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.

The Sierra Pacific Synod, of which Northern Nevada’s ELCA congregations are a part, recently published a link in its newsletter to a call to action regarding the August 2019 nationwide Churchwide Assembly and the opportunities to add much-needed language to the church’s Social Statements. You can read it here, and please take a moment to watch this eye-opening video regarding the persistent obstacles and offensive language current and potential female ELCA pastors encounter in some congregations.

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.

Have Something to Say? Your Legislators DO Listen

By Sheila Freed

LEAN has been urging everyone to do Advocacy by using the Nevada legislative website. We’ve told you how easy it is to connect with your state Senator or Assembly Member. I know many of us are skeptical, and doubt that our legislator or anyone else actually reads what we send. Well, I can tell you someone must read at least some of them. I recently emailed my Assembly Member, who happens to be Pat Hickey, about AB 223, a bill dealing with protection of elders and other vulnerable persons. The bill was due for a hearing a couple of days later, and I wanted to point out a possible unintended consequence of the legislation. I asked that the language of the bill, which I support, be tailored to address the unintended consequence. I copied the chair of the committee that would hear the bill, the ranking minority member, and the primary sponsor of the bill. I received an acknowledgement message from Assemblyman Hickey, which did not surprise me. But I was really surprised to find my email included in the “exhibits” package that was prepared for the hearing. I think this proves that legislators really do seek thoughtful input. My faith in the system received a big boost. Try it!

LEAN MLK Day event sheds light on urgent Nevada needs

Lutheran-Episcopal Advocacy in Nevada thanks everyone who helped with our event on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day — all who attended, all who responded to our appeal for donations, all who stuffed backpacks, and the businesses and individuals who provided food. We especially thank our outstanding speakers, and Office Depot for the generous discount on school supplies.

Nevada Chief Justice James Hardesty speaks at LEAN's Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday event at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Reno, Jan. 19, 2015.

Nevada Chief Justice James Hardesty speaks at LEAN’s Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday event at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Reno, Jan. 19, 2015.

Volunteers prepare school materials for backpack stuffing at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, Jan. 19, 2015

Volunteers prepare school materials for backpack stuffing at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, Jan. 19, 2015

LEAN’s event on the King holiday was to learn about issues that will be coming up in the 2015 legislative session, and to do the “Backpack Challenge,” designed to demonstrate to legislators that our schools need proper funding. Those who attended heard speakers, some in Las Vegas, some in Reno, connected by video cast.

James Hardesty, Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court, was the featured speaker. He began by giving credit to the faith community for its advocacy in past years for rehabilitation and re-entry programs. He said it has had the effect of changing the culture at the Nevada Department of Corrections. Justice Hardesty described the work of the Nevada Commission on Administration of Justice, and shared some items the Commission will propose to the Legislature. Among those are uniform assessment tools, so that regardless where in the state one is, the same criteria will determine whether a person is fit to release on bail, or whether that person should be paroled. The Commission would like more money allocated to Drug Court and Mental Health Court.

Mr. Mike Raponi spoke about education. He is director of the State of Nevada Office of Career Readiness, Adult Learning, and Educational Options. Some exciting programs are gearing up to train Nevada’s workforce for the technical jobs of the future. Built into the program are incentives to stay in school and graduate on time.

Mr. Shane Piccinini spoke in Reno on behalf of the Food Bank of Northern Nevada. As the public policy advocate for the Food Bank, his agenda is ensuring that federal funding for food programs is not cut. It might be surprising that at the state level, there is sometimes resistance to federal food programs. There are start-up costs and matching-funds requirements that some legislators reject. Who knew there is a Governor’s Council on Food Security? This group is working with the Legislature to remove barriers to federal help for hungry people, especially school children.

The Reverend Lionel Starkes, chair of the Union of Black Episcopalians, spoke in Las Vegas. He recalled some of the inspiring words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He linked Dr. King’s words and actions to the biblical charge to proclaim freedom to the captives. He noted that many remain captive today—to racism, economic and educational inequality, and that it is incumbent on us in the faith community to continue to work for equality for all.