An effective advocacy tool to help marshal a cause or empower an individual is our personal story. The first step to finding our voice is to feel comfortable with our own story in our own skin.
Faith Partners acknowledges and supports individuals and family members whose voice is a powerful tool for progress and hope. Advocacy in its purest form is simply speaking in favor of something or someone. The American Cancer Society identifies five levels of advocacy: self, case, public, organizational, and legislative. Individuals progress through these levels as they grow in their own self-confidence, knowledge, and healing. The first level is self-advocacy – this is where it starts – something we do when we speak up for ourselves.
We need to first be comfortable with our own story and then begin to share it with others we trust. In the faith community, this can happen in a one-to-one conversation, a prayer, a class, a Bible study, committee meeting, or worship service. It seems by breaking the silence; we can enjoy recovery more fully. We begin to take care of ourselves and advance further by helping others.
This leads to the next level described as case advocacy, which often involves helping someone deal with a complicated situation. Often the first to seek help is a motivated family member. The faith community can help by being ready to reach out a hand to those who suffer and help guide them to the resources in their congregation or in the community.
Public advocacy, which works to educate the community and start the conversation, is critical to creating understanding. Permission to openly discuss alcohol and drugs, without automatic judgments, is the hallmark of a healthy and healing congregation. Conversations about alcohol and drug use, misuse and addiction are rare and uncomfortable in most congregations. Though one family in four has direct experience with someone with an addiction experience, the subject is seldom raised. Addiction disease strikes with equality individuals and families of every faith, every culture, every income level and every community, a subtle taboo often keeps the subject in the closet until a crisis occurs.
The faith community has a special role to play in the prevention, intervention, and assistance in the recovery process of alcoholism and other addictions. One major step in organizational advocacy is the development of a position statement that highlights the faith community’s beliefs about these issues. When the church is a nurturing supportive community addressing spiritual needs, prevention and intervention of alcohol and drug problems can occur.
Many people hesitate to get involved in advocacy because they equate it with the fifth level of advocacy, legislative advocacy. Often that can include activities some aren’t comfortable with, such as demonstrations on the courthouse steps or a public protest. These are legitimate advocacy strategies, but they are only part of the story. Advocacy covers a range of activities broad enough to include just about everyone, in just about any kind of setting. Many advocacy activities are things we already do for our neighbors, our friends, and ourselves. Legislative advocacy just carries it into the public arena. It is vital for citizens to speak out on certain policies and laws throughout our country, but this is often not where a person starts in finding their voice. The first step is getting comfortable and embracing our own story then sharing it with a friend, a family member, a clergy, or a supportive group of people. Hopefully, that means a congregation.