ELCA Assembly Actions Open New Advocacy Opportunities

In August 2013, over 1,000 voting members at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Pittsburgh acted on resolutions and memorials that have implications for LAMPa’s advocacy ministry. LAMPa has prepared a summary of these actions and noted current, related public policy issues in Pennsylvania.

+ Comprehensive immigration reform. The assembly approved advocacy for the adoption of comprehensive immigration reform legislation that supports an earned pathway to lawful permanent residency and eventual citizenship; ensure humane and just enforcement of U.S. immigration laws; protect families from separation; provide resources and protections to integrate of refugees and others; and to ensure the protection of U.S. citizen and migrant workers. The action included a call to ELCA rostered leaders to promote an understanding of welcome; encourage congregations to engage in prayerful, reasoned discussion and education about immigration; call on the ELCA presiding bishop to continue communication with members of U.S. Congress on reform. In a separate but related action, the assembly moved to declare Sunday, June 22, 2104 as “Refugee Sunday.”

Pennsylvania: LAMPa monitors legislation and has provided testimony on immigration-related issues at the state level. LAMPa assists synod and congregational groups who stand for welcome with information and resources. LAMPa is convening a new, statewide task group to work on immigration-related issues before the state legislature. An initial conference call will take place on Thursday, September 19 at noon ET. Contact the LAMPa office for more information.

LAMPa  is also mobilizing the Lutheran voice in the state to call for the passage of Senate Bill 713, known as the Pennsylvania Dream Act. The bill would improve college access for all youth across the Commonwealth, providing the opportunity for undocumented students who have completed two years of high school in Pennsylvania, and graduated or have a GED certificate, to pay in-state tuition rates at public institutions of higher education in the Commonwealth. The PA Dream Act encourages youth to complete high school and pursue affordable higher education opportunities.

+ Addressing community violence.  The assembly moved to encourage ELCA members, consistent with their bound consciences, to contact their elected officials and advocate for passage of legislation that promotes universal background checks, prevents gun trafficking and requires the reporting of lost or stolen guns to law enforcement as a means to decrease violence in our communities. In its action, voting members also moved to lift up the ELCA social messages on suicide prevention, community violence, and mental health and to call upon congregations and synods to engage their members on ways to prevent suicide.

Pennsylvania: HB 1010, which would close a loophole in Pennsylvania’s background check system that exempts sales of long guns by private sellers, is currently in the House Judiciary Committee.

+ Immigration Detention. A memorial submitted by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod requests all the synods to inform their congregations about the location of county jails, private for-profit prisons, or other detention facilities which hold immigration detainees for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and to encourage synods, congregations, and affiliated agencies to develop and/or participate in visitation programs and to develop community support programs for those who are granted alternatives to detention.

Pennsylvania: Immigration and Customs Services facilities in Pennsylvania include the Clinton County Correctional Facility, Lackawanna County Prison , Pike County Correctional Facility, York County Prison and the Berks County Family Shelter.

 + Hydraulic fracturing. The assembly received with gratitude two memorials regarding natural gas drilling, noting the role of advocacy ministries to monitor and engage issues related to hydraulic fracturing; and encouraging ELCA synods, congregations and members to inform and educate themselves through the lens of the social statements Caring for Creation (1993), Sufficient, Sustainable Livelihood for All (1999), and Genetics, Faith, and Responsibility (2011) about the issues pertaining to hydraulic fracturing by engaging in 1) grassroots conversation, 2) the sharing of pertinent stories, and 3) workshops and study groups to discern the theological, moral and ethical facets of this practice.

Pennsylvania: LAMPa continues to educate Lutherans and lead discussions and discernment around fracking and natural gas extraction, and keeps its network abreast of the debate within the state. LAMPa endorses and participates in “Don’t Drill Through the Heart of Pennsylvania,” a campaign to limit drilling in state parks.

+ Fossil Fuels. The assembly received with gratitude the memorials from three synods regarding climate change and fossil fuels and reaffirmed the ELCA’s commitment to stewardship of creation, reduction of fossil fuel use, encouraged advocacy for policies that reduce energy use, as an expression of this church’s commitment to address climate change and to care for God’s creation.  The assembly’s action refers the matter of evaluating the feasibility and advisability of developing revised or additional investment screens and related recommendations to the Congregational and Synodical Mission unit with the request that it ask the Corporate Social Responsibility Team to provide a report with possible recommendations to the November 2014 meeting of the ELCA Church Council.

+ Guarantee of voting rights for all citizens. With a vote to 811 to 39, the assembly adopted a resolution on the right of all citizens to vote, calling for the elimination of all laws, ordinances or regulations that discriminate on racial or ethnic bases in the exercise of that right. The resolution further calls on the presiding and synodical bishops to support publically and advocate for legislative proposals that guarantee all citizens the right to vote. Members of the church are asked to advocate and engage in local efforts in support of voting rights. Churchwide staff is asked to identify and publicize resources advocating for voting rights.

Pennsylvania:  In 2012 the Pennsylvania legislature passed a voter ID bill. Successive court challenges have delayed its implementation, most recently for the November 2013 election. LAMPa continues to provide updates and resources to synods on voter registration and ID requirements.

+  Employment Non-Discrimination (based on perceived sexual orientation or gender identity). The Assembly adopted a memorial that recommits the ELCA to principles of non-discrimination in employment and to call for other employers to engage in similar practices, affirms the work by the ELCA advocacy ministries in supporting employment non-discrimination legislation and request that they continue to support legislation that opposes workplace discrimination and includes encouragement of all ELCA synods, congregations and members to add their voices in support of legislation that prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

Pennsylvania: Northeastern Pennsylvania and Southwestern Pennsylvania are among the synods that submitted the memorial on The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). It is currently legal in Pennsylvania to fire or refuse to hire because of a person’s sexual orientation or on the basis of an individual’s gender identity. Recently-introduced House Bill 300 would add “sexual orientation, gender identity and expression” to the list of those protected from discrimination in the Commonwealth. LAMPa is alerting its network of opportunities to weigh in on the bill.

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