BJC brings you tools to make a difference

Advocacy trainings empower you to connect with Congress and your local community

by | Dec 9, 2019

Your voice has power – in your community, on social media and in the halls of Congress. At the local, state and federal level, you have representatives whose ears perk up when a constituent is speaking, and BJC is here to help you use your voice to make a difference.

This fall, BJC launched a series of advocacy trainings, leading workshops in Colorado, Arkansas, Texas and Washington, D.C. Area churches hosted these events, which were open to anyone looking to be a more empowered advocate on church-state issues. The trainings also connected individuals who wanted to come together to make an impact supporting religious freedom for all. 

“Not only is BJC dedicated to being advocates for faith freedom for all in Washington, we are committed to providing people with the tools and resources they need to take action in their communities,” said BJC Executive Director Amanda Tyler. “These advocates are at the forefront of defending religious freedom for all people.” 

The trainings provided both substantive education on current religious liberty issues as well as practical and effective strategies to build relationships with members of Congress and their staffs. They also include instruction on other forms of advocacy, such as using social media to raise your voice with lawmakers and within your own spheres of influence. 

BJC’s experts on legislative advocacy walked participants through what to expect when visiting a legislator’s office, how to approach the meeting and suggestions on valuable follow-up. 

“Our major emphasis in these trainings is to demystify the process for people, many of whom are visiting with their elected representatives for the first time,” said Tyler, who worked in a congressional office for eight years before she came to BJC. “I understand both the power that each constituent’s voice carries for their member of Congress and also the intimidation that comes from not knowing the process or what to expect. Our nuts-and-bolts trainings are designed to provide individuals with the tools and the confidence they need to be effective advocates.”   

]JC staff prepared handouts and talking points to educate local advocates on a variety of religious liberty issues, including the basic principles of religious liberty, bills being considered by Congress and the dangers of Christian nationalism. BJC equipped participants to speak confidently about the issues to others, allowing participants to practice their new skills by role-playing a visit and providing feedback to each other on the most effective messages to convey. 

“One of the key things BJC did was walk us through what the conversation was going to be like,” said Anyra Cano, a member of the BJC Board who participated in Washington, D.C., and Fort Worth, Texas. “We don’t have to be the experts, but we have to have a passion or a love for what we’re advocating for.”

“Spending a day in advocacy training with leaders from BJC restored my faith in being identified as a Baptist,” said LaRinda Horan, who attended the training in Houston. “I realized that I, too, could be a part of advocacy for religious freedom and separation of church and state.”

These skills are transferable, noted BJC Associate Director of Mobilization Christine Browder. “Once advocates know how to make visits and have the experience of completing one, they can help lead other groups of people in advocating with their local and state officials on a number of issues,” said Browder, who worked for several years organizing advocacy for the Texas Hunger Initiative at Baylor University.

A key part of an effective visit is having a clear action item for the elected representative to take. This fall, BJC sessions prepared participants to talk to their members of Congress about the dangers of blasphemy and apostasy laws. In countries around the world, those laws criminalize religious dissent and are often used to silence religious minorities and punish political opponents, fostering religious intolerance, discrimination and violence. During visits, BJC advocates asked lawmakers to co-sponsor a bipartisan resolution that calls for the State Department and the administration to prioritize the repeal of such laws in foreign policy. Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland, and Rep. Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina, introduced H. Res. 512 in the U.S. House of Representatives. Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Connecticut, are expected to introduce a Senate companion bill soon [STORY UPDATE: S. Res. 458 was filed Dec. 20, 2019]. Here is a link to the printed material provided to advocates and lawmakers about H. Res. 512.

After the briefing sessions, BJC led groups of advocates to visit the offices of their elected representatives. In Washington, D.C., members of the BJC Board fanned out to visit more than 50 offices on Capitol Hill. Advocates in Little Rock, Arkansas, and San Antonio, Houston and Fort Worth, Texas, visited the local offices of their federal representatives. BJC staff worked with offices to schedule visits in advance, and advocates were welcomed and connected with the appropriate member of a lawmaker’s staff in order to make the biggest impact during the meeting.

“BJC Advocacy Training gave me insight into the inner workings of congressional offices,” said Pastor Garrett Vickrey of Woodland Baptist Church, who attended the San Antonio training. “It also taught me how we can build relationships with these community partners to advocate on behalf of issues that matter to congregational life.”

“BJC helped frame major issues surrounding religious liberty in a succinct manner,” said Kevin Heifner, who attended the training in Little Rock. “The session showed us how to engage others in a meaningful fashion to find common ground so we can work together to advance religious freedom for all.”

“Even if you cannot attend an advocacy training in person, you can make your voice heard,” said Browder. “Whether it’s engaging on social media, signing a letter to Congress, reaching out to lawmakers by phone, or taking action in your community, you can make a difference.”

After the success of the fall trainings, BJC plans to continue the events in new cities across the country.  

“Effective legislative advocacy is a marathon and not a sprint,” said Tyler. “BJC is helping individuals who are passionate about religious freedom for all take the first step in building a relationship with their elected representatives and their staffs, and we look forward to leading more trainings in 2020.” 

Everyone is invited to join the BJC Advocacy Team, which provides additional information and opportunities for engagement. When you sign up to receive emails from BJC, simply check the box to join the team, and you’ll receive email alerts when action is needed to take a stand for faith freedom for all. Sign up or update your information at BJConline.org/subscribe.

If you would like more information about BJC Advocacy Trainings or if you are interested in hosting one in 2020, let us know. Email Christine Browder at [email protected]

This column appeared in the fall 2019 edition of Report from the Capital. You can read the entire magazine as a PDF or a digital flip-through edition.