How to Talk Faith and Politics with Congress
Our advocacy is rooted in the conviction that a better world is possible. As people of faith and conscience, we bring our deeply held beliefs into our work for policy change, and we know how important and powerful it can be to frame our advocacy in the language of our faith.
On February 18, I spoke on a panel for the Democratic Faith Working Group–led by House Majority Whip James Clyburn’s (SC-06) office – about how members of Congress and faith communities across the country can better engage in important dialogue around faith and politics.
The panel was moderated by two congressional staff members who are ordained ministers: Kendra Brown, chief of staff for Rep. G.K. Butterfield (NC-01), and Moyer McCoy, professional staff on the House Ways and Means Committee. I was joined by fellow panelists Maggie Siddiqi, the director of the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress, Rev. Dr. Leslie Copeland Tune, the chief operating officer at the National Council of Churches, and Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block, the Washington director of Bend the Arc Jewish Action.
The panelists spoke about how our faith informs our advocacy and drives us to work for justice. We discussed how Congressional staff can talk and work with faith communities, and how advocates can bring their full selves—including their faith and morals—into their advocacy work.
I shared five tips for talking faith on behalf of yourself or others, and I wanted to share them with you too!
Five Tips for Bringing your Faith into Your Advocacy
Be authentic! The most important thing is to do what feels natural. That might mean quoting lots of Scripture, but it might also mean speaking in plainer language, like “My faith teaches that all people have inherent dignity.”
Keep it personal. Especially when working with partners or legislators whose faith beliefs differ from yours, allowing moments of vulnerability and personal reflection can go a long way. It’s okay to be out of your element. Asking questions when things are unfamiliar can help. At the same time, do your homework beforehand and be open minded!
Do not use Scripture quotes out of context. Avoid the tendency to just Google search for a passage that seems to fit. And, be intentional about how others might perceive your quote. One example: Christians frequently use “Welcome the stranger” when talking about immigration, but it can be polarizing since the reality is that immigrants are vital parts of our communities and aren’t strangers.
Avoid the temptation to counter Scripture with Scripture (especially if it’s not where you are most comfortable). It’s easy to think that you can just counter a differing opinion with another Scripture quote. It might work if you are comfortable quoting Scripture frequently, but it can fall flat if not.
Recognize that we can talk about faith, but we are a nation that has separation of church and state. A faith tradition might be one person or group’s specific framing, and that’s great! But as people who live in the United States, we come together in the Constitution and in shared values that go beyond faith teaching. Be open to ways that faith and patriotism can mix, but be mindful of how that can be a slippery slope into Christian exceptionalism in the U.S.