To lobby means, according to Webster’s Dictionary, “to solicit or try to influence the votes of members of a legislative body” or “to try to influence the actions of public officials, especially legislators” or “to urge or procure the passage of a bill by lobbying.”
Any way you look at it, Bo and I engaged in lobbying this week as representatives of GPPC, on behalf of Bread for the World.
Following in the footsteps of our beloved former parish associate Bob Herron, we traveled to Washington, D.C. to participate in Bread’s “Lobby Day,” along with over 300 other Bread members from across the United States. The day was jam-packed with worship, caucusing with others from North Carolina to plan our lobbying visits, and then trekking back and forth across the front of the U.S. Capitol building to get to the offices of our two NC Senators, Thom Tillis and Richard Burr, and local congressman Mark Walker.
During worship we heard a riveting and heart-breaking presentation by the author of The First 1,000 Days: A Crucial Time for Mothers and Children – and the World, Roger Thurow. His research confirmed the lasting effects of pre-natal and early childhood malnutrition that our speaker Nancy Rhodes conveyed to us in worship on Mother’s Day. As he said more than once, the only reason that we have carried the “medieval” problem of hunger into the 21st century is a lack of political will to end it. Bread’s goal of ending hunger and malnutrition by 2030 is entirely within our reach.
Suffice it to say we were and still are amateur lobbyists. But we learned a lot and had good experiences at each office we visited. Thankfully the Bread staff had prepared materials, including the specific “asks” for Senate and House, and talking points to support them. You may recall from our letter-writing campaign that Bread’s emphasis this year was on maternal and child nutrition. We were there to ask for support for the Global Food Act and for an increase in the appropriation for domestic food programs that target children, including school breakfast and lunch, summer feeding programs, WIC, and others.
At only one visit did we talk with the elected official (Senator Tillis) – most of the time we were talking with staffers. Everyone was pleasant and reasonably well-informed on the issues, which lessened the anxiety of this very new experience. Thankfully we were talking about a subject that naturally inspires passion: The travesty of hunger in this country and around the world, particularly hungry children, and the need for our government to support and fund efforts to alleviate hunger and malnutrition.
Our part of the lobbying was to add our personal, community, and congregational experiences to the conversation to emphasize how important the issue of hunger is to us. Being a member of GPPC made the task easy! I introduced myself at each visit as representing a 450-member congregation of people who, though they span the political spectrum, all care about the issue of hunger. Bo and I spoke about our congregation’s active mission efforts to feed people, and our Bread letter-writing campaign of over 300 letters. And on the issue of appropriating funds for domestic feeding programs for children, I described my personal gratitude that as a school child I was able to receive a “free lunch” every school day. We prayed with the staffers at each office.
We were especially fortunate to have the youngest lobbyist of the day in our NC group, from here in Greensboro no less! Read about delightful 6-year old Toren Rhyne here:
Sometimes folks worry that political lobbying could put the church at risk of losing our tax exempt status. There really isn’t much chance of that at the level we participate in lobbying. Only if we as a church engaged in “substantial lobbying activity” would this even be a question. “Substantial” in Internal Revenue parlance refers to both the time and resources we spend. We at GPPC are nowhere close to that standard with our occasional efforts to encourage the congregation to contact our elected representatives about legislation that promotes justice and peace, including our efforts to support Bread for the World. We can, and should, lobby more often for policies that promote justice and peace!
I did wonder at the end of our long day if we had done any good. At the closing reception, I had the opportunity to ask a Bread staff person that question. She made a pretty convincing case that YES, our efforts matter; YES, the representatives listen and pay attention to the letters, calls and visits; and YES, through our work on behalf of Bread for the World we make possible a more hopeful future for millions of hungry people in our own country and around the world. In our lobbying, we are doing the work of Christ.
As Bread’s motto reminds us: “Have faith. End hunger.”