The Reverend Stacy Martin has made a career living out the ELCA tagline: “God’s work. Our hands.” Once the Vice President of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, she is now the National Policy and Advocacy Director for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. In that position, Stacy is responsible for shaping advocacy issues and impacting public policy, both nationally and internationally, for one of the largest denominations in North America.
What do you personally feel the top three advocacy/policy issues are for the church today?
The top three advocacy issues for the church today are income and wealth inequality/poverty, racial justice and reconciliation, and environmental justice.
The ELCA has been involved in immigration issues for quite some time now. You, personally, have worked on these efforts and have seen first hand the needs of immigrant families and children. Does President Obama’s executive action meant to protect about 4 million undocumented immigrants from deportation go far enough? Does it go too far?
Regrettably, Congress’ refusal to act forced the President’s hand in the matter of pushing toward much-needed immigration reform. Although in June of 2013 the Senate passed S.744, a comprehensive immigration reform package, House leadership refused to take up the effort. This stalemate meant that the President was unable to work with Congress to pass a package that, while not perfect, would have gone a long way in fixing our broken immigration system.
The Executive Order goes as far as the President’s power allows. Setting aside any dispute about the legitimacy of the President’s action, which is currently under adjudication in a legal suit brought against the Administration by 26 states, the President’s attempt to provide some relief to millions of desperate and deserving people should be applauded. Of course it doesn’t go far enough—only Congress can carry forward the reform that is really needed—but it is a step in the right direction and provides some degree of safety to millions of people who need it.
The ELCA’s official statement on racial reconciliation asserts that racism, “both blatant and subtle, ” denies the reconciling work of the cross, and that church leadership must “name the sin of racism and lead us in our repentance of it.” When racism is blatant, it’s fairly easy to name. But how do leaders on the ground level call out the more insidious, subtle forms of racism? The kind that allows us to say we “aren’t racist, ” yet continues to maintain the great divide between black and white in this country?
Racism is a systemic problem in this country, one that affects our criminal justice, educational, immigration and healthcare systems, to name a few, and sits at the core of hunger and poverty in the U.S.
By fighting for justice within their communities and doing so in an informed way that understands how racism works in this country and how it has been constructed within our systems, leaders call out the more insidious forms of racism.
It quite honestly doesn’t matter how “not racist” one wants to define her- or himself. Until our systems are reformed, racism exists whether or not we are open minded and open hearted individuals. We most certainly need to combat individual prejudices and work to educate individuals when they allow fear and ignorance to lead in the formation of their opinions, but that level of awareness and education, while helpful, is not enough. Solidarity with marginalized communities is essential, as is garnering enough of a critical mass who understand the contours and depth of racism in the U.S. context to maintain the momentum and energy needed to change our country’s systems for the better.
The nature of sexism is also both blatant and subtle, but the blatant variety is widespread and the number of women impacted by gender-based violence is astounding. The ELCA is currently working on a Women and Justice project, as well as a statement on gender-based violence that will be presented later this year. Can you give us a preview of the results of these efforts?
As you note, gender-based violence is a critical issue both in the U.S. context and abroad. From the use of rape as a method of war to the denial of educational parity between genders, sexism abounds. The ELCA has a long history of working toward gender justice and, while we are certainly proud of that, we know that there is still much work to be done. This project will attend to our history in gratitude to those who have laid the groundwork for the progress made thus far and will offer areas of still-needed work.
Tell me about the Shoulder to Shoulder campaign and what the ELCA is doing to address anti-Muslim sentiment in the US.
The ELCA is committed to strong ecumenical and inter-religious partnerships. As we saw the level of anti-Muslim rhetoric and sentiment rise, the ELCA knew that we needed to work to help correct the misinformation and misunderstandings about our Muslim brothers and sisters so prevalent in public discourse. We also knew that the problem of continued stereotyping was larger than ourselves and needed to be approached in coordination and solidarity with others, most especially Muslim partners. As such, when the Shoulder to Shoulder campaign began, we gladly lent our support and continue to do so.
Beyond our work with Shoulder to Shoulder, we work with the Islamic Society of North America in a continued effort to denounce anti-Muslim sentiment and find areas of shared work that displays our solid relationship with a respected partner.
What is your best advice for how we can all use our hands for God’s work?
Civic engagement is an essential component to living out one’s faith. More than one’s hands, one’s voice is the single most powerful instrument for the changes needed in our society to move toward God’s vision of peace and justice in the world. As such, my best advice is to stay informed beyond sound bites about what is happening in the world, to search for news that is as objective as possible and to get involved in advocacy efforts close to one’s heart. Without an informed and engaged citizenry, any hope for our marginalized sisters and brothers is lost. Be informed, vote wisely and in accordance with sound information, advocate directly with local, state and national lawmakers, and work to educate congregational and community members.