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.

Lutheran Day at the Capitol — Harrisburg, Penn

Posted on May 26, 2011 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

Guest Blog by Marissa Harris Krey, Advocacy Developer of Lutheran Advocacy Ministry in PA (LAMPa)

Lutheran Day at the Capitol in Harrisburg, Penn

Lutheran advocates participate in a workshop sponsored by Lutheran Advocacy Ministry in Pennsylvania (Photo Credit: LAMPa)

Last week, close to 140 Lutherans gathered in Harrisburg for LAMPa’s (Lutheran Advocacy Ministry in PA) annual Lutheran Day at the Capitol.  Torrential rain could not stop our advocates from gathering together to learn about issues facing Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable.

Why didn’t the rain stop them?  Why did so many travel so far? 

One advocate said, “Lutheran Day reminded me that I am not alone in my advocacy efforts on behalf of the poor and hungry”… together  1 + 1 + 1 can make a powerful difference.

Rev. David Beckmann, President of Bread for the World, was our keynote speaker and perhaps the biggest reason our advocates braved the storms. Several in attendance were amazed by his reminder that we have made progress on hunger in the past (in the U.S.) and that we are making progress RIGHT NOW all across the world. 

Matt, a resident of Lancaster, said, “I was struck by Beckmann’s comment that Americans have trouble seeing the dramatic progress.”  For many, Lutheran Day is about the opening of eyes:  to see the good, and to see the bad — but to see the bad together, and all the love and hope in the room that wishes it were not so, and believes in a God with transformative powers.

David Beckmann, keynote speaker at Lutheran Day at the Capitol in Harrisburg, Penn (Photo Credit: LAMPa)

David Beckmann, keynote speaker and President of Bread for the World, shared inspiring advocacy stories with the group. (Photo Credit: LAMPa)

This year’s keynote also reminded our advocates of the power in story telling.  Beckmann shared two stories, one of which I will tell again here.  Helpfully, Beckmann was open and honest about the feedback he gets from people who don’t believe in the power of faith-based advocacy. “I just don’t know who I’m really helping,” some say.  “You’re helping people like my son,” Beckmann said as he transitioned into his story.  The birthmother of Beckmann’s adopted son was on WIC (Supplemental Nutrition for Women, Infants, & Children) when she was pregnant. 

Stories such as this carry significant weight with lawmakers.  As faith-based advocates, one of our primary responsibilities is to help our elected officials see the faces behind the numbers on their spreadsheets; to help remind them who will really be affected by the policies they propose.

The value of coming together from many different places for a day like Lutheran Day may seem hard to measure, but it always shines through our evaluations.  This year was no exception: 

“Through networking, there seemed to be a proactive attitude emerging and a belief that we have an opportunity to be one strong voice in advocacy”.  Amen.

Comment Period Now Open for Proposed EPA Rule

Posted on May 17, 2011 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

The proper role of government—how big it should be, and what, exactly, it should be doing—is a hot topic in our country.  Some say too many government regulations are slowing economic growth and preventing companies from creating new jobs.  Others say government has a critical role to play in revitalizing our economy and protecting our families and our communities from harm.

So what if a regulation will cost businesses money and time in the short term, but will protect us from toxic pollution for years to come?

On May 3, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a new rule under the federal Clean Air Act to limit emissions of toxic chemicals, including mercury, arsenic, lead and dioxin, from power plants.  The rules will also limit emissions of fine particles into the air. The public now has 60 days to comment on the proposed rule. Click here to provide your feedback.

Why is this rule needed now?  Power companies have fought these regulations for 20 years, arguing that they will have to raise rates in order to install the new equipment necessary to reduce emissions of mercury and other toxics. 

However, the pollutants the rule will reduce are extremely hazardous. Mercury, for example, affects brain development, making even small exposures dangerous for children and women who are pregnant or could become pregnant.  The EPA estimates that as many as one in every six women in the U.S. has blood mercury levels high enough to put a developing baby at risk.  All 50 states have mercury advisories for consumption of at least some of the fish found in their lakes, rivers and streams. 

According to the EPA, nearly fifty percent of the mercury in our air and water (and fish!) comes from emissions from coal-burning power plants. This new rule will ultimately reduce those emissions by 91 percent. More than half of U.S. power plants already have pollution control equipment that meets the new standards—these new requirements will level the playing field by requiring that all power plants protect the public’s health from harmful emissions.

Mercury is only one of the toxic pollutants that will be reduced by this new rule. Other pollutants affected by the rule are linked to cancer, heart disease, chronic asthma and other significant health problems.  These health problems cost all of us—in higher insurance rates, in loss of productivity, and especially in loss of lives.  Among other benefits, the EPA estimates that by 2016 the new rules will help to prevent more than 12,000 emergency visits annually and 850,000 days of lost work.  The agency estimates that the rule’s restriction on fine particle emissions alone could save between $59 and $140 billion in health care costs annually in 2016.

Martin Luther wrote that government is the means “by which most of all God preserves to us our daily bread and all the comforts of this life.”  It seems to me that reducing highly toxic pollution and thereby improving public health fits his definition of good government.  What do you think?

Advocacy and Ministry in the 21st Century

Posted on May 13, 2011 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

Kevin O’Hara is an intern with the Lutheran Office for World Community

Kevin O'HaraI just returned from two gatherings that focused on how ministry is changing, especially in the 21st century church, which may look a lot more like the church in the 1st and 2nd century than that of the 21st. This is a radical change, knowing that the church has come so far to embrace the 21st century, but it does not mean the church will abandon the good practices that have led it to today.

 What are some of these developing practices?  First, the church is becoming more relational within the community.  The apostles of the 1st century were sent out to new communities to preach God’s love. For advocacy, this might mean that models relying on people coming to the church/institution will integrate with churches living out their institutional beliefs through their work in the community as they may define it.  In addition, while internet and technology are the primary means of communication in much of today’s “developed” world, this is only a first line of communication for many people—nothing beats face-to-face encounters.

In this age, issues around social justice, racism, political, gender, sexual orientation, and disability are being reshaped in light of recent advancements. However, the biggest concern in the church for the 21st century will be over socio-economic barriers.  Lutherans are one of the most educated denominations and at times emphasizes an intellectual faith.  How might this impact how we do church and advocacy?

Lastly, church life could take on a diverse mystical experience.  Young adults long for connection to something greater than themselves (but claim spirituality over religiosity).  If there is a deep call to be connected to something greater than oneself, how might this shape advocacy?  One possibility is raising awareness through additional public events at the United Nations and in Washington D.C., where many people come together for a common cause.

Advocacy – There’s a book or two to write

Posted on May 4, 2011 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

Dennis Frado directs the Lutheran Office for World Community based in New York City. The advocacy office monitors the work of the United Nations.

Dennis Frado, Director, Lutheran Office for World Community

Dennis Frado speaks at an event in conjunction with the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

Among the current staff of the ELCA engaged in advocacy I definitely qualify as a “gray hair”.  Yes, the hair still left on my head is increasingly gray, but I’m really talking about having done this kind of work off and on for the past thirty-five or so years.

But the fact of the matter is Lutherans in the United States have been formally engaged in public policy advocacy since shortly after the Second World War II when the National Lutheran Council decided to establish an office in Washington, DC.  The Rev. Dr. Robert E. van Deusen oversaw that work for more than 25 years before he retired in the mid-1970s. 

Over the years the “Office for Public Relations” evolved from a stance of “eyes and ears” for the national Lutheran leadership to one of a more comprehensive public witness of the church to society as it carries out God’s mission and ministry in this nation and the world.  

Through this work, Lutheran leaders then, as today, have affirmed that “The witness of this church in society flows from its identity as a community that lives from and for the gospel. Faith is active in love; love calls for justice in the relationships and structures of society. It is in grateful response to God’s grace in Jesus Christ that this church carries out its responsibility for the well-being of society and the environment.” (The Church in Society: A Lutheran Perspective).

That’s why we are engaged in advocacy in Washington D.C., in state capitols, with corporations, and here with the United Nations.  I am grateful for the privilege of serving our church in this way.