the full-time legislative advocate for the United Methodist Church s
Iowa Annual Conference, Lana Ross spends weekdays at the state capitol
and weekends in local churches. Armed with the denomination s Social
Principles, Book of Discipline, and General and annual conference
positions, she fights to keep the church s views before state
legislators. A UMNS photo courtesy of Lana Ross. Photo number 03-01,
Accompanies UMNS #002, 1/6/03
No Long Caption Available for this Story
Some days, Lana Ross feels like David facing Goliath.
the legislative advocate for the United Methodist Church's Iowa Annual
Conference, Ross faces many powerful opponents. Armed with the
denomination's Social Principles, Book of Discipline, and General and
annual conference positions, she fights to keep the church's views
before state legislators.
One such opponent is the pro-gambling
lobby. A gambling debate is under way in the state, she explains, and
the gaming industry spends about $1 million in its lobbying efforts at
"There are not very many advocates against
gambling; if you put all our resources together, we might have $50,000,"
Ross says, laughing.
"We never lessen our advocacy on it. We
know we are fighting a very difficult battle and our chances of winning
are very, very slim, but our message never weakens," she says, with a
hint of the determination that keeps her going back to the battlefield.
work is crucial to the voice of the church and conference actually
being heard in state and worldly affairs," says the Rev. Mike Orthel,
chairperson of the conference board of church and society's Justice
Advocacy Committee, which oversees the legislative advocacy program.
"And I believe the church's voice speaks for the voiceless in our
As the full-time legislative advocate for the Iowa
Conference, Ross spends weekdays at the state capitol and weekends in
local churches. She has visited more than 100 churches since becoming
the conference advocate in 2000.
"I like working with the local
churches," she says. "I tell them if you read through the Social
Principles, I guarantee, I promise, there is going to be something in
there you don't agree with. But I guarantee and promise you there will
be things in there you do agree with. We just have to be willing to work
together where we agree, and when we don't, just let it go."
feels God has called her to this ministry. Previously, she worked for
Mid-Iowa Community Action, a nonprofit group serving low-income
families. She learned about her current job in a letter the bishop sent
to all annual conference members.
As soon as she read the letter,
she knew the job was right for her. "I told myself, I am just going to
pray about this for three days, and if I still feel this way, I will
apply," she says.
"I had always heard people say they felt God
called them to do this or that. I never really got it before, (but) now I
know. Now I get it!"
People are starting to understand her
ministry better, Ross says. "I think people always thought it was an
either/or situation. You had to be either for this ministry or against
She admits she does not have 100 percent support from the
annual conference. Orthel agrees the advocacy program always has
"At the 2002 annual conference, there were motions
put forth to eliminate the position," he says. "This has happened
before, and each time it is defeated and the position carries on. The
faction that is behind this movement is small, but very vocal and
organized. In the final vote, over three-fourths of the conference
members supported the program."
Since taking the job in July 2000, Ross has experienced successes and failures.
highlight was the adoption of a bill that extended the period of time
welfare recipients had to apply for education funds. "It didn't cost the
state anything, and because of my experience with low-income families, I
could see the benefit that (an) extra 12 months would have in enabling
many women to successfully complete their degree," she says.
was just in the right place at the right time," she says, as she
describes asking a state representative to look at the bill that was on
his desk. He ultimately brought the legislation up for debate, and it
"That was pretty exciting," she says.
Another high point was her appointment to a 13-person task force to look at the state's energy policy.
governor asked if I would serve on that task force to be an advocate
for low-income Iowans. He did that because of the church's longstanding
commitment to being good stewards of the environment and our
longstanding advocacy for low-income Iowans."
One of her biggest
disappointments was the passage of the English-only bill. The United
Methodist Church has a position on making English the "official
language" of the United States. In part, it says, "We oppose the attempt
to rob a person of his or her language as dehumanizing." (2000 Book of
Resolutions, pp. 186-188)
She also has been disappointed by the deep budget cuts that have hurt the poor.
have to have a lot of perseverance, a lot of tenacity because it is a
slow process," Ross says. "I am just exhausted at the end of the day and
I feel like I haven't achieved much, but I know that is not true. Your
wins are oftentimes very small."
The Justice Advocacy Committee
knows her work can be draining. "We serve as emotional and spiritual
support for her," Orthel says. "We seek to be a sounding board on which
she can discuss her work and its joys and frustrations."
conference has had a legislative advocacy program for 20 years. It began
when two state legislators, who were members of the annual conference,
petitioned for funds to have someone communicate resolutions to their
colleagues at the capitol. It was a part-time position for many years. A
few other conferences have full- or part-time advocates, including
Mississippi, Baltimore-Washington, Missouri, Eastern Pennsylvania and
Part of the program's funding comes from the conference
board of church and society's budget. The Justice Advocacy Committee
raises another $50,000 to $60,000 per year. Most of the funds come from a
group of about 1,300 people who belong to the Justice Advocacy Network.
Network members receive regular updates on bills and are called upon to
contact their legislators when a particular piece of legislation is
nearing a vote, Orthel says.
"We have had one very generous
benefactor that has assisted this program in being full time as a memory
to his father, a very socially active member of the conference," he
Orthel cites Micah 6:6-8 as the driving motivation
behind his ministry. "Any ministry that does not embody justice,
kindness, and humility seems to fall short of the calling of Jesus, in
my opinion. And so, from my perspective, what we do as a church and as a
conference ought to bring about justice in our world, treating it with
kindness and humility as we carry out what seems to be our ordained
dominion over creation," he says.
"The work of the advocate is
really to be a communicator of these official positions of the church in
the churches of the conferences and in the marketplace."
most important quality of a legislative advocate is being a good
listener and being willing to hear all sides of an issue, Ross says.
like to say we always side with the Democrats, always side with the
liberal position. I have been in this job for two years, and that is
absolutely not the truth. You have to be able to work with people you
don't agree with all the time. You have to work with both parties."
Ross doesn't think she has all the answers, but she is not afraid to speak up and ask questions.
a report to the annual conference she composed a "wish list" of issues
important to the church that need attention. She would like to:
Â· Increase the tobacco tax. Â· Repeal mandatory sentencing. Â· Improve public school funding. Â· Reform campaign financing.
Those goals bring big opponents, but for Lana Ross, the message never weakens.
# # #
*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer.