The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Office of Public Witness only has a small staff, so when it advocates on international public policy issues, it often relies on alliances within the ecumenical community or with nongovernmental organizations. “The more like-minded people we can gather together to advocate, the stronger we are,” said Catherine Gordon, the office’s associate for international issues.
She provided some coaching tips during a Big Tent 2015 workshop July 31 on how Presbyterians at the grassroots can get involved. Among questions for them to consider:
What are our values?
Presbyterians often work to uphold biblical values of justice, fairness and care for the least.
What are our chances of success?
“Can we have an impact?’ Gordon asked. “Can we as a church really effect change?” Presbyterians also want to remain faithful to the work they’re called to do – which sometimes may mean persisting in working for what’s right even when political forces align against it.
Do we have credibility?
On issues such as the impact of trade policies, the PC(USA) is in communication with its partner churches around the world to assess the impact on the ground. Because of those connections, “we are very credible, and people listen to us,” Gordon said. In trying to persuade members of Congress, “your power comes from being a constituent. You don’t have to be an expert . . . You don’t have to have a Ph. D. in the subject, but your information needs to be correct and true.”
What are the risks?
In advocating on international issues, the PC(USA) World Mission staff consults their international partners to make sure actions being considered won’t put the partners at risk. The partners “often give us the messages,” said Debbie Braaksma, the denomination’s area coordinator for Africa – presenting concerns on which they encourage the PC(USA) to push for change.
Gordon suggested that advocates present messages that are clear and concise; that when possible are tied to upcoming events; and which don’t just present concerns to policy makers, “but give something concrete they can do.”
She also encouraged advocates to keep the faith. “You never know when your efforts will effect change,” Gordon said. “It’s good to have faith.”