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

God’s Work, Luther’s Hands

By Sheila Freed

Lutherans frequently refer to our wonderful  tradition of “speaking out in the public square,” of participating in public discourse. We who do advocacy have proudly claimed Martin Luther’s practice of “speaking truth to power,” of holding those in authority accountable to a moral standard. I recently learned something new about Martin Luther courtesy of Living Lutheran magazine.

In 1522, Luther joined with others to establish the Wittenberg Common Chest.  The Common Chest was a joint effort of church and state to provide financial support to the poor, interest-free loans or refinancing of high-interest loans, education or vocational training for children, and job training for adults. The Chest later provided funding for a town physician and paid medical costs of the poor. Wow! This sounds like the forerunner of Lutheran Social Services!

Many of us have read of Luther’s care for those around him, and the tradition of service to neighbor is with us today. The Common Chest shows that Luther did not view government as the enemy. Luther’s approach was not just to criticize those in authority, or even tell them what they “should” do.  Rather, he got together with them to solve problems.

Lutheran Engagement and Advocacy in Nevada tries to take the same “both-and” approach. We don’t just hang around the Legislature firing off morally indignant diatribes. We work for engagement on the part of parishioners, by doing education, since knowledge of the issues leads to better policy decisions. We hope that knowledge of the issues will also lead to involvement by parishioners, both in advocacy and service.   At the Legislature, LEAN likewise works toward engagement with elected officials. Our “citizen legislators” are not always very informed on issues. We at LEAN try to offset the effect of paid lobbyists to educate legislators in balanced, factual ways. But we also provide that moral perspective. Luther believed every citizen should help public officials to succeed in their vocation.  For LEAN, this can mean providing “political cover” to legislators who face pressure to act on behalf of special interests, rather than the common good. Committee testimony from someone in a clerical collar can be a powerful thing.

The Legislature will not convene again until February 2019. We don’t know what the important issues will be at that time, but some perennials are sure to be back: Taxes, education funding, criminal justice. The public good is a work in progress, so things change and we need to revisit the same topics repeatedly. At least one bill draft request has reportedly been submitted in response to the shooting in Las Vegas.  Between now and the next legislative session, LEAN hopes to hear from parishioners. We want to know what concerns you, what insights you have to share, and what solutions you’d like to see. Let’s follow Luther’s example and focus on engagement.

Contact LEAN or email me at scf1@charter.net.

Nevada Lutherans, Catholics Remember The Reformation

The year 2017 marks 500 years since Martin Luther famously nailed his “95 Theses” to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany.  Although he did not intend to start a movement, his action is recognized as the start of the protestant Reformation. Over the past 50 years, Catholics and Lutherans have been working to overcome centuries of division.

To recognize the progress made and to look toward a collaborative future, a Commemoration was held on Oct. 9 at St. Therese Little Flower Church in Reno. Rev. Jorge Herrera and Rev. Michael Patterson presided and the sermon was delivered jointly by the Most Reverend Bishop Randolph R. Calvo and Rev. Kathryn Gulbranson while other clergy of both denominations, and a combined choir from local parishes also attended.

In 2013 Catholics and Lutherans issued a joint statement titled, “From Conflict to Communion,” which recognized that the beliefs that unite are far greater than the differences. Included in the joint statement are five “Imperatives,” or goals, for which each member of both denominations should strive. One is “Catholics and Lutherans should witness together to witness to the mercy of God in proclamation and service to the world.” Both denominations recognize that service to the world includes caring for those in need in our own community.  Offerings received at this joint commemoration will be divided between Catholic Charities and Faith Lutheran Food Pantry, for the benefit of hungry people in this area.

Lutheran Engagement and Advocacy in Nevada exists to bring to public attention the needs of disadvantaged people.  LEAN advocates at the Nevada Legislature to reduce barriers that keep people in poverty. However LEAN also works in the community, and to that end, will donate $1,000 to the offering for the commemoration, to benefit Catholic Charities of Northern Nevada. LEAN will also donate $1,000 to Lutheran Social Services of Nevada, to reflect LEAN’s commitment to address hunger and poverty in southern Nevada, the most populous part of our state.

Lutheran Social Services began serving the Southern Nevada community in 1985 with a simple clothes closet and food pantry.  The agency has since become a leader in providing healthy, nutritious food in innovative ways.  It is led by Executive Director Armena Mnatsakanyan.

In 2012, LSSN pioneered the Open Air Market to provide fresh produce and other nutritious food to those living in “food deserts.”  In 2014, LSSN launched a Senior Meal Program.  In 2016, LSSN received the Agency of the Year award from Three Square, the umbrella food bank in Southern Nevada. The agency was recognized for starting DigiMart, the first online digital food pantry in the west. LSSN has been recognized by the Governor and Lt. Governor of Nevada for outstanding community service.

Additional information about Catholic Charities is at www.ccsnn.org. Additional information about Lutheran Social Services of Nevada is at www.lssnnv.org.