Faith & Politics: WWJD?

by Rev. Amanda Nesvold
As it turns out, WWJD does not stand for “what would Jesus do” in my life.
I discovered this a few months into my time at my first congregation, one night while streaming an old favorite on Netflix. Indeed, as a pastor, and, as I’ll explain shortly, as a voter, my WWJD will always be “What would Janeway do?”
Star Trek: Voyager premiered when I was seven years old. When I started watching it again at age twenty-seven, I was surprised to see so many of my own leadership habits and values reflected in Captain Kathryn Janeway’s leadership. Her determination, confidence in herself and her crew, and her compassion for even the most aggressive adversaries are all traits I ascribe to myself in my pastoring. (Not to mention actual facial expression reflection: I have a habit of visually reacting to a meeting after walking into the hallway where no one can see, which is also a habit of Captain Janeway’s.) Of course, much more than one show has shaped me: we are all shaped by the stories we encounter in our lives and how they are told to us. Stories of leaders and those they inspire, stories of problems to be solved and adventures to be had, stories of inspiring others and bringing together communities… these are the stories that shape us and shape our understanding of how the world could and should work.
When it comes to pastoring, these stories have shaped my leadership by shaping how I empathize with others, how I hear the stories of those I serve, and how I troubleshoot diplomatic encounters. Now, pastoring rarely involves interplanetary trade negotiations, but it does involve council meetings, budget meetings, and helping communities to come together for a common purpose.
When it comes to voting, these stories have shaped my sense of leadership by informing my leadership judgment system: how do good leaders inspire, direct, and serve their people? The question before us on every ballot is simple: which candidate would make the best leader for each position? The complexity comes in assessing for ourselves what “good leadership” looks like, what it looks like in different positions, and how different leadership styles can (or cannot) work in each position on the ballot.
But what about being a gay pastor? Does that impact who I think makes the best leader for each position on the ballot? Does having faith and being part of the LGBTQIA+ community impact how I interpret someone’s leadership and therefore if they are fit for public office?
Yes, being a person of faith impacts how I interpret leadership. Some of this impact comes from Biblical examples of leadership: Whose leadership is praised by God and whose is derided? Whose leadership helps to multiply leadership, and whose refuses to share power even when it would be for the good of the whole? Some of this impact comes from ecclesial and historical examples: Martin Luther was a prolific theologian and preacher, but was he a good leader? Who in the Church do I look up to for their servant leadership and whose legacies can I appreciate while wondering at their methods? (Of course, bad examples can teach us a lot as well, and I have also learned by negative example from both biblical and historical leaders!)
Yes, being a member of the LGBTQIA+ community and being a woman also impacts how I interpret leadership. Issues of inclusion, welcome, and gender equality directly impact my life and the lives of many in my communities. If a candidate will not speak to these issues, will not enter into conversation with communities about the issues they are facing, or will not consider me and those in my communities to be worthy of their time, then their leadership style is not one that matches what I look for in public servants.
And, yes, being a nearly life-long fan of Star Trek: Voyager has impacted how I interpret leadership, how I myself lead, and how I vote. Neither starships nor pastoral offices are run by democracy, but starship captains, pastors, and elected officials all must lead by serving all, not just all who agree with them.

Pastor Amanda Nesvold (she/her/hers) is an ELCA pastor and redeveloper, most recently serving in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Passionate about liturgy, missional experimentation, and fiber arts, she is a member of Proclaim and the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians. She is currently on leave from call, and while awaiting whatever is next, she is serving as a governess and tech support to two children whose parents work full-time but whose school is 100% online.

Faith & Politics: Rev. Joseph Casteñada Carrera

We all know the routine. A person on the internet questions your belief, misinterprets the Bible to contradict Christian teachings. They argue that we should let the hungry starve, kick the downtrodden, rob from the naked, and turn off the neon welcome signs of our hearts to marginalized folks.

You disengage, knowing you are right, you unfriend, mute, snooze the person on social media. 

The routine continues, you reach out to a supportive echo chamber of people who completely agree you had no part in the conflict – they ignore any potential nuance you could rethink, and reduce the experience to “you’re right, they’re wrong.” The tempting routine feels so cozy with support that you are right. 

But being right may not be helpful. The choir of support will make you feel better, but may rob you of an opportunity to decolonize our lives, our religion, our world. Perhaps, you need an election year intervention. I believe conflict and tension are an essential. We can’t dread conflict, just like we can dread the air we need to breathe. It is an inevitable task if you care to faithfully create change

Yes, it’s uncomfortable, but it is not worth ignoring another person’s humanity or transformational engagement. God nudges us impatiently. I think that often disengaging from conversation and having friends who never invite reflection can be a misuse of privilege. I’m not calling anyone out, but rather calling us all in to consider if we are abandoning conversations from which our privilege will protect us. We may be making these conversations the responsibility of people who need to escape them for survival. Personally, I need a community that can remind me that even though I am queer, brown, and quirky that I still have privilege.  

The nuance of intersectional identity cultivates responsibility and pushes us to hard conversations. Because whiteness matters. Presenting masculine matters. College education matters. Speaking without an accent matters. Citizenship matters. There is no oppression competition and there is still responsibility in privileges even if you also identify with a group that is marginalized.

We can push more by having intentional community.

A good friend of mine, Rev. Matt Keadle, and I were venting, lamenting, about people who dangerously have behaviors and habits rooted in racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, and other -ISMs.  

When I get worked up, I feel urgent about issues,  talking way too fast and too much, and finding relief in constantly offering context that I am too emotional. It is a bad habit that implicitly asks for understanding or forgiveness for being upset over oppressive behavior. I want to be right.

Matt balances the conversation and the pace of our thinking; he takes deep thoughtful pauses to consider different perspectives and allows his heart to remember the vast number of different people it holds; he doesn’t speak if he is unsure; he can be angry and sad while still engaging his values and resisting an urge to be petty. 

Sometimes, Matt really bothers me by having no natural pettiness. At times, talking to Matt is not fun or indulgent of my feelings. 

But conversations with Matt are God-filled, essential for our shared work, wellbeing and sustainability in this work. Matt keeps me angry, honest, and clamorous in my expectations of God. I’d like to think that I help the Holy Spirit stir up Matt. I make him uncomfortable at times by just being and talking with the assuredness that nothing I can say would break the friendship, and that I can feel when he wants to say something and I make an awkward, pressuring space for him to say it. 

To be honest with readers, Matt is white and also straight. He is cisgender too. Oh yeah, Matt is also from the midwest. Nothing about the richness of either of our individual intersectional identities dictates that we should be friends.

But we reach out to one another because we are different, we don’t go right to making each other feel better about a tough experience. We ask each other to be reflective, to know we both can be wrong, hurtful. We trust our values are rooted in God and love, but not in being right. We see when disengagement is about survival and when we are trying to hide away privilege and responsibility to avoid discomfort.

Maybe, you want to avoid “feeling bad” when changing and transforming. For many, it’s sad and true, but we can practice discomfort and still survive, which may mean that being right is only about a stubbornness and commitment to being right according to the whiteness and patriarchy we have been taught is “normal” and comfortable.

Get a friend who won’t rush to make you feel better without thinking. 

Get out of posting in social media groups where you know everyone will agree with you. 

Stop playing through the same routine. 

It’s not helpful. It’s played out. Be fresh. Be bold. Be bothered. Engage.

Survive, for goodness sake, survive! But lean into the discomfort during this season of change. Wander in the desert for a little while to find deeper wells.

I am Joseph (he/him – they/them), child of Yolanda, who enjoys radical laughter with our Creator. Child of George, who creates intimate, rooted music alongside our Creator. I have her curiosity & wild sense of humor and his insatiable desire to connect and to love always more deeply. They gave me my first and longest family, & they taught me how to form new family and community. I end my emails with, “Blessings & warmth, Rev. Joseph Castañeda Carrera, MPP,” but I never introduce myself this way in-person. 
I make art that notices people and the world longing for God’s abundant presence and aching for the sacred joy of God’s inclusion, diversity, innovation, connection, creation, and compassion. One of my greatest commitments is discerning the same people who long as I serve as pastor. I balance being a pastor of beloved people in outrageously different contexts and reaching for the vision of being one church together; when it gets difficult, I laugh or I cry. Since 2016, I have served as pastor developer of ADORE LA, a queer faith community experiencing God in unconventional ways and Hollywood Lutheran Church since a year later. I have served as a coordinator or member of many synod, churchwide, and community committees and boards over the last decade, including the Strategic, Authentic Diversity Task Force, the Authentic Diversity Advisory Team, the McCune Foundation’s Community Organizing Institute planning team, Oxnard’s Community Relations Commission, and Latino Lutheran Network for Diversity. 
Prior to ordained ministry, I have worked beside many different people to stir up change in the world, failing and succeeding throughout the journey. I served as executive director and in various positions for over ten years at El Centrito Family Learning Centers, an organization committed to multilingual and multicultural education and community organizing. And prior to that had many experience in other nonprofit organizations as well as serving in the Peace Corps in Ecuador. I am an alumni of UCLA, CSUN, PLTS, and the University of Birmingham (England).
I have two lovely, sassy dogs, Remy and Pippy. My spouse Jaffa and family make life better and an adventure of discovering mystery and responding to God’s Will.

Faith & Politics: Rev. Meagan McLaughlin

Two memes have echoed in my mind since I started my first call back in February of this year: “Jesus has skin in the game, and so do we,” and “Seek the well-being of the city to which I have carried you into exile,” from Jeremiah 29.  Both resonated, again, as I reflected on the intersection of faith, queer identity, and politics. 

With the privilege I have as a white, cisgender person, being queer has given me some “skin in the game” – wounds and barriers of being gay and married in a straight world, and a straight church. I am continually challenged by my colleagues and neighbors and friends of color, those with differing abilities or health issues, those with queer identities different from mine, to stand with those whose experiences place them further on the margins.

Jesus wasn’t a Samaritan, but he centered a Samaritan man in a story about embodying love for neighbor. 

Jesus wasn’t a woman, but his longest conversation about God and life and identity was with the woman at the well. 

Jesus wasn’t a tax collector, or someone shamed for supporting themselves as a sex worker, but that didn’t stop him from eating with those who were. 

And he paid a price for that: ultimately, Jesus was arrested, tortured, and lynched by the state for proclaiming God’s justice all the way to the margins. 

Jesus had some serious skin in the game, y’all, and I am increasingly convicted that I need to as well. 

“Seek the well-being of the city.” I had a conversation with a family member recently about a whole lot of things we vehemently disagree on, and as I listened really hard to understand where they were coming from, I finally understood: with every fiber of their being, they believe that individualism is going to save us, as people and as a nation. 

I responded that what got me through seminary, and the process to get a call that went on forever and was fraught with anti-LGBTQIA systemic challenges and bias, was not rugged pull-myself-up-individualism, but all of you. This community of LGBTQIA clergy and seminarians did not weaken me, or encourage self-pity and blame. Rather, you showed me the joys and the injustices of the world and church in which we live, and flamed the fire of my call, and encouraged me at times when I thought I couldn’t do one more thing. I could not do any of this on my own. 

And we aren’t meant to. “Seek the well-being of the city to which I have carried you into exile.” Not my own well-being, or the well-being of just those like me or those closest to me, but the well-being of the city. And especially now, when we are all in exile in different ways, I take this as my guide, in my preaching, my life, and my vote. 

When I go to the poles, it is because Moses demanded justice from Pharaoh, Rizpah mourned for her children until they were buried, Jeramiah called the people to seek the well-being of the whole community, Mary claimed that God’s justice was going to be a reality in THIS world, and Jesus over and over demonstrated God’s commitment to a world of justice for all people, especially those on the margins. 

When I speak out on “political” issues, it is not because I am a democrat or a liberal, but because as a queer person of faith, I find it confounding that something like “feed the hungry, heal the sick, welcome the stranger, care for the widow” is considered political in the first place. 

Seek the well-being of the city to which you are sent, because we all have skin in the game! 

After nine years of working at The Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis, Proclaim member Meagan McLaughlin (she/her/hers) studied at Luther Seminary and United Theological Seminary and graduated with her MDiv in December of 2015. Pastor Meagan was ordained in January of 2020, and is currently serving her first call at Christ Lutheran Church, in Webster Groves, MO. Meagan, her wife, Karen, and their three cats live in St. Louis, and when she is not preaching (on Zoom), providing (socially-distanced) pastoral care, serving on (yet another) committee, or walking in one the parks in her new neighborhood, you can probably find her cuddling with her cats and binge-watching Disney+. 

Faith & Politics

“What’s it like being a pastor so close to the Capitol?” This is a question I’m often asked when people visit Lutheran Church of the Reformation for the first time or learn about where we are in DC. Located behind the Supreme Court and a block from the United States Capitol building, Reformation DC is the closest congregation of any faith community to these institutions. I get it and it’s a fair question, but when someone asked me recently ”What’s it like to do ministry in the shadow of the Capitol? I bet it’s hard not to be political!”, I responded, “I wonder what it’s like governing in the light of the church?”

As Christians, we follow a man who was political. The Good News that he proclaimed empowers us to be political. The Jesus I know and the Gospel I read are inherently political. Neither are partisan but it’s right there in the Greek, politikos: of, for, or relating to citizens. So while “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”, we can insist that religious values be used to govern. And much deeper values than the #ThoughtsAndPrayers that are too often tweeted out. 

What, then, does the embodiment of thoughts and prayers look like? Action.
Hollow statements and shallow prayers mean nothing without actions behind them for government leaders and for us. Lifting up our voices is prayer embodied. Organizing is prayer in action. Marching and resisting and holding elected leaders accountable is what we know, as Lutherans, what we are freed in Christ to do. Living out our faith is placing a sure trust in the grace of God and in that confidence, we are called to act.

In his 1980 lecture The Relationship of the Christian Faith to Political Praxis, theologian James Cone asserts that “praxis for the purposes of societal change is what distinguishes liberation theologies” (Black, Feminist, Womanist) from others. As queer folx, we too “share the conviction that truth is found in the active transformation of unjust societal structures.” We continue to work for this active transformation both in the Church and in the world.

Soon, eligible voters have the privilege and opportunity to embody our prayers at the ballot box, either by filling out our ballots in our homes or at a polling place. Soon, we will take our thoughts and our prayers with us to vote, I hope, with Christian values.
Christian values that prioritize Creation and stewarding the abundance God has blessed us with.
Christian values that cry out for the release of those imprisoned and the freedom of the oppressed.
Christian values that demand #BlackTransLivesMatter in all aspects of life and ministry.
Christian values that welcome and take care of the sick and the stranger.
Christian values that insist that the powerful be brought down from their thrones and the lowly lifted up. 
Christian values that advocate that the hungry are filled with good things and the rich are sent away empty.
Christian values that care for the wellbeing and health of our neighbors here and abroad. 

I have yet to do my ministry in the shadow of the Capitol because the Light of the World shines too brightly. I can only think and pray and act with the love that Jesus brings and the justice that Jesus insists upon. I am so grateful that all aspects of my life are influenced and informed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, including my politics.

Rev. Ben Hogue was blessed to bring the words of his saint-mentor Joel Workin into the halls of Congress, opening the House of Representatives in prayer on the day of his installation at Lutheran Church of the Reformation. Ben lives next to Reformation with his fiancé Marshall, and their Beltway boys, Bogart (cat) and Bosco (dog). He is very excited that candy corn is back on store shelves.