By Sheila Freed
The research branch of The Economist magazine has for the past several years published an annual report about the health of democracies around the world. In 2017 they downgraded the United States from “full democracy” to “flawed democracy.” We knew that, one might say, and it’s certainly true that most Americans report dissatisfaction with the way our government functions. The Economist uses statistics for its analysis, and has documented declining faith in the functioning of government and a significant drop in political participation. In vernacular terms, we can say we think government is beyond fixing, so we’re dropping out. Unfortunately, that is exactly the wrong approach because it allows the worst abuses of government to grow.
I was stunned recently to hear Professor Fred Lokken, chair of the Political Science Department at Truckee Meadows Community College, say that he tells his young students, “You will live under facism in your lifetime.” That is a really grim prediction, and it derives in part from what he described as the lack of an engaged electorate. This is true at all age levels, but especially students. Under-thirty people are often very good at protesting and Tweeting, but the majority do not vote or register to vote.
The ELCA Social Statement “The Church in Society: A Lutheran Perspective” speaks directly to the danger of losing our freedom due to apathy. The Statement says, “The witness of this church in society flows from its identity as a community that lives from and for the Gospel. . . . The Gospel does not take the church out of the world but instead calls it to affirm and enter more deeply into the world. . . . This church must participate in social structures critically, for sin is also at work in the world. . . . This church, therefore, must unite realism and vision, wisdom and courage in its social responsibility. It needs constantly to discern when to support and when to confront society’s cultural patterns, values, and powers.”
The statement names many ways we Christians carry out our baptismal vocation in daily life, and then says, “Christians also exercise their calling by being wise and active citizens.” The statement closes with several Commitments on behalf of the entire church, including: “Promote sound, critical and creative citizenship and public service among its members,” and “Expect its pastors, bishops and lay leaders to pray for and to exhort those in positions of authority on the basis of God’s prophetic Word.”
The ELCA’s position clearly is that staying on the sidelines is not an option. Democracy doesn’t just happen, and we Christians, who believe all are equal, must work through public institutions to make equality the hallmark of our democracy. Lutheran Engagement and Advocacy in Nevada exists to carry out both the commitments. We work to keep people informed on issues Nevada Lutherans care about, and we have an Advocate at the Legislature to do the prophetic exhortation. Our name says it all.
The next legislative session will begin in February 2019, and we expect the topics most in need of attention will be shortage of affordable health care, shortage of affordable housing, and education. We will share information on these and other issues as we learn it. However in the meantime, LEAN will offer an exciting learning experience on Tuesday, Aug. 7, with role-playing time at the Nevada Legislature in Carson City, in which people can experience firsthand the give-and-take required to pass legislation. More details will be published soon.