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.

Be A Nevada Legislator For A Day

Fed up with the partisan gridlock in our legislative process? Discouraged because civility and compromise seem to belong to the past? Here’s your chance to show the world how it ought to be done. You can be a legislator for a day!

Lutheran Engagement and Advocacy in Nevada (LEAN) is pleased to invite you to participate in an exciting learning experience called uLegislate.   The odd name is an echo of such things as YouTube, and expresses beautifully what it is—a role play for private citizens to experience what it’s like to be a state Senator. LEAN thinks it will be a great way for parishioners to understand what happens during the legislative process.  We hope it will also show how Lutheran advocacy works within the legislative process to protect the least among us.

The event will be Tuesday, August 7, 2018, beginning at 10 a.m. It lasts about one hour and takes place in the Nevada Senate chambers at the state capitol in Carson City.  Each participant is given a role to play, and a script.  Two bills have been chosen for debate. These are actual bills that went through the 2017 Session, however the role play calls for us to treat them as new proposals, just introduced. There will be procedural votes, floor debate, and all the activities the average person never hears about. It’s a wonderful way to learn that both sides of an issue have valid concerns, that reasonable people can compromise, and that clear analysis and articulate discussion are real assets.  There are a limited number of roles, but there is no limit to the number of people who can come to the session and observe from the gallery. Wannabe legislators should jump right in to ensure getting a speaking part. The deadline to sign up either as a participant or an observer is Saturday, July 7. There is no charge to participate or observe, and St. Paul’s Lutheran Family in Carson City will host the group for lunch afterward. There is no charge for the luncheon, and there’s plenty of free parking on the street and in public lots near the capitol.

Learn more about ULegislate here.

The site lists the bills that are available for the simulation, and LEAN has chosen SB 194 and SB 322.  The first deals with products from endangered species, and the second calls for a civics test to graduate high school. You can click on those bills, and be taken to the text of the bill itself.  By the way, there are ELCA Social Statements that relate to each of these bills. “Care for Creation” talks about endangered species, and “Church in Society” calls for Christians to be informed, active citizens.

LEAN hopes that some folks who come to this event will become active with us, as LEAN contacts in their congregations, as board members, or to lead a particular program or event. As you know, Lutheran Engagement and Advocacy in Nevada bases all its policy positions in the ELCA Social Statements.

To sign up by July 7, please email LEAN’s Advocate and Director, Bill Ledford at shdwdrake8@gmail.com, and please CC Vic Williams at fg.vwilliams@gmail.com.

Engagement Will 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-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.

ELCA Responds To Government Shutdown

In the wake of the current impasse that has caused a shutdown of the federal government, ELCA Advocacy calls on Congress and Administration to do their jobs by passing and enacting legislation that resolves critical issues. Failing to fund our U.S. government, re-authorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and find a permanent solution for Dreamers who are losing protection affects the lives of Americans in every community across this land.

Political posturing by elected leaders on both sides of the aisle at the expense of the lives of real people is inexcusable. We call on our nation’s lawmakers to find a way forward on these important issues that care for the health of children, grant young Dreamers a pathway to citizenship and keep the federal government open and funded to perform its vital functions.

As Lutherans, we believe that “God works through the family, education, the economy, the state, and other structures necessary for life in the present age. God institutes governing authorities, for example, to serve the good of society. This church respects the God-given integrity and tasks of governing authorities and other worldly structures, while holding them accountable to God” (ELCA Social Statement, The Church in Society: A Lutheran Perspective).

We urge our elected representatives to come together to pass legislation that serves all our communities. We must leave no one behind.

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