Faith-based organizations and their leaders can be strong allies in working for social reform. In fact, it has been said that no social reform effort has been successful in this country without the participation of the religious community.
Given the historical commitments of faith communities to ministries of healing and justice, and in light of the critical condition of our nation’s current health care delivery system, the time is right for people of faith to engage in the efforts for universal health care. Following are suggestions for engaging the faith community in the campaign.
Build relationships. Get to know the religious leadership in your community. Find out if there is an existing network of interfaith leaders, such as an ecumenical or interfaith council or clergy alliance. In addition, find out if state or local offices of faith groups are located in your community. Determine whether or not any of these groups already are working for health care for all.
Determine your members’ religious affiliations. If your group is not a faith-based group, find out the religious affiliations of your membership. Encourage your members to work within their own communities of faith to engage in your efforts and to help you open doors to relationships with their leadership.
Get a variety of religious leaders on board, and get them involved early. Given the diversity of faith traditions in our country, recruit a group of religious leaders who reasonably reflect the religious diversity of your community. Get this leadership involved early, so as not to be perceived as an afterthought, and to get their input on campaign and outreach development.
Get invited to religious events. Connect with the special opportunities available within the various faith traditions. Determine whether there are special events being held which would welcome guests from your group. Inquire of opportunities to offer workshops, participate in forums, set up displays or provide materials.
Find significant ways to involve the faith community. Faith communities can and want to do more than pray! While prayer is important, don’t underestimate the significant potential for mobilization which is available in faith communities. Involve the religious leadership in determining how to tap those resources. Be open to their suggestions about strategy and outreach!
Emphasize healing, justice and compassion. The faith community will work for health care for all because concepts of healing, justice and compassion are woven throughout their sacred teachings and their faith histories.
Treat all people with respect. Religious leaders will expect that all persons will be treated with respect, regardless of race, ethnic background, social standing, or religious beliefs. The value placed on every human life is one of the reasons religious leaders will sign on to work with you. Make your campaign inclusive of persons from all walks of life and respectful of all participants. When engaging with electoral candidates, or with those in decision-making roles, try to separate the person from the action so as not to vilify any one individual.
Build locally . . . and grow! Use the building of your local base to extend to the wider circles of the faith community. Effective strategies will include both top-down and grassroots-up organizing and outreach. Recognize the importance of grassroots outreach to state and national offices.
Keep the supporters from the faith community informed. Be sure to provide regular updates — by phone, mail, email, fax or in person — so that supporters know the status of your work together. Use your communication tools to share the ideas, strategies, and successes among the different groups within your organization.
Say "thank you" and "Amen!" If people of faith are actively supporting your work for universal health care, thank them publicly and privately. Affirm the importance of their work in the overall strategy and success of the campaign.