Happy New Year, Dear Friends! And a Blessed Epiphany to you all!
I had every intention of sending out blogs over the last few weeks. I packed my computer for the holidays and was all set. I even had topics that I wanted to share with you all. Once exams ended at the college and I said “Goodbye; see you next year!” to all the residents of my dorm, I headed off to Grand Rapids to spend Christmas with my family. One quiet morning, I sat down with my computer to write the blog only to find that my college-owned computer would not connect to the internet at my son’s home. Some security measure prevented me from having any access to what I needed to complete the task. While I am so sorry not to have been in touch with you and sorry I could not share news of important actions, I was also delighted to have time with my children and 6 sweet granddaughters. I hope that your celebrations of Christmas and the birth of our Lord were a blessing to you and your family! With a brand new year upon us, it’s time to get back to work.
Off and on over the last 20 months during the session of the 115th Congress, the Nuts and Bolts Blog has shared important action items from The Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations’ initiative “For Such a Time as This.” These monthly reminders asked us to join together to #PrayFastAct as advocates for those facing the pain and challenge of poverty. As of last Thursday, we have a new Congress in place so it’s time to move on but before we go, the Rev. Amy E. Reumann, ELCA Director of Advocacy, and Rebecca Linder Blachly, Office of Government Relations, have a thank you message to share.
The Episcopal Public Policy Network (EPPN) reported:
For the past 20 months, we joined together to #PrayFastAct. We prayed for those who are living in or at the edge of poverty. We fasted, reminding ourselves of what it feels like to go without. And we acted – calling and writing members of Congress to say that poverty matters to us, that we must not forget the most vulnerable among us.
We also joined together to look beyond the headlines, to consider the challenges that millions face every day, regardless of whether their particular stories are trending. We were encouraged by our engagement in advocacy with the goal of affecting long-term outcomes, committing to advocacy as a practice of relationship-building with our elected officials, so we can more deeply share the issues that matter to us.
For the past 20 months we have highlighted various dimensions of poverty – recognizing that low-income communities aren’t always guaranteed safe drinking water, reminding ourselves of the particular challenges veterans face, and lifting up the programs that help people to navigate times of uncertainty due to health issues or temporary unemployment. We highlighted the importance of the social safety net, Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. We addressed disaster preparedness, economic opportunity initiatives, and infrastructure. We asked for you to urge further investment in women and girls, and we focused on the importance of protecting indigenous people.
As the myriad issues above indicate, it is daunting to tackle a challenge as varied, complex, and far-reaching as poverty, and it can be hard to know how to engage most effectively. We hope that this campaign helped you to draw connections – seeing how the tangible ministries of our churches are influenced by broader structural and systemic issues. We aim for these vital ministries of direct outreach to be bolstered by fervent, persistent prayer, by the solidarity and spiritual practice of fasting, and by recognizing the role that advocacy can play in creating change.
We strive to keep you informed about legislation even when it’s complicated, to keep the spotlight on issues even when more dramatic news stays on the front pages. We can help to provide context and background. And we ask for you to stay engaged with us – so that we can help shape and influence legislation and policy initiatives before a crisis hits. The more informed we are, the more challenging it will be to distract us from the key issues – from the appropriations processes that determine how much funding will go to support hungry kids who need school lunches, or to foreign assistance programs that aim to relieve famine in Yemen.
We thank you again for staying with us through this campaign – even when other issues called for our attention and energy. Thank you for focusing on the quiet needs of families who are struggling, who rely on a social safety net to help them through times of transition. Thank you for taking action not just from a place of reactivity, but from a prayerful and contemplative place.
We kept up this campaign in hopes of building up our discipline to advocate for the least of these, to speak out for the rights of all, to really think about the long-term decision making in our government and our need—our obligation—to be involved in that process. For Such a Time is about preparing for the next time.
For the next time is upon us already, as the 115th Congress comes to an end, and a new Congress begins in January. Commit to diving deeper in advocacy with us as we approach this new Congressional session, learn about an issue you’re less familiar with, and join us in speaking out with those in poverty, those in need, those facing oppression or living in fear. Approach this advocacy with the long term, strategic mindset explored in the For Such a Time campaign.
Finally, as we’re asking this commitment of you, we also want to make a commitment to you to continue raising the standard of our advocacy tools, educational materials, and opportunities for action throughout 2019. We’re excited and ready to engage the 116th Congress, and we hope you join us and introduce a few new friends to the ministry of policy advocacy.
EPPN shared some final updates of the 115th US Congress:
The House and Senate just passed the Farm Bill that maintains the protections for the vulnerable and hungry that you have been advocating for!
This is a significant victory to prevent incredibly harmful changes that were proposed in previous versions. Through the For Such a Time campaign to #PrayFastAct, the Episcopal Church and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have highlighted the critical role food assistance plays in uplifting hungry, working families.
Your calls and emails on this issue made a difference.
Thanks to you and millions of other people of faith and good conscience, the SNAP program, and the families it feeds, have been protected. While we have protected these families from harmful policy changes in the short-term, we still must work to overhaul federal education, training, and job-creation programs that are not providing people with the skills they need to work their way to the American Dream in the long-term.
In the weeks ahead, there remain a number of issues that are developing and changing quickly:
Criminal justice reform: Following years of behind-the-scenes work and negotiations, a modest bill emerged last week. The Office of Government Relations, the Presiding Bishop, and ecumenical partners have been supportive of these bipartisan negotiations. While they have not produced our ideal bill, they have made good faith efforts to improve an unjust system and represent the compromise and bipartisanship all of the challenges we face require.
As we await a new version of and amendments to the bill, we are prepared to evaluate whether we can continue to support it.
Johnson Amendment: In November 2017, the Office of Government Relations issued an alert that there were efforts to repeal a law that protects churches from political interference. Efforts to tear down this barrier between electoral politics and houses of worship are active again. We continue to oppose changes to the current law and strongly believe electoral politics should not be allowed in the pulpit.
We encourage you to review our previous alert on this issue.
Government funding: There is a deep divide between the White House, Congress, and the two parties over funding for many government agencies. The dispute is over what level of funding to provide for a physical wall on the southern border. This standoff is concerning for many reasons, including:
– A failure to fund the government would leave hundreds of thousands of government employees, including law enforcement and emergency services, without pay at Christmas.
– The increased militarization at the southern border and continued hostility toward those seeking asylum in the United States is at odds with federal law and Christian teaching.
We ask you to continue following The Office of Government Relations through our social media and grassroots network, the Episcopal Public Policy Network, for updates on these issues. And, in addition to calling and writing your legislators, to pray that they may be guided by civility and justice.
It’s pretty evident that this was written before the government shutdown began – and it’s certainly my prayer that the shutdown will end before this blog is published. We already know that hundreds of thousands of individuals have gone through this holiday season without income for their rents, their monthly bills and money to buy gifts for their families and friends. If you haven’t already, please contact your legislators and let them know that this shutdown must end even while the parties involved negotiate their differences.
We all know that one of the issues for the Administration is a border wall designed to keep others out. In the process of reinforcing our border security, as a nation we have seemed to forget that asylum seeking is legal and appropriate for those facing violence and persecution in their homeland. EPPN has prepared some good reference materials and has a “take action” page so that we might make our voices heard.
In response to the caravan of migrants approaching the border before the holidays, EPPN issued “Five Things We Need to Know” so that we might be accurately informed. Last summer, the Office of Government Relations also put out an update, “Asylum and the Caravan” and shared important background information that we might be knowledgeable. Finally, you can speak out using EPPN’s “take action” link where you just insert your contact information and EPPN sends out the letter to your legislators for you. It couldn’t be easier!
We have this brand new year to make a difference in the lives of our brothers and sisters around the world and in our own backyard. Let’s start this week.
Let us pray…
O God, the fountain of wisdom, whose will is good and gracious, and whose law is truth: We beseech thee so to guide and bless our Senators and Representatives in Congress assembled, that they may enact such laws as shall please thee, to the glory of thy Name and the welfare of this people; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP p. 821)
Gracious Lord, in this new year, give us boldness and courage to speak out with your voice for those whose voices are silenced. May we work together to bring peace and safety to those whose lives have been in danger as we remember, Lord, that you knew first-hand the life of a refugee. In your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council