It’s OK to talk about religion and politics: ICC director shares tips for discernment, making a difference

Megan Wessels
University of Iowa students, from left, Ana Marth, Madeline Monahan, Kyla Knutson and Newman Catholic Student Center Outreach Assistant Ann Thomas pose for a photo with Iowa Catholic Conference Executive Director Tom Chapman, center, during a presentation March 3 at Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa City.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

Iowa Catholic Conference Executive Director Tom Chapman provided tips for advocating for a “more just society” during a presentation at Newman Catholic Student Center on the University of Iowa campus. The Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC) is the public policy voice of Iowa’s bishops.

“I get to talk about religion and politics every day, which is what everyone wants to do, right?” he said with a laugh during the March 3 presentation. “Hopefully, by the end of the night, you’ll be more comfortable talking about these things.”

Chapman gave an overview of Catholic Social Teaching, the Two Feet of Social Justice (advocacy and charity), and how to discern a call to act. Guests participated in-person or online via Newman Center’s YouTube channel.


Father Jeff Belger, priest director of the Newman Center, started the evening with prayer and a reflection on St. Katharine Drexel, whose feast day is March 3. She founded a religious community, 63 schools and 50 missions for Native Americans in 16 different states and “emulates what this talk will be about,” he said. The same Holy Spirit who worked through St. Katharine could also work through them, Father Belger told the students.

Chapman prefaced his talk by explaining that the Catholic Church does not endorse political parties; advocacy is issue-based. “We’re looking at the principles (of the Church) and how we can apply them in the public square.”

While Catholics have an obligation to get involved, no one has to get involved in every issue. “Our obligation is to form our conscience in light of Church teaching,” he said. Prayerful discernment is essential. Reading the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ document, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship ( zt49pasr) can help in the discernment process. Iowans can also sign up for action alerts at

Much of Chapman’s advocacy work at the Capitol focuses on social justice issues, right-to-life issues and Catholic schools. He said it is easy for Iowans to contact legislators to discuss issues. On weekends during the months when the Iowa Legislature is in session, Iowans can attend forums to meet with legislators and ask questions. “It’s an easy way to get started.” Contact information is available at

As people get to know the legislators, “there’s no reason you can’t ask them out to coffee or tea” and talk about legislation. “My experience is they’re very accessible in the state of Iowa, but be civil!” Despite polarization, “you can still be civil and make your point.”

He understands that talking to legislators can seem intimidating. He offered participants an acronym, EPIC, as a guide:

• Engage — Find an interesting fact or short statement to get a legislator’s attention.
• Problem — State the problem you believe needs to be addressed and identify its causes.
• Inform — Illustrate a solution to the problem you just presented.
• Call to action — Present a solution and share what you hope the legislator will do next.

After this process, advocates should quietly wait for the legislator to reply. This way, advocates can gauge the legislator’s interest, stance or knowledge on an issue and use that information for future advocacy efforts.

In the coming weeks, Newman Center’s Service and Social Justice team and the University of Iowa’s Catholic Relief Services (CRS) University chapter will help participants unpack the themes of the talk through a series of discussions. Future talks are planned for March 27 and April 24.

“The purpose of these gatherings is to bring the Newman Center (community) together to participate in CRS’s monthly action to impact the common good and to take action in our local government,” said Kyla Knutson, service and social justice fellow. “This will happen through discussions on the issues at hand and opportunities available to us to become participants in the legislative process.”

Knutson and Madeline Monahan, CRS University student leader, hope the discussions will become a regular platform for both groups to incorporate Catholic Social Teaching into the daily lives of Newman Center community members.

To watch
To view the presentation on YouTube, go to com/watch?v=KFfRrenZgWM

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