Overcoming Evil with Good: The Role of Churches and Nonprofits in Politics

| by Bernice Sanders Smoot

This week our final installment in the series Nonprofits in the Trump Era features a guest blog by Bernice Sanders Smoot, Founder & President, Saint Wall Street, LLC.

Since churches and most nonprofits are not established to influence the electoral process, they should abstain from encouraging those they serve to vote for a specific candidate. However, this is not to say that churches and nonprofits have no missional and civic obligation when it comes to politics.

Consider, for example, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery in 1865. It states that: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Congress was empowered to enforce this article by “appropriate” legislation. Subsequently deemed appropriate was legislation that has fueled institutionalized racism and mass incarceration. (To understand how, watch the Netflix documentary, 13th, and/or read the report “The Drug War, Mass Incarceration and Race” from the Drug Policy Alliance. 

Whether driven by corporate expediency, personal greed, or race-based hate, elected officials should not be free to craft legislation that discriminates against people and decimates the social and economic fabric of America. The fact that many do so to the detriment of families served by our churches and nonprofits obligates these institutions to act.  Given they exist to make the world a better place, and we can’t have a better world without government, churches and nonprofits must impact politics.

The question is: How?

To that end, I believe every socially responsible church and nonprofit in America should honestly educate people on the facts pertinent to their social and economic well-being. Suggested action steps:

  1. Search for truth from sources beyond sensationalized news. Among them: documentary films, interviews on public broadcast stations, credible speakers and debates at educational forums, and fact-based publications from government watchdog groups (examples readily appearing on Google include Project on Government Oversight, Judicial Watch, and Campaign for Accountability). However, you will want to investigate fully for nonpartisan integrity these and/or any that you wish to consider reliable.
  2. Trade rhetoric and baby kissing for social and economic accountability. Look past the politician to his/her proposition. Seek a clear strategy that includes measures of reward and risks analyzed by trusted advisors, plus a thorough, realistic accounting of local budget and tax impacts, so that social and economic consequences can be clearly understood and communicated.
  3. Seek to inform vs. influence your community. Share the facts concerning proposed policies, instead of your feelings about the candidates offering them. Educate those you serve on how such policies will socially and economically impact their lives and the purpose of the mission they support via your church or nonprofit. Saint Wall Street helps effective faith-based and community organizations assess economic impact potential, using a research-backed methodology called Program Return on Investment™ (PROI) to monetize key social indicators. (For more information, email expert@saintwallstreet.com).
  4. Respect individual reactions. As a leader, your church or nonprofit exists to serve everyone in need, including those whose opinions may differ from yours. Accepting opposing views, exploring them calmly and intelligently based on facts, and, if nothing more, agreeing to disagree will showcase a standard of servant leadership that others will be inspired to follow. The multiplier effect is a community of engaged citizens vs. a group of enraged residents.
  5. Encourage total civic involvement. Along with voting, help your community understand the importance of also volunteering, organizing, testifying, protesting (peaceably), and seeking, cultivating and supporting their own candidates for elected office. Connect them to opportunities relevant to the political issues at hand.  

Leaders of churches and nonprofits that educate and inspire community on the matters of social and economic importance to them gain recognition and respect – social assets that can be leveraged for the advancement of their relevant mission. The result becomes a community empowered individually and collectively via the church or nonprofit, to ensure a better quality of life for all.

I believe there are far more credible churches and nonprofits than there are disingenuous politicians. Should, together, they follow the suggested steps, perhaps we can indeed “overcome evil with good.”  

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