Dear ones of the Southeastern Iowa Synod,
I am writing to you today, at the beginning of Lent, a season when we journey together as the Body of Christ returning to God in repentance and focusing on practices of fasting, prayer, and charity. It so happens that the season of Lent often aligns with legislative sessions at the state and federal levels. I give thanks for elected leaders, their staff, and all engaged in public service. It is the practice of communities of faith to pray for “ the church universal, its ministry, and the mission of the Gospel; for the well-being of creation; for peace and justice in the world, the nations, and those in authority, the community; for the poor, oppressed, sick, bereaved, lonely, and all who suffer in body, mind, or spirit; for the congregation, and for special concerns, and for with thanksgiving for the faithful departed.” (ELW p. 105-106) I hope in the season of Lent and throughout the year, we pray for public servants, for those in authority, and for the complex world in which they govern.
It is also the call of all Christians to engage, pay attention, and to live in the world around us. We, as Lutheran Christians, believe that in our baptism, we have been claimed, named, forgiven, promised new life, and gifted as a child of God and in this life of faith, we are called to live in the “covenant God made with us in holy baptism: to live among God’s faithful people, to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth” (ELW p. 236)
So, Bishop, why does the church need to be political? I hear this question and comment often. And in this extremely divided and politically charged time in our history, I understand the desire to keep politics out of the church and keep the church out of politics. There is a strong desire to tend to our own personal problems, to keep our heads down, and to avoid potential disagreement, especially at church but also in families, workplaces, schools, and neighborhoods. I get it. There are times when I want it all to go away too.
Yet, our “ELCA social teaching holds that all residents of the United States have a responsibility to make government function well—not to abandon our democracy but to engage it in a spirit of robust civic duty. For Lutherans, this responsibility is lived out as a calling from God, expressed in the discipleship described in our baptismal promises. It is based on our understanding of how God governs human society.”1
This doesn’t mean that we are all called to be activists, elected officials, or to center our mission and ministry around government policies, legislation, and politics. Instead, we are called to pay attention, to pray, to be engaged, and to keep our eyes on the Good News of Jesus which prompts “Lutherans to ask one simple but all-encompassing question: is the neighbor being served?”2
That question has many possible answers. We will not always agree on what it means to serve the neighbor. But I hope that we are led by the commandment to love God and love neighbor. (Mark 12:30-31) Advocating for justice and standing with those who are poor and vulnerable is part of our baptismal call to serve. I invite you to take a look at the ELCA Social Message on Government and Civic Engagement in the United States: Discipleship in a Democracy I encourage you to consider studying it within your congregation.
I would like to remind you about the group, Braver Angels, “which brings conservatives and progressives together on equal terms to understand our differences, find common ground where it exists, and help the country we all love find a better way.” The Iowa chapter provided a workshop at our 2022 Synod Assembly. You might consider inviting them to our congregation to engage in conversation.
I would like to invite you to Lutheran Day on the Hill on March 14. Lutherans from across Iowa, with our partners at Lutheran Services in Iowa, will gather at the Capitol to amplify, advocate, empower our voices and our state officials. This year’s three main issues are, support for Iowa's mental health system, investing in a strong Human Services workforce, and support for services that empower refugees and immigrants. It is a great way to learn about advocacy, meet your legislators and state officials, and learn about Lutheran Services in Iowa. Register here.
I would like to encourage you to consider reaching out to your local, state, or federal officials. You can find their emails here. Let them know your opinion and share with them how you are concerned about how different issues that arise “serve the neighbor.” I would also like to introduce you to ELCA Advocacy for more information and opportunities for advocacy.
Lutheran Christians represent a whole spectrum of folks. Southeastern Iowa Lutherans cover a broad spectrum of opinions. Some Lutherans will not be interested in this conversation. Some Lutherans will choose to run for office. Some Lutherans will vote regularly. Some Lutherans will speak out on issues that they are passionate about. Some Lutherans will think this is too political. All of these are valid ways to live as Lutherans in the world. All of us are beloved children of God, loved, forgiven, and free to live as God created us in this world. We are all called to love God and love our neighbors. Thanks be to God.
A whole host of proposed laws are being considered during the legislative session. I am asked often to speak on a whole variety of topics. I do participate as a citizen in writing to our legislators, voting, and learning about issues that center on the love of neighbor. I am choosing to equip you, my fellow Lutherans, with the information so that you might choose to speak about the matters that touch your hearts.
There are two issues in Iowa (and I am sure that there are many more that you might care about deeply) that I would like to raise to your attention - SNAP benefits and anti-LGBTQIA legislation. They are expanded on below. We may disagree on many things but I hope you will take time to look into these matters that I believe do not serve some of our most vulnerable neighbors.
Let us pray,
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son. Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred that infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and, through our struggle and confusion, work to accomplish your purposes on earth; so that, in your good time, every people and nation may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen
Peace in Christ,
Bishop Amy Current
About SNAP benefits legislation
A recently introduced Iowa House and Iowa Senate bill proposes some major changes to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP (historically called “food stamps”) in our state. According to the USDA, About 7% of Iowa households are food insecure and about 40% of those households include children. In Iowa about 1 in every 9 children in Iowa receive SNAP (food stamp) benefits.3 Regional and local food banks have reported high levels of use since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020.4 Through this supplemental assistance, an average of 57,000 Iowans are lifted above the poverty line in Iowa, including 26,000 children, per year between 2013 and 2017.5
As an anti-hunger synod, our members and congregations consistently advocate for those who struggle to put food on the table, indeed it is a large part of our synod identity. We feed people through community meals, we support anti-hunger ministries and nonprofits. We run food pantries, volunteer at food banks, and “feed the world,” at food packing events. Even with these amazing ministries, our efforts cannot feed every Iowan who struggles with food insecurity.
SNAP benefits are a federally funded program that ensures our neighbors have access to nutritious food, particularly our most vulnerable neighbors and their children. Restricting this federal benefit in Iowa ultimately results in less food on the table for those who need it most, and in a state where 11% of children are hungry, this assistance is vital for our children and communities to thrive. Jesus commanded Peter to feed his sheep, and these children, our neighbors, need this assistance for their survival.
About Anti-LGBTQ legislation
There are several bills that have been introduced in this legislative session that put LGBTQ adults and children at risk. Many of these proposed bills focus on gender identity related to children, their parents/guardians, educators, and healthcare providers preventing accommodation, privacy, education, or healthcare. Every person, no matter their gender identity, should have access to education, privacy, accommodations, and healthcare. In the ELCA, we believe that God calls us to love all people. We believe that LGBTQ people are beloved children of God. This is not a new matter in our world, the ELCA has been advocating against gender identity discrimination since 2013, “The ELCA is a church that belongs to Christ and Christ's church universal, where there is a place for everyone. The call of Christ's people today is to celebrate the diversity of God's creative work and embrace all people in the spirit of love, regardless of race or ethnicity, economic status or gender.” in the same document, “…it is important to remember the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) rejects all forms of hatred or discrimination. This includes employment discrimination against the transgender community, as stated in "Gender Identity Discrimination," a policy resolution that was adopted by the 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.”6 There is much fear about what is taught in our schools. Removing access to education that includes all people including LGBTQ people and education related to what different families look like, respectful interactions with others, and interventions around bullying will further negatively impact the mental health of LGBTQ youth at a time when it is already in a crisis. A recent study shows 44% of LGBTQ youth in Iowa considered suicide in the last year compared to 18% of non-LGBTQ youth.7 Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves. These neighbors, LGBTQ children, adults, and their families are our neighbors and deserve to live with dignity and respect.