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July Updates: UN 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. | Colorado | Minnesota | Pennsylvania | Virginia | Washington


 

U.N.

Lutheran Office for World Community (LOWC), United Nations, New York, N.Y. – ELCA.org/lowc

Dennis Frado, Director

The UN High Level Political Forum (HLPF) is was held from Tuesday, 5 July, to Thursday, 7 July, and from Monday, 11 July, to Friday, 15 July 2022, under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). It included a three-day ministerial segment of the forum from Wednesday, 13 July, to Friday, 15 July 2022. The high-level segment of the Council concluded with a final day on Monday, 18 July 2022.

The theme for the 2022 HLPF was “Building back better from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) while advancing the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.

The HLPF reviewed in-depth Sustainable Development Goals: 4 on quality education, 5 on gender equality, 14 on life below water, 15 on life on land, and 17 on partnerships for the Goals. In addition, 44 countries will carry out voluntary national reviews (VNRs) of their implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The HLPF is scheduled to adopt a Ministerial Declaration as the outcome of its session.


 

Colorado

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

Peter Severson, Director

ELCA Rocky Mountain Synod Bishop Jim Gonia (left) joins Episcopal Church in Colorado Bishop Kimberly Lucas (center) and Mountain Sky Area of The United Methodist Church Bishop Karen Oliveto (right) to walk together in the Denver Pride Parade on June 26, 2022.
Image credit: Saint John’s Cathedral, Denver

This summer, Lutheran Advocacy is working as a member of the Healthy School Meals for All Coalition to advance a ballot measure. The measure – which was referred directly onto the ballot by the Colorado Legislature via House Bill 22-1414 – will ask voters to approve covering the cost of school meals for all public school students. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government initiated a nationwide program to cover public school students’ meal costs. That temporary program is ending, and Coloradans now have the opportunity to do so at a state level in perpetuity. The program will be paid for by capping state income tax deductions for wealthy Coloradans who earn over $300,000 in annual income. The revenue generated by the tax code change is dedicated solely to the program, which will keep Colorado kids fed and ready to learn.

 


 

Minnesota

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

Tammy Walhof, Director

Lutheran Advocacy-Minnesota held its quarterly policy council meeting on June 3rd. We discussed the end of the legislative session and held two important elections. Sharon Josephson from the Northwestern Minnesota Synod was re-elected as Vice-President and the Rev. Kyle Hanson from the Minneapolis Area Synod was elected as Treasurer. We are grateful for the ways that Josephson and Pastor Hanson are sharing their time and talents to support the work of LA-MN, and we look forward to their two-year terms.

Hopes for a special session in the Minn. legislature have dissipated in recent weeks. This is due to partisanship, with all eyes on the November elections. Communities across Minnesota are suffering as a result of inaction this legislative session, which ended on May 23. We lament lack of action on systemic issues that harm our neighbors, ourselves, and all of creation, and we continue to anticipate how we can use our public voice to generate systemic change.)

Rachel Wyffels, Hunger Advocacy Fellow with LA-MN, recently had the opportunity to attend Community Organizing Training with the Minneapolis Area Synod. Members of Street Voices of Change and other congregational leaders from the synod gathered for a week centered on understanding and building power. Wyffels looks forward to applying this training on strategy, coalitions, and more to her future work.

Tammy Walhof is on sabbatical from June 13th to August 12th! Rachel Wyffels, Hunger Advocacy Fellow, is the primary contact person for LA-MN during this time.

 


 

Pennsylvania

Lutheran Advocacy Ministry – Pennsylvania (LAMPa) lutheranadvocacypa.org

Tracey DePasquale, Director

The Rev. Angela Hammer of St. Paul’s, Penryn, in Lower Susquehanna Synod, speaks at a Capitol Press Conference about hunger among seniors and persons with disabilities.

The 2022-23 Pennsylvania budget includes significant gains for education, housing and creation care, but only a modest increase for anti-hunger programs. A $1.8 billion increase in education funding makes strides toward decreasing the funding gap in what has been one of the least equitable school funding systems in the country.

“We are celebrating the progress made in closing these equity gaps, as well as the major investments in housing and creation care,” said LAMPa Director Tracey DePasquale. “While we are grateful for the modest increase in anti-hunger programs, we have concern that it will not go far enough in the face of rising food prices.

“Advocates engaged in ministry with neighbors facing hunger and homelessness shared stories with lawmakers of increasing need on both fronts,” DePasquale said.

Among LAMPa’s priorities, the spending plan allocates $375 million in American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding for affordable housing construction, rehabilitation, and repairs.

“The Whole Home Repairs Program is exciting because it will help Pennsylvanians, especially seniors and persons with disabilities, stay in their homes,” DePasquale said. “It will extend the life of our aging housing stock, help build generational wealth, and increase energy efficiency. It’s a win for our communities and our environment.” Read more about LAMPa’s budget advocacy here.

Along with the budget, the legislature approved five constitutional amendments, including one that would deny any right to an abortion. Though the amendment would not ban abortions outright, it could pave the way for such a ban, which LAMPa would oppose. Read more about the amendments here.

 


 

Virginia

Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy (VICPP)

Kim Bobo, Executive Director

The Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy (VICPP) finally finished the 2022 General Assembly when the governor signed the budget bill in June. The budget included an additional $40 million for affordable housing that VICPP had advocated and a partially refundable state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) that will put more money into the hands of working Virginians.

This summer, VICPP is moving forward two of its priorities that had turned into study bills in order to be prepared for the next General Assembly. One is a bill to require health professionals to get trained in unconscious bias. The other is a bill to reduce the use of solitary confinement in Virginia’s prisons.

In addition to the policy work, this summer VICPP is organizing several activities to promote justice. On July 23, VICPP led a religious fact-finding delegation to learn about conditions in the Lawrenceville Correctional Facility, the state’s only for-profit prison. On July 30th, VICPP will host a Living Wage Certification Canvass Day to reach out to businesses about living wages (in Richmond, Harrisonburg, Alexandria and Charlottesville). On August 11, VICPP is organizing a religious delegation to meet with Dulles airport workers about the need for paid sick days and employer provided health care. Lutherans are invited to join any of these social justice events. Email Kim Bobo, Kim@virginiainterfaithcenter.org to get more information on any of the upcoming events.

 


 

Washington

Faith Action Network (FAN) – fanwa.org

Elise DeGooyer, Director

Advocacy this summer has already included bills in Congress that will impact communities across our state, with an urgent need to prevent gun violence in the wake of too many mass shootings. We prayed and marched with local faith groups and Alliance for Gun Responsibility partners, remembering the victims and calling for action. We applaud the recent bipartisan gun legislation passed in Congress, while we know there will be more protections needed. We have also signed on to letters regarding federal housing legislation, immigration reform, the Child Tax Credit, and truth and reconciliation for survivors of Native American Boarding Schools.

Pictured are FAN Eastern Wash.A organizer Lauren Schubring and baby Stella, board member Rev. Jim CastroLang, and Policy Engagement Director Kristin Ang.

Our FAN Governing Board and staff issued a statement in response to the Supreme Court Dobbs decision that will restrict access to abortion and reproductive healthcare across our nation. Also, a faith leader in our network, the Rev. Doug Avilesbernal of the Evergreen Association of American Baptist Churches, came to Washington, D.C. on the day of Bremerton v Kennedy arguments to speak out in front of the Supreme Court to uphold the separation of church and state in the case involving a Bremerton, Wash. football coach. We have much work to do to support the religious freedoms that we value as a multi-faith movement.

During the month of June, we were able to celebrate as well. FAN had a presence at the Spokane Pride march and festival, and many of our faith communities were visible in their local Pride events. Faith communities and community groups collaborated to celebrate Juneteenth in a big way for the first time as a federal holiday. We give thanks for the ability to celebrate love, inclusion, and freedom in the midst of the hard work we all do together!

July/August Update: Advocacy Connections

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

Partial expanded content from Advocacy Connections: July/August 2022

AUGUSTA VICTORIA HOSPITAL FUNDING  |  BORDER ENCOUNTERS  |  SUPREME COURT ABORTION RULING  |  USE OF LANDMINES  |  BIPARTISAN GUN LEGISLATION

 

AUGUSTA VICTORIA HOSPITAL FUNDING: President Joe Biden visited Augusta Victoria Hospital (AVH) on July 15 as part of a two-day presidential visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories. While there, the president announced a $100 million multiyear commitment toward the East Jerusalem Hospital Network (EJHN), of which AVH is a member. Use the Action Alert from ELCA Peace Not Walls to urge support by members of Congress of the president’s commitment by voting to appropriate at least $100 million to support the work of AVH and other East Jerusalem hospitals.

Biden’s visit to the hospital was the first visit of a sitting U.S. president to East Jerusalem. In her thank you letter to the president for his visit, ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton said that many “found our hope for peace with justice in the Holy Land bolstered by your visit last week in support of the East Jerusalem Hospital Network. AVH is the first and only hospital to provide radiation therapy for cancer patients in the Palestinian territories and the only medical facility in the West Bank offering pediatric kidney dialysis. AVH faces ongoing cash flow problems as a result of the inability of the Palestinian Authority to pay on a regular basis the fees for cancer patients it refers to the hospital.

 

BORDER ENCOUNTERS: The tragic deaths of 53 migrants abandoned in the trailer of a semi-truck in San Antonio, Texas on June 27 was decried in a statement, which included the ELCA Southwestern Texas Synod, as a painful example of what happens when migrants seek dangerous alternatives to migrate. The ELCA continues to advocate for a dignified and humane process at the border.

The public health order known as Title 42 has been in place since March 2020, sealing away a path for most people fleeing personal danger or persecution who arrive at the southern border to legally request asylum. The number of encounters with migrants at the U.S. southwest border has continued to be high and includes migrants from around the world. Our, a nation’s policy response can strengthen the economic resiliency of the nation and neighborhoods, keep families together, and generously respond to the needs of our neighbors.

 

SUPREME COURT ABORTION RULING: Following the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v Jackson, which removes the federal protections previously provided by Roe v Wade, Bishop Eaton issued a pastoral message. Several ELCA affiliated state public policy offices are working with synods to monitor and update state legislation related to reproductive health.

Faith Action Network in Washington, for example, recommitted to advocating for equitable policies regarding reproductive health in their statement. Others, like Lutheran Advocacy Ministry in Pennsylvania (LAMPa) have been working closely with the synod bishops in the state to keep people informed. Bishops across Pennsylvania posted on Facebook, sharing Bishop Eaton’s statement and committing to working closely with LAMPa to monitor and advocate on state policy development as updates are available.

 

USE OF LANDMINES: The Biden administration announced changes to the U.S. Anti-Personnel Landmine policy, “joining the vast majority of countries around the world in committing to limit the use of anti-personnel landmines.” In January 2020, the Trump administration reversed 2014 policy by the Obama administration that had unequivocally banned U.S. production and acquisition of antipersonnel landmines.

ELCA advocacy is encouraged by changes and will continue to monitor developments. Reporting in June 2022 following a site visit in northern Ukraine described the impression by Lutheran World Federation visitors was described as: “Landmines, destroyed infrastructure, traumatized people.”

 

BIPARTISAN GUN LEGISLATION: President Biden signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, a historic gun safety, mental health, and school safety bill. Our office issued an action alert in June encouraging Lutherans to urge passage of this bi-partisan compromise. The need for future gun safety advocacy remains.

The legislation passed by strong bipartisan majorities in both the U.S. Senate and House, and it is the first major federal gun safety law to pass Congress in nearly 26 years.

 


Receive monthly Advocacy Connections directly by becoming part of the ELCA Advocacy network – http://elca.org/advocacy/signup , and learn more from elca.org/advocacy .

 

August Recess opportunity

OVERVIEW | SUPPLEMENTARY RESOURCES | MOMENT – CHILD TAX CREDIT  |  MOMENT – HOUSING | MOMENT – GUN VIOLENCE | MOMENT – ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE | MOMENT – GENDER BASED VIOLENCE | MOMENT – ASYLUM AND IMMIGRATION | MOMENT – VOTING RIGHTS

 

By design and adapted to present realities, August Recess is a congressional tradition that brings heightened opportunities to reach out to your federal lawmakers where you – and they – live. U.S. representatives traditionally return to their home districts in this month to engage with their constituents. Town Halls and in-district meetings may be available to you in this period that create windows to raise your experiences, the experiences of your faith community, and policy concerns locally.

Start by locating your lawmaker’s Web presence (govtrack.us is one place to connect). Doing a little homework by looking around at the person’s top issues and sphere of influence can deepen any encounter. If a Town Hall is listed, it may be an open forum or a virtual experience. Virtual experiences may be more constrained in question-and-answer format, but any Town Hall can be a meaningful connection point.

Alternatively, instigate a local meeting. Prepare what you want to say, with pointers from resources below. A virtual visit can be a value-added creative moment to showcase placement of your ministry in the community, building relationships and future potentials. Offering a lawmaker a chance to speak or connect with fellow constituents after a worship service or event will increase the chance of their participation.

Advocacy resources to help you plan from ELCA Witness in Society include:

Below find suggestions from our ELCA policy staff about issues that intersect with 2022 ELCA Federal Policy Priorities that are presently on the horizon. The question prompts may help you shape a timely way to use August Recess opportunities.

 


 

THIS MOMENT IN TIME: Expand the Child Tax Credit

“Although those living in poverty are particularly visible in cities, their more hidden reality in suburban, small town, and rural areas can be just as painful. A greater proportion of people of color live in conditions of poverty. The poor are disproportionately women with their children. Systemic racism and sexism continue to be evident in the incidence of poverty.” – From ELCA social statement Sufficient Sustainable Livelihood for All (p. 12)

REMARKS

Expanded provisions of the Child Tax Credit (CTC), authorized in the American Rescue Plan Act, expired at the end of 2021. The CTC lifted millions of children in our nation out of poverty. Working families, many struggling to feed their children in the face of rising food costs and other essential needs like childcare and school supplies, experienced an economic cliff in January. Expanding monthly and fully refundable CTC creates greater stability for families, reductions in poverty and hardship, and improves children’s’ educational and health outcomes plus long-term earnings potential. All children stand to benefit from CTC expansion, but children from groups that have disproportionately high hunger rates will benefit most. Making the CTC permanent is one of the most effective ways to reach those trying to meet basic human needs with positive, wide-ranging childhood and family impacts.

QUESTIONS

  1. Expanding the Child Tax Credit in the American Rescue Plan reached families in which food insecurity and hunger are widespread. Now that it expired, what are you doing to renew and make permanent this transformative policy that so effectively reduces hunger and poverty among our nation’s children?


 

THIS MOMENT IN TIME: Ending the Housing Crisis

“’Sufficiency’ means adequate access to income and other resources that enable people to meet their basic needs, including nutrition, clothing, housing, health care, personal development, and participation in community with dignity. God has created a world of sufficiency for all, providing us daily and abundantly with all the necessities of life.” – From ELCA social statement Sufficient Sustainable Livelihood for All (p. 11)

REMARKS

The historic shortage of housing supply in the United States has become one of the main drivers of homelessness, wealth inequality and inflation. This moment in time has led to a crisis in demand for many congregations, faith-based shelters and ministries seeking to address poverty and end homelessness in our communities. To address the root cause of these structural challenges, Congress should invest in programs that help expand the supply of housing, eliminate barriers that disincentivize development and back proven models that house people facing homelessness.

Find out your local affordable housing stats at nlihc.org/state-housing-profiles for greater context when speaking with policy makers.

QUESTIONS

  1. The cost of buying a new home for families continues to grow each year and has become one of the leading drivers of homelessness. What steps are you taking to expand the supply and access to affordable housing here in our district? (Add your local statistics to emphasize the local situation.)
  2. What policies, if any, do you support that a) help increase home ownership and b) address the historic racial homeownership gaps still present in our communities?


 

THIS MOMENT IN TIME: Gun Violence Prevention

“Violent crime and those who perpetuate it must be stopped. The challenge is to restrain violence in ways that effectively limit it, and that do not simply repay violence with more violence.” – From ELCA social message “Community Violence” (p. 6)

REMARKS

Congress and President Biden recently passed and signed into law the first major bi-partisan gun violence prevention law in nearly 30 years. It includes incentives for states to pass so-called red flag laws that allow groups to petition courts to remove weapons from people deemed a threat to themselves or others. It also strengthens background checks for persons 18-21 seeking to purchase guns. More must be done. There have been at least 281 mass shootings in the United States in 2022 according to the Gun Violence Archive, an online archive of gun violence incidents collected from over 7,500 law enforcement, media, government and commercial sources daily.

QUESTIONS

  1. What are your next steps to reduce gun violence in our nation?
  2. Already this year there have been 27 school shootings. What policies have you supported to make students safer?
  3. Do you support a ban on military-grade assault weapons like the ones used in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas?


 

THIS MOMENT IN TIME: Energy and Environmental Justice Measures

“Processes of environmental degradation feed on one another. Decisions affecting an immediate locale often affect the entire planet. The resulting damages to environmental systems are frightening…” – From the ELCA social statement Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope and Justice (p. 4)

REMARKS

Accelerating a transition to clean energy through investments in clean energy and environmental justice will decrease our dependence on fossil fuels, reduce pollution, combat climate change and protect human health as well as the wellbeing of God’s creation. To address the climate crisis, Congress needs to enact legislation that invests in clean energy. Currently, Congress is negotiating climate investment provisions as part of a larger reconciliation package.

QUESTIONS

  1. Do you support climate investments as part of the reconciliation package currently being negotiated?
  2. What policies do you support that help invest in clean energy and environmental justice?


 

THIS MOMENT IN TIME: Preventing gender-based violence globally

“Governments, activists and experts have amply documented the wide-ranging and long-lasting destructive effects of this violence on victims and survivors, on family and friends, and on the whole human community. It creates not only personal suffering but also losses across the country—of peaceful communities, medical care costs and economic productivity. Gender-based violence is a public health and safety crisis.” – From the ELCA social message “Gender-based Violence” (p. 6)

REMARKS

Gender-based violence increases during conflict and humanitarian crises. For example, 1 in 5 refugees or internally displaced women have experienced sexual abuse. At this time when a record number of people are living in conflict or humanitarian situations, it is crucial to ensure that U.S. government programs aimed at preventing gender-based violence in these situations are resourced and working as efficiently as possible.

QUESTIONS

  1. As a member of Congress, what can you do to help reduce gender-based violence among people living under humanitarian conditions around the world?
  2. Do you support the Safe from the Start Act of 2021? If not, can you say why you oppose it? (be ready to describe the bill in brief)


 

THIS MOMENT IN TIME: Generous U.S. Asylum and Immigration Policy

“We of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America will advocate for just immigration policies, including fairness in visa regulations and in admitting and protecting refugees. We will work for policies that cause neither undue repercussions within immigrant communities nor bias against them.” – From ELCA social statement Freed in Christ: Race, Ethnicity, and Culture (pg. 7)

REMARKS

According to The U.N High Commissioner for Refugees, a record 100 million people have been forcibly displaced worldwide, a twelve percent increase in just one year. The grim milestone was passed as the war swept through Ukraine, and difficulties impacting people from Afghanistan to Venezuela were compounded by global economic hardship and deepening climate-change realities. Access to asylum is a pillar of a humane migration policy. Yet with present patchwork practice, people in the greatest need of protection will seek more dangerous, less visible ways through to safety and a better future.

In addition to having a humane migration system, we know that directing attention to factors driving migration and facilitating family reunification can more meaningfully address the reasons people flee their homes, thus reducing migration pressures. As another fundamental change, lawmakers have a chance at passing a pathway to earn citizenship for DACA recipients and others who have called the U.S. their home for many years. Immigrants with temporary status and no status like Dreamers, TPS-holders and migrant farm workers have called for permanent protections. Our nation’s policy response can strengthen the economic resiliency of our nation and neighborhoods, keep families together and generously respond to the needs of our neighbors.

QUESTIONS

  1. With many countries beginning to ease protocols that severely restrict asylum access, which especially impact LGBTQIA+, Indigenous and Black migrants, what policies and funding, if any, are you supporting that will ensure that the U.S. restores asylum and strengthens refugee resettlement?
  2. The US has a special interest in supporting individuals impacted by the withdrawal from Afghanistan, which saw around 70,000 arrive to the United States through a temporary mechanism called humanitarian parole. Many are well underway to rebuilding their lives, with the help of friends in communities like ours. With the understanding that congressional action will make a crucial difference in the next few months, will you support an Afghan Adjustment Act?
  3. Do you support permanent protections for immigrants, like DACA-recipients, Dreamers, TPS-holders, migrant farm workers and others with deep ties to the United States? As a member of Congress, what is your plan to break through deadlock in Congress on these protections?


 

THIS MOMENT IN TIME: Voting Rights

“The political health of our nation still suffers from the stain of antidemocratic exclusion. Efforts to restrict access to voting should be condemned and resisted.” From ELCA social message “Government and Civic Engagement in the United States: Discipleship in a Democracy” (p. 10)

REMARKS

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would prevent discriminatory practices and rules in voting from being implemented in states and localities where discrimination is persistent and pervasive, protecting access to the vote for all eligible voters, regardless of race, color or membership in language minority groups. The bill would also restore voters’ ability to challenge discriminatory laws nationwide.

QUESTIONS

  1. House members—Did you support the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act that was passed by the House earlier this year? Why or why not?
  2. Senate members—What are you doing to move the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act in the Senate?

Advocacy Cafe

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

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

Register today – and invite others!

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


 

Tue. July 26 – August Recess

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

Choose

 

Tue. Aug. 30 – Civic Engagement Actions

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

Choose

 

Tue. Sept. 27 – Barriers to Voting

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

Choose

 

Tue. Oct. 25 – Public Discourse

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

Choose

 

Current sign-on letters

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

 

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

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

 

WHAT IS A SIGN-ON LETTER

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

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

 

IMPACT OF SIGN-ONS

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

 

DECISION PROCESS

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


LAST UPDATE: 7/13/22

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

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

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

June Updates: UN 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 | Ohio | Pennsylvania | Virginia | Washington | Wisconsin


 

U.N.

Lutheran Office for World Community (LOWC), United Nations, New York, N.Y. – ELCA.org/lowc

Dennis Frado, Director

  • In a May 18 letter, bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) urged congressional leaders to support the transfer of much-needed funds to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to cover debt owed to Augusta Victoria Hospital (AVH) in East Jerusalem. https://www.elca.org/News-and-Events/8144

 

  • The ELCA registered with Secretary of State Antony Blinken “profound shock and sadness concerning the death of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Jenin, the West Bank, on May 11 and the deplorable disruption of her funeral procession on May 13” through your a letter from Bishop Eaton, and called for U.S. government “specific, concrete actions against Israeli impunity when these standards are not upheld.” https://blogs.elca.org/peacenotwalls/join-bishop-eaton-in-speaking-out-about-shireen-abu-aklehs-killing/

 

  • The International Migration Review Forum (IMRF) took place in May in New York, with the participation of the ELCA program director on migration and Lutheran Office for World Community staff, joined by AMMPARO companions and global ecumenical partners. A resulting IMRF Progress Declaration announces advancements on specific targets of the 2018 Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (Compact) and affirms the Compact which the United States once refused to engage. The Progress Declaration makes direct reference to systemic racism, climate as a driver of migration, prioritization of regularization of status, and commitment to more meaningful consultation with migrants themselves. Still leaving much to be desired, it sets key target areas for growth for the next round of regional consultations, and the next IMRF in 2026.


 

Arizona

Lutheran Advocacy Ministry Arizona (LAMA) – lamaz.org

Solveig Muus, Director

Major Grant Received! LAMA, together with its Arizona Hunger Policy Workgroup partners including Bread for the World, World Hunger Ecumenical Arizona Task-Force (WHEAT), Arizona Food Bank Network, Arizona Food Systems Network and Arizona Faith Network, received a $20,000 SPARK Grant from the Vitalyst Health Foundation. The funds will be used to bring together all hunger advocates and experts in the state of Arizona in one place at one time to strategize about hunger and food insecurity across the state. The initiative is expected to produce a game plan and policy that all Arizona hunger advocates support, and each will work to promote these in the 2023 legislative session.

LAMA Goes to Washington! LAMA director Solveig Muus joined colleagues from across the country for the Bread for the World Advocacy Summit in Washington, D.C. on June 6-7. Highlights were visits with Rep. Ruben Gallego (D, AZ-07), Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), urging them to extend the Child Nutrition Waivers through 2023 and support S.2956, the Global Malnutrition Prevention & Treatment Act. We took in the sights, attended a meeting of the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee, and rubbed elbows, D.C.-style.

Hunger Leaders Network Turns One! The Grand Canyon Synod’s Hunger Leaders Network reached a milestone and is just hitting their stride! Each monthly meeting features updates from a churchwide expert as well as a local hunger partner. A special highlight was a greeting and update from Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton in January.


 

California

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

Regina Banks, Director

The Lutheran Office of Public Policy California sponsored Lutheran Lobby Day on Wednesday, May 18th. This virtual event brought Lutheran advocates and ecumenical partners together online to advocate for measures aimed at ending deep childhood poverty in California, financial assistance for families with young children, aiding children who lost parents and caregivers to the COVID 19 pandemic, securing clean safe affordable drinking water and other issues. The event was a great success, and we anticipate that the 2022-2023 budget will include most of these important concerns at funding levels unseen in the last decade. The budget deadline was June 15.


 

Colorado

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

Peter Severson, Director

Colorado Governor Jared Polis (seated) signs HB 22-1083 into law on Tuesday, May 31, 2022.

Ballot Season coming soon: The Colorado Legislature may be adjourned for the year, but the many campaigns for Colorado ballot measures will be coming soon to a screen, mailbox, and billboard near you. We are excited to be working on a ballot measure to fund healthy meals for all public school students! More information on this & other campaigns will be coming this summer.

Bills signed into law: Several bills which Lutheran Advocacy supported this session were recently signed into law by Governor Jared Polis, including House Bill 22-1259, Modifications to Colorado Works Program, which will boost our state’s cash assistance to very low-income households and make needed modernizing updates; and House Bill 22-1083, the Colorado Homeless Contribution Tax Credit (see photo below).

March for Our Lives Service: An ecumenical Service of Lament & Prayer was held at St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral on Saturday, June 11, ahead of the March for Our Lives rally in downtown Denver. Representatives from Lutheran, Episcopal, Methodist and more faith traditions were present to offer lament for recent gun violence across the United States and to call for prayer and action.


 

Kansas

Kansas Interfaith Action (KIFA) – kansasinterfaithaaction.org

Rabbi Moti Rieber, Executive Director

The Kansas legislature ended its annual session on Monday, May 23. We’re very pleased that of the four vetoes KIFA worked on, three were sustained:

Senate Bill 493, which would have banned municipal restrictions on single use plastic; Senate Bill 160, which would have banned he participation of transgender girls in school sports; and Senate Bill 58, also known as the “Parent Bill of Rights,” which would have opened school districts up to lawsuit if anything was taught (primarily in the areas of race and gender) to which parents objected.

The governor’s veto on a bill that added restrictions on SNAP was overridden.

Bills that in the end didn’t pass included measures that would have expanded exemptions for childhood vaccinations, as well as a bill which would have limited mail-in and drop box voting.

The Congressional maps, which our coalition sued over, were allowed to go into effect by the Kansas Supreme Court. This surprise result ignored the findings of the district court, which found that the maps had been racially and politically gerrymandered.

While we certainly wish that our more proactive legislative priorities, such as Medicaid expansion or payday loan reform, would have passed, the fact that we (and our allies and coalition partners) were able to keep some bad bills from becoming law has to be considered a victory. We are particularly pleased with the defeat of the “Parent Bill of Rights,” which was the culmination of a six-month long effort by the “Teach the Truth” coalition – under KIFA’s leadership – to protect the right to learn the truth about American history.


 

Minnesota

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

Tammy Walhof, Director

End of Session…

…was extremely disappointing! An agreement was announced in the final days for a Bipartisan Framework splitting the surplus into tax cuts, supplemental budget, and reserves, but bills based on the framework failed to come to final votes. A Tax Agreement could only be passed after the other Conference Committee negotiated bills were passed by both chambers.

Energy/Climate: The negotiated bill passed in committee with overwhelming bipartisan support, and included several things we supported. However, without final passage, Minnesota risks losing its share of federal funds (matches to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act).

Affordable Housing: Housing was allotted disappointingly low funding in the framework, and no negotiated bill reached agreement before adjournment.

Homelessness & Shelter Funding: Failure to come to agreement on funding in the Health & Human Services Conference Committee meant no funding for homelessness or shelters.

Special Session? A special session is still needed! The legislature didn’t finish its work! Several bills were negotiated in good faith by both chambers and parties, but they were not brought to a final vote.

Partisanship: We were frustrated by lack of transparency this session, and more partisan posturing than normal. There is always partisan posturing, but this year the polarization was worse. Sadly, a few legislators worked hard to feed into polarization and partisanship.

We thank all our advocates for tremendous efforts played out in calls, emails, old-fashioned letters, and visits with legislators. Despite how things turned out, we hope to still see those efforts bear fruition in deals yet to be made!

Tammy Walhof, Director of LA-MN, is on sabbatical from June 13th to August 12th! She is excited to have sabbath time, travel to Iceland, and visit different parts of the state to hear how communities are already experiencing climate impacts. Rachel Wyffels, Hunger Advocacy Fellow, is the primary contact person for LA-MN during this time.


 

Ohio

Hunger Network Ohio (HNO) – hungernetwork.org

Deacon Nick Bates, Director

I had the privilege to be with the East Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church in Akron in early June and was blessed with many one on one conversations with folks doing great work in their communities. The stories I heard were similar to the stories I heard a month ago at the Northeastern Ohio Synod Assembly (ELCA). If I had to summarize what I heard, in one word, it would be Anxiety. Faith leaders are confronting the anxiety of the world, and many of our siblings in faith expressed anxiety over a few key issues.

Inflation: Stock returns mean nothing to folks struggling to put food on their table. Many local pantries and community meal programs are dealing with increased demand as people are working hard but aren’t able to afford rising gas and food prices. While the pandemic might be transitioning into a new phase, it has left scars on our communities that will last for generations if policy officials don’t take action.

Addiction: For the past decade, the anxiety only has grown over the opioid epidemic in Ohio and the lack of resources to provide treatment and support for individuals struggling with the illness of addiction.

Healthcare: The lack of affordable and comprehensive health insurance, the reduction in health services for women and LGBTQIA+ are increasing the anxiety of faith leaders who are on the front lines in the battle against hunger and poverty. All Ohioans need access to healthcare services.

As the body of Christ, we have been called to serve those who are struggling today and address the root causes of the suffering by changing policies and the conditions that have created these difficult conditions for our communities.


 

Pennsylvania

Lutheran Advocacy Ministry – Pennsylvania (LAMPa) lutheranadvocacypa.org

Tracey DePasquale, Director

LAMPa presence in the Capitol increased as the state budget deadline grew closer. Staff participated in press events and met with lawmakers, seeking support for policies in the priority areas of hunger and poverty, housing and creation care.

LAMPa staff accompanied mothers whose families receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) as they explained what a proposed cut in cash assistance grants would mean to their children and stood with families who are struggling to hold on to homes in need of expensive repairs. LAMPa is supporting a whole-home repair bill that would help people stay in their homes – part of the answer to the state’s housing crisis and a need in both old mining regions and urban centers. The repairs would also help climate goals by making homes more energy efficient. LAMPa is also advocating to lift the cap on the percent of realty transfer tax that can go into the Pa. Housing Accessibility and Rehabilitation Enhancement (PHARE) Fund to enable that fund to grow to meet challenges posed by increasing housing prices. Watch this panel discussion to learn what that would mean to communities in which Lutherans are engaged in ministry with people experiencing homelessness.

LAMPa staff also met with lawmakers in support of investments in a cleaner, healthier environment and shared the experience of Lutheran Disaster Response while urging legislators to codify and strengthen the Office of Environmental Justice.

LAMPa convened meetings of PA synod hunger leaders and green teams for legislative updates and synod report-outs.


 

Virginia

Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy (VICPP)

Kim Bobo, Executive Director

The General Assembly finally finished its budget work on June 1. The Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy was pleased to see $40 million extra money added to the Virginia Housing Trust Fund to build affordable housing, plus $120 million for affordable housing tax credits to incentivize building affordable housing. Virginia has a terrible affordable housing shortage.

Earlier in the year VICPP had won two study bills – one looking at solitary confinement and one considering requiring unconscious bias training for healthcare professionals. VICPP is now working diligently to assure that these study bills address the concerns of legislators and that we are completely prepared for the 2023 General Assembly.

On June 25th and July 30th, VICPP will host Living Wage Canvasses around the state to encourage businesses to become Living Wage Certified. For more information about this canvass, visit https://virginiainterfaithcenter.ourpowerbase.net/civicrm/event/info?reset=1&id=195.

Over Labor Day Weekend, VICPP will release a report on the State of Working Virginia. Consider planning a special Labor Day service that weekend to lift up concerns for workers in low-wage jobs.


 

Washington

Faith Action Network (FAN) – fanwa.org

Elise DeGooyer, Director

FAN board, staff, and faith leaders Aneelah Afzali, Elise DeGooyer, Abbot Genjo Marinello, Carolyn Stevens, and Kristin Ang attended the Alliance for Gun Responsibility press conference.

We have just finished our annual regional summits and have enjoyed the time reconnecting with committed advocates in a hybrid format. These took place in Vancouver, Yakima, Spokane and Seattle, each with a Zoom option. We listened to advocates’ input in all the categories of our work: economic justice (hunger/poverty/safety net/tax reform), criminal justice and police reforms, housing and homelessness, environmental justice, healthcare, immigrant rights, and other civil and human rights. We shared the 2022 Legislative Session victories and what our coalition partners are working toward for next year. We heard the unique concerns from communities in each region, while making the connections between their regional experiences and statewide/federal policy changes needed.

Pastor Erik Kindem of Peace Lutheran, Seattle, in a march FAN co-sponsored from Temple De Hirsch Sinai to St. James Cathedral.

Our advocacy this season has included bills in Congress that will impact Washington State communities, like the Child Tax Credit, housing bills included in budget reconciliation, and H.R.5444, the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act. And of course, in the wake of too many mass shootings, we have held vigils and marched, and called our network to act. We will continue to say #Enough until strong gun legislation is enacted.

Quashing Replacement Theory with Irreplaceable Truth

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

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

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

 

Replacement Theory Moves from Fringes

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

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

 

Refutation in ELCA Teaching

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

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

 

Opposing Evidenced Evils

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

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

 


FURTHER INFORMATION: Confronting Intolerance, Bigotry and White Supremacy

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

“[We] resolve and proclaim that:

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

 

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

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

Confession and hope give strength to end gun violence

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


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

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

 

CONFESSION

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

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

We confess to failing to protect our children.

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

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

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

 

FORGIVENESS

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

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

 

SUSTENANCE

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

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

 

STRENGTH

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

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

Devotional: Can’t Control the New

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

May/June Update: Advocacy Connections

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

Partial expanded content from Advocacy Connections: May/June 2022

HOUSING FIRST SIGN-ON OPPORTUNITY  |  OP-ED ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM  |  INTERNATIONAL POLICY DEVELOPMENTS  |  FEDERAL INDIAN BOARDING SCHOOL REPORT  |  UKRAINE AND AFGHAN MIGRANT UPDATES  |  BUFFALO MASS SHOOTING


The May/June issue of ELCA Advocacy Connections was prepared for distribution on May 25, 2022. While these brief updates on activity in which our ELCA Witness in Society federal staff is engaged are never an expansion of national news or a complete picture, today especially we are aware they don’t touch our corporate reflections, including on the horror of the shooting in Uvalde, Tex. and on observance of the second anniversary of the death of George Floyd. In our advocacy we continue to seek meaningful opportunities to support policies that increase gun safety. Federally at this moment, we anticipate an Executive Order today from President Biden to increase accountability and transparency in policing. The ELCA introduced in 2019 a 60-Day Journey Toward Justice in a Culture of Gun Violence which provides some resources for our prayer and action. In our work and ministry, and our individual discipled lives, may we turn to our Lord for comfort, guidance and strength, and steadfastly do all we can personally and publicly.


 

HOUSING FIRST SIGN-ON OPPORTUNITY:  Congregations and other ministries are invited to add their names by May 30 to a letter to Congress in support of the Housing First model. The letter (read in full) was organized with the National Low Income Housing Coalition (in which the ELCA is a member), and the ELCA has joined the interfaith and religious service provider letter to Congress in support of the Housing First model and opposition to policy changes that would undermine its use.

Despite a lack of investment in housing resources in recent years, the innovative uses of Housing First as an approach to homelessness have demonstrated a high statistical success rate nationally. The letter to lawmakers comes as rates of homelessness have remained nearly level – even as staggering housing costs, the pandemic, and other factors would otherwise suggest a large surge in displacement.

If your ministry or congregation wants to sign before the May 30 deadline, the signature form for the letter is found at https://forms.office.com/r/Nx8VFqk8Hb

 

OP-ED ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM:  Working together, Deacon Nick Bates of Hunger Ohio and ELCA federal advocacy staff crafted and pitched a piece to a Cleveland news source reflecting on policy before Congress and compassionate criminal justice. Each of us reading ELCA Advocacy Connections can make our voices heard, together representing a strong network of prayerful, concerned citizens living out our baptism in discipled lives.

“As a Christian, I know that justice means recognizing the human capacity for growth and redemption. And as a leader in the [ELCA], I believe that human dignity is God’s gift to every person. That’s why I urge U.S. Sens. Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown to support the package of sentencing reform bills currently pending in Congress,” Deacon Bates wrote. Find locations in the ELCA-affiliated state public policy office network here. Read his full opinion piece, “As a Christian, I believe in compassionate criminal justice. Ohio’s senators should, too,” from Cleveland.com. Interested in writing your own on a policy issue that concerns you in which you have experience? Use the resource “Writing a Letter to the Editor” or the video “How Do I Use Media for Impact?” for pointers.

 

INTERNATIONAL POLICY DEVELOPMENTS:  The House of Representatives passed two bills that ELCA advocacy staff has been working on: the Global Malnutrition Prevention Act and the Burma Act of 2021. Thank you for your Lutheran voices of support. Advocacy attention now shifts to the Senate side to push for passage there.

In Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition and Iran-backed Houthi rebels agreed to a two-month truce, agreeing to halt all military operations in Yemen and across its borders. Advocacy will continue in urging the U.S. government to stop supplying weapons, spare parts, maintenance services and logistical support to Saudi Arabia.

 

FEDERAL INDIAN BOARDING SCHOOL REPORT:  The Department of the Interior released an investigative report (5/11/22) laying the groundwork to address the trauma and legacy of federal Indian boarding school policies. The ELCA is committed to understanding the Church’s role and supporting healing for survivors, and an advocacy opportunity will soon be posted in our Action Center.

The experience of the ELCA, and of members and siblings among Indigenous people of North America, is not separate from this federal study. For example, in the ELCA Saint Paul Area Synod, the Advocates for Racial Equity (ARE) group held discussions about the Saint Paul Industrial School which operated at one time as an Indian Boarding School in Clontarf, Minn. Their March 24 dialogue was a chance to look closer into what led this small town to build and operate such a program and examine the ongoing impact of Indian Boarding Schools, including “ways in which suppression keeps us from rumbling with our past.”

 

UKRAINE AND AFGHAN MIGRANT UPDATES:  The President shared his $33 billion request for more security and economic assistance for Ukraine, including the “Uniting for Ukraine” initiative. Notably, the request also includes an Afghan Adjustment Act. Attention now turns to Congress for passage.

As of April, there were over 7.7 million displaced people in Ukraine. The “Uniting for Ukraine” initiative seeks to streamline the process for Ukrainians abroad to come to the United States via a specialized parole program that lasts up to two years (more information on the Department of Homeland Security website). Ukrainians should seek information first before making travel arrangements.

Additionally, the next few weeks are especially critical for advocates to make their voices heard to pass an Afghan Adjustment Act. Use the ELCA Action Center to add your voice through a customizable Action Alert.

Of additional migration impact, a federal judge has granted a preliminary injunction to block the Biden administration from ending the mass expulsions of migrants under the Title 42 pandemic-era rule. “Migrants, advocates in the faith community and public health experts have exhaustively argued that restoring asylum and protecting public health can be done together,” writes Giovana Oaxaca, ELCA program director for migration in an ELCA Advocacy Blog post on Title 42. Our advocacy continues to pursue fair safe, and humane asylum policy in the United States.

 

BUFFALO MASS SHOOTING:  Advocacy continues to be part of our response to grief and anger again unveiled after the killing of 10 people in a racially motivated mass shooting at a Buffalo grocery store on May 14. As legislative responses surface in Congress, ELCA staff will make available outlets for our voices in the process.

“Churches have a foundational role in eradicating racism and white supremacy in society. We must take real and lasting action now—through education, relationship-building with Historic Black Churches, ongoing anti-racism education, advocacy, and self-reflection,” wrote the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, ELCA presiding bishop, in a statement (5/19/22).

The bishop of the ELCA Upstate New York Synod wrote, “Let us be of one mind. We in the Upstate New York Synod and in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America reject racism and a white-supremacy worldview and mindset. We renounce the ways scripture has been used to support genocide, enslavement of people, oppression, and mass incarceration. We acknowledge, lament, and repent in the ways we have been complicit in a white dominate culture which supports competitive individualism, binary ways of problem solving, seeking comfort over reparations, and centering power within, thereby marginalizing the experience, voice, and thoughts of others.” Bishop Lee Miller II’s letter can be read in full here.

 


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