By Sheila Freed
Lutherans frequently refer to our wonderful tradition of “speaking out in the public square,” of participating in public discourse. We who do advocacy have proudly claimed Martin Luther’s practice of “speaking truth to power,” of holding those in authority accountable to a moral standard. I recently learned something new about Martin Luther courtesy of Living Lutheran magazine.
In 1522, Luther joined with others to establish the Wittenberg Common Chest. The Common Chest was a joint effort of church and state to provide financial support to the poor, interest-free loans or refinancing of high-interest loans, education or vocational training for children, and job training for adults. The Chest later provided funding for a town physician and paid medical costs of the poor. Wow! This sounds like the forerunner of Lutheran Social Services!
Many of us have read of Luther’s care for those around him, and the tradition of service to neighbor is with us today. The Common Chest shows that Luther did not view government as the enemy. Luther’s approach was not just to criticize those in authority, or even tell them what they “should” do. Rather, he got together with them to solve problems.
Lutheran Engagement and Advocacy in Nevada tries to take the same “both-and” approach. We don’t just hang around the Legislature firing off morally indignant diatribes. We work for engagement on the part of parishioners, by doing education, since knowledge of the issues leads to better policy decisions. We hope that knowledge of the issues will also lead to involvement by parishioners, both in advocacy and service. At the Legislature, LEAN likewise works toward engagement with elected officials. Our “citizen legislators” are not always very informed on issues. We at LEAN try to offset the effect of paid lobbyists to educate legislators in balanced, factual ways. But we also provide that moral perspective. Luther believed every citizen should help public officials to succeed in their vocation. For LEAN, this can mean providing “political cover” to legislators who face pressure to act on behalf of special interests, rather than the common good. Committee testimony from someone in a clerical collar can be a powerful thing.
The Legislature will not convene again until February 2019. We don’t know what the important issues will be at that time, but some perennials are sure to be back: Taxes, education funding, criminal justice. The public good is a work in progress, so things change and we need to revisit the same topics repeatedly. At least one bill draft request has reportedly been submitted in response to the shooting in Las Vegas. Between now and the next legislative session, LEAN hopes to hear from parishioners. We want to know what concerns you, what insights you have to share, and what solutions you’d like to see. Let’s follow Luther’s example and focus on engagement.