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A Word From Suzii – Politics, Policy & Ministry

June 25th, 2009 at 7:11 pm

The world of politics and policy is a difficult and unforgiving landscape, especially if it is your home for ministry. There is a revolving door of people, seeking and using power. There is an ebb and flow of fluctuating rules and laws for each issue area. It is a challenge to create an effective and Christlike ministry so close to the corridors of power. The CLC responds to a wide range of issues as a reflection of our mission which has a scope too large and complex for any one congregation to effectively manage. Our goal is to be effective stewards of a framework of Biblical justice by taking that framework into the daily, constant rhythm of a legislative process. We train and learn to be involved in a large number of issues, but we are always amazed at the power of God’s grace to multiply our efforts which are simply our meager offerings to Him.

This session, sometimes the work was as big as the world. There are more slaves in today’s world than in the 1800’s and two of the major gateways for human trafficking are in Texas. Through the cooperation of the Attorney General’s office and Senate and House leaders, serious changes were proposed to balance an uneven system of laws for law enforcement and victims to construct a path to justice for human trafficking in Texas. As important as this legislation is, you would think that passage would be swift and inevitable. However, this critical legislation did not make it through the House and Senate in time for passage before a long stalemate over the voter ID bill held it up. Legislation in this situation is often referred to as ‘orphaned’ legislation – like an orphan, it must find a bill that it can be attached to and thus rescued, or it perishes because it does not get acted upon before deadlines force the bill to die. No bill is exempt from the pressure, even if the legislation remains important to its Legislative authors and sponsors, they are swamped with thousands of bills, many also orphaned.

The commitment of special people, like Shelton Green, a consultant for the CLC, was instrumental in getting human trafficking legislation rescued and moving. First, many things that the CLC is doing year round pay off: involvement in monthly meetings on the details of law enforcement implementation, coalition work discussing the needs of  nonprofits that serve victims as well as prosecutors who must match a county budget, close partnership with universities, churches and ministries addressing human trafficking. Although people from around the state may see the need to restructure Texas law to address human trafficking, caring is not enough for an orphaned bill, it takes action in tight places and often at odd hours to really rescue legislation. It takes someone going office to office, staff meeting to staff meeting to rescue the orphaned bill from the inevitable death by legislative confusion. I mention this to show the dedication of the people who work on behalf of the CLC in public policy. This kind of dedication comes from a calling to ministry and God given gifts for this work. And while they are doing the heavy lifting of tedious negotiations, Shelton and other CLC staff like him, are touching lives, modeling Christlike love and speaking to a partnership with BGCT churches and ministries.

This session, sometimes the work was an unexpected act of redemption and grace. Ever since the Texas Youth Commission scandals of 2007 rocked the headlines of Texas newspapers, the legislature has been grappling with how to truly restructure the juvenile justice system to make important changes addressing abuse, neglect and corruption. The CLC has been working alongside several coalitions and agencies that are sorting out reasonable and cost effective changes. Mastering the intricacies of Texas juvenile system are overwhelming in general, then add the recent events of abuse, neglect and corruption and it seems like the kind of issue you would rather stay a million miles away from….and many people do keep their distance.  This session competing legislative propositions were emerging, with bitter divides among stakeholder groups. This issue it seemed would require a sacrificial commitment; there would be no heroes or headlines.

Returning from the Peace Corps (Morocco) Samuel Gunter, a former CLC intern, joined the lead coalition for juvenile justice. It was great to have our dear friend Samuel at the table on these complex issues and his reappearance in Austin was the first of two vital supports for the CLC work. Then one Sunday morning, Patricia Pressley, a former probation attorney approached me from across the aisle at FBC. “Could you use some help at the CLC office?” Her knowledge and dedication have provided exceptional skill for an issue that just got more contentious and personal as the proposed bills and the entrenched camps started facing off House vs. Senate. There is certainly no shortage of admonitions in the gospels to pay attention to those in prison, but handling criminal justice issues will exhaust even the most dedicated advocates.

With the addition of Patricia’s contributions to the CLC team, and due to her testimony at committee hearings, our contributions to juvenile justice restructuring became more meaningful, effective and strategic. The added bonus of God’s grace was that she was in need of a place to serve as much as we were in need of her skill. We would praise her mightily for her diligence and attention to detail; she would say “What are you talking about? It was not special.” I am reminded of the same spirit of response in Matthew 25, when the sheep can’t even recall their good deeds, “Lord, now when did we see you in prison?” By all accounts the resolution to TYC was a tempest of legislative intrigue. Sadly, not all aspects of TYC restructuring are fulfilled, but major legislation was finally agreed upon and passed.

The CLC is a ministry of Texas Baptists. Like ministry in your church or on the mission field, God is constantly preparing the way for us in unlikely ways. This session He blessed us with people fitted for His kingdom work, like Shelton and Patricia. He opened doors of friendship and support from Christian brothers and sisters along the way. He sustained us when the winds of personal tragedy blew through the lives of our small staff. We are grateful to many of you reading this News that have prayed for and supported our work.

Each legislative session, we began our CLC staff meetings, intern orientations, consultations   and coalition meetings by reiterating three basic principles that guide the public policy work of the CLC:

  1. Be guided by Biblical rationale and principles of Christian ethics.
  2. Be honest about yourself, about relationships with staff and elected officials and about your stated positions.
  3. Be expertly informed and know your facts without a doubt.

On June 1, the 81st Texas Legislative session came to a close. On June 21st the Governor’s veto period expired. We expect a Special Session to be called by Governor Perry, perhaps as early as July this summer, but surely before the expiration of major state agencies in Sept. 2010.

We will be there in ministry. God willing.

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