These articles are meant to strengthen the capacity of all faith-based organizations to live out their faith-based missions. If you are already a Sacred Sector participant, log into the Participant Portal to access the toolbox resources. If your organization is interested in becoming a Sacred Sector participant, click here.
Faith-based organizations are often caught in a net of contradictions while trying to advocate for justice in the public square. On the one hand, faith-based organizations recognize the biblical call to speak on behalf of the oppressed. On the other hand, advocacy and lobbying can be depicted as inappropriate activities for organizations with sacred missions, especially when government is involved. How are faith-based organizations supposed to bring about justice while avoiding government entanglement?
Though justice work is never easy, many faith-based organizations don’t realize that U.S. laws not only allow but encourage advocacy and lobbying. By becoming aware of the public policy concerning advocacy and lobbying, faith-based organizations can be empowered to actively advocate for issues connected to their sacred mission.
Sacred Sector Participant the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) is a faith-based organization that engages in many forms of advocacy. By openly connecting its sacred mission to its advocacy efforts, NHCLC exemplifies how faith-based organizations can successfully utilize their distinct, faith-based identities to promote an expansive vision of justice.
The NHCLC is an organization that unifies and represents Hispanic Evangelicals throughout the United States. It empowers Hispanic Evangelicals to influence every sphere of society, equips pastors to be leaders of justice and righteousness and promotes its values through the arts, business, education, church, media and government.
Advocacy is central to NHCLC’s sacred mission. Sacred Sector provides educational resources to participants such as NHCLC so they can successfully live out their mission in every area of their work. One resource, the Advocacy and Lobbying Public Policy Toolbox, defines advocacy as “a wide range of actions that a FBO can take to persuade the government, other significant institutions and the public generally to act in some way or to stop acting in order to help the FBO achieve some aim.” The toolbox also explains that lobbying is a type of advocacy, and defines lobbying as “that set of advocacy actions aimed at influencing legislation.”
Most forms of advocacy — including civic education, litigation, media involvement and community organizing — are unregulated. Lobbying, however, is regulated, and organizations must report their lobbying activities to the IRS on an annual basis. The government encourages nonprofits to lobby by allowing them to take the 501(h) Election, which gives public charities the ability to both retain their 501(c)(3) status and engage in limited lobbying.
NHCLC advocates in a variety of ways. Gus Reyes, Chief Operating Officer of NHCLC, said, “We have become an effective and efficient communications messaging group that includes letter writing, phone calls and coalition building.” Recently, NHCLC formed a Faith & Education Coalition that calls for equal access to high-quality education in public schools.
“For justice in this country, all students need an opportunity to be challenged with the highest standards for a quality education regardless of zip code where they live,” said Reyes. “The first place this needs to happen is the classroom. And if that classroom is not funded, if it does not have quality high standards, that equality of opportunity will not be there. [...] That is where advocacy comes in.”
In addition to advocating for widespread educational reform, NHCLC is involved in local advocacy. Reyes said, “Our posture is to get the church to understand its role, and part of its role is to show up at PTA meetings, to show up at the school, to support the teachers and the principal.” Reyes explained that because of the nature of government schools in some Hispanic countries, many people of Hispanic heritage aren’t aware of their ability to advocate on behalf of their children in schools. Reyes sees it as the church’s role to educate parents on how to be involved in giving their children access to the best education possible.
By learning about the policies governing faith-based advocacy and legislation, NHCLC is able to engage in such activities to its fullest extent. Its advocacy on both the national and local levels exhibits the capacity of faith-based organizations to advance a holistic, biblical vision of justice. To learn more about the public policies regarding advocacy and lobbying, see Sacred Sector’s Advocacy and Lobbying Public Policy Toolbox.
Part of what makes NHCLC’s advocacy so successful is its transparent commitment to Christianity. “Scripture says we should be advocates for Christ,” said Reyes. Throughout its advocacy, NHCLC links its practices to the Biblical call to be advocates.
NHCLC’s public portrayal of its faith is evident in its Faith & Education Coalition. Rather than focusing on education reform in an exclusively secular context, NHCLC recognized the need to utilize the capabilities of distinctly faith-based organizations in promoting reform. According to its website, “Our efforts [in the Faith & Education Coalition] would be uniquely Christian, as we approach our advocacy and action from a perspective of Biblical justice and educational equality.”
By openly connecting its advocacy to its sacred mission, NHCLC cultivates a positive public perception that counteracts the often negative understanding of faith-based lobbying and advocacy. For more information on fostering a positive public perception, see the Advocacy and Lobbying Public Positioning Toolbox.
Faith-based organizations can view advocacy as a needlessly risky endeavor, but it doesn’t have to be. Organizations such as NHCLC show how advocacy can be done effectively, all while maintaining a public faith identity. By advocating on the local and national level for issues clearly in line with its sacred mission, NHCLC demonstrates faith-based organizations’ ability to advance justice on many fronts — without compromising their faith commitment.
If you are not a Sacred Sector participant and would like access to resources on public policy, organizational practices and public positioning for faith-based organizations, sign up to become a Sacred Sector participant here.
Kathryn Mae Post is an associate with the Center for Public Justice (CPJ). She contributes to two different initiatives at CPJ: Sacred Sector and the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance (IRFA). She graduated from Calvin College in 2018 with a BA in both political science and English.