With politics dominating the headlines and the newscasts, I’ve been thinking about a meeting I had several years ago.
The community organizer from Portland was putting together a faith-based coalition, and he wanted to identify the key players in Salem. SLF is always willing to help, especially when the topic is churches serving neighbors in need. We chatted. We shared stories. It was affirmed that Salem-Keizer is ahead of the curve when it comes to ‘church and state’ working together. I also learned that the spectrum (Mainline, Evangelical, Catholic) of churches who are working restore shalom (peace and well-being) here is much broader and deeper than most communities.
Suddenly, he jolted me with a question: “What is SLF’s political agenda?” I told him about our Vision (Salem becomes healthiest community in Oregon) and our Mission (people-of-faith and people-of-goodwill collaborating). “That’s great,” he said, “but what’s your political agenda?”
I explained that we have strong working relationships with elected officials and government agencies. Still, he persisted. “How many activists do you deploy to galvanize the grassroots? How many marches have you organized at the Capitol? How much legislation have you formulated with lawmakers?” Um, none, I answered haltingly. “Then how can you have any influence?” he asked. “How can you help the poor if you don’t have a political agenda?”
Part of me was getting defensive … and the other part was starting to feel guilty that maybe SLF was ineffective. Lord, do we have such an agenda? Are we too timid? Should we . . . a phrase blurted out of me. “SLF’s job is to help people practice, then preach.” Both of us were caught off guard. “You mean you help people ‘practice what they preach,’” he said. Hmm … no, I replied, beginning to understand it myself. SLF doesn’t ask people to shout a slogan or carry a sign because we rallied them to a cause. Too often folks are incited to action without really knowing the people for whom they claim to advocate. Do we really know the hungry child? The addicted teen? The immigrant family? Do we know their pain; or their dreams? Do we rally and write letters one minute, and go back to our comfort zones the next?
SLF’s simple strategy is to encourage churches and equip people to put their faith into action. To go beyond mere charity (food, blankets, tents) and develop deep, walk-along relationships with the hungry, the pregnant, the abused, the addicted, the immigrant, the homeless. Just as Jesus asks.
We’re confident that neighbors-helping-neighbors will see the needs, and the challenges, and the pain. And from that personal experience, their opinions and passions—and politics—will emerge. During this season of too many slurs and slogans, may we all practice … and then preach … Good News.