Lutheran Peace Fellowship

Discipleship . . . Citizenship
What is our calling in an election year?

by Glen Gersmehl - 2004

LPF members have raised a variety of concerns in the past few months, from “I’m frustrated that my pastor and many other Lutheran leaders aren’t speaking out about important peace issues.” to “I don’t appreciate our pastor allowing campaign literature in our church and promoting his partisan opinions from the pulpit….”

Lutherans have long understood that politics can greatly influence crucial moral issues, from hunger and poverty to domestic violence and international conflict.

Lutheran Peace Fellowship, of course, does not engage in electoral politics – our charter excludes it as does our nonprofit legal status. Do we have anything to say about elections? The answer is yes, at least a half dozen things; some obvious, some not so obvious:

1. Grace Hanson, LPF’s youth trainer over the past year recently shared her thoughts on what the youth she works with are saying about the responsibilities and roles of citizens, whether new voters or experienced ones:

  • be educated about the issues and candidates; take time to follow responsible publications and web sites;
  • encourage discussion among friends, classmates, members of our church youth group, etc.;
    consider how the candidates and issues impact the larger picture; look for connections among issues;
  • ask questions of candidates and their stands; expect the media to focus on the important issues; use e-mail phone, and letters to prod candidates and the media.

2. While LPF does not support any particular candidate, we have developed clear, biblically-grounded perspectives on many issues of peace with justice (e.g. our advocacy update, pg 2). These can be helpful in assessing candidate positions, comparing platforms, and encouraging candidates of every party to promote policies that can foster shalom in our broken world.

3. Another role is educational: LPF activities in the congregation that help members take on their calling as citizens and as Christians. Many adult forum leaders and youth ministers thank us for helping them lead successful discussions on Biblical Peacemaking, Hunger Awareness, Just War, Budget Priorities, Nonviolence, Development Aid, etc. Many groups use our Peace Points resources and advocacy activities like the Budget Priorities Game.

4. From our considerable experience working with elected representatives, LPF and LPF members can help people understand the importance of electing politicians who have a clear commitment to peace and justice values and policies.

We know that democracy is not just a once-every-four-years affair. Our vote means little if it isn’t backed up by holding elected officials accountable and prodding them to policies that are compassionate and build genuine peace.

5. LPF also has something to say about appropriate and inappropriate use of religion in politics by candidates and parties. For example, while churches ought to provide contexts for members to discuss the issues, we ought protest in the strongest way the all too common practice of endorsing or opposing particular candidates by religious leaders or passing out preferred candidate lists to members or placing them in pew racks. (Sojourners has a useful new web site on the subject: )

6. Our extensive educational activity on issues of peace with justice offers useful experience and insight on how to encourage moral deliberation in the most helpful and responsible ways. In fact, congregations have a uniquely valuable role to play before elections.

In a political climate dominated by 30-second sound bites and attack ads, many Christians welcome an approach that respects their intelligence and their right and ability to form their own opinions; that offers a context to evaluate the key issues from a Christian perspective; that creates space to listen to one another, to express what is important to us, and to be open to modifying our views when it is warranted.

7. There are places and times for Christians to take a stand on clear biblical truths about enemies and killing, on current issues of peace and justice – and on Candidate A vs. Candidate B. Here’s another part of the picture: think of a time you were confused (or wrong) about an issue; what did you find most helpful in a friend? Your answer is a role we might practice more often: listening more than talking, asking more questions than offering our answers, being compassionate rather than judgmental. We who want to help our country toward peace and justice might consider the value of such an approach in more situations.

Growing up in rural Ohio, I was blessed with a gifted 7th and 8th grade teacher at St. Paul Luth. School. When asked for his own political opinion by a student, he would respond: “I’m a Republicrat (or Demublican). The point is not what I think. What do you think and does it square with the gospel?” – a much-needed approach in 2004.

See also: Christian Peacemaking

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