By Adriane Dorr
LCMS leaders met with representatives on Capitol Hill Oct. 27 and took part in the first-ever Lutheran Services in America Day at the White House Oct. 28.
On the first day of their visit to Washington, D.C., the group of 17 LCMS representatives met with 18 congressmen and senators, encouraging them to be mindful of the importance of religious freedoms, the sanctity of human life, marriage as a sacred union between one man and one woman, and other key LCMS positions.
In her discussions with congressmen, senators and their staff, Ann Stillman, vice-president and general counsel with Concordia Plan Services, encouraged elected officials to “recognize the intersection of religion and government and to be mindful of how the government impacts our religious beliefs.”
Dr. James Tallmon, a member of the Synod’s Board for National Mission, also noted: “We’re not trying to force our beliefs across the board. We simply want to be able to work by the dictates of our conscience and our confession.”
The Rev. Timothy Scharr, president of the LCMS Southern Illinois District, specifically discussed S.1467, the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, with Lauren Weidmaier, a staff member from the office of Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). The act deals with what the federal government can mandate with regard to private health plans, such as surgeries to prevent pregnancy, sterilizations and drugs that cause early abortion.
“This is a First Amendment right for us,” Scharr noted. “We believe God alone creates and ends life.”
Weidmaier concurred, saying, “We need to make sure people are aware, that they don’t forget how badly these laws affect us, that they understand how far-reaching the effects of bills can be.”
The group also met with members of the House and Senate who attend LCMS congregations, thanking them for sharing the Synod’s views as public servants.
“It was good that we were able to thank and encourage representatives and senators who support life, health and marriage issues in God-pleasing ways,” said the Rev. Dan Gilbert, president of the LCMS Northern Illinois District. “The meetings were also a reminder to leaders of the LCMS that we need to witness before those in the government, witnessing ‘before kings and governors for My name’s sake,’ as Jesus said.”
Congressman John Shimkus (R-Ill.) offered encouragement of his own, asking Lutherans to engage in politics and to foster interest at the local level — within their congregations and communities. “Lutherans need to get involved,” he said. “Congress needs to know what policies will hurt us and will hurt the church at-large.”
At the same time, Shimkus reminded LCMS members to be mindful of the distinction between church and state. “You don’t want to bring political fights into the pulpit,” he warned. “How can pastors preach Law and Gospel when the church’s Law is so different than that of the world’s?”
Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), also an LCMS Lutheran, asked Synod members to consider talking with other like-minded Christian groups where possible and in certain arenas.
“Lutherans can engage Catholics and evangelicals and others as we work together to protect our religious freedoms,” Lummis said. She also asked that the LCMS pray for its elected officials, that they would be blessed with “guidance and discernment as they fight in the days ahead to save the country.”
The LCMS-member congressmen and senators “were encouraged greatly by our presence and engagement on various issues, including the right for religious expression according to one’s doctrine,” said LCMS Rocky Mountain District President Rev. Randall Golter. “At the end of each session, we petitioned the Lord to bless those with whom we met, asking specifically for any special concerns.”
The Rev. Bart Day, executive director of the Synod’s Office of National Mission, called the visit to Washington a success and said he is thankful that the LCMS group was “given the opportunity to share the church’s position with people in the House and Senate.”
“We heard over and over that the presence of the LCMS is a missing dynamic in Washington, D.C., at the present time,” said the Rev. Gregory Walton, president of the LCMS Florida-Georgia District. “We need to be involved … We have a great truth to share.”
The following day, the Synod leaders joined some 140 others from almost 30 states and more than 50 Lutheran organizations to hear about and see firsthand the work of Lutheran Services in America (LSA), a joint alliance of more than 300 Lutheran health and human-service organizations that operate on behalf of the LCMS and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
During Lutheran Services in America Day at the White House, they received briefings from the administration, listened to overviews on specific topics, and raised concerns and recommendations about social-services practices.
Attendees heard from Dallas Tonsager, undersecretary of Rural Development, and Tom Vilsack, secretary — both with the U.S. Department of Agriculture — and Bill Daley, White House chief of staff.
Jill Schumann, president and CEO of LSA, who is stepping down from her role this year, said the strength of LSA’s advocacy “is both in the philosophy and in the doing.” She encouraged the group in their work in their congregations, communities and the world, saying, “We’ve raised our visibility. We’re at the table. We’re ready to rise to the next level.”
Following the visit to the Capitol and the LSA briefings, Day noted a reccurring theme: that the opinion and the voice of the LCMS matters and that leaders in Washington see the 2.3 million-member Synod as a powerful force.
“Now is the time for the LCMS to formally re-engage on Capitol Hill,” Day said. “The LCMS needs to find a way to keep current on legislation and have a voice to clearly articulate our position in a government that is becoming less friendly to religious freedoms.”
LCMS Ohio District President Rev. Terry Cripe agreed, saying, “Our quiet-istic tendency needs to be balanced with the reality that in a republic, silence is often mistaken for agreement. We need to encourage Lutherans … to be able to defend our position on various social issues in positive ways.”
“Missouri must first and foremost remain faithful to God’s voice and keep speaking His voice in every arena, including the public square,” said Golter, emphasizing the goal of the visit to Washington. “His people must keep God’s voice in the public square along with the other competing voices, knowing that His voice is the only one that causes and sustains reality.”
Other members of the LCMS delegation to Washington included:
- Barbara A. Below, assistant to the LCMS president.
- Deaconess Dorothy Krans, director of Recognized Service Organizations with the LCMS Office of National Mission (ONM).
- Maggie Karner, director of Life and Health Ministries with the LCMS Office of International Mission (OIM).
- Ed Szeto, coordinator for special projects with the OIM.
- Vicki Biggs, director of Integrated Communications with LCMS Communications.
- Nicole Ridley, project director with the LCMS National Housing Support Corp.
- Phil Zielke, founder and president of Phil’s Friends, an LCMS Recognized Service Organization, and his wife, Carrie.
Adriane Dorr, managing editor of The Lutheran Witness, also was a member of the LCMS delegation to Washington.
Posted Nov. 3, 2011