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Can We Change How We Think About Central America?

Patrick Flaherty, Legislative Advocacy Intern

Patrick Flaherty, a recent college graduate from Maryland, recently started an internship in the Washington D.C. ELCA Advocacy Office. As ELCA Policy Directors send out blogs and other alerts on legislative action, we are excited to share new thoughts, stories, and perspectives on the issues from students, leaders, and Lutherans from across the country. Consider sharing your story by clicking here.

As a recent college graduate, I have had a lot of great opportunities to get involved in service and social justice work, two things I am very passionate about. As much as I love direct service I know in order to truly solve major systemic problems, you need long-term solutions. This is what created my interest in addressing issues through policy. I am excited to learn about the different aspects of policy work with the great people at ELCA Advocacy over the next couple months.

During my undergraduate studies I was able to take a number of courses that focused on the history and people of Central America. I became especially interested in U.S. international policies in the region, how they affected the people there, and how these policies continue to impact Central America-U.S. relations today. For me there is a strong connection between immigrant and migrant justice today, and the effects of U.S. policy in Central America. Keeping in mind the livelihoods of immigrants and migrants is even more important as rising violence in Central America has created major forced displacement in and outside the region, and immigration is a central topic of the public, political and presidential discourse. I believe staying informed on these issues and approaching them with compassion for the people they affect is part of our calling as people of faith.

Since starting at the ELCA Advocacy office, I’ve had the chance to go to different coalition meetings such as the Central America & Mexico Working Group and even the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) office to learn what different organizations are doing on the ground to respond to the forced displacement of Hondurans, Guatemalans and Salvadorans. Currently the three countries, commonly referred to together as the Northern Triangle, are disproportionately affected by violence forcing many people to flee to safety. These people, including children and families, are asylum seekers under international law. However the U.S. government has not recognized them as such.

I often think about how—or more precisely, when— the US will change its relationships with our southern neighbors, recognize those fleeing as needing international protection, and admit our role in some of the current problems the region is facing. Two recent articles by The New York Times highlight the US’s role in deporting General Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova to El Salvador, and pushing for the deportation of former vice minister of defense Inocente Orlando Montano Morales to face justice in Spain. Both men participated in ordering the 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter in their home at the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) in El Salvador’s capital, San Salvador. These extraditions can be seen as step in the right direction for the U.S., which helped fund many of the military operations in El Salvador in the 1980s that killed thousands of innocent civilians and propped up dictatorships under the guise of fighting Communism in the region.

The U.S. should continue on this path of seeking justice in the many cases of human rights violations that occurred with our government’s support in numerous Latin American countries not just El Salvador. Confronting our troubled past and accepting the roles our nation played in harming the people of Latin America should be part of building stronger relations with our neighbors. Unfortunately, at the same time the US supports these high profile deportations they are supporting the detention of thousands of children and families fleeing violence in their home countries by increasing political and financial support for efforts by Mexico to detain and deport these refugees and asylum seekers. Most of these people will be sent back to the violent neighborhoods and cities they left in the first place without ever being offered the proper legal channels to file for asylum.

Last week, I attended a hearing held by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a branch of the Organization of American States that protects and promotes human rights in the Americas, focusing on the illegal practice by governments of stopping asylum seekers from reaching safety. The Northern Triangle countries do not have the institutions or governmental infrastructure to protect people targeted by violent agents in their countries so people are forced to look for safety outside their communities, whether it means inside or outside their country. All of the nonprofit and governmental leaders testified of their work on the ground trying to assist these refugees and the need for better institutions that can comply with international laws. The U.S. is currently the best option for thousands of people who would be harmed if they stay in their home communities. Even while we try to make some amends for past injustices we supported, we cannot ignore the current plights of thousands of Central Americans simply seeking a better life and peaceful communities. As people of faith we should reflect on Jesus’s parable about ‘The Judgment of the Nations’ from Matthew 25. He tells us that when we acted for those of His family we act for Him and here we find our calling to welcome the stranger. Hopefully we can urge our government and our communities to join in this call, especially when people facing danger and violence seek our help.

ELCA Advocacy Update- November 2015

ELCA Advocacy

Lutherans are taking action across the country! Below you will find our monthly State Advocacy Newsletter. Share with your friends!


Washington, D.C. – Mary Minette, Interim Director of Advocacy

FEDERAL SPENDING DEAL: This month, members of the U.S. House and Senate reached a bipartisan compromise with the White House on a proposed budget deal. The agreement, signed by President Obama just days before a federal default, will set raised budget limits for both defense and non-defense programs for the next two years, while simultaneously avoiding a government shutdown by raising the debt ceiling. We recognize the need to address long-term fiscal sustainability for the wellbeing of critical U.S. social service programs. However, the deal should be praised for reversing harsh and highly inefficient budget cuts, many of which have crippled programs that benefit working families and our most vulnerable neighbors. Though overall funding levels for the whole government have been decided, Congress now must work to pass a federal spending bill for the remainder of the 2016 fiscal year by Dec. 11 to avoid a government shutdown. Watch for upcoming updates and advocacy opportunities on upcoming budget talks in the coming month!

GREEN CLIMATE FUND: The budget deal that passed in late October did not specifically allocate funds for the Green Climate Fund, so it is important that members of Congress, particularly senators, hear from constituents that a final bill to fund the government through the end of the 2016 fiscal year must include the $500 million requested for the U.S.’s initial contribution to the fund.  We are working with a broad coalition of faith, development and environmental groups to advocate for the funding as an important aspect of our work to support the negotiation of a strong international climate change agreement in Paris in December.

PATH TO PARIS: Negotiators met for their final session prior to the December meeting in Paris in mid-October, and while 155 countries have so far come forward with pledges to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases beginning in 2020 as part of the new agreement, many significant issues are still undecided. These include details about financial support for emissions reductions and adapting to climate change in low-income countries, how to differentiate between the responsibilities of large industrialized nations like the U.S. and European nations and those of emerging economies like China and India, and less affluent and less developed countries, and how to deal with long-term losses that countries and communities are unable to manage or adapt to. In addition, non-governmental organizations were shut out of most of the negotiating sessions in Bonn, which does not bode well for a transparent and accountable end to the negotiations in Paris.

WORLD FOOD DAY: On Oct. 16, the ELCA joined millions of people around the world to commemorate World Food Day. This is the time to celebrate the progress we have made in reducing global hunger while also recognizing that much work remains. As part of this effort, we asked our Lutheran community to take action to ensure that Congress sustains existing food and agriculture programs that fight global hunger. Click here to learn about the ELCA’s engagement in the week leading up to World Food Day.

INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS: Last month, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America joined other faith and human rights organizations for a hearing at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a regional body addressing human rights in the Americas, on the detention of asylum seekers. The ELCA, together with the Mennonite Social Action Committee in Honduras, provided a document outlining findings from our June trip to Mexico on the detention and deportation of young people seeking international protection. This document also outlined specific stories of young people with legitimate asylum claims who had been deported to Honduras from Mexico despite fearing harm. Despite numerous studies outlining the failure of Mexico to protect those seeking asylum, the U.S. government continues to praise Mexican enforcement efforts.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM: A bi-partisan coalition of Senate Judiciary members recently introduced and passed out of committee S. 2123, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015. This important legislation is the product of intense negotiations between Judiciary Committee Democrats and Republicans.  Both sides have credited the faith community for creating the political will to negotiate through our advocacy efforts in Iowa – home to Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley. Companion legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives with committee action expected soon. The faith community sponsored two Capitol Hill briefings for staff to hear from faith leaders on the importance and moral urgency for criminal justice reform on Nov. 3.


New York, NY – Dennis Frado​, Lutheran Office for World Community

WOMEN, PEACE AND SECURITY: On Tuesday, Oct. 13, in commemoration with the 15th anniversary of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325, an open debate on Women, Peace and Security was convened by the Security Council to discuss the further implementation of that resolution. In his opening remarks the secretary-general reiterated that women’s leadership in peace-building is a top priority and shared his commitment to seeing the resolutions implemented. In addition to the secretary-general, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of U.N.-Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka stressed that the most under-utilized tool in peace-building is women. She also introduced the Global Acceleration Instrument on Women Peace and Security and Humanitarian Engagement. This new fund will accelerate the implementation of UNSCR 1325 as well as channel funds to women’s organizations working on peace building. Directly after this opening segment, Resolution2242 was unanimously adopted by the Security Council. It has two key outcomes: The first is that it outlines actions to improve the implementation of UNSC Resolution 1325; the second is proposing a broader Women, Peace and Security agenda, including countering violent extremism, monitoring sexual violence within U.N. peacekeeping forces, increasing the representation of women in governments, and implementing the gender recommendations of a recently released global study.

A GLOBAL STUDY AND A GLOBAL REPORT:  On Wednesday, Oct. 14, “Preventing Conflict, Transforming Justice, Securing the Peace – A Global Study on the Implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325” was officially launched. This study is the product of the engagement of member states, U.N. entities, regional organizations and civil society, including research institutes. Primarily, this study revealed that the ability of women to influence negotiations increased the chances of agreements being reached was positively correlated with greater implementation and had a positive impact on the durability of peace. During this time, Radhika Coomaraswamy, lead author of the global study, expressed her opinions of the recently adopted UNSC Resolution 2242. While she was overall supportive of the resolution, she had serious concerns about the mixing of women, peace and security with counter terrorism efforts. She noted the need for a clear, conceptual difference between the two, and that U.N. intentions toward civilians and military forces cannot be blurred. Finally, on Tuesday, Oct. 20, the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs launched the 2015 edition of the World’s Women Report coinciding with the occasion of World Statistics Day. The speakers at the launch emphasized the importance of presenting empirical evidence that connects statistics and policy making. The report analyzes the status of women based on the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action areas of concern. It looks at both the progress and gaps over the past 20 years.

MIGRATION CRISIS IN EUROPE: On Friday, Oct. 16, Nicholas Jaech with the Lutheran Office for World Community attended an event organized by the International Peace Institute on the migration crisis in Europe. This event featured Ninette Kelley, director of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Liaison Office in New York and Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR regional coordinator for the Europe Refugee Crisis. Kelley noted the disturbing reality of the current crisis: 42,500 people are displaced every day and 50 percent of the refugees are children, which is the highest level in decades. She went on to explain that if Europe were to take in the same proportion of refugees as Turkey, the world’s refugee crisis would be solved. Cochetel illustrated the current routes that migrants are taking. The first is from North Africa up through Italy, while others enter Europe via Turkey, which he noted was the more popular route. He noted that the current crisis is not about the number of refugees, but rather the lack of responsibility among European states. As for current objectives of UNHCR in the area, he highlighted the continued effort to reduce loss of life along the migration routes, support efforts to reform asylum structures and LOWC1policies in states, maintain strong advocacy surrounding solidarity, and provide a special focus on women and children. To learn more about the ELCA’s efforts in the migration crisis, click here. For a video of the above event, produced by the International Peace Institute, click here.

On Oct. 27, LOWC welcomed Maria Immonen, director of TheLutheran World Federation’s Department for World Service(LWS). In addition to receiving an orientation to LOWC’s work, she had appointments with ecumenical colleagues and staff of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs where they discussed LWS’ operational field programs in Central Africa and the Middle East.



California – Mark Carlson, Lutheran Office of Public Policy

CA1The deadline for Gov. Jerry Brown’s action on 2015 legislation passed on Oct. 11, and LOPP-CA was disappointed in the veto of AB 47 (see previous update) that would have accelerated expansion of state preschool to more children from low-income families. Citing budget pressures in the absence of action by the special legislative session on health care funding, he also vetoed an LOPP-CA supported bill expanding the state low-income housing tax credit, which helps leverage federal credits.

October was busy as LOPP-CA Director Mark Carlson used study leave time to participate in the Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake City; co-hosted a “Not your mother’s church supper – Celebrating women in energy & climate change” for about 45 participants in CA2the Behavior, Energy, and Climate Change Conference, with energy scientist and Lutheran Dr. Kristin Heinemeier of UC Davis; and displayed and spoke briefly at the Sierra Pacific Synod Professional Leadership Conference in Monterey.

Following the Sierra Pacific Synod Hunger event on poverty and incarceration, Mark joined ELCA World Hunger staffer Ryan Cumming and two representatives from the Southwest California  Synod for worship at Trinity Lutheran, Porterville, and a water tour of East Porterville, an epicenter of drought-induced dry wells. The group accompanied volunteers in delivering water to homes, talked with families, and viewed pumps purchased with an ELCA World Hunger grant that brings water from portable tanks into homes.


Colorado – Peter Severson, Lutheran Advocacy Ministry Colorado

CO1AFFORDABLE HOUSING: Lutheran Advocacy Ministry-Colorado was present at the 2015 Housing Colorado Now! Conference in Beaver Creek, meeting with policy-makers and other affordable housing advocates to develop strategies for housing low- and extremely low-income families in Colorado. The critical lack of affordable housing touches all corners of Colorado, and several speakers at the conference addressed issues anticipated in the next legislative session of the Colorado General Assembly, including rental vouchers and a renewal of the state Low Income Housing Tax Credit.

ECONOMIC SECURITY: Groups working on legislation dealing with families living in poverty have begun meeting in anticipation of the 2016 session. In particular, LAM-CO has been working with the Colorado Center on Law & Policy as well as the All Families Deserve a Chance coalition to prepare an economic security agenda for the session. Issues that may come up include paid family-and-medical leave, child care for low-income parents in college programs, and a major alteration to the state hospital provider fee, which could secure hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for education.

CONGREGATION VISITS: Director Peter Severson has been on the road visiting congregations all over the state. Pictured here is Zion Lutheran in Trinidad, whose pastor is the Rev. Andrea Doeden. The building is 125 years old and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as “Zion’s German Lutheran Church.” Built in an eclectic Victorian Gothic style, it’s the oldest Lutheran church building in Colorado!


Illinois – Jennifer DeLeon, Lutheran Advocacy Illinois

STATE BUDGET: Illinois is now entering its fifth month without a budget! Lutheran Social Services Illinois our partner agency is not receiving funding for a variety of programs that serve some of the most vulnerable people in our communities, including home care for seniors, residential substance abuse treatment, and mental health services. They are doing all they can to keep providing services but they need a state budget now! Please call or write a letter to Gov. Bruce Rauner and to your state legislators by clicking here, asking them to work together to pass a budget now!

Il1ELIMINATION OF POVERTY: Lutheran Advocacy-Il is part of the Illinois Commission on the Elimination of Poverty. The commission is an independent body focused on eliminating poverty in our state in a manner consistent with international human rights standards. As such, the commission’s charge is twofold: 1) To create and monitor a specific, substantive, measurable strategic plan for cutting extreme poverty in Illinois; and 2) To offer advice and comment on state matters that may positively or negatively impact the state’s goal of ending poverty. Studies show that suburban poverty is growing in Illinois. In October the commission held public hearings around the state and we were able to hear directly from advocates and clients served by a broad section of suburban programs. Members of the public had the opportunity to provide their feedback and inform the work plan of the Commission. Click here to learn more about the commission.


Minnesota – Tammy Walhof, Lutheran Advocacy

PAYDAY LENDING REFORM: Over the summer, the StarTribune ran reports investigating campaign contributions to state legislators by payday lenders. Embarrassment seems to be opening legislators to reform discussions. With the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition, Minnesotans for Fair Lending and Trinity Lutheran Church, LA-MN is working on a payday education event scheduled for Thursday afternoon and evening, Dec. 3.

mn2AFFORDABLE HOUSING/HOMELESSNESS: The lack of affordable rental housing is one of Minnesota’s greatest challenges, reiterated at a recent event with Julian Castro of the  U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison. LA-MN continues to educate about homelessness, affordable housing, and impacts on food security.

Nativity Lutheran Church (St. Anthony) hosted a weekend conference, benefit concert, and worship services based around concern for homelessness.Tammy Walhof (LA-MN) participated and was guest speaker for all five worship services.

CLEAN POWER PLAN: LA-MN is doing presentations around coal’s impact on health and the benefits of the Clean Power Plan. The encyclical by Pope Francis helps offer alternative paths into discussion. LA-MN is also part of an effort with other faith groups across the Midwest doing “climate conversations.”

IMMIGRATION: The Northeastern Minnesota Synod Immigration Task Force and LA-MN met with Jodi Harpstead, director of Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota, to learn more about how Minnesota has been less welcoming to immigrants in recent months. LA-MN also helped to facilitate an undocumented immigrant interview by high school students. LA-MN hopes to incorporate the immigration story into our upcoming work.

Facebook  Twitter: @LuthAdvocacyMN


New Jersey – Sara Lilja, New Jersey Synod

LEAMNJ supported Senate bill S2360! The Episcopal Church and the ELCA asked the Legislature to support efforts that reduce violence and keep our communities safe. We called, visited and emailed our senators and prevailed on an override vote. The bill requires local, county and state law enforcement officers to be alerted when people with a history of serious mental illness ask a judge to expunge their record so they may buy a firearm. This bill will provide judges with relevant information regarding a person’s history when they are making important decisions on the expungement of records. It now goes to the Assembly for an override vote after the November elections. Much work to be done!


New Mexico – Ruth Hoffman, Lutheran advocacy Ministry New

NM2Legislative interim work continues as the interim committees work to develop their recommendations for the 2016 legislative session. LAM-NM is closely monitoring the work of the Legislative Finance Committee, which is developing the legislative budget proposal, as well as the Legislative Health and Human Services Committee, which considers legislation affecting low-income people in our state. Interim committees will wrap up their work in early December.

NM1The LAM-NM Policy Committee met on Oct. 24 and adopted the LAM-NM 2106 Advocacy Agenda.  The 2016 Advocacy Agenda continues to focus our work on issues addressing policies that can improve the lives of people living in poverty and experiencing hunger.


Pennsylvania – Amy Reumann, Lutheran Advocacy Ministry in Pennsylvania

Tracey DePasquale, Associate Director

As Pennsylvania heads into its fifth month without a budget, one bright spot is the Legislature’s unanimous passage of the bill to expand the state Housing Trust Fund, which LAMPa’s network has been advocating for two years.  Although Gov. Tom Wolf endorsed the bill months ago, LAMPa is asking Lutherans to urge him to sign it so that it doesn’t get dragged under by the budget battle entering its fifth month. Chief among the sticking points is the education budget, for which LAMPa has been advocating increased funding and a formula to move the commonwealth out of its standing as dead last in the country in terms of equity.

Director Amy Reumann preached, taught and celebrated advocacy in the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod, where policy council members hosted a fundraiser for LAMPa and a dinner to honor local advocates. She also engaged Lutherans around the state to testify at hearings on the Clean Power Plan and attended the annual meeting of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light.

PA1Associate Director Tracey DePasquale met with policy staff in the Department of Education to discuss trauma-responsive education and ways to build a statewide coalition to enact policy that reflects best practices.  She also taught an adult forum at Christ Lutheran, Gettysburg, about disparities in education and as part of a series on inequality.

LAMPa staff brought together immigration advocates including Lutheran Children and Family Services at a state conference on Welcoming Communities and a Lower Susquehanna Synod information session for refugee resettlement to encourage advocacy on immigration.

As a follow-up to the National Youth Gathering, LAMPa staff participated in RiseUp York —  a weekend service, learning and advocacy immersion youth retreat organized by the Lower Susquehanna Synod.  Both synod and LAMPa staff hope to duplicate this experience and curriculum for other communities.


Southeastern Synod, Georgia – Hilton Austin Jr.,

Two members of the Southeastern Synod Advocacy Team attended the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C., this month. Bishop Julian Gordy and Patti Austin, national president of Women of the ELCA, visited several members of Congress, along with other ELCA leaders, to support refugee reform legislation, to call for an end to family detention, and to support increased funding for refugee protection and assistance.

gatext2As one of the newest ministries of the Southeastern Synod, we have been busy building our network, organizing, and developing civic and ecumenical partners. We recently added links to the ELCA Advocacy Action Center and the LIRS Action Center to our synod website. We are currently planning an advocacy training event to be held in Atlanta in mid-January; our target date for promoting the training event is Nov. 6.

Our team is organized into various, what we call, ready benches; each ready bench leader develops a network of people who are passionate about a particular issue and remain ready to take action on current state and national legislation as it arises. We currently have three in Georgia, Immigration, Human Trafficking, and Criminal Justice, and two in Tennessee, Health Care and Criminal Justice. We will continue to add ready benches as folks hear God’s call into this important work.


Virginia – Charles Swadley, Interim President and CEO

Rob Martin, Director of Programs & Development

va1HEALTH CARE: Our Virginia Consumer Voices for Health Care program along with our Hampton Roads and New River Valley chapters recently produced forums in Norfolk and Blacksburg, respectively, titled, Health Care Access: a Moral Imperative. The forums included an interfaith panel of faith leaders, testimonies from those who suffered without health care, and a call to action to local faith communities to care for our neighbors through accepting federal Medicaid funds to close the coverage gap.

va2ECONOMIC JUSTICE AND HUNGER:  VICPP’s Northern Piedmont Chapter produced a hunger awareness event, Setting the Table: An Interfaith Event on Ending Hunger, at Germanna’s Daniel Technology Center in Culpeper, Va. Center staff and members attended the 2015 Clergy Convocation in Richmond with the theme “Repair the breach, restore the streets.” The center is partnering in a Hunger Summit with the ELCA Virginia Synod and the Virginia Council of Churches, which will be held at Virginia Union University in Richmond on Nov. 18.

va3CREATION CARE:  VICPP co-sponsored an event with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation titled “Living Waters” to organize statewide advocacy and policy development efforts to preserve clean water in the Chesapeake Bay and its watersheds. Important references to preserving God’s creation were made with many great examples of congregations putting their faith in action through greening programs and advocacy efforts. VICPP joined other creation-care advocacy organizations on the Interfaith Climate Change Impact Tour in Richmond organized by Creation Justice Ministries. VICPP will be propelling creation care from the mountains to the coast in its advocacy action work with congregations this fall.

ADVOCACY TRAINING: Advocacy Training Sessions are being held by our Northern Virginia Chapter in Fairfax and by our Hampton Roads Chapter in Virginia Beach on Nov. 8. Staff is also presenting training “What do we do with the Stranger? A Conversation about Immigration” in Richmond on Nov. 15.

Twitter: @vainterfaith  Facebook:


Washington – Paul Benz, Faith Action Network

watext1ELECTION: Faith Action Network (FAN) has an annual goal of organizing “interim” meetings between our advocates and their state legislators and members of congress/staff during summer and fall.  So far, we have had 24 meetings with state legislators in 14 districts with 113 advocates, and 12 meetings with members of congress/staff from 10 districts with 50 advocates (including bishops).

FAN has also created a one-page description of four current ballot issues (three initiatives and one local proposition) and FAN’s positions on them. To see that,click here.

ANNUAL DINNER: FAN will be having its fifth annual dinner/fundraiser on Sunday, Nov. 15 (click here to see our invite). This year’s theme will be “Yes We Can!” focusing on the faith community’s response to racism and violence post-Charleston. The Rev. Dr. Carey G. Anderson, senior pastor at Seattle’s historic First African Methodist watext2Episcopal Church will be our speaker, and we have invited Jennifer Pinckney (widow of the Rev. Pinckney) of Mother Emanuel AME in Charleston, S.C.

FORUMS ON TAXATION: FAN just completed two forums on each side of our state on the issue of taxation (Washington has the most regressive/unfair tax structure in our nation) with the title “What Kind of State Do You Want to Live In? Conversation and mobilization regarding our regressive tax structure.” A state legislator spoke at each event, and we had a local religious leaders’ panel, which had an ELCA and Episcopal bishop present.



Wisconsin – Cindy Crane, Lutheran Office for Public Policy in Wisconsin

WORKSHOPS AND CONFERENCES: LOPPW’s director led workshops at First United in Sheboygan, Lake Edge in Madison, and at the Northern Great Lakes Festival of Congregations in Minocqua, where LOPPW also displayed a table.

witext1SYNOD TEAMS: LOPPW’s director met with Greater Milwaukee’s director for evangelical mission, The Rev. Sandy Chrostowski, about helping to start a hunger team. The director attended a workshop led by the Northern Great Lakes hunger team. LOPPW was involved in recruiting members for a Care for God’s Creation team for South-Central/LOPPW.  The team will access World Hunger resources. The director has also met with the senior policy director of Clean Wisconsin about relevant state witext2publicpolicy; LOPPW is now on the list of stakeholders for Wisconsin’s Clean Power Plan at the Deparment of Natural Resources.  Wisconsin’s government has threatened to not implement any clean-power plan.

ANTI-TRAFFICKING: The director testified at a hearing on the Safe Harbor bill.  LOPPW/Cherish All Children’s team in the Northwestern Synod began plans for organizing conferences accessible to people in the LaCrosse Area, Northwestern, East Central, and South-Central synods.  Council Member Venice Williams discussed placing a focus on human trafficking for the annual Milwaukee King Day event Venice helps to plan; LOPPW will be a partner in 2016.


What advocacy efforts are going on in your synod or state? We want to hear about it!

Contact us at ​​

ELCA Advocacy Update- October 2015

ELCA Advocacy

Lutherans are taking action across the country! Below you will find our monthly State Advocacy Newsletter. Share with your friends!

​​​Washington, D.C.

Mary Minette,

Interim Director of Advocacy


2015 ADVOCACY CONVENING: Last month ELCA, Episcopal and community leaders from around the country met in Washington, D.C., for a two-day advocacy event. The 2015 Advocacy Convening brought together bishops and grassroots leaders in a common call to action the week of Pope Francis’ first papal visit to the United States. Participants of the convening explored the role of deliberative democracy and faith in informing public service and examined the ways our shared faith perspective can cultivate mutual respect, moral reflection, and honest conversation with our government.

On the day of Pope Francis’ joint-address to Congress, convening participants met with more than 60 congressional offices and 24 members of Congress. There, leaders and advocates with first-hand experience urged their lawmakers to pass a responsible budget that provides funding for programs that fight extreme poverty, climate change, and protect children fleeing Central America. At the same time, more than 250 advocates from across the country sent letters to Congress through the ELCA Advocacy Action Center.



ADVOCATING FOR A JUST FEDERAL BUDGET: On Sept. 30, Congress passed a resolution that will fund the federal government until Dec. 11. However, this resolution does not provide necessary increases in funding to address our concerns for environmental issues or vulnerable people. Now, budget talks continue and there is an opportunity once again to influence our members of Congress as they debate how to fund the government for the remainder of the fiscal year ending on Sept. 30, 2016.

In the next few months we will continue to raise our voices in support of a budget that honors our earth and the well-being of all around the world. This includes funding for the Green Climate Fund, health and refugee services, emergency food assistance, and other programs that enhance the lives of families in the U.S. and abroad. Continue to check your inbox for opportunities to join us and faith communities around the country in urging Congress to pass a faithful budget.

LUTHERAN AND EPISCOPAL CHURCH LEADERS’ OPINION COLUMN FEATURED IN USA TODAY: Presiding Bishop Eaton joined leaders of Lutheran and Episcopal churches in Canada and the United States to write an opinion column on uniting to safeguard God’s Creation that was featured in USA Today on September 23. The church leaders described that “our traditions drive us to address the interrelated problems of climate change, environmental degradation, hunger and poverty… Though we represent different religious institutions, we share a common goal, and recognize that time is short to achieve it. We all know that to protect the poorest we must protect the climate.” This piece was published during Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S.


New York, NY

Dennis Frado​, Lutheran Office for World Community


SITUATION IN THE CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: The Lutheran Office for World Community has been following the situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) very closely. On Sept. 26, an upsurge in violence occurred in the previously relatively stabilized capital of Bangui. Only four days prior, a meeting between the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and nongovernmental organizations highlighted the positive outcomes of the people-centric National Forum in Bangui, which adopted the Republican Pact for Peace, National Reconciliation and Reconstruction. These outcomes, especially free and fair national and legislative elections scheduled for October 2015, have become a high-priority for U.N. agencies, including the Security Council, DPKO and the U.N. Development Programme. However, violence in the country’s capital in the recent days has led CAR’s interim transitional president, Catherine Samba-Panza, to postpone the previously scheduled October elections. In a high-level U.N. meeting on CAR held on Oct. 1, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged member states to give financial contributions to CAR to fund the priorities of the Bangui Forum and to rally the support of the international community. As for the role of faith-based organizations in CAR, DPKO urges spaces of faith and worship to also be vehicles for reconciliation among marginalized and oppressed peoples. Additionally, The Lutheran World Federation and nine other nongovernmental organizations drafted and signed an advocacy memorandumoutlining the problems in CAR and recommending solutions. For more information on the situation in CAR, read here.

NY1OUTLOOK OF THE HIV AND AIDS EFFORTS AT THE UNITED NATIONS: During the 70th Session of the U.N. General Assembly, Nicholas Jaech with the Lutheran Office for World Community joined activists, health workers and governments to discuss long-term commitments to ending HIV and AIDS by 2030 – an objective outlined in the Fast-Track strategy developed byUNAIDS. On Sunday, Sept. 27, a meeting between UNAIDS and civil society was held to discuss the financial realities of achieving this goal. UNAIDS admitted a $10 billion to $15 billion global shortfall in funds necessary to successfully implement the Fast-Track strategy. On the same day, a high-level event, “Ending the AIDS Epidemic by 2030: Shaping New Models and Means of Implementation,” was hosted by the governments of Kenya and Malawi, in partnership with UNAIDS. At this event, the governments of Malawi, Kenya, Mali, Lesotho, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and the United States pledged their support for the Fast-Track strategy. All governments that spoke highlighted the need to focus on adolescent girls, who are eight times more likely than men to be HIV positive. These governments also acknowledged the importance of concentrated efforts to support and de-stigmatize marginalized groups, specifically men who have sex with men, sex workers, and drug users. For more information on ELCA efforts concerning HIV and AIDS, click here. Additionally, follow them on Facebook and on Twitter at@ELCAHIVandAIDS.

NY2U.N. TURNS 70 AND DISCUSSES REFORMS: The United Nations celebrates its 70thanniversary in October. During the annual General Debate in September, many heads of state used this anniversary occasion to highlight the achievements of the United Nations regarding its three pillars – peace and security, development, and human rights. Nevertheless, voices also gained momentum demanding reforms of current U.N. structures. A growing number of countries support the French-Mexican initiative to encourage the permanent five members of the Security Council (China, France, the United Kingdom, Russia and the United States) to refrain from using the veto in cases of mass atrocities. A similar project was launched by the ACT-Group (Accountability, Coherence, and Transparency). About 60 countries signed a Code of Conductpledging not to vote against any drafts that would deter international action on genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. Additionally, many member states demand a more transparent and diplomatic process of the selection, nomination and appointment of the next secretary-general, who will follow Ban Ki-moon in 2017. Many members of civil society supported this demand by joining the 1 for 7 Billion Campaign.

POST-2015 DEVELOPMENT AGENDA; 2030 AGENDA FOR SUSTAINBLE DEVELOPMENT: On Sept. 25, more than 150 heads of NY3state convened for the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit 2015 and adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Transforming Our World, which is “a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity.” The Global Goals, as they are called in a recently launched campaign, consist of 17 new sustainable development goals and 169 targets. LOWC has been monitoring the negotiations and will continuing to follow the implementation phase including the development of target indicators by 2016 and the establishment of review mechanisms.


LOWC Advocacy Blog

Nicholas Jaech, Lutheran Office for World Community

THE CULTURE OF PEACE: This month, Nicholas Jaech reflects on recent developments at the United Nations and the culture of peace in his blog, “Reconciling a Culture of Peace and a Responsibility to Protect.”

“I have been overwhelmed with admiration for how active faith-based groups are at the United Nations. Social justice is at the forefront of all conversations, faith is shared, and ecumenical working groups have formed to promote peace in its many forms – climate justice, gender justice, and hunger relief, just to name a few. These groups, many ecumenical and inter-faith, illustrate how justice and peace can be created in an ever-increasingly diverse world.” Read the full version at the ELCA Advocacy Blog!



Mark Carlson, Lutheran Office of Public Policy


ca1After the DC Advocacy Convening and a stop in Kansas for The Land Institute’s Prairie Fest that included theologians Mary Evelyn Tucker of Yale and John Cobb of Claremont, LOPP-CA director Mark Carlson arrived in Sacramento after flight delays for a press event promoting AB 47, a bill that would move California toward serving all children from low-income families with state preschool by 2018.  The bill is sitting on Gov. Brown’s desk with an Oct. 11 deadline for signature. Due to circumstances beyond his control, Mark was unable to respond to an invitation from Brown’s office to participate in the Los Angeles signing ceremony for SB 350, which sets the goal of doubling energy efficiency in all buildings, and producing half our electricity with renewable sources, by 2030.  Mark also joined a closing Saturday afternoon prayer circle on the day that Gov. Brown signed AB 953, a bill that seeks to reduce racial and identity profiling by law enforcement through expanded training, data gathering, and an ca2advisory board.  The bill’s outcome was very much in doubt, with 24/7 vigilers prepared to launch a hunger strike, “Starved for justice,” the following Monday.  LOPP-CA worked with PICO California to secure St. John’s Lutheran Church for a Sept. 2 briefing, with prayers, music, and blessing, which filled the sanctuary prior to a march to the Capitol that drew 1,000.

Upcoming events include the Sierra Pacific Synod’s annual hunger gathering, featuring ELCA World Hunger’s Ryan Cumming, and a water tour to East Porterville.



Peter Severson, Lutheran Advocacy Ministry – Colorado

CO1ELCA ADVOCACY CONVENING: Alongside bishops, community leaders, and other state public policy office directors, LAM-CO Director Peter Severson was in Washington, D.C., for the ELCA Advocacy Convening. After watching Pope Francis’ address to a joint session of Congress from a streaming video feed in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Peter joined LAM-NM Director Ruth Hoffman and Denver-based community leader Joy Waughtal in visiting congressional offices on Capitol Hill. Productive meetings were held with staffers for Sen. Cory Gardner, Colo., Sen. Tom Udall, N.M., and Rep. Ed Perlmutter, Colo. Peter and Ruth also acted as envoys for Rocky Mountain Synod Bishop Jim Gonia, offering personal greetings to Rep. Cynthia Lummis, Wyo., at the ELCA Advocacy Prayer Brunch (pictured right).

CHILD NUTRITION: LAM-CO was represented at the Hungry for Change Summit 2015, hosted by Hunger Free Colorado. Many critical partners in anti-hunger advocacy and relief attended the conference, whose keynote speaker was Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. Advocates are still working with members of Congress to ensure the safe renewal of funding for key anti-hunger programs in child nutrition, including school breakfasts, summer meal programs, and WIC.



Jennifer DeLeon, Lutheran Advocacy – Illinois


We are now going into the fourth month without a budget! Every day there are people who are going without critical services because providers have had to lay off staff or close their doors entirely.

ACT NOW: Tell your state representative to vote for SB 2046, which funds critical services for Illinois’ most vulnerable citizens and enables the social safety net to remain intact. The bill was approved by the Senate in early September and would give the governor authority to make payments to human services providers not already funded pursuant to court orders. Click here for more information on the bill and to take action!

CERTIFICATE OF GOOD CONDUCT: HB 3475 We also have some good news to share! A bill we worked on was signed into law. HB 3475 expands the eligibility for Certificates of Good Conduct to include people who have committed non-sex-related forcible felonies so that people who have made grave mistakes have at least one avenue beyond clemency to demonstrate they’ve turned their lives around. They may petition the court to receive one of these certificates, which can help them obtain employment or licensure. This and other bills are part of the work we are doing in coordination with the Office of Racial Justice to continue to bring awareness to the criminal justice social statement and provide concrete ways people can take action!



Tammy Walhof, Lutheran Advocacy – Minnesota  


NEXT YEAR’S PRIORITIES: Since the 2016 legislative session will be only 2.5 months long, the LA-MN Policy Council decided to focus on constituent education, while being prepared to act on a few key issues.

PRIMARY EDUCATIONAL FOCUS: Creation Care, especially climate concerns and clean energy, through frames of 1) global poverty, 2) low income in the state and nation, and 3) clean, accessible water.


Payday lending reform: LA-MN has worked on this in the past, and five Minnesota synods have payday resolutions. An ELCA congregation also started a lending program to help people get out from under payday loans.

Affordable housing and homelessness: LA-MN continues active participation in the Homes for All Coalition. The “ask” is still being decided and could include bonding, homeless youth, senior homelessness, families with children, discrimination against people of color, etc..

IMMIGRATION: Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota reports that resettlement of immigrants and refugees is facing pushback in some Minnesota communities. LA-MN will work to change the narrative toward “welcoming the stranger.” LA-MN will also be ready to lend support to state or federal efforts related to immigration and refugees.

MN1ELCA/EPISCOPAL ADVOCACY CONVENING: The convening included numerous speakers, the congressional address by Pope Francis via streaming video to a Senate office building, and advocacy. Representing Minnesota were Bishop Steve Delzer (Southeastern Minnesota Synod), the Rev. Margaret Kelly (Shobi’s Table), and LA-MN Director Tammy Walhof, who met with Rep. Tim Walz, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and staff from the offices of Sen. Al Franken, and Rep. John Kline.

 Twitter: @LuthAdvocacyMNFacebook


​New Jersey

Sara Lilja, New Jersey Synod


LEAMNJ is working to override the Governor’s veto of bill (S2360). This legislation was drafted because the courts here in NJ asked for additional support when making decisions about expungement cases. Simply, local, county and state law enforcement officers to be alerted when people with a history of serious mental illness ask a judge to expunge their record of psychiatric treatment so they may buy a firearm. The bill would provide judges with relevant information regarding a person’s history when they are making important decisions on the expungement of records. This legislation could impact public safety and the safety of the petitioner.

Our challenge is that the NJ legislature has not been able/willing to override a single veto since this Governor has been in office. We are currently mobilizing congregational members, and many have responded! Visits, calls, and emails- the push is on in NJ to help prevent gun violence!


​New Mexico

Ruth Hoffman, Lutheran Advocacy Ministry – New Mexico


NM1LAM-NM recently led a forum at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Alamogordo, N.M. The forum explored poverty in New Mexico (which has among the highest rates of poverty in the nation) by putting together a household budget for a family NM2that was headed by someone earning the New Mexico’s minimum wage of $7.50 per hour. The participants estimated the cost of housing, transportation, food, child care, health care, taxes and other expenses. The group quickly concluded that those costs were much more than the gross income of $1,300 per month.  They discussed possible public policies that could address that income gap, such as increasing the minimum wage and making more affordable housing available.

LAM-NM Director Ruth Hoffman was honored as one of 20 leaders in state health care advocacy by Health Action-New Mexico. The recognition was given at a dinner at which Ron Pollack of Families USA was the keynote speaker.  Ruth was congratulated by U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham.




Nick Bates, The Faith Coalition for the Common Good


As a person of faith, I want our elected officials to focus on ending hunger, reducing poverty, and working to improve our communities. I believe Ohio can accomplish these things only when elected officials are responsive to the needs of their constituencies. That is why I am voting YES on ISSUE 1.

When we have fair districts we will have fair elections. A yes vote on Issue 1 will improve the district drawing process, and encourage elected officials to be more responsive to the needs of their communities. Proverbs 31 calls us to speak up for the oppressed. Issue 1 will give all Ohio voters an opportunity to speak up for themselves and make a difference through the electoral process.

Our communities matter and elected officials are charged to represent our needs at the Statehouse in Columbus. Gerrymandering has weakened the voice of the voter and strengthened the voice of money, lobbyists, and ideology. Issue 1 will reform our system to bring the voters back to the center of Ohio’s Statehouse. It is our prayer that Issue 1 will pass on November 3rd and it will be successful in improving the People’s House in Columbus.



Amy Reumann, Lutheran Advocacy Ministry in Pennsylvania 

Tracey DePasquale, Associate Director


LAMPa advocacy helped lead Gov. Tom Wolf to address the serious problem of hunger and inadequate nutrition; he issued an executive order to coordinate Pennsylvania’s food and nutrition programs and revive a hunger strategy for Pennsylvania!Read more about this advocacy success!

PA1Pennsylvania is in its fourth month without a budget, with Gov. Wolf vetoing a stop-gap plan, saying it would just delay progress toward his top priority: adequate and equitable education funding. LAMPa’s network continues to urge lawmakers to approve the fair formula and fund it with a budget that adequately addresses need.

Congregations around Pennsylvania filled out postcards on school funding and child nutrition as an advocacy action on “God’s work. Our hands.”  Sunday.

LAMPa is recruiting and equipping Lutherans to testify on the state’s Clean Power Plan, including this testimony from the Rev. Paul Metzloff.

PA2Tracey participated in the kickoff of a new Welcoming Community in York and the start of the 100 Women/100 Mile March from York’s immigration detention facility to Washington, D.C., protesting family detention.

LAMPa staff accompanied state grassroots leaders to the ELCA advocacy convening in Washington, D.C., meeting with legislative staff on federal policy.

PA3Staff worked with the Gettysburg and Philadelphia seminaries about collaboration on Lutheran Day in the Capitol 2016. It will be part of Gettysburg’s Spring Academy with focus on intersections of faith, science and action.

Our Policy Council held their retreat at Susquehanna University, kicking off with a kayak trip on the Susquehanna River. Playmobil Luther came too!



Charles Swadley, Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy


VA1HEALTH CARE: Our Virginia Consumer Voices for Health Care (VCV) program and Northern Virginia Chapter produced a “Medicaid Expansion: Who Benefits” forum in Arlington in partnership with the League of Women Voters. The forum included elected officials and was the first joint function of the League of Women Voters of Falls Church and the Northern Virginia and Fairfax Chamber of Commerce. Prospects are improving with statewide chamber of commerce support for Medicaid expansion. VCV will be producing multiple “Call to Action: Health Care Access as a Moral Imperative” events this month around the state (Norfolk, Newport News and Roanoke). VCV ( has been actively increasing its social media outreach to promote closing the coverage gap during the general assembly session that begins in January 2016. Health care policy content is developed and distributed to thousands of followers in a weekly roundup.

HUNGER:  The Center is planning a Hunger Summit with the ELCA Virginia Synod and the Virginia Council of Churches that will be held in Richmond in November. We will producing 10+ congregation-based Social Justice University trainings for advocacy action on hunger, climate and others issues across the state as part of coordinated organizing efforts with our statewide chapter network. Also, VICPP’s Northern Piedmont Chapter is producing a hunger awareness event Setting the Table: An Interfaith Event on Ending Hunger” at Germanna’s Daniel Technology Center in Culpeper, Va.

VA2GUN VIOLENCE PREVENTION AND IMMIGRATION: The Center has initiated policy development ministries in gun violence prevention and immigration rights with grant support provided to our seminarian and public policy fellow, Lana Heath de Martinez. Lana attended the sixth-annual Virginia Immigrant Advocates Summit of the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations and is preparing to work on legislative and policy issues now confronting immigrant communities in Virginia, including closing the coverage gap with Medicaid expansion and access to driver’s licenses for immigrants.

CREATION CARE:  VICPP is co-sponsoring an event with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation called “Living Waters,” which will organize statewide advocates in policy development efforts to preserve clean water in the bay. See our new video of our amazing collaborators and chapter members helping VICPP put its faith in action at



Paul Benz, Faith Action Network

WA1At the Bishops’ Advocacy Convening in Washington, D.C., Faith Action Network (FAN) was privileged to join all three of our ELCA bishops, who were in attendance. FAN was able to secure meetings with seven of our 10 House members, and one of our U.S. senators. The bishops were very engaged in presenting issues of food and hunger (especially Child Nutrition Reauthorization and the Global Food Security Act), the renewal of the Columbia River Treaty, and federal recognition for the Duwamish Tribe. Follow-up with the staff of those offices will be the next step.

FAN convened interfaith leaders for lunch with Gov. Jay Inslee for conversation about his recently released rulemaking process to curb C02 emissions by our state’s 30 largest emitters. The past legislative session did nothing about meeting our state’s mandated C02 emission goals.  Eleven religious leaders of many faith traditions attended and have since issueda statement.

FAN is sponsoring two forums on taxation called “What Kind of State Do You Want to Live In?  Conversation and mobilization about our state’s regressive tax structure.” ELCA Bishop Kirby Unti will be on one of the panels of local religious leaders.

FAN is preparing for another annual fundraising dinner on Nov. 15 with the theme “Yes We Can!” Our guest speaker will be the Rev.  Carey Anderson, senior minister of Seattle’s historic First AME Church. He will speak on the efforts needed to combat the racial injustices affecting our local communities and nation. To learn more about the event or to register, go



Cindy Crane, Lutheran Office for Public Policy in Wisconsin

WI1LUTHERAN AND EPISCOPAL ADVOCACY CONVENING SEPT. 22-24 IN WASHINGTON, D.C.: (Left) Visiting Sen. Tammy Baldwin are Melissa and Marquitta Smith of Hephatha Lutheran Church of the Greater Milwaukee Area Synod, Bishop Jerry Mansholt of the East Central Synod of Wisconsin, Bishop Jim Arends of the La Crosse Area Synod, Bishop Mary Froiland of the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin, and LOPPW’s director, Cindy Crane.WI2

(Right) Visiting U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble’s office are Marquitta and Melissa Smith and Bishop Jerry Mansholt.

LOPPW RETREAT: We held an all-day LOPPW Advisory Council/Staff Retreat in Marathon to discuss pressing issues related to hunger in the communities of the council members, hone in our priorities, and make plans for the upcoming months.

ANTI-TRAFFICKING: Our task force met in Rice Lake to discuss upcoming legislation and begin planning conferences around the state.  We are thankful for a grant from the Women of the ELCA to help fund the events.

CONTACT WITH STATE LEGISLATORS: LOPPW’s director was in contact with legislators about the bill to return 17-year-old non-violent, first-time offenders to the juvenile justice system, the Safe Harbor Bill, redistricting, and the possible dismantling of the Government Accountability Board.

INTERNS: The director interviewed a UW-Madison student and a recent graduate of UW-Madison for internship positions at LOPPW and will gladly welcome both.  She has begun creating work plan for them. They will begin their internships in October.


What advocacy efforts are going on in your synod or state? We want to hear about it!

Contact us at ​​

Reconciling a Culture of Peace and a Responsibility to Protect

Nicholas Jaech, Lutheran Office for World Community

“In a new millennium, let us rediscover faith. Not in order to use it against others like has happened so many times in our history, but to understand our reason for existing in this world. Peace is the name of God. “ – Professor Dr. Emil Constantinescu

This statement by Professor Dr. Emil Constantinescu, former president of Romania, was made during the United Nations High Level Forum on The Culture of Peace on Wednesday, September 9 .1 The Lutheran Office for World Community had the opportunity to attend this all-day event, which focused on fostering a “culture of peace” in our world today. This concept, “Culture of Peace”, is rooted in A/RES/53/243, a resolution passed during the 53rd Session of the General Assembly in 1999. In this resolution, “Culture of Peace” is a set of attitudes and values based on non-violence, dialogue, cooperation, the promotion of human rights, developmental and environmental needs, gender equality, and the freedom of expression, just to name a few. This resolution was further bolstered by resolution A/RES/56/5 in 2001, which declared 2001-2010 the “International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World.” Similarly, the General Assembly passed a resolution in 2012 (A/RES/68/125) reiterating the original “Culture of Peace” resolution passed in 1999. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America observed a “Decade for a Culture of Nonviolence” between 2000 and 2010.

The forum on the 9th continued in the tradition of continually reinforcing the “Culture of Peace.” Specifically, panelists, experts and national representatives focused on the upcoming 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs) and the role of the media in creating an international peace culture. Various national delegates also had the opportunity to express their visions of the future. The United States spoke of a future where freedom of expression and journalism contribute to this culture of peace, while Bangladesh spoke fervently about violence that stems from intolerance, as well as the violent division that occurs when walls between peoples are built.  Overall, the energy in the room was optimistic; optimistic for a future devoid of violence and hate.

However, just one day prior, on September 8, the Lutheran Office for World Community also took the opportunity to sit in on a General Assembly Informal Interactive Dialogue on the Report of the Secretary-General on the Responsibility to Protect. “Responsibility to Protect” is a concept that has been developing since 2005, which outlines three methods for dealing with atrocity and violence occurring in our world. The third method, arguably the most contested among Member States, provides the international community the opportunity to take collective action against crimes of genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, etc.2 This third method was most recently utilized by the Security Council in 2011 in the actions it took against authorities in Libya, following the widespread violence against civilians.3

During this dialogue on September 8, the concept of the “Responsibility to Protect” manifesting in collective action was contested. The Russian Federation spoke out against international efforts to intervene. Citing Libya as an example, they argued that the situation in Libya has spiraled into chaos and instability – a direct consequence of this policy.4 On the other hand, the United States praised the “Responsibility to Protect” and invoked the current situation in Syria as reason for further attempts of international collective action.4 While the support for the “Responsibility to Protect” was noticeable, many concerns were voiced over the use of international collective force in the face of atrocity.

These two all-day events, occurring just one day apart from each other, were my first two official experiences in the United Nations. I left the building after the second event and asked myself the following questions: How do we as Lutherans, peacemakers and followers of a loving God, who are eager and willing to build a worldwide Culture of Peace, respond to the current reality of violence and atrocity in some parts of the world? Do we invoke collective action among UN Member States, often times using violence against oppressive regimes? Or do we rely solely on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, hoping that economic and social development will provide the seeds for peaceful cultures?

As a fresh-out-of-university 22 year old, I cannot begin to answer these questions. National delegates, humanitarian organizations, and international church bodies have been discussing this complex dichotomy for years. However, I have to return to the inspiring words of Professor Dr. Emil Constantinescu about using faith as a means for peace:

“… the world powers, international organizations, the United Nations, the UNESCO, the civil society, try to create a political culture of security through negotiation and cooperation, in order to promote peace and understanding throughout the world. We are looking for the lowest common denominator, on which everybody can agree. My opinion is that we should plan for more. If we want to make real peace and understanding between people, we must focus to identify, not the lowest common denominator, but we should relate ourselves to the highest common denominator – faith.”

I have been overwhelmed with admiration for how active faith-based groups are at the United Nations. Social justice is at the forefront of all conversations, faith is shared, and ecumenical working groups have formed to promote peace in its many forms – climate justice, gender justice, and hunger relief, just to name a few. These groups, many ecumenical and inter-faith, illustrate how justice and peace can be created in an ever-increasingly diverse world.

And while I unfortunately still cannot answer my questions posed above, I will attempt to answer them with another question: How can we use faith in this millennium to reconcile the security-based concept of “Responsibility to Protect” and the development concept of ”Culture of Peace”?

Let us continue to work to bring faith into all conversations here at the United Nations and use faith as a tool for advocacy, partnership, and understanding, not as a tool for division. Through this, I am already confident that change can be made and that people will see peace.


To view the recorded webcast of the General Assembly Informal Interactive Dialogue on the Report of the Secretary-General on the Responsibility to Protect, please click here.

To view the recorded webcast of the United Nations High Level Forum on The Culture of Peace, please click here.