The other day a radio interviewer asked me to give an example of religion entering the political arena and making a positive contribution. I immediately told him that there is a vast (though vastly underreported) network of congregation-based community organizations pressuring elected officials to make all sorts of progressive changes in their communities.
Too bad the interview had not been a day later, because I could have told the interviewer about the congregation-based community organizing I saw in action, here in my home state of Colorado. Nearly 200 people gathered at Denver’s Children’s Hospital to launch a statewide campaign for children’s health care: Cover All Kids by 2010. “Launch” is not quite precise, since they’ve been working behind the scenes with friendly state legislators for the last two years to begin moving toward their goal. The speakers at the gathering included the president of the state senate and speaker of the state assembly. It’s always good to have friends in high places.
Most of the crowd were members of the Metropolitan Organization of People (MOP), which includes 17 churches (as well as some schools and youth groups) among its member groups. The event started with a devout (though suitably nondenominational) prayer by a minister from one of Denver’s most prestigious churches. No one seemed hesitant to say that the spirit was moving in and among that gathering.
MOP is the Colorado affiliate of People Improving Communities through Organizing (PICO), a nationwide network of congregation-based community organizations. PICO was a leader in the national fight to get the federal SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program) expanded. Though Congress sustained Bush’s veto of the bill PICO was pushing, the process brought together hundreds of congregations from across the country to serve a noble political cause. They learned plenty in the process. A top national staffer from PICO was in Denver for the Cover All Kids by 2010 event, and to do trainings to sharpen the political skills of the congregations involved.
There can be all sorts of problems when religious congregations jump body and soul into the political fray. It has to be done carefully and thoughtfully. But if it’s the best way to insure decent health care for all children, then there is good reason to leave some daylight in the wall that supposedly separates church from state.