Nevada’s Hard Road Ahead

Covid-19, Black Lives Matter Present Challenges and Opportunities

Here we are, going into the second half of the epic year 2020, and Nevadans are feeling the pain.

First came the coronavirus pandemic that shut down our normal lives and the economy along with it, costing Nevadans the highest percentage of job loss, per state, in United States history.  More recently we’ve seen an eruption of anger and activism focused on the racism that seethes beneath the surface of our ostensibly civil society. 

Economic collapse and structural racism must be addressed, and Nevada is going to have to deal with them together.  Gov. Steve Sisolak has called a special session of the Legislature, which begins on July 8. Assembly and senate members have to deal with an $800 million budget deficit this year and a projected $1.3 billion shortfall next year; the governor has already proposed painful budget cuts, including deep slashes to education and health care. Tax revenue dried up when the economy shut down. Nevada has historically been vulnerable to the “boom-bust” economic cycle because of its heavy reliance on gaming and sales tax. Perhaps now is the time to revisit the state’s outdated property tax structure. But that fix must wait while we deal with our immediate situation: not enough money to pay the bills.

There has been a lot in the news about demands to “de-fund” police departments as a means of curbing police violence.  That is an unfortunate term, and for most people, it doesn’t mean completely wiping out police forces, but rather, shifting resources away from police agencies and toward social services that address the problems for which police are typically called.

A process we might better call “reallocation” sounds like it would be a simple “revenue neutral” process.  Unfortunately, that’s not true. Police agencies have been tasked with all kinds of duties that could and should be handled by other professionals, precisely because budgets for other agencies have been cut.  Over the years, legislatures throughout the country, and in Nevada as well, have found it politically convenient to under-resource mental health, housing, job training, and more. It’s politically convenient to cut such services because the main beneficiaries are the poor and people of color—those who have little or no voice in the legislative process.

Lutheran Engagement and Advocacy in Nevada exists to speak for these groups.

LEAN advocate Bill Ledford will be at the Legislature’s regular session when it convenes in February 2020, but in the meantime, he and the LEAN board will keep tabs on developments at the special session. (The public can follow developments here).We will do all we can to ensure that those who have no voice are represented in very tough budget negotiations. Shifting funds from law enforcement seems to us a productive way to address the problems that hold minorities down. The police would be grateful to be “de-funded” in this way.

For us Lutheran Christians, the budget fight is not just a political exercise; this is a moral crisis we must face. The ELCA has moved forward boldly to acknowledge our collective and institutional sin of racism. For us in Nevada, accepting the prospect of higher taxes may be part of that. Reallocation of resources to promote equality must be.

Lenny Dunca, an ELCA pastor and author of the book Dear Church: A Love Letter From A Black Preacher, describes the Lutheran church as “the whitest denomination in the country.” Many white Lutherans have attended protest rallies and marches.  Many more of us have wondered what to do to help.  Pastor Duncan was recently interviewed on NPR and was asked that same question. “White denominations need to show up, share their wealth, and let people of color and street activists lead,” he said.  While tax policy or law enforcement can’t be changed overnight, those who are able can certainly donate to groups that work against bias in the justice system, that work for housing equity, for voting rights, and related causes.

LEAN will be at the Legislature to work on these issues, but we can’t do it alone. We’d love to hear from our Christian brothers and sisters on how they think Nevadans can better work together to bring about equitable social change in our state – and how LEAN can best represent them to legislators. Feel free to e-mail your thoughts, concerns and ideas to

LEAN Supports Nevada Covid-19 Hunger Relief

Lutheran Engagement and Advocacy in Nevada (LEAN) recently received a wonderful  surprise gift. A very large donation came through the Sierra Pacific Synod from St. John’s Lutheran Church of Sunnyvale, California.  This blessing arrived the first week of April, in the midst of the Covid-19 lockdown, and just as the state unemployment offices were being overwhelmed with claims.

Volunteers from the Food Bank of Northern Nevada take part in a drive to help hungry residents through the Covid-19 shutdown.

LEAN  was aware that food pantries throughout Nevada were likewise being overwhelmed. Although LEAN’s mission is advocacy to address the root causes of hunger and poverty, the board recognized that a direct response to the emergency was appropriate, and also wanted to make a tithe in gratitude for the gift.

Northern Nevada is in the Sierra Pacific Synod, and Southern Nevada is in Grand Canyon Synod. LEAN’s board decided to contribute to feeding programs in both Synods.  A gift of $5,000 went to Food Bank of Northern Nevada. The Food Bank is an industrial-scale operation that supplies food pantries throughout Northern Nevada, including Elko, Winnemucca, and other locations in what we refer to as “the rurals.”

“The Food Bank is so grateful to partners like LEAN,” said Nicole Lamboley, President and CEO of the Food Bank of Northern Nevada. “We are seeing significant increases in families who need our help during this crisis and we wouldn’t be able to meet that need without partners who share our passion for helping our neighbors.”  The photos in this article are of a one-day event in Reno which served 900 families. 

Southern Nevada has multiple food assistance programs, but LEAN is especially close to Lutheran Social Services of Nevada.  LSSN offers many types of services, and among them is a food bank.  This food bank is unique in Nevada, having pioneered “Digi-Mart.”  This is an online shopping application. Pre-approved clients can order the items desired, and LSSN workers assemble the orders for client pickup. This has been particularly beneficial during the Covid-19 crisis because contact between client and LSSN staff is reduced.  LSSN people simply drop the order in the trunk of the client’s  car.  The ability to choose enhances client dignity and autonomy and reduces waste of unwanted products.

Digi-Mart has experienced a huge increase in demand.  On one recent morning, LSSN delivered food equal to 60% of what would normally be distributed in a month.  LSSN leadership posted on its Facebook page the following comment: “Thank you to our partners at Lutheran Engagement and Advocacy in Nevada (LEAN) for your gift of $5,400 to help with our Covid-19 Emergency Distribution in the Digi-Mart! Your support will help us continue to combat hunger at a critical time in our community and in our world. We are so grateful!”

A different agency serves Nye, Esmeralda, and Lincoln Counties, so a tithe of the gift allocated to Southern Nevada went to Nye Communities Coalition. This is an “umbrella” organization that assists other service agencies by providing resources and coordination.

Tammi Odegard, Chief Operating Officer of Nye Communities Coalition, said, “Your donation has allowed us to ‘fill the gaps’ where grant funds won’t allow or don’t exist.  With the new (and ever-changing) CDC guidelines, the food banks are being saddled with additional expenses for personal protective equipment for their volunteers/staff. To date, your donation has allowed us to purchase masks and gloves for the local food banks. They have been so appreciative, as the donations they receive are usually restricted to food only.”

Ms. Odegard added, “Thank you again for your generosity, we are hopeful we can continue to partner together to benefit the communities in Nye, Esmeralda, and Lincoln counties.”

LEAN shares that hope.

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.


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.