ELCA Bishop: Care For Each Other In Age of Coronavirus

Note: On March 8, ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton issued the following letter regarding coronavirus and COVID-19, the resulting illness now spreading around the world. It also appeared on the ELCA website.

In 1527 the plague returned to Wittenberg, Germany. Two hundred years earlier the plague had swept across Europe killing up to 40% of the population. Understandably, people were anxious and wondered what a safe and faithful response might be. In answer to this, Martin Luther wrote “Whether One May Flee From a Deadly Plague.” In it, he emphasized the duty to care for the neighbor, the responsibility of government to protect and provide services to its citizens, a caution about recklessness, and the importance of science, medicine and common sense.

Wittenberg, Germany

To provide care for the neighbor, Luther recommended that pastors, those in public office, doctors and public servants should remain in the city. Luther himself remained in Wittenberg to care for his people. He recommended that public hospitals be built to accommodate those with the plague. He condemned those who took unnecessary risks that put themselves and others in danger of contagion. Luther also encouraged the use of reason and medicine, writing,

“God has created medicines and has provided us with intelligence to guard and take care of the body. … Use medicine; take potions which can help you; fumigate house, yard, and street; shun persons and places wherever your neighbor does not need your presence”

(“Whether One May Flee From a Deadly Plague,” 1527).

We are living in the time of the coronavirus. We are also living in the time of social media and constant, relentless news coverage. Many of our people have the same concerns as those in Luther’s day. Many of our people are anxious. Luther’s counsel, based on Scripture, is still sound. Respect the disease. Do not take unnecessary risks. Provide for the spiritual and physical needs of the neighbor. Make use of medical aid. Care for one another, especially the most vulnerable.

The churchwide organization recommends the following for churchwide staff: Wash your hands, stay home when you are sick, wear a mask if you have symptoms, consult your medical provider. Bishops and pastors will provide guidelines for worship and church gatherings.

Luther also reminded his people and us that we should trust God’s faithfulness and promises, particularly the promise eternal life. Paul writes:

“ If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”

Romans 14:8

In peace,

The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton
Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

A Lenten Message From Sierra Pacific Synod

The following message from Sierra Pacific Synod Bishop Mark Holmerud originally appeared in the synod’s February 26, 2020 newsletter.

[Recently], as a group of ELCA leaders visited and prayed on both sides of the border with Mexico, the California Assembly issued an apology for the role our state played in rounding up about 120,000 people during WWII – mainly U.S. citizens – and moving them into 10 concentration camps, including two in California. 78 years ago, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order authorizing the internment of Japanese Americans. In a unanimous vote, the Assembly passed the following resolution:

“Resolved by the Assembly of the State of California, That the Assembly apologizes to all Americans of Japanese ancestry for its past actions in support of the unjust exclusion, removal, and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, and for its failure to support and defend the civil rights and civil liberties of Japanese Americans during this period.”

I remember my mother telling me that one of her best friends, who was Japanese American, was suddenly taken from their Linda Vista neighborhood in San Diego along with her family and never heard from again. My mother’s family, who were of German heritage and who spoke German in the home, faced no such reprisals. They were white.

The history of our country in its treatment of people of color is nothing less than shameful and horrific. In addition to the internment of Japanese American citizens during WWII, there is the decimation and colonization of the Indigenous peoples of America, the enslavement of people who were brought here in chains from Africa and the continuing discrimination people of African heritage deal with every day. Recently, government policies have been enacted that are separating Latinx families at the border who are seeking to immigrate to this country. Having just experienced what is happening at our southern border, I wonder, will it take nearly 80 years before the California Assembly or the United States Congress issues an apology to those who have sought asylum, refuge and justice from the people of a nation whose pledge of allegiance to our flag ends with the words “with liberty and justice for all?”

White Privilege, xenophobic attitudes and government policies foster other forms of race-based discrimination, oppression and violence. There are deep racial divides in our country. What does our church have to say about this and others who have been victimized? The history of violence towards and the repression of women seeking gender equality is a struggle that is far from over, just as the continuing struggle of LGBTQIA+ people seeking equity, access and safety is an ongoing concern in many parts of this country.

In the recent past, our ELCA has adopted statements which are offered as public apologies, teaching tools, and aspirations for how the Gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to see people as Jesus saw everyone – as a beloved child of God. These actions were taken as strong statements of our intention to seek and serve those who continue to cry out for justice, and who look to us as Christ’s representatives on Earth to be agents of peace and reconciliation. I invite you to follow the links below and wonder with others in your congregation / community / ministry how these statements might become conversations, ministries, actions — “God’s work with our Hands” — in and through your ministry for the community you have been called to serve.

Peace,

Bp. Mark Holmerud

Is It Time For Larger LEAN Partnerships?

ACTIONN, NCG Could Be Apt Allies

By Sheila Freed

LEAN Advocate Bill Ledford and I recently attended an event hosted by ACTIONN (Action in Community Together In Organizing Northern Nevada) to kick off their 2020 Civic Engagement campaign.

The event was entertainment with a message, if you will. There was music interspersed with informal talks. All the speakers were pastors and lay people who have taken time off from their work and families to travel the country by bus, promoting the notion that ethics in public life is the only way to solve the problems this country faces. Their slogan is, “Faith, Hope, and Love.”

The group’s name is Vote Common Good, and it springs from belief that all religions, but especially Christian religions, need to take seriously God’s call to love one another and to care for the least among us. Their “Love in Politics” program calls for Christians and others to refrain from the rancorous discourse we all engage in. The group features the passage from 1 Corinthians 13 that begins “Love is patient, Love is Kind.” We are reminded that passage also says Love is not self-seeking, Love rejoices in the truth, does not dishonor others, does not envy or boast, and always protects.

Vote Common Good is non-denominational, comes from the Evangelical segment of Christianity, but recognizes that non-Christian faiths share the same desires for peace and justice for all. ACTIONN is also non-denominational and fully interfaith.

LEAN is somewhat like ACTIONN, because both seek justice and equality for all, but never endorse political candidates. Our methods are different. LEAN “speaks truth to power” at the Legislature through Bill Ledford, and strives to educate parishioners on the issues and on ways to be engaged, effective citizens. ACTIONN is more of a “community organizing” entity. There is a similar organization in Southern Nevada called Nevadans for the Common Good.

Both ACTIONN and Nevadans for the Common Good are generally referred to as “FBOs,” or faith-based organizing groups. Many people view community organizing as vaguely socialist, but in about 2010, the ELCA took positive note of the FBO movement. And today there is a section of the ELCA website devoted to “congregation-based community organizing.” The website notes that “[H]undreds of ELCA congregations have ventured beyond their walls through congregation-based community organizing to address the larger causes of the pressures they and their communities face each day. This can be a witness to the fact that we are a church that believes Jesus is God’s “Yes” to us. Our lives can be a “Yes” to others.

LEAN has considered collaborating with ACTIONN and Nevadans for the Common Good. Both call for membership of institutions rather than individuals. Lutheran Social Services of Nevada, based in Las Vegas, is a member of NCG. At least three Lutheran congregations are also members: Holy Spirit, New Song, and Reformation. No Lutheran congregations in Northern Nevada have joined ACTIONN, but individuals are active.

One Lutheran pastor wrote a few years ago that FBO’s such as ACTIONN and NCG are most effective when they empower ordinary people to hold public figures accountable to their commitments. This means public officials and those running for office will face questions from ACTIONN and NCG about policies that these groups support. The objectives are to establish effective, trusting relationships with officials while also holding them accountable. ACTIONN and NCG worked together last year to push through the Legislature some excellent measures, particularly in the area of low-income housing. LEAN supported these same bills.

The question now for LEAN is whether deeper collaboration with either or both groups would be appropriate or effective.

Nevada Legislature Post-Game Wrap

By Sheila Freed

The 2019 Session of the Nevada Legislature is history.   They say politics is a blood sport, so as in any sport, it’s time for the post-game wrap-up.

Lutheran Engagement & Advocacy in Nevada (LEAN) stayed in the game ‘til the end.  We scored some wins and some losses.

One example of this is payday lending reform.  Previous articles have talked about the outrageously high interest these loans carry, and how people foolishly borrow more to pay old loans, starting a cycle of ever increasing debt.

Some bills were introduced to cap the interest rates, but went nowhere.  The only bill that made it through is SB 201, which mandates a state database that will record all the payday loans. This will enable lenders and regulators to know when a person is already “loaned up” and more debt would lead to default or worse.

Another example is the minimum wage bill, AB 456.  The effort to raise the minimum wage was finally successful, after a multi-session effort.  However it’s an incremental process over four years, and it maxes out at $12 per hour.  Twelve dollars per hour is poverty wages in today’s market, so by 2024 the wage increase will not represent much of an improvement, but it’s a small step forward.

A measure to allow workers to use their sick leave to care for immediate family failed.  One wonders what can be controversial about proposals like this.

There are many different agendas, some hidden. Those with the loudest voices and the most economic clout have the most influence.  So Advocacy is a slow process that calls for persistence as well as diplomacy.  If we were a football team we’d be offensive linemen.

The same kind of mixed results  happened in the criminal justice area.

A new Office of indigent Defense will be created to ensure that poor defendants get better legal representation.  A bill was passed to ensure that courts don’t hold a defendant’s bail money any longer than necessary.

However, proposals for Veterans’ Court and drug treatment while in prison both failed. No money was provided for prisoner re-entry programs, and a plan to release more low-level offenders on their own recognizance went down. All proved cost effective, but our legislators did not see fit to support them.

Generally penalties for child sex offenders were made more severe, and services to victims were broadened.  The definition of domestic abuse was broadened, and new protection put in place for transgender persons.

Two bills relating to food both passed.

AB 326 as initially introduced would have created a lending program to help businesses that sell fresh food in so-called “food deserts.”  Before  it got through, the bill was completely revised to provide tax credits to “entities that invest in certain fresh food retailers.”  SB 178 creates the Office of Food Security which will oversee food policy in Nevada, work to enhance food production and economic development, and ensure all Nevadans have enough food and improved health.  As part of this effort, Nevada will work with a group called Food for People, Not Landfills to reduce food waste and better allocate food resources to those who need them.

Numerous bills were introduced to deal with the statewide lack of affordable housing.

One  that made it through was SB 448.  This bill creates a tax credit, virtually identical to the federal tax credit that has existed for many years, to help developers build affordable housing.  Also passed were measures to help local jurisdictions waive impact fees for affordable housing projects, and to extend for a few days the time frames associated with tenant evictions.

Governor Sisolak requested SB 538, and it passed.  It creates the Office of New Americans, which will advise the Governor regarding policy pertaining to immigrants.  The bill mandates that every state agency include on its website information to enable new citizens to interact effectively with those agencies.

LEAN will not be idle during the “off season.”  We will be monitoring activities of the Interim Committees and sharpening our skills on the issues.  We hope to do some training for parishioners as well, so we’ll all “hit the ground running” come next legislative season, February, 2021.

The Advocacy Beat Goes On

 

The 2019 Nevada Legislature is slated to adjourn on Monday, June 3, barring a last-minute extension.

When it ends, the presiding officer in each chamber adjourns the meeting “sine die.”  This is a Latin phrase, universally mispronounced, that translates literally as “without a day.”  It makes it sound terribly final, as if no one is ever coming back again.  We all know that two years from now many of the same people will be back, often confronting the same issues. 

The work of government goes on, even when the Legislature is not in session.

LEAN’s work continues as well.  Lutheran Engagement and Advocacy in Nevada exists for two related reasons:  To speak out on behalf of the least among us to elected officials, and to Lutherans and others across the state.  Both groups have power to change things.

LEAN has a paid Advocate at the Legislature during the Session. Bill Ledford has done well in his first session, testifying about proposals that the LEAN Board has chosen to take a position on. Some of these bills have passed, some have not. Next month we will sort some of this out.  Right now, a lot isn’t known, because so much legislation is decided in the last few days of a session. “Backroom Deals” are unfortunately common.

A previous post here was about several reforms that had been postponed because they carry spending requirements. Such postponements help set up conditions ripe for backroom deals, because pressure to “just get finished” is huge.

The deadline also enhances the power of lobbyists.  In the final days, there isn’t time for careful analysis of bills, and there is a tendency for legislators to rely on lobbyists for information, biased as it might be.

This is why it is so important for LEAN to have an Advocate at the Legislature.  Bill Ledford has been working all session to establish personal relationships with Senators and Assembly Members.  He has worked to explain why particular measures are good or bad policy in a just society.  He has worked to articulate our Lutheran Christian values as outlined in the ELCA Social Statements.

Bill’s advocacy and that of LEAN generally does not end at “sine die” any more than legislators become just private citizens when they go back home.  Bill will continue to connect with them, sometimes to discuss plans to try again in the next session to pass measures that failed, sometimes to discuss interim studies that take place between sessions.

The “interim,” or time between sessions, also is a time for LEAN to focus more on parishioners, helping them to understand the issues and the various ways those issues might be addressed. 

Financial support is needed to keep all this work going.  LEAN receives funds from ELCA Churchwide, and from the Sierra Pacific and Grand Canyon Synods.  We also receive support from congregations throughout the two synods.  LEAN is grateful for all support, and we operate frugally.

We hope to emphasize the “engagement” part of our name more in the next eighteen months.  Many know about the Legislative website, and about the resources it offers for keeping informed and for expressing views on legislation.  This does not disappear when the session ends.  We hope to do some training so more people can learn the tools at their disposal.  We are blessed to live in a state where direct access to elected officials is easy.  Martin Luther viewed committed, informed citizenship part of our Christian calling, and this is echoed in the first ELCA Social Statement, “The Church in Society.”  A lot has been written lately about how individuals need to work to reclaim democracy from special interests.  LEAN hopes to work with Lutherans and legislators across the state toward that goal.