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.

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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 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

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.