The work of building the kingdom of God needs all of us. And the work of caring for those whom Jesus calls “the least of these” needs the work of advocacy now more than ever.
Thanks to you both, Stephen and John Mark.
CBF is a Christian network that helps people put their faith to practice through ministry efforts, global missions and a broad community of support. The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.