I was asked by my parishioner, Dr. Celia Wolff, to speak for about twelve minutes in her Apostle Paul course at Northwest Nazarene University. That time was followed by a few questions from her insightful and inquisitive students. Twelve minutes is not much time but here is what I shared in my time, answering two questions received ahead of time:
What are theological reasons for civil engagement?
The answer begins with an assumption that we are called to care for people’s actual lives, not simply their souls, which has its own theological underpinnings.
God’s continual preferential treatment for the poor – through both the Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament
Matthew 25:31-46 – At times I despise the judgment parables in Matthew, but they do give us some clear instructions and a vision for the reign of God.
Luke 10:25-37 – Parable of the Good Samaritan – This parable informs what my tradition calls neighbor justice.
I lean on the language of Accompaniment – a corrective to the marriage evangelism and colonialism had (sometimes still have). This quote is on the door to my study at Trinity, “Accompaniment is a theology that describes how we journey with our partners. The values include: mutuality, inclusivity, vulnerability, empowerment and sustainability.”
The Book of Revelation – an attack on all that is empire
Galatians 5:13 “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.” We are not just free from something. We are freed for something.
Martin Luther’s “Treatise on Christian Liberty” (1520) lays down two propositions, concerning spiritual liberty and servitude: A Christian is the free lord of all, and subject to none. A Christian is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone.
Three specific passages from Luther’s Small Catechism
Explanation of the Fifth Commandment, You Shall Not Murder
“We are to fear and love God, so that we neither endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbors, but instead help and support them in all of life’s needs.”
Explanation of the Seventh Commandment, You Shall Not Steal
“We are to fear and love God, so that we neither take our neighbors’ money or property nor acquire them by using shoddy merchandise or crooked deals, but instead help them to improve and protect their property and income.”
Explanation of the Fourth Petition of Lord’s Prayer, Give us this day our daily bread
“What is meant by daily bread? Everything included in the necessities and nourishment for our bodies, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, farm, fields, livestock, money, property, an upright spouse, upright children, upright members of the household, upright and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, decency, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.”
Luther lived in a time when the church and state were still quite unified. Charity was important to the Reformers, but it was not enough; they wanted to change entire systems.
In a different country, in a different time, we needed new models for civil engagement. Some examples I turn to include Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King Jr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Dorothy Day.
Living examples today – Bryan Stevenson (civil rights) and Sallie McFague (care of creation).
There came a point, a few years into call in Nampa, when charity was no longer enough for me. I also wanted to see systems change.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Social Statements model civil engagement for me. We have written on abortion, caring for creation, church and criminal justice, the death penalty, economic life, education, genetics, health and health care, human sexuality; peace, race, ethnicity and culture; and women and justice.
What has been your civic engagement in Nampa/Canyon County?
Every time I show up as a woman pastor in Nampa, Idaho in 2019 and introduce myself, it is civic engagement, even more so when I offer an invocation at a city council meeting, come to a classroom at NNU, or attend Chamber of Commerce events.
There are four pieces to the Healthy Nampa initiative: Transportation, Affordable Housing, Equity, and Food Access. Only the last has a robust task force at present. I attend those meetings regularly in the attempt to support changes in our food system and to be a representative of the faith community. Food Access is something my congregation deeply cares about and I want people see another side of Christianity than the one covered by most news outlets.
I served on the Nampa Bike/Pedestrian Advisory Committee and now I sit on the Nampa Building Design Committee (which approves the design only of buildings over a certain size in several zones in Nampa). This participation earned me invitations to be part of creating Nampa’s master plan, with many other citizens. Yes, people of faith have something to say about pathways and aesthetics. This goes back to Luther’s description of the Third Petition—daily bread. Doing this work, I often ask how can we be good stewards of land, resources, opportunities, people’s individual talents?
You also have to be a bit of a dreamer for civic engagement.
“Borrow My Vision” (poem written originally for a Doctor in Ministry class at San Francisco Theological Seminary, June 2016)
Borrow my vision and you will see
Beautiful schools filled
With gifted teachers
Every resource imagined
Science, Music, Art, History, Literature, Math
With my ears,
you will hear
Women-banging gavels, arguing court cases, and preaching sermons
Queers- raving about how they love our city
Spanish-with no fears of deportation
With my mouth,
you will taste
flavorful fresh food.
Potlucks bring neighborhoods together weekly.
Summer feeding programs are for building community, not filling hungry bellies.
Everyone has time to cook and walks to the market for supplies.
With my arms,
You will carry lumber and siding and tiles
Because everyone is going to have a safe and warm place to live.
1000 homeless kids are finished sofa surfing or sleeping in cars and hotels.
With my mind,
You are imagining what else is possible
Because everyone here is selfless
Everyone wants what is good for all creation
Even the trees and wildlife of the Sawtooth, Bitteroot, and Payette Forests are protected
You dream dreams that you know can come true
With my feet,
You are walking and pedaling.
lead you along
From your home to downtown
With my heart,
You are at peace.
Everyone here who confesses Christ as Lord knows that they are free—free from sin and death. There is no path to holiness. We are already holy. Not weighed down by guilt or shame. We are free, free for abundant life today.
Don´t know if I can do this in a small space. Holl on Luther´s ethics wrote: Luther turned alms-giving 180 degrees. RCC said you could earn points with God by giving. Luther said never mind points for you: does your alms-giving actually help someone in need!?!
Thanks Lothar. Great quote.