Sharing the Good News: One LTE at a Time
by Wesley Cocozello & Dan DiLeo
Last year, my colleague Dan asked me to write an “LTE” on climate change. “LTE? What is that,” I asked.
“People still read newspapers?” I was thinking of a summer afternoon a long, pre-internet time ago, when, with my grandma’s help, I wrote such a letter to a New York City newspaper. It was never published.
But I agreed to write one, though I wasn’t convinced the tactic would have any value. Having an unknown millennial write a letter to his local newspaper didn’t seem like a winning strategy in a digitally-obsessed, visuals-addicted media culture.
I wrote my LTE on how climate change disproportionately affects the poor, gave a real-life example of this from my own neighborhood, and submitted it to a local newspaper. To my surprise, they published it. I was thrilled about that, and expected nothing more from it.
A couple days later though, I received an email from a local who read my LTE asking if I’d contribute my story to a climate change documentation project he curates. “Of course I would,” I instantly responded. Then he called my office to tell me he had never made the connection between environmental destruction and the impacts it has on the poor. He thanked me for this insight, and then we spent the next half-hour chatting about story documentation, how to effectively communicate environmental problems, and the evolution of his project over the years.
When I hung up the phone, I was stunned. I thought this LTE would amount to me merely shouting into an empty well. Instead, I saw that people were actually paying attention and were open to what I had to share.
I told Dan about my phone call and he grinned an “I-told-you-so” grin.
As Catholics, he said, we have a moral responsibility to help realize God’s Kingdom of justice, love and peace on earth through prophetic public witness. Although we can do this in many ways, one approach is to provide faith-based commentary that shapes how people think about pressing social issues. LTEs can raise awareness, provide new insights, and shift public opinion through well-reasoned argumentation. This is exactly what happened with my own LTE.
But LTEs can do even more – they can also influence public policy.
LTEs help reveal the “pulse” of a constituency, broadcasting what citizens are thinking and feeling. For this reason, elected officials pay attention to what constituents say in LTEs and often have their staffers track LTEs that specifically mention them by name. Additionally, LTEs can inspire readers to contact elected officials about an issue and thus catalyze citizen engagement.
I thought about how the evangelists used every available method of communication to spread the Good News. Not only did they participate in traditional itinerant preaching, they took advantage of a relatively new form of communication – writing. The letters St. Paul wrote to help form the faith of new churches is not all that different from writing an LTE to help shift public opinion.
The work of sharing the Gospel continues. As missionaries inspired by the example of the Columbans, we should take advantage of every form of communications possible, be it a meme on Facebook or a letter-to-the-editor in a local newspaper.
*Wesley Cocozello is the Communications and Programs Coordinator for the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach. Dan DiLeo is the Assistant Professor and Director of the Justice & Peace Studies Program at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. For two years, they worked together on environmental justice programming.*
**Weekly Reflection on Justice is produced by the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach staff, volunteers, interns, Columban parishioners, Columban Missionaries, and friends of the Columbans. We hope these reflections help to guide you in your own spiritual journey working toward justice, peace, and the integrity of creation.**