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Advocacy Cafe

Our Christian faith compels us to attend to the world through the lens of our relationship to God and to one another. Sometimes, we may echo the sentiment: The world’s so big and I’m so small. Yet there is much we can do act for greater justice, and we are far from alone.

Drop by an Advocacy Cafe to hear from ELCA advocacy community leaders about timely topics. The 30-minute presentations will be offered twice on the same day. The day session will wrap-up with 15-minutes for a Q&A session with panelists. The evening session will wrap-up differently, with 25 minutes to meet in a small group with others to exchange experiences and ideas.

Register today – and invite others!

The ELCA “is called to be a part of the ecumenical Church of Jesus Christ in the context in which God has placed it—a diverse, divided, and threatened global society on a beautiful, fragile planet” (from the ELCA social statement The Church in Society: A Lutheran Perspective). Together, there is much we can do.


 

Tue. July 26 – August Recess

August Recess is a traditional time for U.S. representatives to return to their home districts, which presents windows to raise your experiences and policy concerns locally with elected officials. Learn about this opportunity for impact and hear from ELCA advocacy staff about some current issues where your voice matters.

Choose

 

Tue. Aug. 30 – Civic Engagement Actions

In Lutheran teaching, one way God works to preserve creation and build a more peaceful and just social order in a broken world is through government. As a church we do not endorse a particular candidate, party or form of government or strive for a Christian one. Yet our civic engagement in the electoral process can have positive impact.
Offered in conjunction with the ELCAvotes initiative.

Choose

 

Tue. Sept. 27 – Barriers to Voting

The guarantee that all citizens be able to exercise the right to vote on an equal basis is a fundamental requirement for a just society, affirmed in ELCA social teaching. As individuals, in congregations and in other partnerships, acting to remove barriers can demonstrate our Christian faith as Lutherans and have value for our communities and country.
Offered in conjunction with the ELCAvotes initiative.

Choose

 

Tue. Oct. 25 – Public Discourse

Election season is, unfortunately, a time of heightened rhetoric aimed at instilling fear and belittling others. The church of Jesus Christ is uniquely equipped to foster and model civil relationships and dialogue, invite trust amid differences and lead healthy community conversations on the common good.
Offered in conjunction with the ELCAvotes initiative.

Choose

 

Current sign-on letters

WHAT IS A SIGN-ON LETTER  |  IMPACT OF SIGN-ONS  |  DECISION PROCESS  |  UPDATED LIST

 

Our advocacy takes many forms with long-term and immediate aims, and ELCA Witness in Society staff are active equipping members, building influential relationships with policy makers, networking strategically with other concerned partners, researching policy pieces and their impacts and inviting our ELCA Advocacy Network to action at impactful moments.

One timely way we can act as ELCA is to sign on with others to offer pointed comments to decision makers when developments demand.

 

WHAT IS A SIGN-ON LETTER

A “sign-on letter” is an advocacy tool that acts like a petition to members of Congress or other policy decision makers, often addressing an immediate issue or impending vote. Sign-on letters are drafted and circulated among organizations with similar policy goals to ask other organizations to join, showing support for a policy position or value by adding their name.

The Witness in Society team may recommend listing the ELCA as an organization on a sign-on letter. Some letters are tailored for individual sign-ons, usually by the head of an organization. In the ELCA, most individual sign-ons are done by the ELCA presiding bishop.

 

IMPACT OF SIGN-ONS

Sign-on letters are frequently used when swift and targeted action will have an impact on decision-makers. The aim is to provide education on an issue, articulate shared organizational values on a subject and urge the recipient to take a specific action or vote. Ecumenical and interfaith sign-on letters summarize broad consensus in the faith community. In addition to receipt by individual members of Congress or Executive Branch officials for example, they may be used in constituent meetings and shared as public statements as well.

 

DECISION PROCESS

The ELCA joins sign-on letters following careful analysis by the Witness in Society team, sometimes in consultation with other staff. The Senior Director for Witness in Society makes the final determination for a sign-on. Sign-on letters require a foundation in ELCA social teaching and relevance to ELCA public policy advocacy priorities. Sign-on letters are also evaluated for accuracy of facts and the tone of the statement, seeking language that will educate or persuade, avoiding hyper-partisan or inflammatory language. Witness in Society staff are strategic about the use of sign-on letters, asking if a joint letter is the right approach at this time; how the letter will be disseminated and used to create awareness among members of Congress, the Administration and throughout the ELCA; what the impact of not signing a letter might be; and discerning whether a standalone effort from the ELCA would have greater impact at the given point-in-time or may be preferable to state distinctly the ELCA’s position.


LAST UPDATE: 7/13/22

Our ministry of advocacy is a witness to God’s love for our neighbor, ourselves and for all creation. Here are recent statements made with ELCA support. Use the link in the date to read a public posting* of the sign-on letter in full.

  • July 7, 2022 – “As the undersigned religious denominations, faith-based service providers, and houses of worship from across the country, we ask you to proactively support the Housing First model as a proven strategy to address homelessness and housing insecurity in our communities.” Letter to members of Congress.
  • July 7, 2022 – “As Christian faith organizations with a deep concern for the Holy Land, we urge you allow floor consideration and support passage of Representative Andre Carson’s amendment to the Fiscal Year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to require the State Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence, to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.
  • July 1, 2022 – “On Monday, the nation witnessed a tragedy as at least 53 individuals were found dead in a tractor-trailer in San Antonio, with reportedly 16 more individuals sent to local hospitals… We believe the surviving victims are at imminent risk of deportation or expulsion under Title 42 and want to ensure that your office is aware of this risk and takes action to prevent it from occurring.” Letter to DHS Secretary Mayorkas organized through American Immigration Council.
  • June 29, 2022 – “As representatives of faith-based denominations and organizations, many of whom have a long history of relationships with Cuban faith partners…. We hope these initial positive steps will help increase support for the Cuban people and allow Cuban Americans to assist their families on the island.” Letter to President Biden.
  • June 23, 2022 – “As people of faith, we are called to seek peace and imagine a world free from war and the threats of nuclear weapons. Today, we are calling on President Biden to move one step closer to that vision through a mutual return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) by the United States and Iran.” Faith leader statement.
  • June 17, 2022 – “As the undersigned members of the Washington Interfaith Staff Community, our religious organizations would like to express support for a letter… that [supports] creating a federal reparations commission through an executive order by Sunday, June 19, the Juneteenth holiday.” Letter to PresidentBiden.
  • June 14, 2022 – “The undersigned 21 organizations from the Washington Interreligious Staff Community (WISC) Health Care Working Group write to urge you to advance a budget reconciliation package that prioritizes health care for vulnerable communities.” Letter to Senators.
  • May 18, 2022 – “Today we, bishops of the [ELCA], write you as lead congressional appropriators, to call your attention to the dire cash flow situation faced by the Augusta Victoria Hospital (AVH) in East Jerusalem. A.” Letter to congressional foreign affairs chairmen.
  • May 9, 2022 – “The undersigned… write to express our deep concern with the text introduced in the TRIPS Council on May 3, 2022 that has been put forward as an alternative to the proposed waiver of World Trade Organization (WTO) intellectual property (IP) barriers for COVID-19 medical tools. We urge the U.S. and other WTO Member States to reject this text and negotiate a true TRIPS waiver instead.” Letter to U.S. Trade Rep. Katherine Tai.
  • May 6, 2022 – “We call on Congress to appropriate $5 billion in emergency resources to address food insecurity and humanitarian crises exacerbated by the conflict in Ukraine…” Letter to congressional appropriations chairmen and Leadership.

*These urls were selected for public availability of the signed document, not for the content of the website.

Quashing Replacement Theory with Irreplaceable Truth

by the Rev. Amy E. Reumann, Senior Director, ELCA Witness in Society

In her sermon, my pastor lamented that “each person killed was a precious and irreplaceable child of God,” on the Sunday following the racially motivated massacre of 10 shoppers and workers at the Tops supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y. The irreplaceability of each person made in God’s image stands in marked contrast to so-called “Great Replacement” theory, the fear that stoked the White shooter’s hatred and motivation to target and gun down people of African descent.

The Great Replacement is a far-right conspiracy theory that claims there is a plot to bring nonwhite, non-Christian people to western nations through immigration. The assumed aim is to “replace” White, Christian majorities by adding voters of other races, ethnicities and religions, resulting in the marginalization of the White Christian population and loss of its political power and cultural dominance. Rather than using inevitable demographic shifts as a moment for reflection and repentance in the White community for historic injustices in its treatment of minority groups, replacement theory uses the coming change to stoke fear and to call for White people to cling to power by any means necessary, which does for some include acts of horrifying violence.

 

Replacement Theory Moves from Fringes

What began as a fringe theory in the corners of the internet has now gained prominence in multiple acts of mass violence. At the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, white supremacists marched while shouting, “Jews will not replace us.” Replacement theory echoed through the lives and motivations of the shooters at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, at two mosques in New Zealand where 51 worshippers were killed and at the El Paso Walmart where 23 people were murdered. In each case, white shooters invoked the grievance and language of “invasion” and “replacement” by Jews, Muslims and Latinés.

The Great Replacement has been employed by White nationalist groups in the U.S. to recruit members by making dire predictions about loss of White power and control. It is invoked by politicians who stir up fears of migrants and immigrants by portraying them as violent invaders. As pronouncements of replacement theory move from fringe to center, our voices and actions are needed to replace hate-filled speech with God’s vision for the Beloved Community.

 

Refutation in ELCA Teaching

The ELCA social statement Freed in Christ: Race, Ethnicity, and Culture grounds us in this moment with the church’s teaching that refutes replacement theory and points us towards the fulness of human diversity that God intends. The ELCA teaches that there is one humanity created by God. Our oneness in Christ, who breaks down dividing walls of hostility, connects all people. Yet we, in our sinfulness, rebuild those walls, and cement discrimination and injustice into them. Our statement names the church’s complicity in individual and structural racism while also pointing forward to an identity beyond it that we have yet to fully claim.

The irreplaceable truth is that we are freed in Christ to see and celebrate the image of God in everyone in our beautiful diversity. We are called to co-create a common life that affirms the diversity of cultures and people as a God-given gift. This is a blessing to be appreciated, not absorbed by assimilation or destroyed by fear. God hands us the vision of the Beloved Community, reconciled to God and to one another. But we cannot realize this vision without embracing our freedom in Christ. In this freedom we repent, we repair, we reconcile, including offering of our faith-filled public witness that denounces hateful speech, supports equal rights at home and promotes international respect for human rights.

 

Opposing Evidenced Evils

Replacement theory may be the new wine in the old wineskins of intolerance, bigotry and White supremacy. Luther once said that because poverty is an evil that is always in evidence, it is an evil always to be opposed. The same applies here. Christians need to be tireless opponents of this or any teaching that diminishes, distorts or denies the image of God in every person. No one is replaceable.

We are called to replace language that denigrates and divides, including within our own congregations, by naming the sin of racism and continuing our repentance of it in our words and actions. God stirs us to confront hateful speech and promote a better public life, replacing unjust laws with policies that will preserve human dignity and increase justice in immigration, civil rights, housing, employment and other arenas. Actions birthed from our Christian practice will then be discipled by the fruits of the Spirit.

 


FURTHER INFORMATION: Confronting Intolerance, Bigotry and White Supremacy

In his lectures on Deuteronomy, Martin Luther said “constant care should be taken that, since these evils are always in evidence, they are always opposed.” We need to talk about, condemn and disown evidenced evils. Following are samplings of moments on our ELCA journey toward better living into fruits of the Spirit. Refer to the documents for additional reflections and action steps.

 

From “A Declaration of the ELCA to the Jewish Community” (1994)

“Grieving the complicity of our own tradition within this history of hatred, moreover, we express our urgent desire to live out our faith in Jesus Christ with love and respect for the Jewish people. We recognize in anti-Semitism a contradiction and an affront to the Gospel, a violation of our hope and calling, and we pledge this church to oppose the deadly working of such bigotry, both within our own circles and in the society around us.”

 

From the “Explanation of the Declaration of the ELCA to People of African Descent” (2019)

“The ELCA teaches that racism is sin and that racism denies the reconciling work of the cross. Rooted in slavery, racism is manifested through the history of Jim Crow policies, racial segregation, the terror of lynching, extrajudicial killings by law enforcement, and the disproportionate incarceration of people of color. Descendants of formerly enslaved Africans are still denied equal access and opportunity in church and society while white people collectively benefit from unequal access, opportunity, and power.”

 

From “A Declaration of the ELCA to the Muslim Community” (2022)

“Through loving our neighbors, we have come to reject Luther’s polemics. We do not dismiss our history but take it to heart. By embracing dialogue instead of rejecting difference, we have come to realize that we can truly love our neighbors only when we know them…Given the disunity around us and the fear of the unknown, we sense the renewed urgency to nurture relationships and build communities in which we look upon one another with respect and esteem, in which people feel safe and loved, and in which we seek the common good together.”

 

From the social policy resolution “Condemnation of White Supremacy and Racist Rhetoric” (2019) –here listing #1-6 of 8 points-

“[We] resolve and proclaim that:

    1. White supremacy is racism and we condemn it;
    2. Violent rhetoric against persons of color in the name of so-called “Christian Nationalism” is not a true Christian faith. It is idolatry and we condemn it;
    3. The love of God is for all people, without exception, and we proclaim it;
    4. The justice and mercy of God are for all people, without exception, and we proclaim this;
    5. Our religious and political leaders have a moral responsibility to condemn racist rhetoric and to speak with respect for the innate dignity of all persons, regardless of their race, ethnicity, national origin, immigration status, or faith tradition and we call our leaders to honor this responsibility; and
    6. Language that refers to people of color or immigrants with words like “invasion” or “infestation” or “white replacement” is racism and we condemn it”

 

From the ELCA social statement Freed in Christ: Race, Ethnicity, and Culture

“We of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, with the whole Church, look forward to the time when people will come from east and west, north and south to eat in the reign of God (Luke 13:29). For the Church catholic, diversity of cultures is both a given and a glimpse of the future.” (p. 2)

Confession and hope give strength to end gun violence

The following reflections are the foundation of comments shared at the “Interfaith Vigil and Rally: Faith Acting on Gun Violence” by the Rev. Amy E. Reumann on June 8, 2022, hosted by Lutheran Church of the Reformation in Washington, D.C.


by the Rev. Amy E. Reumann, ELCA Senior Director, Witness in Society

I don’t know what tone to strike today. Is it to be a deep wail of grief and sadness at the blood that has been spilled, the lives lost, the communities forever changed by gun violence? Is it to be cries of holy rage at our leaders in Congress who we fear once again may not hear our determination and add the smallest scrap of protection for children and teachers; for shoppers in the Black community; for the faithful worshipping in church, synagogue, mosque or temple? I want to do both. But here in this space of a Lutheran church, I want to start with what every Lutheran worship service begins with – confession. To make confession to God and to one another about what we have done and what we have left undone.

 

CONFESSION

Our confession is that we have forgotten whose we are and therefore who we are – created and lovingly made to walk in God’s way of peace and live in God’s shalom. We are to strive for the vision of a peaceable kingdom where enemies reconcile and turn weapons of war into instruments of agriculture, of feeding others, of kindness and generosity.

We confess to allowing our nation to be awash with guns, awash with weapons, awash with unchecked violence, awash with people so alienated that they turn to weapons of war to express themselves.

We confess to failing to protect our children.

We confess that we ignore or quickly forget the pain of gun violence – especially in communities threatened and stalked by gun violence where people are of a different race or religion or ethnicity or sexual orientation than ours.

We confess to numbness from the numbers of those shot, maimed, killed, and left to mourn after media moves on; to weariness at the frequency of these events.

We confess that we indulge in the hopelessness of doubting that easy access to guns will ever change, and use our weariness as an excuse to quit trying.

 

FORGIVENESS

Here’s the thing about confession. When we name the truth of what is, we are also given the potential to see what can be changed. When we receive God’s forgiveness, it is not an end but a beginning that seeds our hope.

In 1 Corinthians 13:13, we are taught that faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. Today, however, in this moment in this nation, the greatest to me is hope.

 

SUSTENANCE

I have been reading a book of mediations called Ladder to the Light: An Indigenous Elder’s Meditations on Hope and Courage, written by former Episcopalian priest Steven Charleston. In one chapter he reflects on his ancestors’ walk along the Trail of Tears, seeing nothing beyond the trauma of what they were living with. What sustained them along this trail was the one blessing they needed most: vision to see beyond what is to what the future could be.

He writes, “Here is the holy equation of faith: We are as strong as what we hope. Hope may be dormant beneath the weight of oppression. It may be small and precious, handed down through word of mouth, told in stories, preserved in ceremonies. It may go underground, a hidden light to keep the vision alive. So it was with my people for centuries.”

 

STRENGTH

We, too, are as strong as what we hope. And the hope that we have is not dependent on our whims and on the headlines which flicker and fail. Our hope rises from God’s overflowing faithfulness, love and promises that bind us together as an interfaith community, united in hope, to seek peace. From this we draw strength and power and community for the journey against gun violence.

Our marching and advocacy are ways that we embody hope with and for each other, even in what may seem like hopeless circumstances. We are as strong as what we hope. And we speak, we march, we plant, striving for something not yet realized, but firm in the promise. We act in hope together.

Devotional: Can’t Control the New

by Isabella Peterson, 2021-22 Hunger Advocacy Fellow [about the author]

I often struggle with an uneasy sensation when faced with change – that is the inability to control the “new.” It isn’t because I fear a new stage in my life, it’s because I fear the unknown. I fear the loss of control of what is happening around me; I fear the journey to the “new,” not the destination. I fear the loss of control of what is happening around me.

“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19).

I grew up a Lutheran, having built a deep connection to God from a young age. However, like many of us I am sure, I have struggled with my faith over the last few years, especially these last two years. It seemed like the life I planned out was turned upside down and twisted without a moment’s notice. “New” things kept appearing everywhere I looked, and I felt incredibly lost, stuck in an uncontrollable void of questions and uncertainty. My personal journey had become convoluted, and I was desperately searching for control.

New opportunities frighten me, and when another “new” – my position as a Hunger Advocacy Fellow – came along, it was no exception. I was utterly nervous about this alternative path that I was about to undergo, as working for a faith organization was something I had never contemplated.

Once again, I felt I had no control. However, I tried to keep my mind open. Although fear overwhelmed me, possessing an open mind and keeping an open heart allowed me to… thoroughly enjoy this journey.

Working with Texas Impact brought new opportunities that I never thought I would experience. I took environmental advocacy abroad to Scotland during the United Nations Climate Conference, down to the Texas-Mexico border to focus on climate migration, and to North Carolina soon for the U.S. Climate Action Network conference. If I’d continually let my fear of having no control hinder my life, I would have missed out on all of these “news.”

Another “new” is in my peripherals. This fall, I am going back to my alma mater, The University of Texas at Austin, to get my Master’s in Public Affairs, focusing on energy policy. Yet again, I have another “new” I have to face.

Although I have control of many things, I don’t have control over the journey itself; and that is okay. When I feel overwhelmed by the uncontrollable nature of life, I will remember this experience as a Hunger Advocacy Fellow when “new” came along. I will remember all the amazing experiences I had when I left my mind and heart open.

Having an open mind and heart comforts me during the uncertainty of newness, and I hope it brings comfort to others who struggle when feeling out of control as well.


 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Isabella Peterson is an ELCA Hunger Advocacy Fellow placed with Texas Impact in Austin, Texas, an ELCA-affiliated state public policy office. She graduated from The University of Texas (UT) at Austin with a double major in Government and Sustainability Studies. Peterson is a passionate environmental advocate and has worked previously with several environmental nonprofits in Austin such as the Shoal Creek Conservancy and Rainforest Partnership.

Devotional: Regenerative Relationships Inspire Advocacy

by Rachel Wyffels, 2021-22 Hunger Advocacy Fellow [about the author]

It can be hard to feel God’s restorative presence in these times. In the midst of violence towards each other and the Earth, I often wonder how the Holy Spirit is realizing God’s promise of resurrection in our lives and in our world.

For me, one answer is with the people and relationships in my life.

“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19).

An opportunity for regenerative relationship in my position as a Hunger Advocacy Fellow comes from my work with the EcoFaith Network of the Northeastern Minnesota Synod. The EcoFaith Network is a dedicated group of stewards of creation across the great geographic diversity of the synod, spanning from Princeton near Minneapolis to International Falls 244 miles north, just under the Canadian border. The EcoFaith Network connects and grows efforts to care for creation across the synod and beyond through grants that support congregational initiatives, educational opportunities, an annual EcoFaith Summit and a supportive community maintained with intentionality and joy.

I felt God at work among the members of the EcoFaith Network as we worked to prepare the 2022 EcoFaith Summit, “Holy Ground Holy Table: Regenerative Practices for the Wholeness of the Earth.” Even in the midst of despair about climate change, about dying ecosystems and shrinking biodiversity, about suffering, violence and migration that disproportionately affects black and brown bodies and communities, and about the failure and brokenness of a political system that refuses to act, God is still bringing new life. The Holy Spirit is moving through the quiet perseverance of Mary Jo, the warm encouragement of Dave, the meditative reflection of Sue, the focused tenacity of Kristin, the eager hospitality of John, and so many others.

As Lutherans, we believe that God is who God has revealed Godself to be: One who brings new life in the midst of suffering and death. We also know that we are set free in Christ to seek justice.

I am grateful to work alongside the dedicated stewards of the EcoFaith Network to advocate for all of creation. Their wholehearted communal spirit reminds me of God’s constant movement to bring new life even amidst great loss.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rachel Wyffels (she/her) is a Hunger Advocacy Fellow with Lutheran Advocacy-Minnesota, an affiliated state public policy office. Her areas of focus include affordable housing, hunger and climate justice. Wyffels is a graduate of St. Olaf College, where she served as president of the St. Olaf Student Congregation Council. She will begin studies toward an M.Div. at Luther Seminary next year.

Devotional: First, Learn. Next, Do.

By Hannah Peterson, 2021-22 Hunger Advocacy Fellow [about the author]

I am not a practicing Lutheran. Although many of my relatives and ancestors are, I grew up in a secular family, attending church only for Christmas Eve services and the occasional baptism or funeral. As you might imagine, it was an unusual path that led me to this year of being an ELCA Hunger Advocacy Fellow, of learning to navigate through new communities, new opportunities and new insights.

“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19).

Last spring, emerging from a difficult and confusing year of confinement and isolation as I completed a graduate program in a foreign country during a global pandemic, I was feeling particularly lost in the wilderness of my life. Like many, my plans had been derailed, and the way forward seemed especially unclear. I had spent the past several years buried in my books, in an academic life of writing and contemplation that no longer seemed meaningful to me in the same way.

It was during this time that my “new thing” sprung forth—that my part-time job doing editing work for a small non-profit organization became the opportunity that I have devoted my time to for the past many months. When I took the job of an Hunger Advocacy Fellow, I thought of myself as an editor only: my interest and experience were in rhetoric, language and communication, not so much in the content of what was being written. But what began as a way for me to use the academic skills I had honed through my education had been slowly changing over the months as I learned more about the organization of my placement (Lutherans Engaging in Advocacy Ministry New Jersey).

I began to learn about the intricacies of New Jersey politics and the particular struggles its residents face. I began to learn about the ELCA and the relationship between faith and advocacy. I attended Hour of Advocacy meetings, engaging with others who valued both contemplative discussion and practical action. I learned about Lutheranism and the ELCA’s approach to advocacy with the other Hunger Advocacy Fellows. I read the ELCA’s social statements and messages, and learned again how reflection on spiritual questions could inform the concrete, grounded activism that I was beginning to involve myself in.

First, we learn. I had that part down. But next, we must do.

The opportunity that sprung forth for me was not only a chance to work in advocacy or among people of faith, but an opportunity to connect my contemplative self to practical, meaningful work in the world. I feel a connection to Philippians 4:9, which begins: “As for the things that you have learned and received and heard and noticed in me, do them…” For me (and you, I hope!) advocacy is a way to take what we have learned and do.

 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Hannah Peterson is an ELCA Hunger Advocacy Fellow placed with Lutherans Engaging in Advocacy Ministry New Jersey (LEAMNJ), a state public policy office in the ELCA advocacy network. She recently graduated from Columbia University with a master’s degree in History and Literature, following her undergraduate degree from St. John’s College. Peterson’s internships at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and the National Museum of American History inspired her passion for identifying stories that have not yet been told and lifting up the voices of those in need. She hopes to continue her work building connections between people of different faiths, traditions and backgrounds.

Why the Confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson Matters

by guest blogger Judith E.B. Roberts [about the author]

I share this blog from my personal perspective as a Black woman in America and what the confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson means to me.

Last week, history was made when the U.S. Senate confirmed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court. She will serve as the first Black woman justice in the 232-year history of the Supreme Court. It is not the only, nor likely the last “historic first” for the highest court in the United States. In 1967, Justice Thurgood Marshall broke through the racial color line by becoming the first African American Supreme Court justice. In 1981, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor shattered the gender glass ceiling, becoming the first female Supreme Court justice. Justice Sonia Sotomayor became the first woman of color and the first Latina to be appointed in 2009. In terms of racial and gender identity, today’s nine Supreme Court justices certainly reflect greater diversity than the first justices of 1790.

When we consider diversity, we consider that we are all complex individuals with differing lived experiences and social identities, such as our race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, ability, religion and socio-economic status. These aspects of our identities are inextricably linked and shape the ways we view the world. Legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw first coined the term intersectionality to help explain the oppression experienced by Black women. Crenshaw explains: “Recognizing that we all carry many identities that come with varying levels of power and privilege is called intersectionality.”

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson represents more than just her accomplishments in the legal realm. Her melanin-rich complexion and natural textured locks speak volumes. This is relevant because historical, deeply rooted racist and sexist views about Black women—views that began with the enslavement of African people—still persist today. Attitudes about the behavior of Black women continue to be represented in media and entertainment by negative caricatures, such as the subservient mammy, the sassy sapphire, the seductress jezebel and the welfare queen. White European beauty standards of fair skin, sharp facial features, straight hair and slender body frames are still culturally and globally dominant. Black women and girls experience microaggressions, judgement, unconscious biases and physical attacks upon our bodies due to our natural hair texture, melanin-rich complexions, body shapes and physical features.

Given all these realities, representation matters. When people from historically marginalized groups see leaders who resemble them in key positions, it builds self-esteem, especially for younger people. Representation fosters greater trust within systems and institutions. It also adds a greater diversity of voices, perspectives and lived experiences to the processes that impact decisions, policies, practices and programs. This is true for businesses, faith communities, non-profits and governments alike.

While Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson is neither the first person of color nor the first woman of color to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, she is the first Black woman. As a Black woman in America, she bears the lived experience of the intersectionality of race and gender from a very particular historical perspective. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson represents, in the words of Dr. Maya Angelou’s poem Still I Rise (1978), “the dream and the hope of the slave.” As the daughter of parents who fought against Jim Crow segregation, and as the newest member of the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson represents the best ideals of American democracy and the values of equity, inclusion and diversity. She carries the historical knowledge of laws, policies and practices that held Black Americans in the position of second-class citizenship. Now she will serve from the very bench that overturned racially unjust laws in this nation, from Jim Crow segregation to voter disenfranchisement and school segregation.

For many, this is a hopeful and overdue moment of inclusion, visibility and representation. We rejoice in it! And God calls us to do more. We are not yet a nation that fully reflects and represents all the gifts of diversity. We must not waiver from the commitment of forming a more perfect union. As the ELCA, we too cannot waiver in our quest to increase diversity within congregations, synods and the churchwide organization.

We can notice the people, voices and experiences that are missing from our programs and our leadership. We can support a culture and climate where all people are free to bring their most authentic selves to work. We can expand and share power and voice in decision-making authority by listening to and following the lead of historically marginalized groups. To counter the narratives of negative stereotypes, we can engage in unconscious bias and other Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) trainings both internally and externally. We can intentionally recruit, retain and support leaders that represent historically marginalized groups. We can each champion justice by putting the values of diversity, equity and inclusion into our daily practice because representation matters.

 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Judith E.B. Roberts is Senior Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion with the ELCA

Title 42 Points to Need for Humane Asylum System

By Giovana Oaxaca, ELCA program director for migration

The announcement of the Biden administration of an end date for Title 42 is a welcome step forward towards restoring access to the right to seek asylum. Rather than promote a safe, orderly or humane process, Title 42 wound up increasing risk and vulnerability. Our Lutheran tradition teaches “hospitality for the uprooted is a way to live out the biblical call to love the neighbor in response to God’s love in Jesus Christ” (ELCA social message on “Immigration,” pg. 3). The human repercussions of Title 42 will be felt for years to come. Hopefully this moment can redirect our policymakers towards rebuilding a humane asylum system.

 

REQUESTING ASYLUM

Asking for asylum at the border is a right guaranteed under the Refugee Protection Act of 1980, as well as a right widely recognized as a U.S. international obligation. It is a lifeline many vulnerable migrants rely on when they reach ports of entry, usually as a last resort and after having travelled hundreds of miles by foot to escape personal danger. An asylee is an individual who meets the international definition of refugee – a person with well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group, who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence. In the United States, asylum seekers apply for protection from inside the country or at a port of entry.

 

WHAT IS TITLE 42

Title 42 is a part of an U.S. public health code that authorizes the federal government to take “emergency action” to prevent the spread of communicable diseases, a power first invoked by President Trump in March 2020. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an order under Title 42 barring certain noncitizens arriving at U.S. borders, even over the objection of leading public health officials in the CDC who saw no valid public health rationale to issue the order.

The public health effectiveness of this measure is questionable. In the United States, community spread was far more likely to be the source of transmission than newcomers. During the time Title 42 has been in effect, millions of people have continued to legally cross the U.S.-Mexico border at ports of entry for tourism and work. People continue to travel to the United States and to foreign countries by plane with little fanfare. Some have argued that Title 42 authority has been used far beyond its intended use as a public health measure.

 

WHAT IS HAPPENING NOW

On April 1, the CDC officially announced May 23 as an end date for Title 42. A potential increase in the number of border encounters is anticipated with this policy shift due to demand and expected seasonal fluctuations.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a comprehensive strategy in anticipation of the expected high volume of arrivals as Title 42 ends. The strategy is a blueprint for ramping up operational capacity, deploying more staff and resources, creating new processing centers and making asylum processing more efficient. The United States is also preparing a new system of adjudicating asylum decision. Of note, it advances an integrated regional approach to migration management. Unfortunately, it relies too heavily on raising the costs of migration instead of working to address the underlying drivers of migration.

Migrants, advocates in the faith community and public health experts have exhaustively argued that restoring asylum and protecting public health can be done together. The U.S. has the ability and resources to welcome humanely, efficiently and safely. Welcoming people in need of refuge is woven into the U.S.’ national identity. Lutheran experience in the United States reflects the continuity of this movement, as at one point after World War II one out of every six Lutherans was a refugee.

The bluntness of Title 42 underlines the U.S. immigration system’s penchant for neglecting human dignity and deflecting responsibility for humane border management. Its uneven use calls into the question even the public health rationale it purported to have. “Too often we perpetuate the racism, the fear of, and the animosity towards newcomers that show themselves in our society,” reads the ELCA “Immigration” social message (pg. 1). Between March 2020 and March 2022, Title 42 was used over 1.7 million times to expel migrants back to Mexico by land and by plane to Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Haiti, Brazil and Columbia.

Even now, Congress is considering an amendment to a COVID-19 supplemental bill that would reinstate Title 42. Historically, exclusionary policies have been most pronounced during moments of social anxiety. However, the choice is not to double down, but to reach out with grace and work towards the common good. Martin Luther once said, “I will give myself as a kind of Christ to my neighbor, just as Christ offered himself to me. I will do nothing in this life except what I see will be necessary, advantageous, and salutary for my neighbor, because through faith I am overflowing with all good things in Christ” (The Freedom of a Christian, pg. 29).

 

UNTOLD HUMAN SUFFERING

There many reasons Title 42 exacerbates human suffering. A paper by the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) underscores how long-term measures to close borders only reduce options for safe and regular migration and may increase the likelihood of irregular migration, smuggling and trafficking, especially as the drivers of migration increase.

Crossings have turned increasingly deadly as migrants have attempted to enter without inspection outside of ports of entry. A June 2021 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) also acknowledged that Title 42 expulsions have led to “some individuals trying to cross the border multiple times per day.” Owing to the exception for unaccompanied children, the use of Title 42 has also driven families to separate in the desperate attempt to send their children to safety in the United States. No family should ever have to make such a tragic choice.

Migrants are exposed to extraordinary danger upon return. Human Rights First published a report identifying 9,886 reports of kidnapping, torture, rape and other violent attacks on people blocked or expelled to Mexico due to the Title 42 policy. In Mexico, stranded Black migrants and migrants of African descent reported frequent racially motivated attacks and harassment.

According to the IOM the vast majority of Haitians were returned to “highly vulnerable situations with few if any resources” to Haiti, a country most had not lived in recently or at all. Returned and deported migrants to Guatemala and Honduras were equally vulnerable. Some NGOs, including ELCA AMMPARO companions Asociacion Pop No’j and the Mennonite Central Action Committee in Honduras, were able to assist, although COVID-19 set-backs and the sheer scale was considerable.

 

LEGAL QUESTIONS

Legal scholars have continuously called into question the validity of the CDC’s order, given that it supersedes congressional intent by granting the CDC near unilateral power to decide who can be deported. At a minimum, Title 42 is not consistent with U.S refugee law or treaty obligations under Article 33 of 1951 Refugee Convention. Article 33 prohibits expulsions back to countries where a person’s life is in danger (what’s known as a nonrefoulement obligation). The United States ratified the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, creating an obligation back to the 1951 Refugee Convention. At least two high-ranking government officials have resigned over the categorical expulsions they saw as inhumane and illegal, especially to the country of Haiti. The prevailing international standard on deportations prohibits collective expulsion back to danger and urges a dignified returned and reintegration process (Objective 21 of the UN Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration).

Huisha-Huisha v. Mayorkas challenges the overall use of Title 42 to return families back to danger. The D.C. Circuit Court on March 4, 2022 ruled in Huisha-Huisha that the government cannot use the public health order to expel families back to countries where they are likely to suffer persecution or torture. The Huisha-Huisha ruling dropped just as district court in Texas issued another ruling on Title 42 in Texas v. Biden blocking the ongoing Title 42 exemptions for unaccompanied children. The Biden administration averted having to expel unaccompanied children by officially terminating Title 42 expulsions for unaccompanied children on March 21. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees condemns any measure that infringes on the right to ask asylum. Public health experts argue that evidence-based public health safeguards like the use of vaccines, masks, hand sanitizer and other screening tools are strong countermeasures so that Title 42 is not necessary.

On the other hand, following the CDC order terminating Title 42 by May 23, the states of Missouri, Arizona, and Louisiana jointly sued the Biden administration for failure to rescind Title 42 through the proper procedure. While governing authorities have the responsibility to protect the nation’s borders and maintain its security, Title 42 goes too far.

 

ADDITIONAL POLICY RECONSIDERATION

Soon, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear a case over the Biden administration’s rescission, or repeal, of the Migration Protection Protocols (MPP). MPP, known as “Remain in Mexico,” leads to people who are legally seeking protection being stranded in perilous conditions in Mexico while they await their court hearing. MPP deprives migrants their opportunity to have their cases fully and fairly considered. This is a deeply flawed program that exposes children, families and vulnerable migrants to serious harm.

 

VISION FOR BETTER

The experience of Title 42 shows that the solution to human struggle and migration is not deterrence-based mechanisms, but addressing the drivers of migration, creating safe and orderly pathways to migrate, strengthening access to protection, and retooling how the government provides reception for those who are forced to come to the border. Any strategy must not bank on deterrence at U.S. borders or even within countries of transit to mitigate the flow of people migrating to save their lives, in search of opportunity or to reunify with family. International coordination and collaboration are essential for any effective migration policy.

Our faith is the strongest compass we have for guidance on how to treat newcomers. Scripture calls us to love our neighbor: “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:34). ELCA social teaching describes our serving presence in society that “holds power accountable, advocates justice, stands with those who are poor and vulnerable, provides sanctuary, and meets human needs” (ELCA social statement For Peace in God’s World, pg. 5).

 

WHAT’S NEXT

We must continue to show support for restoring access to asylum and continuing the U.S.’ legacy of providing refuge as consistent with U.S. law and international agreements. Some lawmakers support keeping Title 42 over concerns about border security. People’s lives cannot be used to escalate reliance on detention, deportation and border militarization, or to try to dismantle the asylum and refugee system.

While lawmakers will likely never reach a consensus on what a secure border looks like, we can agree that essential immigration reforms must be made – and Title 42 proved to be an unjust and harmful policy. Beyond just denying access to asylum, Title 42 engenders the conditions for an even greater humanitarian crisis at the border and in countries of origin. Communities of faith, through ELCA AMMPARO and across the ELCA, are ready to work together to address the plight of migrants.

Lutheran congregations have responded to newcomer neighbors, welcoming people fleeing conflict in Southeast Asia, war, targeted violence in Central America and very recently have welcomed Afghan families displaced by conflict and Ukrainians in Eastern Europe. This love of our neighbor is our steady guide in uncertain and difficult times.

March Update: Advocacy Connections

from the ELCA advocacy office in Washington, D.C. – the Rev. Amy E. Reumann, Senior Director

Partial expanded content from Advocacy Connections: March 2022

VAWA REAUTHORIZATION READY FOR SIGNATURE  |  FAITH NETWORKS AND STATE OF THE UNION  |  LEARN MORE ABOUT FAITH AND REPARATORY JUSTICE  |  GLOBAL COVID-19 VACCINES ACCESS  |  TEMPORARY PROTECTED STATUS DESIGNATIONS

 

VAWA REAUTHORIZATION READY FOR SIGNATURE:  Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is ready for the president’s signature, and we thank the many Lutherans who expressed support using the ELCA Action Alert! Both Vance Blackfox (Cherokee), Director, Indigenous Ministries & Tribal Relations, and Dr. Mary J. Streufert, Director, Justice for Women, in the ELCA commented on this policy development.

“Indigenous women have always been the center of our villages and communities, and the systematic attempts by the U.S. federal government and others to de-center and eliminate them have been egregious and criminal. This latest passage of VAWA that contains expanded protections for Indigenous women and children brings to light the lack of protection offered all these years and finally elevates the standard for the level of justice and care our women have always deserved,” said Blackfox.

“[VAWA] serves neighbors—people in need because they have been targeted with violence based on gender and race. The ELCA as a church is expressly in support of laws that stem these kinds of violence. We trust that God works through us to create safety and flourishing for others, including through laws and policies. We also trust that God works through us to challenge sexist and racist beliefs that make gender-based violence seem like it is normal,” said Streufert.

 

HUNGER AND THE STATE OF THE UNION:  President Biden named the Child Tax Credit as a priority in his State of the Union speech, which is also a priority of our anti-hunger advocacy shared by partners from Christian, Jewish and Muslim organizations. The ELCA is addressing priorities in additional legislation that would have been in Build Back Better legislation.

Collaboratively, our advocacy is working with legislative opportunities with maternal health in Black women, heath care for all, as well as Child Tax Credit potentials. An interfaith webinar on Mar 16 at 1 p.m. ET, cosponsored by the ELCA, will explain changes to the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit, and how you can help spread the word in our communities about these tax credits. More at https://bit.ly/FaithfulTaxFilers

 

LEARN MORE ABOUT FAITH AND REPARATORY JUSTICE:  The ELCA continues cohosting a monthly faith series examining reparations for people of African Descent. The March 16 session will focus on the global and international aspects of the reparations movement; April 20 on housing, land and debt; and May 1 on health.

Event registration and access to previously recorded sessions is available from the National Council of Churches website at https://nationalcouncilofchurches.us/reparatory-justice-series/. The March 16 session includes partners speaking about involvement in Haiti and other nations, and study of the rich theology and history developed around the issue.

 

GLOBAL COVID-19 VACCINES ACCESS:  The ELCA continues to advocate to U.S. government and global multilateral entities to ensure better ways to increase access to COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and other resources–especially for low-and-middle income countries.

The Biden administration announced that it will increase its coronavirus vaccine assistance to 11 African countries—based on COVID burden on their populations, capacity of their health systems to quickly administer vaccine doses and ability to effectively deploy additional U.S. investments. The goal is to provide intensive financial, technical, and diplomatic support, including bolstering cold chain supply and logistics, service delivery, vaccine confidence and demand, human resources, data and analytics, local planning, and vaccine safety and effectiveness.

 

TEMPORARY PROTECTED STATUS DESIGNATIONS:  The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is to be commended for designating Sudan and Extending and Redesignating South Sudan for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) due to dire country conditions. In response to the continued conflict in Eastern Europe, Ukraine was also designated for TPS.

TPS offers relief for eligible community members with protection from deportation, work permits and the possibility to live their day-to-day lives without the overbearing fear of being separated from their loved ones. It has been a tool employed by both Republican and Democratic administrations to protect community members in the United States while their home country conditions remain unstable. Other countries the United States should consider designating for TPS include Cameroon and Guatemala, and “redesignating” Honduras and El Salvador.

 


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