For Lutherans It’s ‘Us Too’

By Sheila Freed

At the end of September, the country was absorbed in a real-life soap opera, broadcast live from a hearing room in the U.S. Senate. The Brett Kavanaugh hearing was just the latest event in a year’s worth of controversy over sexual assault and harassment. The Me Too movement seemingly just happened last year. One might be surprised to know that the ELCA identified and addressed gender-based violence in 2015.

ELCA Social Messages are second in rank below the Social Statements, and are typically used when the church wants to speak out on an issue that needs immediate attention. Social Messages are adopted by the Church Council, and do not require the lengthy deliberation of a Social Statement. So the [churchwide] Church Council adopted a message on gender-based violence in late 2015.

The introductory paragraph says, “Gender-based violence is an ancient sin that for thousands of years has harmed countless women, children, and men. It is a sin that Christians need to recognize, understand, and confront, for our religious history also bears its stain.” The message then recounts a shocking story from Second Samuel, in which Amnon, King David’s firstborn son, rapes his half-sister Tamar. King David learns of it, but does nothing to punish Amnon, whom David loved and intended to succeed him as king. How many versions of this story have we all heard?

The message goes on to explore the ways we are all involved in gender based violence, which is defined as “physical, sexual, psychological, emotional, or other personal harm inflicted on someone for gender-based reasons.” Included are hurts some don’t think of as gender based violence, such as harassment, coercion, elder and child abuse, and pornography. The message notes that the factors contributing to gender based violence are deeply woven into society and our individual lives. It says we all share in the brokenness and judgment brought on by this sin. It points out that we are all survivors, perpetrators, and bystanders.

The message bluntly states, [Gender-based violence] “occurs in the church, in workplaces, the educational system, city streets, war, the military, and the health care system. It occurs, for example, by acquaintances, friends, strangers, caregivers, teachers, clergy, coaches, and work supervisors. Through this violence, someone creates or maintains power and control over someone else. God calls us to love. Gender-based violence is not love.”

The message goes on, “Acts of gender-based violence always involve sinful individual choices to exercise power and control. The choice to inflict violence is a personal responsibility.” . . . . “While individuals are culpable, social systems influence individuals’ actions. This church has proclaimed that God’s grace calls us not only to confront individual sin, but also to confront sin in social systems.” The message talks about how patriarchy and racism in our society and the church contribute to gender-based violence.

Advocacy is our response to God’s call to confront the sins in our social system. LEAN is already working to learn about the bills that will come up in the 2019 Nevada Legislative Session. We know of at least one Bill Draft Request (14-87) by Assemblyman Steve Yeager, about protecting rights of sexual assault victims. We will be watching this and other bills as more is known. However the Social Message makes clear that gender-based violence is more that criminal acts. The power relationships we all engage in and tacitly allow are sin, and we need God’s forgiveness and love to deal with it. It is Us Too.

LEAN Advocates Become ‘Legislators’

By Sheila Freed

On August 7, Lutheran Engagement and Advocacy in Nevada met at the Nevada State Senate for a role-play called ULegislate.  It was great fun, and in typical Lutheran fashion, the group questioned authority.

ULegislate is a learning experience in which participants play the roles of Senators and have floor debate on actual bills that passed in the 2017 Session.  On two of the three bills that were up for debate, LEAN voted the same way that the Legislature did.  However LEAN voted down the third, and the reason was quite Lutheran.  The bill, Senate Bill 322, requires every pupil in Nevada to pass a civics test before graduating high school.  This is a concept we can all support, and LEAN did.  However the bill has several exceptions, and the group did not like that.  We Lutherans embrace the “priesthood of all believers,” and take seriously the notion that all believers are equal before God.   So the majority voted no, in hopes that the bill would return in a more acceptable form.

Participants learned the rigid protocol of Senate business, and that much of the legislative process happens not on the chamber floors, but in committee meetings and legislators’ offices.  Here is where advocacy comes in.  Our paid Advocate meets with legislators individually to present the moral arguments on selected bills, with particular reference to the ELCA Social Statements.  Individual parishioners can do the same, either in person or by email, phone call, or letter.  The LEAN Advocate also testifies at committee hearings on selected bills.

The Senate staff was helpful and accommodating. They even made a video for us!

It’s great fun to watch, for several reasons.  First, you will learn some facts you may not know, and hear some arguments for and against the bills that you might not have thought of.  You will hear a bit of Bob Marley quoted! You will see people you know and those you don’t, so a roster of participants is included here.  LEAN is excited that people came from Las Vegas to participate, and that new people from both north and south were there.

“Senators” participating in ULegislate were:  Chad Adamik, Pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Family, Carson City; John Biggs, Pastor of Saved by Grace, Pahrump; Veralyn Combs, member of Holy Cross, Reno; Ed Cotton, member of Community Lutheran, Las Vegas; Diane Drach-Meinel, Pastor of Christ the Servant, Las Vegas; Sonja Dresbach, member of Faith, Reno; Sheila Freed, member of Good Shepherd, Reno; Timothy Johnson, member of Lord of Mercy, Sparks; Bill Ledford, LEAN Advocate; Diane Ludlow, member of Holy Cross, Reno; Shaun O’Reilly, pastoral intern at Lord of Mercy, Sparks, Mike Patterson, retired pastor, Gift of Grace, Fernley; Barbara Peterson, member of Holy Cross, Sparks; Thomas Rasmussen, member of Saved by Grace, Pahrump; Pennie Sheaffer, member of Lord of Mercy, Sparks; Scott Trevithick, Pastor, Holy Cross, Reno; Ashlynne Valdez, member of Lord of Mercy, Sparks; Vic Williams, member of Good Shepherd, Reno.  “Secretary” of the Senate was Allan Smith, former LEAN Advocate.  If you want to learn more about LEAN, please connect with one of these folks.

ULegislate was just the first in a line-up of events designed to engage parishioners as LEAN moves into the 120-day 2019 Legislative Session.  Watch for “Pencils for Pupils” in January, followed by the LEAN kickoff lunch on February 4, the session’s first day.

How Christians Can Help Save Democracy

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-30 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 Nevada 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 be offering an exciting learning experience.  This will be a role-playing time at the Nevada Legislature, in which people can experience firsthand the give-and-take required to pass legislation.  More details will be published soon.

ELCA Bishop Eaton Responds To Alleged Trump Comments

Editor’s Note: On Friday, Jan. 12, ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton issued the following statement in response to President Donald Trump’s alleged comments regarding immigrants from certain nations the previous day:

I am very disappointed and disturbed by the remarks that President Donald Trump is reported to have said yesterday – and confirmed by others who were present – in the context of a discussion about immigration.

Regardless of the context, references of that kind have no place in our civil discourse and, if true, reflect racist attitudes unbecoming any of us, but especially a president of the United States.

Instead, we should be fostering a world where each of us sees every person – regardless of race, origin, ethnicity, gender or economic status – in the image of God and, therefore, worthy of dignity and respect. Our church has relationships and partnerships with Christians and others on six continents. These are our sisters and brothers. We strive to accompany them and they us, across boundaries and cognizant of our diversity, yet all seeking the common good. In working for a healed, reconciled and just world, we all should faithfully strive to participate in God’s reconciling work, which prioritizes disenfranchised, vulnerable and displaced people in our communities and the world, bearing witness – each of us – to the love of God in Jesus Christ.

“We have before us the glorious opportunity to inject a new dimension of love into the veins of our civilization” —Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

God’s peace,

Elizabeth A. Eaton
ELCA Presiding Bishop

LEAN Names New Advocate

By Sheila Freed

Lutheran Engagement and Advocacy in Nevada is pleased to announce it has retained a new Advocate.  William (Bill) Ledford will be LEAN’s voice at the Legislature in 2019 as well as the organization’s representative in congregations and the larger church.

Ledford comes from a not-Lutheran background, and therefore provides a fresh perspective on our issues and activities. He is presently a Master of Divinity student at Multnomah University, and did his undergraduate work at Simpson University in Redding, California. Until recently he was the Youth Pastor at Valley View Christian Fellowship in Reno. Before that he was Youth Pastor at Discovery Fellowship Baptist Church, and while an undergraduate he led youth activities at faith organizations in the Redding area.

Ledford is articulate and thoughtful, and brings to the job an ability to form relationships.  This skill is central to advocacy.  In reviewing his qualifications, the LEAN board asked him to read the ELCA Social Statements, since all LEAN’s advocacy springs from them.  His responses overcame any concerns about his conservative evangelical roots.  Here are some excerpts from that letter:

“It is not an easy time being a more liberal “socially minded” Christian in the cliché Evangelical environment that I have been in for years.  . . . . I have found it impossible to divorce my devotion to the Gospel with my desire to defend the oppressed, the marginalized, and the environment.  . . . . While I have not spent any time with a Lutheran church, I have familiarized myself with the Social Statements and find myself refreshed in my agreements with almost all of them. . . . . These issues [social justice] are my life, my faith, my passion.  . . . . And it would be my absolute joy to prove this to the organization and, in so doing, make a difference for the Gospel in my state.”    

Ledford starts work with LEAN on December first.  Two previous Advocates and continuing Board members, Allan Smith and Pr. Mike Patterson, will train him and introduce him to church officials at all levels.  In the coming year will find Bill will reach out to congregations throughout Nevada while parishioners share with him their hopes and concerns for the 2019 Legislative Session.

To read the ELCA Social Statements visit https://www.elca.org/Faith/Faith-and-Society/Social-Statements.