Voices for Change

Advocacy ministries of the ELCA want to share stories and your voices about public policies and relevant advocacy issues that are of interest to you.

Advocating for compassionate and comprehensive immigration reform

Posted on April 18, 2013 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

This week, several ELCA bishops, pastors and leaders were in Washington, D.C., for the Lutheran Immigration Leadership Summit, hosted by our partners at Lutheran Immigration Refugee Service. The group visited more than 100 offices on Capitol Hill and the White House, advocating for compassionate and comprehensive immigration reform.

To read more about the summit, check out Linda Hartke’s (the president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service) blog by clicking here or on the photograph below.

The Rev. Michael Wilker and Bishop of the ELCA Metropolitan Washington, D.C. Synod, the Rev. Richard Graham, meet with the office of Senator Barbara Mikulski

The Rev. Michael Wilker and Bishop of the ELCA Metropolitan Washington, D.C. Synod, the Rev. Richard Graham, meet with the office of Senator Barbara Mikulski

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SNAP in South Dakota

Posted on April 11, 2013 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

By the Rev. Dr. Anna Madsen, OMG: Center for Theological Conversation in Sioux Falls, S.D.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 824,082 people called South Dakota home in 2011.

In the last four years, the number of people receiving the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) — formerly referred to as Food Stamps — has increased from 63,655 in July of 2008 to 104,279 in July of 2012 (the last month on record). Not only do these numbers indicate that 12.65 percent — more than one in eight! — of my state’s population draw on food stamps for their daily bread, they also show that the need for assistance has increased 63.8 percent over the last four years.

These are shocking statistics.

Earlier this year, during an offering of letters at our church, our family wrote letters to our members of Congress, asking them to please retain funding for this key program. Our 8-year-old daughter put her own crayon to paper too, and sent off her request that our officials protect hungry children by protecting SNAP from budget cuts. While we were pleased that our daughter received a response from our Representative, we were stunned at what that letter told her. “Loopholes and fraud in the current program have lead [sic] to federal spending on SNAP to increase by 270 percent over the past ten years.”

My husband, an economist, and I, a theologian, were dumbfounded, not least of all because of our respective disciplines.

Based on both economic and basic moral grounds, this assertion couldn’t be more wrong.

December 2007 to June 2009 marked the greatest recession since the Great Depression, an economic event that clearly parallels the increase in families supported by SNAP. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities there is almost no fraud in this program. Since 2008, despite obvious increase in SNAP benefits, the overpayment rate of 4 percent was reduced to 3 percent in 2011 (the last year on record); the underpayment rate went from 1 percent to 0.9 percent; the combined error rate in 2011 was only 3.8 percent; and the overpayment rates are counted as errors even when recouped. 

I wonder if our officials are aware that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office points out that one-fifth of the increase in SNAP monies from 2007-2011 comes from the temporary allowance of higher benefits through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and that higher costs of food and lower earned wages during the recession play a key role in the difference?

I also hope our officials realize that a wide range of religious leaders have converged from various traditions in a coalition called the Circle of Protection. They consider support of SNAP among its core commitments. These leaders and faith groups include our own church, the ELCA, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Association of Evangelicals, Sojourners, Bread for the World, the National Council of Churches, the Salvation Army, World Vision and a long list of additional Christian clergy leaders from other traditions across the spectrum. The Jewish community, in a variety of forms, also advocates for SNAP, as does the Muslim community.

The inaccurate statement in the letter our daughter received back from Capitol Hill insults more than one-eighth of South Dakota constituents by suggesting that the primary reason for the increase to SNAP is because of loopholes in the system (loopholes which are then exploited), and fraud from the recipients. 

SNAP is part of the Farm Bill because it is not only a nutritional assistance program; it is also an agricultural assistance program. Feeding hungry people also means feeding farmers, by way of compensating them for their hard work in the fields and on the farms.

We have farmers in South Dakota. We have hungry people in South Dakota. 

I urge our officials in Washington, D.C., to protect SNAP from harmful cuts that would hurt farmers and the poor, not only in South Dakota, but across our nation.

Poverty, policy and the classroom

Posted on April 3, 2013 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA
Erin Ryono Wener

Erin Ryono Werner

By Erin Ryono Werner

“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”
 - Paulo Freire

I became a high school English teacher because I believe in the strength of words. Reading moves students to live lives beyond their own. Writing empowers them. I echo the words of Carlos Fuente: “Writing is a struggle against silence.”

Yet, I realize that this is not the classroom many students experience. I remember a hip hop song from my high school days: “Man that school *$%t is a joke. The same people who control the school system control the prison system, and the whole social system. Ever since slavery, know what I’m sayin’?” I didn’t really know what they were saying, but I think I understand a little better now. To some, the classroom is a harbinger of freedom and a better life; to others, it is a bolster of cyclical poverty.

As I consider Lutheran advocacy in the fight against poverty and hunger, I can’t help but picture the classroom. I believe school has the potential to be a great equalizer, and in creative ways, the church can help.

We can continue to support successful programs.

About 40 percent of the children in our school district in Oregon receive free and reduced lunch and breakfast. Kids come to class, for the most part, with full stomachs. In Central Oregon, the Family Access Network, which is primarily federally funded and based in schools, ensures that children receive medical care, school supplies, clothing and rent assistance.

Other programs are at risk and need our help.

Head Start programs promote the school readiness of children from low-income families. Parents who cannot afford preschool send their kids to Head Start so that they might be on an even playing field with their more privileged peers. Under sequestration (and even alternative budget proposals), this program is facing devastating budget cuts — budget cuts that would deepen inequalities long present in our country.

We must defend programs that benefit those already at a gross disadvantage and partner with them in creative ways.

Our congregation, Nativity Lutheran, realized that our building sat vacant for the majority of the week, so in 2010 we opened the education wing to the struggling Head Start Program. A member of our community recognized the weekend nutrition gap for students receiving free and reduced lunch. Every week, her organization sends out hundreds of backpacks full of food for students to take home. We must urge our public officials to prioritize these programs that replace poverty with opportunity for our students. 

We are called to reach out to all people with the love of Jesus Christ. In creative ways, policy and outreach can synthesize to do just that. I’m in the classroom every day, so I’ll start there. Where will you begin?

 

Pastor’s daughter, social worker, advocate

Posted on March 21, 2013 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

By Erin Clark, MSW, LSW, Nachusa Lutheran Home (seen below with Illinois State Representative Don Moffitt at 2012 Lutheran Day in Springfield)

I am grateful to have grown up a pastor’s daughter (for all its craziness) because it generated the strong connection I have to advocacy, my church and the work I do now. Being the child of a pastor means that many people have known me and watched me grow up, often resulting in having to talk to people who are perfect strangers with a warm rapport. It also means I grew up in a family that valued service, volunteering and a sense of community. It is hard to ignore struggling around you when you identify an inherent connection within community.

Being “my father’s daughter” — something I hear all the time — means I grew up with a model of how to speak out and ask questions. I learned how meetings should function and that it is important to wrestle with the tough stuff because it makes us better. Wrestling with the tough stuff also means not ignoring the injustices around us.

As a young child growing up in our household, I was taken with the biography I read about Jane Addams and her work at Hull House. Once I entered Luther College, I began my studies in Social Work, moving further in my understanding of how to be an advocate. An interest in politics led to adding a double major of interdisciplinary Political Science/Sociology to Social Work. I completed my Masters in Social Work at the Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois.

Now, I am working for Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, providing services to children and families in northern Illinois, I have served on the Northern Illinois Synod Social Ministry Committee, and I am a member of Lutheran Advocacy of Illinois. It is necessary to advocate for the needs of the children and families I serve on a daily basis. Sometimes it is small, working to link to a service that is needed. At other times, my advocacy looks much different.

Budget cuts always seem to plague social services. At the conclusion of the fiscal year in June, we look forward to the next year, wondering what resources or staff we will be without, and what services will no longer be available to our clients, and this ends up creating another opportunity to speak.

One summer when the state legislature proposed a 50 percent budget cut and I faced a layoff , my only outlet was to continuously write our legislators about the damage these cuts would do to the families in our state. I was concerned about what would happen to my colleagues and me, but my greater fear was what the result would be for the children and families we serve. My message to lawmakers was that these proposed cuts — which would reduce by half the stipend for foster parents along with eliminating all mental health and counseling services for children in foster care — were wrong and irresponsible. I noted to my officials that it was time to act responsibly and that we have a duty to children, elderly people and individuals with disabilities and mental health issues. I had many families tell me how they were unsure if they would be able to care for the children they loved, placed with them by the foster care system, due to the loss of state funding and mental health resources. Children, elderly people and those struggling with mental health issues are often the targets of state budget cuts for the services they require in order to survive. I had to use my voice, urging lawmakers to resist these devastating cuts.

Advocacy has many, many faces. Sometimes it is a big action, other times it is small, simply saying “this is wrong” or “this is what is needed.”

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The movement to end female genital mutilation

Posted on March 17, 2013 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA
Rosemarie Doucette

Rosemarie Doucette

by Rosemarie Doucette, an ELCA delegate to the 57th Commission on the Status of Women

There was an awesome energy last week at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women! Clearly times are changing for the better as issues of inequality, injustice and violence were brought to light with grace and power.  Women across differences of faith, race, gender identity, ethnicity and education united in the effort to bring truth and justice to those places where they are most needed. I was very impressed with the progress made in Mauritania in the movement to end female genital mutilation. Putting all girls at risk for their physical health, the deeper psychological damage that is done is often harder to assess and there are few resources for addressing it. While this is a harmful practice, it is nonetheless an integral part of the tradition of many cultures so its eradication must be approached with sensitivity and options must be introduced.

I was encouraged by the work of speaker Mariem M’bareck of Mauritania who has worked extensively with both the religious community and health care providers in order to educate and mobilize people from within their own communities instead of alienating them through a campaign waged from outside of their culture. First Mariem met with a few Imams who established that the Koran does not require female genital mutilation of any female, of any age, for any circumstance. The Imams, respected as wise religious leaders, will educate the people in their communities so that over time the misunderstanding that female genital mutilation is a requirement of Islam might be corrected. The group of Imams who have made this commitment has grown from two to over 200. Health care providers will approach the eradication of female genital mutilation from a health standpoint, highlighting the extreme and lifetime health risks involved while teaching women and men that the reasons used to justify it are based on misconceptions, superstitions and myths.

Another piece of the situation is that the women who perform the cutting will be left without a livelihood. It is important that their financial and social needs be met by the community because they are most often uneducated and this will be a difficult thing to process, that their service to the community will no longer be needed.

Finally, and perhaps the most uplifting and easiest transformation to make following the eradication of female genital mutilation will be to provide young girls with new rituals to mark their passage from babies to young girls and from young girls to young women. For thousands of years the passage of boys to young adulthood has been marked by circumcision, preceded and followed by communal celebrations and privileges. Girls, on the other hand, were more likely to be cut in private and would have to spend even more time in healing. Their passage to womanhood was generally not celebrated in community. In the new light of hope, equality and human rights, communities where female genital mutilation is being eradicated are now replacing this practice with healthy ways of celebrating and marking this life passage, thus ensuring better physical and psychological health, and more social equality.

Thanks be to God at CSW57

Posted on March 16, 2013 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA
Hayley Bang

Hayley Bang

by Hayley Bang, an ELCA delegate to the 57th Commission on the Status of Women

The day before attending the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, I read a news article that stated in 2012 one South Korean woman was killed by her intimate partner per three days. Around 120 women were killed by their intimate partners in one year.

“男尊女卑 女必從夫” has been the key concept for the gender hierarchy of Korea. The first four letters literarily mean men are higher than women, and the second half means women must follow or obey their husbands. I was also a victim of this concept which still is exercised unconsciously among Koreans and the first generation of Korean Americans. I always questioned why men and women are not equal and especially questioned the unfairness of a male dominant society where not only men but also women oppressed other women.

So, for me, the opportunity to be a part of the Commission on the Status of Women is a great opportunity to learn about women’s rights on a global scale. I was very nervous and excited about it. I was able to attend different side events and events that were led by The Lutheran World Federation and the World Council of Churches. I learned a lot of new things about different cases of violence against women. I was impressed by the quote that “Women’s Rights = Human Rights.” However, I was sad about the fact that we still talk about women’s rights rather than just human rights, in a sense of gender inequality. It is sad that what gender you are born into determines whether you have more rights compared to the other gender. It is not limited to one particular area in the world, but it is a global problem. Yes, we are all different, yet women were similarly oppressed by the other gender and also by other women.

However, I do not give up there. I believe in unity in diversity yet variety. I know that we need different approaches in different cultures to end the violence against women. However, we have one and the same purpose, we are united as one during the Commission on the Status of Women. We are shouting and acting together with one voice to end the violence against women. The Commission on the Status of Women was the place to gather those voices together, and act together, yet gave us wisdom and knowledge about how to contextualize in each culture to end the violence against women. Thanks be to God for the people that I met during this year’s Commission on the Status of Women, the experiences I had, and more importantly thanks be to God that God is working in us, with us and calling us to be God’s people and to look after each other.

“I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me”

Posted on March 15, 2013 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

by Candace L. Strand, an ELCA delegate to the 57th Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations

Candace L. Strand

Candace L. Strand

Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me.” As I reflect upon my life as an African American woman who may have been a statistic of domestic violence myself during 1977 to 1983, I give God the glory, honor and praise for my deliverance. When I think back to that part of my life I know that it could have been worse. But God and the mercy and grace factor stepped in.

I had two wonderful daughters to raise while I went through mental and drug abuse situations. I was married twice. In the first marriage I was young and ignorant. There was fighting and an adulterous situation was present. Sex was often forced. In the second marriage, I came to know the Lord and our relationship went south. At first the drug issue was a part of my life, but when I became saved my ways changed and my companion’s life did not. There were women in the home when I was not there in that drug atmosphere during that time. I prayed a lot during that time period of my life. Life was hard financially and things were cutoff in the home. My two daughters and I were without heat and electricity during those difficult times in my life. Yet, I was very spiritual. This seemed to compensate for the ending of that marriage and that season in my life.

Presently, I am a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I have survived from that sadness and oppression. I have remarried. I have been married for 17 years. My husband is a Christian. My daughters are grown and I have five grandchildren. I feel so blessed. I had to be humble during those years. I am still humble and I believe that the Lord took me through my adventure for a reason.

So many times life throws stumbling blocks into our path. I would have never thought that I would have gone the way that those situations locked me into. I was always a hard worker. I had several jobs and I was also on welfare at different times too. But God —

Oh, by the way, I did not mention that I am a college graduate with two bachelor degrees. I am presently a senior under the Master of Divinity program at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. Thank you, Lord! As you can see, life goes on.

What’s next for me? Well, the leading of the Lord is my guide. I have learned that weeping may endure for a night but joy comes in the morning. Through disappointments, regrets, pain and love, I have endured hardness as a good soldier. I have learned that I have to take one day at a time. Sometimes when I desire to be in a better financial state or be living in a better home or even be rich, I think about Jesus and the life that Jesus lived. How can I complain? God is good. Thank you, Lord! As a 58-year-old woman I feel stronger and wiser each day. Women are powerful too! Peace.

Eliminating violence against women is God’s work

Posted on March 14, 2013 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA
Mary Hansen-Joyce

Mary Hansen-Joyce

by Mary Hansen-Joyce, ELCA seminarian and delegate to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women

I am honored and pleased to submit my thoughts and impressions about the 57th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Four classmates and I were invited to attend the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women as The Lutheran World Federation delegates during its first week. We are seminary students at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, taking an elective year-long course in Human Rights that is based on the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We five female students of diverse ages, ethnicity and backgrounds chose to attend Commission on the Status of Women because of our individual interests in women’s issues.

As I attempt to say in this space what my experience has been, the words “universal” and “solidarity” stand out. Our unique personal stories and interests are obviously diverse, yet undeniably universal as female children of God. When we come together to share our stories and experiences, as well as our shared prayer for the violence to end, we find solidarity in our commitment to work toward the end of the violence. With one voice, united and emboldened through the history of ecumenism, we seek to remain strong and vocal about the reality of violence again women.

The numbers are staggering to me. Seven in ten women worldwide are affected by some form of violence in their respective cultures and communities. One in three members of every church community in the United States is affected in some way by domestic violence. Women and girls are dying daily because of the violence that has been embedded for generations in the culture and the religious traditions of their communities. No country is immune. This can, and must be, changed.

The facts are often overpowered by culture and faith traditions, social stressors, economic pressures and political tactics. There is clear evidence that the welfare of all individuals is improved when women and girls are educated and treated equally.

Nevertheless, it will take continued courage and determination, which is why I hope that this year is the first of many years that I will travel to New York City for the Commission on the Status of Women. As a result of attending the event this year, I am bringing back the book “When Pastors Prey” (published by the World Council of Churches) to be considered as part of the seminary curriculum in the future. I am bringing into my future ministry as an ordained pastor the undeniable need to remain connected to these issues, and the women and men involved in them. I also bring the belief that anything I can do to inform both men and women, and engage in dialogue and ministry with my community toward the elimination of violence, is God’s work.

Bringing a message home

Posted on March 13, 2013 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

Maria Murerwa is a young adult delegate from the ELCA to the 57th Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations. Click here or the picture above to listen to Maria share insights from her experience at the Commission on the Status of Women, and how she can bring back what she learned to her congregation.

Many Stories, One Voice

Posted on March 12, 2013 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA
CSW- Joanna H.

Joanna Hertzog

by Joanna Hertzog, ELCA seminarian and delegate to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women

I came to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women with my own stories of the way violence and abuse has separated my family. I came with the stories of women I have met and the stories of women I have never met. I came unsure of how my voice, as a Lutheran seminary student, would fit in the midst of the voices of leaders from around the world.

It was during the General Assembly on Tuesday that my uncertainty about where my voice fits was made clear. The representative from Australia during her statement said, “Living free from violence is everyone’s right. Working for freedom from violence is everyone’s responsibility.”

It was at that moment that I took notice of who was sitting beside me: a woman in her twenties from Uganda and a woman in her forties reading a newspaper written in French. I looked at the rows of women and men from around the world: some in black suit coats, some in bright colored scarves, some young and some old.

I realized that I was surrounded by thousands of powerful women from around the world – all of who are speaking out with one loud and powerful voice to end violence against women and girls. I am here with women who are fighting for freedom from violence and oppression. I am here with men who are speaking out with their mothers, wives, daughters and friends. Each speaking in her mother tongue. Each bringing her own stories. Each beautiful in her own way.

And I knew that it didn’t matter where my voice would fit because it was the power of all our voices brought together as one voice. It is the power of the Holy Spirit that continues to move and breathe that unites all of us, despite our differences, as one body — as one voice. It is out of the promises of the gospel that we stand together, hand in hand, no longer focusing on what separates us but on what unites us. The 57th Commission on the Status of Women is a testament of how the Spirit is moving with one voice to end violence against women and girls. As the church, let’s continue to boldly proclaim the radical gospel that all have the right to a life free from violence and oppression.