St. Stephen,

At Synod Assembly this year, we honored Pastor Bruce Davidson, who is retiring from many years of serving as the Director of the Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry in New Jersey (LOGM/NJ).  You may remember that Pastor Davidson preached at St. Stephen last fall.  So it seems appropriate to write about LOGM/NJ and, more broadly, about how Lutherans relate to government.

Many Christians in the United States see government as the enemy.  Laws about displaying the 10 Commandments on public land or prayer in school or abortion have convinced many Christians that the church is under attack and needs to fight back.

But Lutherans take a different view.  For centuries, Lutheran Christians have seen government as a partner.  Lutherans believe God made both church and state to be stewards of the common good.  God works through both, and both are necessary.

For example, while some Reformers experimented with church-run government, Luther himself affirmed the value of secular government.  At the same time, he engaged secular authorities, calling them to exercise power justly and as servants of all people.

In this spirit of partnership, the Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry in New Jersey does its work.  Reporting to the 2008 Synod Assembly, Pastor Davidson wrote:

As a statewide advocacy ministry, LOGM/NJ works with leaders and legislators in New Jersey’s state government.  LOGM/NJ seeks to represent the official positions of the ELCA and the New Jersey Synod on issues of justice in society.  Our advocacy is grounded in the Social Statements and messages of the ELCA, and in resolutions adopted by synod assemblies.

In other words, Pastor Davidson is a lobbyist for the church.  He lobbies, not according to his personal views, but according to the views of the ELCA and the NJ Synod.  You can read all official Lutheran positions online at www.elca.org/socialstatements and www.njsynod.org/justice.  In fact, the social statement, “Church in Society,” offers much more background on these matters

Recently, TV and radio personality Glenn Beck caused a stir when he made comments about churches and “justice.”  He called “social justice” a “perversion of the gospel” and “the rallying cry…on both the communist front and the fascist front.”

But speaking biblically, “justice” is the call of prophets like Isaiah and Micah to the rulers and the rich to care for the poor.  It’s the expectation of the psalms that the king rule justly and according to God’s law.  God’s concern for justice—for nations and rulers to care for the poor, the orphan, the widow, and the stranger—is writ large across scripture.

Given this biblical mandate, Lutherans and LOGM/NJ work unapologetically for justice in society, as the public expression of the gospel.  LOGM/NJ and Pastor Davidson lobby state government on issues of poverty, hunger, healthcare coverage for low-income families, affordable housing, homelessness, and asylum-seekers and other immigrants held at the Elizabeth Detention Center.  Recently LOGM/NJ organized congregations and individuals in a letter-writing campaign, encouraging legislators to support funding increases for state anti-hunger programs.

Gospel values cannot be reduced to simple labels or slogans.  Pastor Davidson has also said that, in public, there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies.  So LOGM/NJ works in partnership with governmental leaders of every political stripe, those called “conservative” and those called “liberal.”

For over 25 years, LOGM has been the part of the Lutheran church in conversation with government—sometimes challenging and other times celebrating.  But always, it has worked for the sake of a more just and more equal State of New Jersey and United States of America.

As Pastor Davidson retires, may God raise another leader for LOGM/NJ as able and steadfast.  And may all the baptized fulfill our promise to “strive for peace and justice in all the world.”

Thanks be to God.

Pastor Clark Olson-Smith

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