Assistant Minister's Corner - Rev. Monica Dobbins

08 January 2018

One of the great pleasures I take in professional ministry is the opportunity to make a difference in my community, in a deeper way than most folks get the chance to. There are great injustices in this world and close to home, but there are steps we can take to address injustice. Sometimes I just have to breathe a deep breath of gratitude, that someone is actually paying me to do that work! What a gift!

The first Sunday of 2018, I was doing just that – instead of presenting worship with Rev. Tom, I was at a legislative training presented by the People’s Justice Forum, a citizen lobbying group spearheaded by Planned Parenthood and supported by other local social justice organizations. Together with several members of our congregation, I learned more about how the legislative process works in Utah (it’s a little different than in Alabama, though there are many parallels). I also got to meet a lot of wonderful, friendly, politically active Utahns.

Here are three lessons I took from that gathering that are valuable reminders for anyone looking to make a difference this year:

1. Across party lines (and other dividing factors), there are reasonable people who want to do the right thing, who care about their community, and who are ready to work hard and play a long game. We may think of Planned Parenthood as a group that is heavily favored by Democrats and rebuffed by Republicans, but it is actually just a health care provider, not a partisan apparatus. And to my surprise, a Republican lawmaker came out to speak to us, and had lots of good advice for us as we prepared for the legislative session.

Women’s rights, and women’s health, are not partisan issues. All women deserve to live healthy lives, and raise healthy children (if they choose to have children), not just women on the political left. Clean air and economic growth are other issues that likely matter to all Utahns. We might have to get creative about how we reach these goals, but we can be sure they will not be won without cooperation.

2. Our efforts are much more successful when we build together with all the stakeholders from the beginning. We may say we want a better Utah and a better world, but have we considered what it will look like when we get there? What it will feel like?

For me, it won’t be good enough unless all people can participate fully, and that means putting first those who often find themselves last now: the poor, people of color, queer folk. So it makes sense to partner with them from the start (note: not include them in our efforts, but make it a joint effort from the get-go).

And sometimes, that means finding unlikely partners. I remember once when I was an intern at Greater Birmingham Ministries, a social justice collaboration among liberal Birmingham faith communities, we were fighting an anti-Sharia bill in the Alabama House. As GBM looked for partners in opposing the bill, they found a very awkward one: the Christian Coalition. Turns out, the ultra-conservative group had determined that the house bill would prevent many overseas adoptions, and they needed help overturning the legislation. It was a very odd press conference these two groups gave together – but it got the job done!

3. We are stronger together than we are alone. And yet, even one person can make a difference. The two legislators who visited the training – one Republican, one Democrat – both said that the number one way to get things done in the legislature is to contact your elected representative. Many people think that government is so big, and elected officials so powerful, that one person can’t hope to get their attention. The truth is that, whatever else they might be, they are busy. But if a constituent takes the time to talk to their representatives, they know the issue must be important, and they pay more attention to that issue.

So yes, even your single voice makes a difference! (But just think how much you can boost the signal if several one-voices come together!)

Since I moved to Utah, I’ve been delighted to discover what a fantastic place it is. And: I can also see that it needs a little work, wouldn’t you agree? Our fifth principle, in which we place our faith in democratic processes, calls us to get involved. Together, we are more