Faith in lobbying

Earlier this month, more than 100 representatives of the Montana Association of Churches rallied in Helena to signal their support for issues reflective of their Christian faith: abolition of the death penalty, the humane treatment of immigrants and child welfare. It was nothing new for MAC—it has been lobbying for issues like health care reform, lowering fossil fuel emissions and public arts funding for decades. But MAC President Rev. Peter Shober acknowledges that in recent years the voices of "progressive" faith-based groups like his have been overshadowed by the religious right.

"You ask the average person on the street for a well-known religious figure," he says, "there will not be one non-evangelical named."

MAC is part of the ecumenical movement, which Shober describes as bringing "the scattered parts of the Christian tradition back into unity." In all, MAC represents more than 180,000 Montanans from eight denominations and over 550 individual congregations.

Before every legislative session, MAC's Commission on Church and Society gathers to decide on what issues MAC will lobby, a decision that it must make unanimously. In 2009 and 2011, MAC only came to consensus on the abolition of the death penalty. This year, the board has added immigration and child welfare to its efforts. So far, MAC lobbyists have testified against House Bill 50, which seeks to "prohibit immigration sanctuary policies," and for House Bill 99, which would "appropriate funds to increase participation in the school breakfast program," among others.

Because MAC will not speak out on issues without unanimous agreement, it does not offer a position on abortion or marriage equality. "It's a clear, obvious reality that there are differences between our different religious traditions," Shober says. "Instead of fighting over them, we have just said there's enough for us to agree on. We need to speak out with one voice."

MAC has found strength in its adherence to solidarity. But unanimity has also made for a quieter type of advocacy. "[The religious right] has a different kind of culture that is more palatable to the media in America," he says. "They are louder."

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