Advocating for Legal/Public Policy Changes

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Christian ministries are deeply involved in serving members of our society who need help. Their frontline service meets immediate needs, but they might also act as advocates to promote changes to public policy or the law that will alleviate the conditions that caused people to need help in the first place. The church has a long history of advocating for marginalized members of society and this post provides four advocacy option of escalating confrontation.

In addition to advocating on behalf of others, churches may need to deal with public policy or laws that directly affect the way they fulfill their mission as churches, such as happened during the COVID-19 pandemic. This post applies in this scenario as well.

Four Options for Advocacy 

The four options are:

  1. Comply either because you agree with the law/policy or want to show goodwill if you don’t.
  2. Consult with the appropriate authorities when they are agreeable to discussion.
  3. Challenge the authorities when they are not agreeable to discussion with either a protest or a legal challenge.
  4. Disobey the authorities when circumstances are so egregious and the authorities are so resistant that this is the only option.  

Indicators for Compliance

The starting point should always be to comply with government laws and regulations, as the New Testament is clear that Christians are to obey their governments, unless a particular government directive is deemed to be unjust. In that case, Christians can move directly to a more active step to change the law.

Christian ministries could choose to comply while at the same time either consulting with or challenging the authorities. The principle is to start with Comply, then move to Consult, Challenge, and Disobey in that order.

Indicators for Consultation

Consulting with people who have the power or the influence to bring about the change you want means that you are constructively working with them to problem-solve a solution that everyone can live with. This option is viable if:

  • You have goodwill because you are complying.
  • You have expertise and a fact-based proposal that will carry weight in the secular world.
  • You can reach people who can make a difference. This may be a politician, a policy analyst, or other person of influence who in turn has the ear of the person who can make the decision you want.

Indicators for Challenge

A challenge is more adversarial than consulting is. A legal challenge or peaceful protest creates a confrontation and is a little riskier because the outcome could reinforce the way things are, the very thing you are trying to change. But this is a good option if:

  • You have obtained legal advice that your challenge has reasonable grounds.
  • You can make a strong case for how the public will benefit from a win. 

Indicators for Disobedience

Virtually all defenders of civil disobedience (who see it as a basic right, even a duty) stress that a citizen should take this step only after all conventional channels for redress have been exhausted, because civil disobedience has potentially serious consequences. The indicators favouring civil disobedience are:

  • Just like the indicators favouring a challenge:
    • You have obtained legal advice that your defense has reasonable grounds.
    • You can make a strong case for how the public will benefit from a win (especially if the proposed change would benefit Christian churches or ministries).
  • You can disobey without using violence.
  • You are willing to accept the consequences.

There is a high likelihood of fines and possibly even jail time if you disobey the law, so know in advance what you are getting yourself and your team into.

If you choose to disobey, there is a “must read” guide published by The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada: an excellent primer on civil disobedience that includes a discussion on when civil disobedience is justified. Study this and make good use of it if civil disobedience is your choice.

Final Questions to Ask

Three questions to ask before selecting a response option may help confirm that it is the right choice for your ministry: 

  1. What is the lasting legacy we want to leave with the secular public when this is all over? 
  2. Will this response damage Jesus Christ’s reputation and that of the church? 
  3. Will this decision help us fulfill the church’s mission?

Concluding Thought

Deciding between the response options can be a weighty and difficult choice, but the Lord has promised to give us wisdom when we ask it of him (James 1:5).

Thoughts on  Advocating for Legal/Public Policy Changes

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