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.

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.

LEANING FORWARD, LOOKING BACK

LUTHERAN ENGAGEMENT and ADVOCACY in NEVADA is the new LEAN, and we now have a Policy Council in place.  The Policy Council has set out for our Advocate, Allan Smith, LEAN’s advocacy agenda for the remainder of the legislative session.

Two priorities carry over from the 2015 session, and both have to do with economic justice.  They are “payday lending” and minimum wage.  LEAN continues to be interested in these, based on the ELCA Social Statement, “Sufficient, Sustainable Livelihood for All.”  (The new LEAN, like its predecessors, takes its policy positions from the Social Statements.)

Assembly Bill 163 provides significant new protection for people who use so-called payday lenders.  These short-term, high interest loans often start a downward spiral of endless debt, because when the borrower can’t pay, lenders simply give them another loan.  AB 163 requires lenders to evaluate the borrower’s ability to pay before making a loan.  AB 163 also restricts a lender’s ability to “cure” a defaulted loan with a payment plan.

There are three measures dealing with minimum wage.  Senate Bill 106 calls for a gradual increase of seventy-five cents per hour every year until the minimum wage reaches $12.00 per hour.  Senate Joint Resolution 6 also gets to $12.00 per hour, but on a different timetable.  Assembly Bill 175 began as a straightforward increase of the minimum wage, raising it one dollar per hour every year to reach $15.00.  Recently AB 175 has morphed into something quite different.  As amended, the bill refers to the Nevada Constitution, which allows a minimum wage of one dollar per hour less if health insurance is provided by an employer.  The amendment defines the kind of health plan required to qualify as “health insurance.”  The amendment significantly raises the standard, and by doing so, gets at employers who offer a “bare bones” plan and pay wages at the lower rate.  This may be a legislative maneuver to make employers, who argue that a higher minimum wage kills jobs, to either pay more on the health care side or agree to the proposed wage increase.

Increasing the minimum wage has been proposed in the past, and like this session, it has encountered resistance.  Rev. Mike Patterson was the LEAN Advocate in the 2015 legislative session.  He spent time with Assemblyman Ira Hansen, one of the most conservative people in the Assembly.  Mike was able to convince Mr. Hansen that apart from the moral considerations, an increase in the minimum wage makes economic sense.  Mr. Hansen concluded that many low wage workers qualify for public assistance in the form of subsidized food, housing, medical care, and other.  In true conservative fashion, he questions the role of government in such programs, and calculated a “breakeven” point of $15 to $17 per hour to shift these costs to employers.  Assemblyman Hansen actually made a chart showing his figures and submitted it to his committee colleagues in support of the original 2017 bill.  Advocacy works!

Advocate Allan Smith is in Carson City, speaking on behalf of the poor as well as others who suffer injustice.  To express your opinions on AB 163, AB 175, or any other bill, go here.   Or start with the Legislature home page, then click on “Share Your Opinion on Bills” in the upper right corner.

LEAN Returns With New Lutheran Life

By Sheila Freed

Many Nevadans have wondered why the legislative advocacy effort known as LEAN has been dormant recently. Indeed, advocacy in Nevada has been re-organizing, and now it’s time to move forward.

The previous organization represented by this Web site, Lutheran-Episcopal Advocacy in Nevada, is now LUTHERAN ENGAGEMENT and ADVOCACY IN NEVADA.  Adding “engagement” to the organization’s name highlights the fact that everyone is invited to do advocacy and to be an engaged citizen.  Nevada is a fast-growing state with many acute needs, and since the 2016 election there has been a huge outpouring of activism on the part of individuals.  As with its past iterations going back to LAMN (Lutheran Advocacy and Ministry in Nevada), LEAN will provide tools and information to enable all to work for good within Nevada at the legislative and policy-making levels.

Lutheran Engagement and Advocacy in Nevada now has a lobbyist at the legislature, just as our predecessor organizations did.  Mr. Allan Smith is already working at the Legislature.  Allan was the lobbyist for Religious Alliance in Nevada (RAIN) until it ceased operations last year.  In that capacity, he provided a unified voice for Presbyterians, Methodists and Catholics as well as Lutherans and Episcopalians.  Allan has become familiar with the Lutheran Social Statements and supports the LEAN/LAMN commitment to base all policy positions in the Social Statements.

Allan is a member of Spanish Springs Presbyterian Church, and serves on the Session (ruling board of a Presbyterian church).  He has held other offices and chaired various committees as well.  Allan is retired from the State of Nevada, where he was Manager of Information Systems for the Legislature.  The award-winning legislative website, to which LEAN has often referred, was begun by Allan.  He has a deep understanding of the legislative process, and will be an enormous asset to LEAN as we move into the future.  The Legislative Session is about half over now, and we are grateful that Allan has the skills to regain some of the momentum lost while LEAN has been reorganizing.

Our former LEAN Advocate, Rev. Mike Patterson (Gift of Grace Lutheran Church, Fernley) has agreed to “re-engage” (pun intended) as a member of the new Policy Council.  He is joined by Vic Williams and Sheila Freed.   Diane Drach-Meinel, Pastor of Christ the Servant Lutheran Church in Henderson, will join Dr. Ed Cotton in Las Vegas to represent the south.  Appointment of a third person from the south, plus a secretary and a treasurer, are still pending.

Until we finish getting the new LEAN up and running, please check this website for news and updates. We hope that engagement will be the hallmark of this new effort.  Please join us.