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January/February Updates – State Edition

Following are updates shared from submissions in late January of state public policy offices (sppos) in the ELCA Advocacy Network last month. Full list and map of sppos available.

 

CALIFORNIA | OHIO|TEXAS| WASHINGTON

California
Lutheran Office of Public Policy (LOPPCA) – (lutheranpublicpolicyca.org)
Regina Banks, Director

California is facing an ongoing budget deficit, which could range from $38 billion to $58 billion for fiscal year 2024-25, per the existing analyses from various sources. This will have a significant impact on policy efforts in the state. LOPPCA is working with our partners and coalitions to prevent major cuts to critical programs that affect the most vulnerable. Significant cuts exist in the Governor’s proposed budget, which include programs surrounding climate change, affordable housing, and economic safety nets.

Emerging policy priorities apart for LOPPCA in 2024 include housing and homelessness, immigration services and support, and climate change.

Ohio

Hunger Network in Ohio (HNO) – www.hungernetohio.com

Deacon Nick Bates, Director

Veto joy was short-lived.

As we have always said, stories are sacred. Governor DeWine (Republican-Ohio) spent his Christmas holiday talking with families with LGBTQIA+ youth, psychologists, doctors and social workers. He heard the stories and stood with gender non-conforming youth and their families in receiving gender affirming care. We spoke with Channel 5 in Cleveland and Spectrum News Ohio about the joy that LGBTQIA+ Ohioans have during this season of joy. Sadly, the Ohio House of Representatives returned from their holiday early to override the veto, despite growing bi-partisan opposition to legislative overreach and overriding the nuanced and long-discussed decisions of doctors, parents, youth, and case workers.

JOIN US FOR MONTHLY ADVOCACY AFFINITY GROUP!

In 2024, we will begin a monthly advocacy meeting on zoom for advocates across Ohio. This will be at 7pm on the second Thursday of each month. Come and lift up your issues, ask questions, and learn from policy experts and one another. Register at www.hungernetohio.com/events

Texas
Texas Impact – Texas Impact
Scott Atnip, Outreach Director

Theyear 2024 was a long year for advocates in Texas with the Texas Legislature’s 140-day biennial regular session, an impeachment trial and four thirty-day special sessions focused on creating a new public school voucher program and harmful immigration policies. Thanks in part to incredible advocacy from the faith community, the voucher bills failed, but a harmful immigration bill making immigration a state crime was signed into law two weeks before Christmas.

Texas Impact is organizing a series of “Texas Faith Votes” events and other advocacy and civic engagement events across the state in January and February to prepare for an important election cycle.

Three members of the team joined other ELCA and faith advocates at COP28 and provided great content for advocates and congregations.

The Texas Impact Weekly Witness podcast covered it all and is preparing for incredible speakers and content in 2024.

Washington
Faith Action Network (FANWA) – fanwa.org
Elise DeGooyer, Executive Director

The 2024 State Legislative Session Began!

The 2024 Washington state legislative session convened January 8th in Olympia, and is a short 60-day session, ending on March 7. More than 600 bills had already been introduced in both chambers before the session began, with hundreds to follow. With an unprecedented speed of bills being introduced, FAN advocates have been busy preparing for the upcoming Interfaith Advocacy Day (IFAD) on February 8th at the State Capitol. FAN staff offered an online session to give an overview of our multifaceted legislative agenda as a multi-faith, multi-issues organization. Close to 100 people attended our legislative preview. Some of the bills from the agenda include Extreme Wealth Tax, Healthy Free School Meals for All, Clean School Buses, Housing Stability for Tenants, and more. We also hosted two online Advocacy 101 sessions for both new advocates and those wanting a refresher for legislative advocacy. During this time of policy committee hearings, we are encouraging our network to sign in support for bills, submit testimonies, and write letters to their legislators. We are grateful to our Policy Engagement Director Kristin Ang (pictured below) and volunteer lobbyist Trevor Sandison (ELCA member) for representing FAN in Olympia throughout the session, and to our coalition members who testify and help inform us on facts and talking points for each bill.

The session in the State House Legislature opened with prayers by Imam Omar Kaddoura and Rabbi Seth Goldstein (pictured below) from our network along with the Squaxin tribe. Amid complex policy discussions, we remember to take a pause and ground our advocacy in multi-faith values and our responsibilities of being good stewards to our world.

November/December Updates – U.N. and State Edition

Following are updates shared from submissions of the Lutheran Office for World Community and state public policy offices (sppos) in the ELCA Advocacy Network last month. Full list and map of sppos available.

 

U.N. | ARIZONA | COLORADO | MINNESOTA| WASHINGTON

New York
Lutheran Office for World Community (LOWC), U.N. – ELCA.org/lowc
Christine Mangale, Director

Third and Second Committees of the General Assembly: The 78th session of Third Committee of the General Assembly, which deals with Social, Humanitarian and Cultural issues, has been meeting since Sept. 28 following the conclusion of UNGA78 high level meetings. The Third Committee has robust agenda items and like in previous sessions, is focusing on the examination of human rights questions, including reports of the special procedures of the Human Rights Council. Agenda items include the advancement of women, the protection of children, indigenous issues, the treatment of refugees, the promotion of fundamental freedoms through the elimination of racism and racial discrimination, and the right to self- The Committee also addresses social development issues related to youth, family, ageing, persons with disabilities, crime prevention, criminal justice, and international drug control. LOWC is following closely the sessions and coordinating with the LWF Action for Justice unit.

 The United Nations General Assembly Second Committee is one of the six main committees of the United Nations General Assembly. It deals with global finance and economic matters. LOWC staff have also been following the Second Committee which is responsible for agenda items related to economic and financial affairs, with LOWC most closely following tax-related negotiations.

Rally for Peace: While commemorating the 23rd anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (SCR 1325) on Women, Peace, and Security that was adopted in October 2000, LOWC staff attended the NGO Committee on the Status of Women (NGO CSW) rally for peace that focused on recognizing and voicing concerns on how women are deeply affected by a conflict torn world. The rally emphasized the importance of involving women in decision making, conflict prevention, resolution, and peacebuilding activities. Participants called for a more gender-inclusive world.

Women’s Political Participation and the National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security in Columbia: LOWC staff attended a High-Level Policy Briefing in the run-up to the annual Open Debate on Women, Peace, and Security. One of the main goals of the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda is to guarantee and increase women’s contributions and participation at all levels of decision-making. The meaningful participation of diverse women in peace processes and post-conflict governance is critical to achieving inclusive and sustainable peace. This specific briefing focused on the level and quality of Colombian women’s participation in the creation of the country’s National Action Plan (NAP). It also commented on lessons learned about women’s political participation following the 2016 peace agreement between the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP).

Women’s Human Rights Advocacy Training: LOWC Program Director Daniel Pieper attended the Women’s Human Rights Advocacy Training which took place from 17-20 October 2023 in Geneva Switzerland. The annual training is organized by Lutheran World Federation (LWF) in partnership with the World Council of Churches, Finn Church Aid and Norwegian Church Aid. Among the participants from different churches and faith-based organizations were women and men from LWF’s member churches in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malawi, the United States and Zimbabwe, as well as from its World Service country programs in Chad, Iraq and South Sudan. During the training, the LOWC Program Director shared about the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW68) and also participated in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) review of Malawi.


 

Arizona
LUTHERAN ADVOCACY MINISTRY ARIZONA (LAMA) – lamaz.org
Solveig Muus, Director

Lutheran Advocacy Ministry Arizona (LAMA) hosted its 4th annual summit on Nov. 4, bring together LAMA policy council, congregational liaisons and leaders to explore advocacy as a spiritual practice… how might some element of advocacy become part of your daily or weekly routine? In addition, we prayed, sang, ate and wrote letters to our legislators, inviting them to Lutheran Day at the Legislature. 

As one of LAMA’s policy priorities 2024 is water, our LAMA team connected with Congressman Greg Stanton and water policy experts over a community breakfast. We continue to seek partnerships in this area – conversations welcome!

Our Grand Canyon Synod Hunger Leaders Network meets monthly to share resources and updates from churchwide, learn about local hunger ministries, and support one another. The network is engaged in a congregational hunger ministry survey – the goal is 100% participation, with a hunger leader liaison in every congregation – and planning a Lenten Challenge with our sister synod in Southeastern Iowa.

This month, LAMA was privileged to present resources, updates and information about our work in person at two congregations, in addition to the synod convention of the Women of the ELCA and the synod retirees in retreat. We’re promoting an Advocacy 101 Toolkit from our partners at Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest (LSS-SW) which includes a video, slide show and resources for individual or group use.

All that, plus coalition partner meetings, Hunger Fellow engagement, planning for Lutheran Day at the Legislature on Jan. 18, 2024, and a tour of the Maricopa County Elections Office are keeping us busy!

Colorado
Lutheran Advocacy Ministry Colorado (LAM-CO) – lam-co.org
Peter Severson, Director

SPECIAL SESSION: Colorado Governor Jared Polis has called a special session of the legislature that began on Friday, Nov. 7. Legislators addressed property taxes and sought to provide relief after the failure of Proposition HH on the ballot. Average property tax increases across Colorado are approaching 40% due to skyrocketing assessment values, so the legislature will try to find a different path forward that is distinct from Prop HH.

Lutheran Advocacy Ministry Colorado will be advocating for an increased investment in the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit, which will offer significant poverty-reducing benefits for low-income families. The session will last at least three days.

ELECTION RESULTS: Proposition HH, the complex property tax reduction measure, failed by a significant margin. Proposition II, allowing the state to keep tobacco tax revenue, passed by a wide margin, and the nearly $24 million in revenue will go to the state’s new universal pre-K program.

Minnesota
Lutheran Advocacy Minnesota (LA-MN) – lutheranadvocacymn.org
Tammy Walhof, Director

Policy Council Retreat: The Lutheran Advocacy Minnesota (LA-MN) Policy Council just had its retreat with speaker Dr. Gary Simpson presenting on various ideologies of Christian traditions and how that influences political engagement. We spent time brainstorming strategies to respond to the deep polarization throughout our state and country. We plan to continue seeking ways to bring people together.

Issues for 2024: The Policy Council considered policy options for the next legislative session. We anticipate working on e-waste legislation (an environmental, energy, climate & jobs issue) and to increase the supply of affordable housing. At the federal level, we will be focused on various issues within the Farm Bill, which is a key legislation for ELCA Advocacy networks nationwide.

Implementation

  • Sacred Settlements: The legislation takes effect on Jan. 1. At that point, faith communities may move forward to host settlements of people leaving chronic homelessness and specially trained “good neighbors.” Two Minnesota synods passed resolutions in support of Sacred Settlements. If you would like to pursue something similar, see the resolution and a background paper on our website at https://www.lutheranadvocacymn.org/action-alerts.
  • Energy Credits/Rebates: Several options for churches and individuals passed last session are not yet available, but we will monitor the rollout. We also plan to host informational events.

COP28 Climate Conference: Says Tammy Walhof, LA-MN director, “I have my ticket, my letter from the United Nations, and my visa, but still have a lot to learn before leaving for Dubai. As I mentioned in last month’s update, I’m privileged to represent the ELCA at this important event.” Please watch our Facebook page for updates from the Conference.

Washington
Faith Action Network (FANWA) – fanwa.org
Elise DeGooyer, Executive Director

FAN Annual Dinner

Faith Action Network (FANWA) staff and board hosted our annual celebration on Sun. Nov. 19. We held simultaneous in-person dinners in Renton and Spokane, plus a livestream with watch parties. This year’s theme, United in Hope, reflected our core conviction of hope for positive change through multifaith action. In the midst of a disheartening time of polarization, closely felt among the faith communities in our network, we were grateful to gather as a community.

 

Legislative Agenda Planning

FAN has been working on crafting our advocacy priorities for the 2024 legislative session with our coalition partners such as Anti-Hunger & Nutrition Coalition, Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network, Earth Ministry/WA interfaith Power & Light, and Balance Our Tax Code. It has been particularly helpful during this stage of planning to host regional cluster meetings. We met in 13 clusters this fall with more than 250 people from around the state. On the federal level, we continue to encourage our network to take action for the Farm Bill and WIC.

Immigrant Justice
In November, we celebrated the success of the Health Equity for Immigrants Campaign. Starting on Nov. 1, all Wash residents, including immigrants who are undocumented, can buy health and dental insurance and apply for Cascade Care Saving Plans to alleviate their health care cost. Once a bill is passed, it is important for us to follow through its implementation. We will continue to work together in a coalition to expand access to this program and implement the next Medicaid-like health plan for immigrants.

Since Sept., 350+ newly arrived migrants seeking asylum from Angola, Congo and Venezuela have camped in tents or on the floor at a church outside Seattle. One third of them are children. ELCA Hunger Advocacy Fellow Tomo Duke testified at the King County Council budget hearing to ask for a county response to this emergency. Members of our network also are responding to the urgent needs for these immigrants, while we advocate for a government response.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Thing in Climate Justice

Grounded in hope for a world where all of creation may flourish, 24 passionate young adults from Hawaii to New York and many places in between (including 15 synods!) turned to one other and resourced themselves with ELCA social teaching, storytelling and action planning to (as phrased by one participant) “see how these brilliant minds continue to make this Earth a better place.” Following is a reflection presented during worship at the close of the ELCA Fall Climate Summit held in October 2023. In it Savannah Jorgensen – who brings gifts including training in meteorology and faith-based advocacy practice – found in Isaiah 43 room to explore lament, God’s presence, and a spark for hope and action.

 


New Thing in Climate Justice

By guest blogger Savannah Jorgensen, Legislative Coordinator,
Lutheran Office of Public Policy – California

NOT DIMINISHING LAMENT

The first overarching theme I hear when I read Isaiah 43 is one of lament.

Isaiah 43 takes place within the context of the Israelites exile and captivity in Egypt. In the extensive exile period, people were understandably losing their faith and their way, which is pointed out near the end of the chapter in verse 22: “Yet you did not call upon me, O Jacob; but you have been weary of me, O Israel!” After enduring such hardships and strife, I can’t say that I blame them for losing their faith in some ways. The past few years have definitely tested my own faith.

Despite being here and talking with you all about faith in action, I’m not ashamed to admit that it’s still a struggle sometimes to see God moving in the world, in my life. Maybe you have felt that way too.

There are indeed many injustices in the world today: racial, gender, and in our context at the summit, environmental. Reading Isaiah 43 for the first time, I thought that the writer was telling us that God was angry at the Israelites for not turning to their faith and to God. However, after reflecting on the chapter further, I think that God is instead lamenting what they are enduring, the sins of the world, and that the injustices they’re witnessing and experiencing have caused them to lose hope and faith. We are certainly in a period of lament at this moment in history. We lament ongoing environmental injustices, pollution, the degradation of natural and cultural spaces, extreme weather, habitat decline and the continued denial of these realities by world leaders and their inaction.

Lamentation, grief and anxiety are normal emotions to be feeling right now. Let’s not diminish our emotions and our lived experiences, but rather, let’s move to the second major theme in Isaiah 43. Lament, but remember…

 

PROMISE OF PRESENCE

That God is with us even now, even through this, even when we forget and cannot see God. Verses 1 and 5 ask us not to fear. “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.” and “Do not be fear, for I am with you”. These verses are reminding us of who we are as God’s children. We are loved, and God walks with us in times of distress. Verse 4 emphasizes this point when it opens, “Because you are precious in my sight and honored and I love you…”

In the context of Isaiah 43, the author is telling the Israelites that God loves them and hears their prayers. God will bring their people together, and exile will end for them eventually. In our context, these verses can act as a balm for our anxieties.

Once again, we can’t dismiss the realities of climate change and the real concerns we have surrounding it. However, we can lean on each other and remind ourselves of our faith that God is in our corner and working through us to strive for justice.

Isaiah 43 also points out not to dwell on the past. This goes back to the first theme of lament and takes us to the third theme of my reflection this morning. We lament, but remember our faith and hope, so that…

 

SPARKED BY FAITH

We ignite a new spark and look forward to what can be! “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth; do you not perceive it?” (v. 19). Friends, I’ve got news for you; we are all part of that new thing! The climate movement is part of that new thing. Young adult and youth advocacy is part of that new thing.

Our faith at its core is one that longs for justice, which includes the stewardship of creation and mending of historical environmental injustices done to our neighbors. I think that’s what makes faith-based organizing and advocacy so exciting and so unique. We are driven deep down by that faith that things can get better, and that this is not how the world is supposed to be.

Through our faith we can speak and lead with love, compassion and hope. As verses 8 and 9 say in Isaiah 43, “Bring forth the people who are blind yet have eyes, who are deaf yet have ears! Let all the nations gather together, and let the peoples assemble.” I view these verses as the biblical version of a call to action. They’re basically saying to organize, and later in this passage, to be witnesses, which all connect to being a part of the new “thing” that God is doing.

Bring people together. It’s going to take all of us here, across the country, and across the globe working together to help adapt to and mitigate further climate change. I’m not saying it will be easy, but neither is Isaiah 43. We have the foundation, our faith and theology; we have each other; we have the tools; we have the lived experiences; we have hope.

 

DOING A NEW THING

That was a lot pieced together yet reflecting on Isaiah 43 is rich.

We should acknowledge the hurt and grief tied up in climate change and environmental injustices, but we can’t get caught in the quicksand of our lamentation. Remember our faith and the calling to strive for justice in all capacities. God is with us even in this. Remember and lean into it so that we can spark change and do the new thing that God is creating.

Take the conversations you’ve had at this summit with you, along with the tools and connections to make that movement a reality. Use your fear and anger and fuel it into collective action and advocacy for justice. Cling to hope.

 

PRAYER

Please pray with me:

God, our Creator,
Thank you for the gift of creation in all its forms, from the animals and plants to the oceans and our weather. It is indeed fearfully and wonderfully made.
Thank you for the charge you have given us to be stewards together of this beautiful planet and the life on it.
Help us to see and embrace that call to be stewards of Your creation.
Give us grace as we repent for our sins against our neighbors and our planet.
Send Your Holy Spirit among us and into our hearts as we look ahead with hope and determination to strive for justice as carers of creation and organizers of action.
In Your name we pray, Amen.

 

October Updates – U.N. and State Edition

Following are updates shared from submissions of the Lutheran Office for World Community and state public policy offices (sppos) in the ELCA Advocacy Network this month. Full list and map of sppos available.

 

U.N. | ARIZONA | CALIFORNIA | COLORADO |KANSAS | MINNESOTA | WASHINGTON |WISCONSIN

 

New York

Lutheran Office for World Community (LOWC), U.N. – ELCA.org/lowc

Christine Mangale, Director

  • LWF Assembly: Lutheran Office for World Community (LOWC) director Christine Mangale joined more than a thousand participants from around the global Lutheran communion who gathered in Krakow, Poland for the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Thirteenth Assembly. It took place from 13 to 19 September 2023 under the theme “One Body, One Spirit, One Hope.” The theme is drawn from Ephesians 4:4 (NRSV). The Assembly was hosted by the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland (ECACP). The Assembly is the LWF’s highest decision-making body which elects a new president and Council and sets directions for the global communion over the coming years. Danish Bishop Henrik Stubkjær was elected as the new president of the LWF.  Mangale took part in the Assembly with LWF Action for Justice (AfJ) Unit and ELCA Service and Justice colleagues, and supported several events held, including co-leading a session at the LWF Women’s Pre-Assembly in Wroclaw and a Jarmark workshop at the Assembly.  
  • U.N. General Assembly: The United Nations General Assembly – High Level Week 2023 marked “a crucial milestone in the journey towards achieving the 2030 Agenda and the urgent need to put the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) back on track.” LOWC staff were presence and monitored elements including 
    • SDG Action Weekend (Sept. 16-17) – A call for inclusive collaboration and partnership was a recurring theme. Many stakeholders pointed out the impossibility of progress if specific groups continue to be targeted and excluded. Women, children, people with disabilities, the LGBTQIA+ community, and people migrating are at risk of being left behind. 
    • March to End Fossil Fuels (Sept. 17)  
    • SDG Summit (Sept. 18-20) – The year 2023 is the halfway point for the SDGs. Only 15% of the SDG’s targets have been achieved. Covid19, conflict and climate change were named the leading contributing factors for failure to date. While Member States reiterated their commitment to sustainable development, enormous shortfalls remain in funding and actionable political will. Without concrete actions and commitment there is a risk that many will be left behind.  
      • Finance for Development (Sept. 19) – Official development assistance (ODA) is below commitments and in trending decline. Developing states are increasingly vocal about their nearly insurmountable challenges resulting from a legacy of colonial occupation followed by cycles of increasing debt. States locked in this debt crisis have formed partnerships with increasing numbers of mild income and industrialized states calling for negotiations toward a UN Tax treaty.  
      • Annual U.N. Ecumenical Prayer Service for Children and Young People (Sept. 19) 
      • Freedom of Religion (Sept. 20-21) 
      • PEPFAR-UNAIDS Communities of Faith Initiative Breakfast (Sept. 20)  
      • Climate and Migration Workshop (Sept. 19) – ACT Alliance, Bread for the World, and Open Society Foundations co-hosted a workshop titled:  “Addressing the Protection Gap- Human Mobility and the Climate Crisis in International Frameworks.” 

 

Arizona

Lutheran Advocacy Ministry Arizona (LAMA) –  lamaz.org

Solveig Muus, Director

 Lutheran Advocacy Ministry Arizona (LAMA) hosted the ELCA-affiliated state public policy office (SPPO) directors, D.C. advocacy staff and Hunger Advocacy Fellows at a retreat at Spirit in the Desert in September – that was an amazing opportunity for learning and sharing! 

 We welcomed our new Hunger Advocacy Fellow, Autumn Byars, to the team for a year of advocacy training, congregational engagement, faith formation and much more. Byars comes out of the Campus Ministry program at Arizona State University, and we’re delighted to have this amazing person working in our office. Thank you to ELCA World Hunger! 

 Following the unanimous vote on our Hunger Resolution at the Grand Canyon Synod Assembly in June, we continue to record congregational responses to a synod-wide Hunger Ministry Survey. To date, 100% of the congregations are involved in at least one feeding ministry. We continue legislative and congregational visits to share updates and invite new folks to join LAMA’s mission, strengthening our network of churches and advocates. 

 LAMA’s annual Summit is on November 4th. Congregational liaisons, synod hunger leaders, clergy, policy council members, staff and community members will gather to explore the theme of Advocacy as a Spiritual Practice.  

 Following a productive Policy Council retreat, LAMA identified its policy priorities for 2024:  

  1. Food Insecurity and the root causes of hunger in Arizona 
  2. Voting and Civic Engagement, providing education on the intersection of voting and justice and encouraging faithful voter participation 
  3. Water as a precious resource in the face of droughts and population growth in Arizona 
  4. Housing and Homelessness in partnership with Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest

State Public Policy Office directors, DC advocacy Staff and Hunger Advocacy Fellows at the Spirit in the Desert Retreat

 

California

Lutheran Office of Public Policy – California (LOPP-CA) – lutheranpublicpolicyca.org

Regina Banks, Director

The deadline for Governor Newsom to sign or veto bills passed on October 14th. There were policy victories in the 2023 legislative session, but there were also notable losses. Here are the results of some bills the Lutheran Office of Public Policy – California (LOPPCA) was actively tracking and advocating around this session: 

 Signed- 

SB 4 (Wiener)- This is a huge advocacy win this year! SB 4 will allow faith institutions and non-profit colleges to build affordable housing on their lands despite previous zoning restrictions. 

SB 253 (Wiener)- One of the major climate bills this year, which was a part of the corporate accountability package, SB 253 requires large corporations to report their emissions in all phases of their manufacturing, operations, and supply chain processes. 

SB 616 (Gonzalez)- Expands the required amount of paid sick leave provided to an employee from 3 to 5 days. 

 Vetoed/Failed in Legislature- 

AB 249 (Holden)- Clean school drinking water; lead testing and infrastructure improvements. This is one of our Lobby Day bills that was unexpectedly vetoed. 

AB 1498 (Gipson)- Would have created a minimum value of $300 for the California Earned Income Tax Credit.  

AB 524 (Wicks)- Would have prohibited discrimination against employees based on their family caregiver status. 

 

Colorado

Lutheran Advocacy Ministry Colorado (LAM-CO) – lam-co.org

Peter Severson, Director

VOTER GUIDE GOES LIVE: The 2023 edition of Lutheran Advocacy Ministry Colorado’s (LAM-CO) annual Voter Guide is now available online! Check out https://www.rmselca.org/ColoradoBallot2023 to see our position and analysis for each of Colorado’s statewide ballot measures, Prop HH and Prop II. 

 CHRISTIAN UNITY GATHERING: LAM-CO Director Peter Severson attended the 2023 Christian Unity Gathering of the National Council of Churches in Nashville, Tenn., representing the ELCA on the Joint Action and Advocacy for Justice and Peace Table. The program focused on addressing the role of the church in a public square that is increasingly besieged by extremism and nationalism. The ecumenical gathering was marked by spirited worship, thoughtful conversation and joyful reconnection. 

 

Kansas

Kansas Interfaith Action (KIFA) – KIFA.org

Rabbi Moti Rieber, Executive Director

Kansas Interfaith Action (KIFA) is holding a series of panel discussions throughout the state in October and November to explore Christian nationalism: what it is, how it is affecting state and national politics and how people of faith can effectively stand against it. 
 
Christian nationalism has been called by somethe single biggest threat to religious freedom in the United States today.” It holds that the United States is defined by Christianity, and that the nation is and must remain a “Christian nation.” 
 
Called “Countering the Threat of White Christian Nationalism,” these conversations will include an academic to explain what Christian nationalism is and how it is affecting state and national politics; a pastor to talk about how it is a twisting of the teachings of Christianity and why it is important, particularly for white Christians, to stand against Christian nationalism; and Rabbi Moti Rieber, executive director of KIFA, who will explore how this tendency is being used to push regressive policies in a wide range of areas in Kansas and throughout the nation.  
 
The events will take place in Emporia, Wichita, Salina, Fairway, Newton and Manhattan, Kan., t
hroughout October and early November. Visit KansasInterfaithAction.org for more information and to register.  

 

Minnesota

Lutheran Advocacy Minnesota (LA-MN) – lutheranadvocacymn.org

Tammy Walhof, Director

Energy Tax Credits & Rebates: As director of Lutheran Advocacy – Minnesota, I recently attended a full day event to learn more about the opportunities. State programs are just getting up and running, and guidance is still coming regarding federal options. There are exciting opportunities for churches and nonprofits (tax credits for entities that don’t pay taxes). Some homeowner options are geared toward lower and

lower-middle income households so they don’t get left out of energy transitions. I’ve been in touch with colleagues from a partner organization about jointly planning an event (or series of events) to help churches learn what is available. Even before that, it helps to assess if there are actions needed first (new roof or upgraded electric panel). There is some funding to help with preparation, too. 

 COP28 UN International Climate Conference: I am honored to be one of a few people representing the ELCA in Dubai for the upcoming conference. I plan to follow the Land Use track which includes agriculture, forestry, and food issues. Trainings and other preparations are ongoing in anticipation.   

 Homes for All Planning: Our Homes for All Coalition is just beginning planning for the next session. We did get major legislation and funding in the last session, but our legislators and the public need to understand the housing/homelessness crisis was decades in the making, and will require significantly more commitments at the federal, state, and local levels. Please watch your email for federal action alerts this fall. If Congress cuts housing in budget actions, it could wipe out many of our state gains. 

 

Pennsylvania

Lutheran Advocacy Ministry in Pennsylvania (LAMPa) – lutheranadvocacypa.org

Tracey DePasquale, Director

The legislature returned in September to the as-yet-unfinished work of passing code bills needed to enact the spending plan signed in August after a showdown over state-funded vouchers for students to attend private and religious schools.  

 Lutheran Advocacy Ministry in Pennsylvania (LAMPa) welcomed Hunger Advocacy Fellow Quentin Bernhard in September. Bernhard and Director Tracey DePasquale joined ELCA-affiliated state public policy office colleagues for a convening to share legislative updates and effective practices and explore the impacts of Christian nationalism. LAMPa also welcomed four new policy council members, just in time for the annual retreat, which  focused on relationship building and understanding how they and LAMPa fit into the life of the wider church.

LAMPa Annual Retreat

 LAMPa co-hosted a convening of the Pennsylvania Hunger Action Coalition. Teams presented their priorities for our common agenda for 2024.  

DePasquale participated on state Emergency Food Assistance Advisory Council in making recommendations to the Department of Agriculture for the upcoming budget.  

In other items, LAMPa staff: 

  • Gathered reports from hunger ministries to issue an alert regarding WIC funding and collaborated with ELCA federal advocacy staff in preparing for Hill visits on the Farm Bill with Penn. synod bishops.  
  • Organized depolarization training. Register here for the Nov. 8 interactive virtual event. 
  • Engaged advocates in a social media campaign for Season of Creation.  
  • Helped congregations add advocacy to God’s work. Our hands. Sunday.

Joined Lutheran advocates rallying in support of safe schools for trans youth.

 

Washington

Faith Action Network  (FANWA) – fanwa.org

Elise DeGooyer, Executive Director

 
This month we welcomed Tomo Duke as our ELCA Hunger Advocacy Fellow for an internship year funded by ELCA World Hunger

with our ELCA Witness in Society partners. Duke brings ecumenical and interfaith experiences to our work to address root causes of hunger.  We also welcomed a new Faith Action Network (FAN) Network Events Manager, Alex Robinson, who brings a background in theater and event production for faith communities.

 As we work on our state legislative agenda, we focused our advocacy attention on food justice this past month. We invited our network to our annual Food Week of Action (October 15-22). Leading up to the week, we compiled and shared this resource of advocacy opportunities for individuals and communities of faith and conscience to plan an action or raise awareness in their time of worship or gatherings. During the week, we also offered an Anti-Hunger Advocacy webinar where we covered anti-hunger policy efforts and the next legislative priorities. We addressed the importance of advocating for federal legislation like the Farm Bill and the WIC program for nutrition access for marginalized populations and state legislation like Free School Meals for All Students. We have earnestly invited and encouraged our network to equip their faith-driven compassion and social services for hungry communities with policy advocacy.  

FAN staff have been setting up regional cluster meetings for our network, from Spokane to Wenatchee, from the Puget Sound region to Vancouver, and listened to their concerns during this interim time between legislative sessions. It is a valuable opportunity for us to hear more about local organizing efforts and how FAN can be supportive.  

FAN Staff joined hundreds of Windmill mushroom workers, UFW, and supporters to demand the workers’ union rights.

 

 

Wisconsin

The Lutheran Office for Public Policy in Wisconsin (LOPPW) – loppw.org

The Rev. Cindy Crane, Director

Lutheran Office of Public Policy – Wisconsin (LOPPW) interviewed Christine Moffett who is the ELCA Program Director for Environment and Energy. She discussed her work on climate change, water, and different federal efforts she is working on. She also told us about the hope she has for the future as a young adult. Learn more about the 2023 Senate Bill 312 through this action alert: Hold Polluters Responsible for Contaminants they Produce. It would adjust Senate Bill 312 to help the Department of Natural Resources to thrive in doing their work to address the insidious problem of PFAS (forever chemicals) in our water.  To learn more about PFAS, please see our issue paper from our spring advocacy day:  PFAS Issue Paper 

As was intended, there is a bill to define how the $125 million will be spent.  Senate Bill 312 unfortunately includes limiting the Department of Natural Resources’ ability to hold polluters responsible for the contaminants they produce in our water. Learn more here: 

Expand Voting Access 

Senate Bill 39 and Assembly Bill 38 expand voting access by allowing people to opt-in through email to receive updates via text about their absentee ballots as well as request their absentee ballots this way.  Support this bipartisan effort! Read the bill here: (23-1550/1) (wisconsin.gov). Learn more here 

Young Adult Leaders Serving with ELCA Witness in Society

by William Milner, ELCA Hunger Advocacy Fellow

Advocacy is driven by perseverance and connection building. The Hunger Advocacy Fellows, now in its seventh year, is made achievable through the support of ELCA World Hunger. This program spans a year and offers a transformative experience that encompasses leadership growth, spiritual development and impactful advocacy efforts aimed at advancing a just world #untilallarefed.

In the 2023-24 cycle, Hunger Advocacy Fellows are placed with the ELCA D.C.-based advocacy team, with the Lutheran Office for World Community, and in four ELCA-affiliated state public policy offices. This positioning enables them to actively participate in addressing issues that impact both local and national policies and communities. We are pleased to introduce the 2023-2024 Hunger Advocacy Fellows below.

 

Quentin Bernhard (he/him)

Quentin Bernhard is placed with Lutheran Advocacy Ministry Pennsylvania. He comes to the work with Pennsylvania roots and global perspective. He grew up in the Lehigh Valley, graduated from Muhlenberg College and just returned from a year in Yeumbeul Bene Baraque, Senegal, where he served with ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission. A 2020 Muhlenberg graduate, Bernhard majored in history and political science and minored in Spanish. He was active with the Student Government Association, orientation, peer tutoring, writing tutoring, and campus chapel and spent a semester studying in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He has worked with community and advocacy organizations including the Allentown School District Foundation, the Lehigh Valley Zoo, the Climate Action Campaign, Conservation Voters of PA, Common Energy, and Action Together NEPA.  He is currently a member of New Life Evangelical Lutheran Church in New Tripoli, Pennsylvania.

 

Erin Brown (she/her)

Before becoming a Fellow at the Lutheran Office for World Community (LOWC), Erin Brown worked at Saint Peter’s Church in Manhattan as a fellow in cross-cultural ministry. She is passionate about multicultural exchange, language, and the power of storytelling. Brown is a diaconal student at the Lutheran Diaconal Association and completed her diaconal internship as a youth and family minister at Iglesia Sola Fe in San Sebastian, Costa Rica. She holds a BA in Spanish & Global Service from Valparaiso University and an MA in Latin American & Caribbean Studies from Indiana University. In her free time, she loves dancing salsa. Brown speaks English, Spanish and Haitian Creole!

 

Autumn Byars (she/her)

Autumn Byars is the first Hunger Advocacy Fellow placed with Lutheran Advocacy Ministry of Arizona! She is a life-long Lutheran from the southwest. Her parents taught her that civic engagement, advocacy, and the democratic process are tools that can and should be used to further Christ’s directive to love and protect our neighbors. In high school, Byars took this philosophy as her own, and began participating in small-scale advocacy and grassroots activism. She attended Arizona State University, earning her Bachelor of Fine Arts in the Spring of 2023, while working at Maricopa County Voting Centers, sewing masks during the pandemic, and organizing protests and civic engagement with her peers.  After college, she sought work that would allow her to serve her community and dedicate her time and energy to improving people’s lives. She discovered the Fellowship through the Grand Canyon Synod and joined the LAMA team, excited to pursue her long-held passion for advocacy engagement within the professional sphere.

 

Frances Dobbs (she/her)

Frances Dobbs is the Hunger Advocacy Fellow placed with the Lutheran Office for Public Policy in Wisconsin. She is a recent graduate from Marquette University with a B.A. in Political Science, a B.A. of International Affairs, and a minor in Theology. She is a Melkite Catholic which is an Eastern Catholic Church in communion with the Roman Catholic Church. She lives in Milwaukee and commutes to Madison for work. She has engaged in a variety of volunteer opportunities including receiving her Girl Scout Gold Award in which she started a library for Amahoro Children’s School in Musanze, Rwanda. She is looking forward to this year.

 

Tomo Duke (she/her)

Tomo Duke serves at Faith Action Network (FAN) in Washington state. She was born and raised in Japan and has lived in the United States since 2014 as a first-generation immigrant. She graduated with a M.Div. from Duke University in 2023 and holds a B.S. in Political Science. Prior to joining FAN, she gained experiences in immigration service from humanitarian relief to policy advocacy for immigrant justice both in secular and faith-based contexts. As a Hunger Advocacy Fellow, Duke is passionate to continue living out her faith in advocacy for marginalized populations facing food insecurity. Through this position, she hopes to gain more skills to mobilize communities of faith and conscience on the path toward systemic changes.

 

William Milner (he/him)

William Milner is serving with the ELCA advocacy staff in Washington, D.C. and is a passionate graduate student pursuing a Master’s in public policy at George Mason University. Raised as an African Methodist Episcopalian, Milner brings a unique perspective and a deep sense of community to the ELCA. Milner formerly taught in both private and public schools and takes the skills he learned there with him everywhere. His academic pursuit is driven by a deep-seated desire to bring about meaningful societal change and empower marginalized communities. A native northern Virginian and baseball player, Milner loves all things D.C. sports, but has a soft spot for the Nationals. Milner’s favorite things include, but are not limited to, the beach, bacon cheeseburgers and fog.

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We also welcome an intern this year with LOWC in New York City.

Naomi Mbise (she/her)

LOWC intern Naomi Mbise is a graduate of California Lutheran University with dual degrees in Political Science and Theology and Christian Leadership. She is from Tanzania and has been a part of the ELCA International Women Leaders Program for the past four years. She is looking forward to serving in a global church through her internship with this Lutheran representation to the United Nations.

Peace Beyond the Backyard

By Alex Parker, ELCA Federal Policy Intern 

The people of the Central African Republic (CAR) are in a period of unrest, currently facing a disastrous humanitarian crisis. Part of my job as the Federal Policy Intern with D.C.-based ELCA advocacy staff has been to advance our international policy priorities, including tracking ongoing developments in this nation. The more I learn, the more I ask: What can we do to support and accompany the people of CAR who seek peace?  

Adopted in 1995, the ELCA social statement For Peace in God’s World notes “we share with people everywhere hope for a more peaceful and just world.” Defining a word, we may take for granted, it “understands earthly peace to mean relationships among and within nations that are just, harmonious, and free from war. It offers direction as we act to keep and to build earthly peace…” (p. 1).  

To be peace-directed is both direct and simultaneously unclear. We are drawn to action – to do something when we recognize harm being done to others. We are also called to pray – “In praying for peace in the world, in interceding for all who suffer from war and injustice and for those in authority, the Church acts for peace” (p. 3). But sometimes it is hard to feel like you can do something when conflict is so far away.  

 

Daily Affronts to Peace 

There are many examples in our daily lives that force us to face this responsibility to be peace-directed. We may witness violations of peace in our communities or current environments, and our commitment to peace encourages us to act through a variety of outreach programs, church groups and more.  

And news filters to us from outside of our immediate community. How can we be active in confronting such conflict? What if abscissions of peace are having impact on communities that we may know little about?  

 

Harms in the Central African Republic 

Since independence, CAR has experienced continuing episodes of violence amongst armed group rivalries and competing government forces. As a result, most of the harm has been inflicted on the civilian population. According to ReliefWeb International, the period between October 2022 and January 2023 saw more than 600 documented and verified human rights violations, as well as estimates of over 1.1 million people currently displaced (over a quarter of the population). 

While the United Nations (U.N.) has deployed a peacekeeping force (MINUSCA) to CAR, the continued efforts have sustained ongoing challenges in fulfilling its goal of protecting civilians and disarming mobilized paramilitary forces. Lack of sufficient funding, unfulfilled infrastructure needs and religiously polarized violence have continued to plague ongoing international stabilization efforts. 

This is further compounded by the Russian paramilitary Wagner group. President of CAR, Faustin-Archange Touadera, first elected in 2016, has worked with Wagner to make advances against various armed groups. With Wagner operating in several neighboring African countries that have followed autocratic trends, political opposition in CAR is fearful of a Russian-backed leadership imposition. Wagner increased their presence before a contentious referendum, which would allow Touadera to amend the constitution and prevent him from having to obey the two-term rule when his Presidency ends in 2024. On July 30th, the referendum was held with a supposed 95% of voters approving of the constitutional change amidst cries of corruption.  

 

Current U.S. Response 

Considering both the ongoing need for U.N. presence and the negative impact of foreign influences, it is critical that the U.S continue its support for humanitarian efforts in CAR. But, as Congress reconciles the differences between their budgetary operating bills, a lingering threat remains. 

In the House version of the foreign affairs budget at this writing, humanitarian support, State Department funding and beneficial social programs that contribute to stabilization efforts in CAR are massively underfunded, and in some instances eliminated entirely. For example, the House version states that CAR is one of 28 countries which are not eligible for many of the programs it would fund (p. 90). As the FCNL notes, these slashed funds include the complete elimination of crucial programs such as the Atrocities Prevention Program, which provides funding for CAR communities to “form local peace committees that devise solutions to local and regional challenges.” The House proposal also eliminates U.S. funding – entirely – for the U.N. regular budget as well as several U.N. departments that would aid the people of CAR. 

 

Present Church Activity 

“The Church is a disturbing presence when it refuses to be silent and instead speaks the truth in times when people shout out ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace,” (p. 5) declares the ELCA social statement on Peace referencing Jeremiah 6:14. So, when the people of CAR shout out “peace” amid violent turmoil and humanitarian need, we as church must be present, even when the conflict seems so distant and complicated to address. We affirm the biblical insight of the “unity and goodness of created existence, the oneness of humanity, and the dignity of every person” (p. 7). 

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Central African Republic (EEL-RCA) has, according to data from the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), 120,000 members. LWF has multiple programs that train EEL-RCA leaders in peace values and conflict management skills. LWF also has used donations to support over 88,000 people in CAR, especially those who have been displaced, lack clean sources of water or are at risk of gender-based violence.  

The ELCA Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod is a great model for how one might support the EEL-RCA. “It is our hope that every congregation will find some way of supporting the Lutheran Church of the Central African Republic (EEL-RCA),” it writes of this partnership “in hope.” They have a variety of programs supported through monetary contributions that prioritize medical clinics, women’s health, educational materials and more.   

 

Continued Advocacy Efforts 

As federal lawmakers begin to reconcile their versions of the foreign policy budget, we can pressure our representatives to pursue funding of humanitarian efforts, support for U.N. entities and ensure that our U.S. direct stabilization programs are not erased. Our Action Alert, “Support Humanitarian and Peacebuilding Programs in the International Affairs Budget,” is an opportunity to make your voice heard right now in this federal process.  

Through faith-based advocacy, social media, engagement with interfaith coalitions and using your voice, we can stive toward ending a conflict that damages the oneness and dignity of humanity. We cannot let this humanitarian issue fall to the wayside. 

 

Peace is Presence Not Absence 

As I have worked on understanding what is happening in CAR and thought about what peace means from a Lutheran perspective, I’ve found myself constantly going back to Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. In that work, Luther breaks down petitions of the Lord’s prayer and asks, “What then does ‘daily bread’ mean?” Answer: “Everything included in the necessities and nourishment for our bodies, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, farm, fields, livestock, money, property, an upright spouse, upright children, upright members of the household, upright and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, decency, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors and the like.”  

The people of CAR need a daily bread that provides nourishment, safety and everything that culminates in a life of dignity. Peace is much more than the absence of physical violence, but the continued efforts to uplift those who suffer economically, politically, socially and more. We can share this bread with those who “shout out ‘Peace, peace’ when there is no peace,” no matter where in the world we are.