“To be ignorant and simple now – not to be able to meet the enemies
on their own ground – would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our…brethren who have, under God, no defense but us against the…attacks of the heathen.” – C. S. Lewis
Lobbyists get a bad rap. They are seen as a corrupting influence in politics and as the embodiment of an unfair system that serves the interests of corporate elites at the expense of the people. That’s too bad. Not only is it untrue but believing in such caricatures dissuades Christians from working with professional lobbyists. That puts us at an unnecessary disadvantage in the ongoing culture war. A war, incidentally, we are losing. If Christians would deploy professional lobbyists to engage in coordinated and strategic policy campaigns against the other side, we could break out of our perpetually defensive posture and start winning back lost ground.
It’s time for us to rethink our strategy in a big way. Yes, the Lord is sovereign, and our ultimate victory is secure, but what we do here and now matters. Our approach to growing the Kingdom needs to be multifaceted. Christian advocacy through professional lobbying is different from ministry and charity, but it is no less important. It is not direct engagement with individuals to save souls. Rather, it is a symbiotic activity that endeavors to ensure ministry and charity can proceed unencumbered. Groups hostile to Christianity – Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, GLAAD, &c. – have been engaged in professional lobbying and policymaking for years with the express purpose of restricting our ability to freely and openly live our faith. It’s one of the reasons they’ve gained so much ground. We didn’t end up on defense by accident. While we were going to court trying to protect our turf, they were mounting an offensive. We were out maneuvered and out gunned by a full-frontal assault on the very laws and policies meant to protect us. We are now decades behind, and it’s time to flip the script. Organized, professional lobbying can help do just that.
It is important for Christians to understand what lobbying is, why it happens, and how we can use it to serve our faith. It’s dubious reputation notwithstanding, lobbying, and lobbyists, play an important role in our representative democracy.
Lobbying is a form of legally sanctioned advocacy that allows people or groups to hire trained professionals to represent their interests before the government. There are no limits on who may retain a professional lobbyist, or how many they may hire, but there are constraints on what lobbyists are permitted to do during the course of their representation. Lobbyists are not allowed to exchange anything of value for an elected official’s vote (i.e. pay-for-play), but they do get broad access to officials for the purpose of educating and persuading them.
Our system permits lobbying for two reasons, one legal and the other practical. Legally speaking, lobbying is allowed because our Constitution says it is. Our representative democracy is premised on the idea that elected representatives reflect the will of the people, and that people have a right to influence government action. The Bill of Rights guarantees citizens the right to speak freely, peaceably assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances. Lobbying accomplishes all those ends. Lobbyists act in a professional capacity as the voice of the people. It is the lobbyist’s job to make sure their client’s position is heard and understood by the government. To the extent they do their job well and ethically, lobbyists perpetuate a healthier democracy by giving meaningful voice to people’s needs and concerns.
There are at least two practical reasons to allow lobbying as well. First, regular citizens simply don’t have enough time to engage in persistent and effective lobbying. They have jobs to do, families to look after, and lives to live. The same thing goes for businesses and associations. They can’t afford to take five-months off from real life to hang around the state Capitol all day trying to pass a bill or change an administrative rule. As an alternative, they hire lobbyists. Passing bills is what lobbyists do for a living. Second, lobbyists serve as subject matter experts for elected officials. Hundreds of bills are filed in state legislatures every year. Try as they might, elected officials simply don’t have enough time to educate themselves on all of them. Good legislators use lobbyists as a resource. They listen to advocates from both sides of an issue, ask hard questions, and then make an informed decision.
All of this argues in favor of Christians working with lobbyists to achieve policy goals that will protect our right to fully live our faith. Christians have lives to live outside of politics. As passionate and involved as many of them are, policy making is not their vocation. Nevertheless, that is our enemy’s chosen battlefield, so that is where we must meet them. In waging that war it is too much to ask for the average person to invest the time it takes to master the legislative process and engage in a protracted policy battle in the state house. It’s a fight we need to make, but most of us don’t have time to make it. What, then, are we to do? Stay passionate and involved, yes, but also hire help.
As we reimagine how we engage in the culture war, we need to think more strategically, and we need force multipliers. That includes working with and supporting Christian organizations willing to engage in legislative action. We just went through a seismic election that radically changed the political landscape. Secular progressives have solidified control over two branches of the federal government, and they are working on the third. If they get it, they’re coming straight at us. Meanwhile, conservatives, our natural allies in the fight, have expanded their control over state legislatures and governorships. Our side needs to mount a coordinated and intentional legislative strategy to shore-up our position in every one of those states. After that, we can start taking the fight directly into hostile territory. It is no longer enough to duke it out in court and take our chances. We need to start changing the topography of the battlefield itself. That happens in the halls of state Capitols, and it needs to be done by professionals. Put simply, it’s time for Jesus to hire a lobbyist.
By day Jay Atkins works as a Government Affairs attorney for a California-based technology company. By night he is a lay author and Christian apologist. He thinks and writes about proofs for faith and how they intersect, or should intersect, with public policy.