Back in the 1960’s conservative commentator William F. Buckley hosted a provocative interview program called “Firing Line.” He once invited William Sloane Coffin, civil rights and anti-Vietnam war activist, to discuss “The Church Militant.”
Buckley began by challenging Coffin’s view that clergy should speak out on political matters. “Why is it that you are so critical of clergy for their passivity?” he asked.
“Do you recall the story of Sodom and Gomorrah?” Coffin replied “We are told that had there been ten righteous men, the city would have been saved. For some time now, I have had the sneaking suspicion that there were 10 righteous men, but their righteousness wasn’t relevant. And that, I think, is the problem with the church.”
The reference to just a few righteous individuals has special relevance to me. I remember thinking in the early years of PCG that we should be trying to help clergy build congregations in which one could feel a concern for social justice just by being a member.
I have come to realize that a more realistic goal is to identify several individuals who are willing to take action on social justice issues. They exist in every congregation. PCG’s role is to enable them to be more effective leaders.
How do we do this? Last year, Rep. Lou Lang told us that a local office visit to a legislator is worth 100 letters. He is right.
In December and January, PCG organized clergy and lay leaders on behalf of the bill to legalize medical marijuana in Illinois. We visited legislators in their local offices. They were very interested in what their constituents had to say. In two instances, they decided to poll their districts and (probably to their surprise) learned that an overwhelming majority supported the bill. They voted for it. I have no doubt that these legislators will be with us when the bill comes up for a vote again in the spring.
It is because your voices can be powerful that we are continuing to build our State Advocacy Network. On February 15th, we are holding an open board meeting (PCG board members will be present) for those already part of the Network and those of you who would consider becoming a member. Entitled “Where Do We Go from Here? PCG’s 2011 Legislative Briefing,” the session will take a quick look at the results of the 2010 legislative session and then consider the challenges that remain.
Sean Noble of Illinois Voices for Children will describe how the recent tax legislation in Springfield will shape education and social services programs in the coming months. Walter Boyd of PCG’s staff will outline our work on ex-offender re-entry and new initiatives on drug policy reform. Sarah Wochos of the Environmental Law and Policy Council will suggest new measures concerning renewable energy policy and continued environmental justice work.
We will also hear from former Rep. Paul Froehlich (D-28, Schaumburg) about the ways in which advocates can influence the legislative process in productive ways.
Righteousness in the form of private spirituality and acts of charity is important. But there is a special relevance that comes in the struggle for justice. That is why we hope you will become a member of PCG’s State Advocacy Network, and join us on February 15th.