Faith & Politics: JM Longworth

Luke 13:31-33 (CEB)

31 At that time, some Pharisees approached Jesus and said, “Go! Get away from here, because Herod wants to kill you.”

32 Jesus said to them, “Go, tell that fox, ‘Look, I’m throwing out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will complete my work. 33 However, it’s necessary for me to travel today, tomorrow, and the next day because it’s impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’

I long for a spirit of love, kindness, and compassion to come upon our national discourse, because ultimately, without loving each other deeply, there can be no genuine movement towards the common good. As a student of American Government and the Constitution in college, I am profoundly aware that everything about our system was designed to slow things down, temper the passions of the day, and make change difficult through a series of interlocking and divided powers. Most of the substantial political and policy change in the United States was made through partisan wave elections where one party swamped the other, through triangulation where divided government meant that executives of one party tried to outflank the opposition by taking over their issues, or through constitutional crises where executives have invented new powers in times of emergency that allowed them to ignore the system of shared powers.

Our two-party system creates the illusion that American political life consists of a simple left-right binary and that this is the defining feature of our political landscape. I’ve included the diagram above to try and pull back to a broader view of our system and to illustrate some convictions that I have about my participation in public life that are grounded in my faith, my queerness, and the experience that I’ve never found binaries to be a particularly convincing narrative. 

My first conviction is that political systems include insiders and outsiders, and while these groups aren’t always the same, there tends to be a great deal of stability in this divide. When I think about this theologically, I am reminded that many of the key struggles in the scripture were not against individuals and their personalities, but rather against whole systems (slavery in Egypt, exile in Babylon, persecution by Rome) We live in a system that favors white, heterosexual, married, cisgender, able-bodied, neurotypical, men above all else. In the realm of political diversity, two people who fit this description have far more in common than not, regardless of their place on the binary. What often looks like a grand debate between different parts of the political spectrum is actually an argument inside the center of power. Sometimes this tug of war results in a public good that has an impact on both the center and the margins, for example, the widely popular programs of the Social Security Administration. More often, the outcomes look like the center engaging the margins with apathy, paternalism, or even outright hostility. In this understanding of our system, it’s possible for policy and legislation to be made that is broadly bi-partisan because there is a common understanding in the center about which groups in the margins it is acceptable to harm through government action without losing popular support. Let that sink in for a moment, we live in a system where some people and communities matter so little or not at all, and therefore it is possible to harm them without political repercussions. Which brings me to my second conviction.

It isn’t possible to create a human system of living arrangements without harm. If you’re a fan of the comedy The Good Place, you know that we can never get enough points to become totally good. While this is not an excuse to abandon the pursuit of the common good, to imagine that we can conjure the best outcomes for all people at all times is a beautiful and ultimately fruitless goal. Decisions have consequences, costs, unintended side effects, and in some cases, far-reaching consequences that we are terrible at predicting. Worse yet, we often focus most of our political discourse on intentions and proposals, while often ignoring the outcomes and the impact. We give ourselves over to the sin of staying with policies that are deleterious because they seem right in theory when in reality they are destructive. Controlling the political center means in large part controlling the amount and intensity of violence directed at the margins. Though sometimes the injustice reaches a point of changed consciousness. Conviction number three- people can have their worldview radically changed.

Changed consciousness takes different forms, but the theological framework for this process is conversion or repentance. Suddenly, something cannot go on any longer. It can look like marginalized people banding together, perhaps even with willing collaborators, and telling each other their story of being harmed, recognizing that it must stop, and putting direct public pressure on the center through protest, organizing, social disruption, boycotts, and even property destruction to raise the cost of the ongoing harm. The goal is often to push the center into recognizing that it is too costly to continue the harm. The larger the coalition and the more disruptive it can be to normal patterns of life, the larger the political cost of ignoring it. Sometimes the center is disrupted to the point where people in the center begin to disagree vehemently about whether certain forms of harm are acceptable. This can feel like a failure of the system, but I believe that it is the price paid for the new awareness. People in the center who experience this shift in understanding have a responsibility to be aware of their role in the system, an appreciation of how previous behaviors contributed to communal harm, and a willingness to make changed behavior (as opposed to doubling down, self-negation, or performative pity) one of their primary responses. It helps to be awake, it helps even more to get out of bed. This brings me to my final conviction, the Holy Spirit transforms my consciousness in order to transform my living and I am called to engage the system differently, especially where my identity puts me in the center.

The center has a lot of power to respond to people’s struggle against the harm being done to them. They can scapegoat the group, change the subject, create distractions and even increase the amount and intensity of violence with the hopes that this will break the spirit of the coalition. Sometimes, people in the center will focus on token acts of inclusion and attempt to co-opt the movement by drawing a small selection of people into the center, improving their treatment, and expecting them to become evangelists for the system instead of their own liberation. What’s more painful and deflating than the formerly marginalized minority scolding the unruly nastiness of the people who haven’t made it in yet? 

As a follower of Jesus who experiences some marginalization, but also a great deal of centering, I find myself wrestling with the dual temptation of avoiding invitations to be co-opted, and making such invitations myself. Part of what makes Jesus compelling for me is the way he embodies how the center should be- simultaneously aware of power and authority, and ready to face the cost so that his neighbors could know life, liberation, and love. The gift of the Cross is a revelation that God has broken the power of Sin, not the backs of individual sinners. I find myself challenged in my relationship with Christ and in my relationships with people I love to look for chances to practice costly solidarity- using my privilege to help dismantle and curtail the systems that are killing my neighbors and naming my marginalization and experiences of harm to support others who share these experiences. I try to approach voting, public speaking before government officials, letter writing, protest, material support for people in struggle, and even acts of resistance with this conviction firmly in mind. I hope that you find space for costly solidarity in your practice too, the movement for liberation needs collaborators far more than allies. I leave you with this prayer from Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM that we often use to begin our weekly time as street chaplains.


Oh Lord,

Take us where you need me to go.

Have us meet the people you need us to meet.

Tell us what to say.

And please, keep us out of your way.

In Jesus Name, Amen.


The Rev. JM Longworth, (they/them) OEF lives in Rutland, VT where they serve as the pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church and co-pastor of Faith on Foot. Currently, they serve as dean of the Vermont/New York Conference of the New England Synod and as a member of the Core Team for New England Anti-Racism. They are a life professed member of the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans.

Faith & Politics: A Reflection

By Elle Dowd

Psalm 146

1 Praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord, O my soul!

2 I will praise the Lord as long as I live;

    I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

3 Do not put your trust in princes,

    in mortals, in whom there is no help.

4 When their breath departs, they return to the earth;

    on that very day their plans perish.

5 Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,

    whose hope is in the Lord their God,

6 who made heaven and earth,

    the sea, and all that is in them;

who keeps faith forever;

7     who executes justice for the oppressed;

    who gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;

8     the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.

The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;

    the Lord loves the righteous.

9 The Lord watches over the strangers;

    [God] upholds the orphan and the widow,

    but the way of the wicked [God] brings to ruin.

10 The Lord will reign forever,

    your God, O Zion, for all generations.

Praise the Lord!

Many of us inherited the message growing up that our “faith should not be political.” But that idea fundamentally misunderstands both faith and politics. “Politics” is just another word that describes how we order our public life together. It is about how we act together, in community. It is about our relationships with one another. So although partisanship is often problematic, it is clear throughout scripture and in the person of Jesus Christ that faith is very much concerned with things like our public life, how we behave in community, and our relationships with one another. In that way, faith is inherently political.

Our faith is also concerned with our public witness – the way we live out our beliefs – particularly in the way that it affects the most vulnerable among us. Voting is one of many opportunities we have to reflect the love that we have for God and our neighbor. God asks us to order our lives with a concern for the needs of the most vulnerable among us. This includes our tax structures, our institutions, our social safety nets.

We are citizens of God’s kingdom, a reign that is breaking in and taking hold all around us, and a reign that has not yet fully come. But being citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t mean that we are indifferent with the material realities here on earth. Quite the opposite. Jesus’ ministry on earth was full of examples of providing for the physical, fleshy needs of people.  Jesus’ ministry wasn’t just about lofty, heady ideas – it was rooted in the day to day lives of real people. It was a feet on the ground, dirt under the fingernails kind of ministry. Jesus fed the hungry, healed the sick, welcomed children, and proclaimed freedom to prisoners. It was Jesus’ radical and embodied prioritization of those on the margins that threatened the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire was concerned with Making Rome Great. God cares about casting down the mighty and lifting up the poor and oppressed, like the prophet Mary, Mother of God taught us in her famous protest song in Luke 1.

Voting is in part about the beliefs and ideals we hold. It is about dreaming about a society that aligns with its stated ideals. But it is more than that, too.  These are not abstract concepts. They are not hypotheticals. The decisions we make (or don’t make) have real effects on the daily lives of flesh and blood people. Our collective decisions can bring us closer to a Kingdom “on Earth as it is in Heaven” or they can draw us closer to the fascist Hell on Earth that many people in our ICE detention centers, prisons, slums, underfunded schools, and divested neighborhoods are already experiencing. There are real life and death implications of our choices, for both human and nonhuman nature. As a queer person and as the mother of Black teenagers, these choices are not philosophical questions. They have power to change the lives of me and the people I love, for better or for worse.

When I vote, I ask the people who cannot vote what they would have me do. I reach out to young people under 18, undocumented people, people whose status as an incarcerated or formerly incarcerated person makes them ineligible in their state. I vote in solidarity with the stated interests of people who are most affected by these choices yet have the least amount of say. There are prophets all around us who have been in our streets directing us towards freedom if we would only pay attention.

Our ultimate liberation will not come through elections and no politician or political party is our savior. Elections are one tool we have at our disposal in ordering a society that reflects a passionate concern for the lives of our neighbors. Running for office or supporting issue campaigns is another. Protesting and unionizing and organizing is another. Mutual aid and alternative economies is another.

God’s kingdom is more expansive and revolutionary than any political party in our country. I vote with the hope that even as we remain trapped in our current political system, we can preserve the life and liberty of as many people as possible until God’s day of liberation comes fully.

Let us pray,

God of All People, your borderless kingdom is more powerful and eternal than that of any earthly king. As we discern our decisions this election season, align our hearts with your care for the most vulnerable among us. Liberate us collectively and individually from systems that bind us; capitalism, the cis-hetero patriarchy, and white supremacy. Enable us to attend to the prophets in our midst pointing to the way forward. Open our minds and embolden our creative spirits, that we may dream up new ways of being in community that reflect your boundless love and mercy. In the name of your Son, our President, the slaughtered lamb, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God now and forever. Amen.

Elle Dowd (she/her/hers) is a bi-furious recent graduate of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and a candidate for ordained ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. 

Elle has pieces of her heart in Sierra Leone, where her two children were born, and in St. Louis where she learned from the radical, queer, Black leadership during the Ferguson Uprising. 

She was formerly a co-conspirator with the movement to #decolonizeLutheranism and currently serves as a board member of the Euro-Descent Lutheran Association for Racial Justice, does community organizing in her city as a board member of SOUL, writes regularly as part of the vision team for the Disrupt Worship Project, and facilitates workshops on gender and sexuality and the Church in both secular conferences and Christian spaces. She is publishing a book with Broadleaf about her conversion from a white moderate to an abolitionist to be released summer of 2021, with pre-sale orders going live in January. 

Elle has interests in queer and feminist Biblical interpretation and liberation and body theology. 

Elle loves spending time with the people she loves and on weekends when there isn’t a global pandemic, she tours the city of Chicago in search of the best Bloody Mary.

To get in touch with Elle and to keep up with updates,  you can visit her website and subscribe to her newsletter. You can also see her online ministry via or follow her on Twitter/SnapChat/Insta @hownowbrowndowd or on TikTok @elledowdministry

National Coming Out Day:  A Reflection

By Lewis Eggleston
My undergrad degree is in Political Science and I have a Master of Divinity degree, which means, if the expression is true about discussing religion and politics, I’m not allowed to speak at any dinner party.
We’ve all experienced the results if we do talk about these things, however, discussing politics & religion around the dinner table is as old as time. Remember Christ’s first miracle at the Wedding at Cana? I often wonder if Mary was listening to a political or religious debate around her table when she told Jesus, in her best mom voice, “Jesus, please make some wine”. For myself, I know wine did help with the most recent political debates.
Like many LGBTQIA+ folks, I have cherished childhood memories of my extended family around the dinner table at holidays & weddings that I thought would continue on forever, but all that changed when I came out. Going forward any extended family function I would need both Jesus & wine, and like Mary, I made my way through the event because I knew Jesus loves me too.
Do we all wish our friends and family would listen to our prophetic words and insights based on scripture, our experience, and discernment with the Holy Spirit? Of course! But also remembering, as Christ said, no one is accepted as a prophet in their hometown. Meaning, the family members who witnessed our growing up, who changed our diapers, saw us fall down and get hurt, and say some not-so-smart things will most-likely not trust our Gospel message as much as their straight (probably white male) pastor’s message. Christ understood this! Keep preaching the Good News regardless. 
Deciding to be our full authentic selves, similar to articulating our call to ministry, accepting & living into where God is calling us, is a political act. Christ never said, “I came to maintain the status quo. Keep doing everything you’re already doing.” The Gospels are stories about people with changed hearts & minds, and they point to a God desiring abundant lives for all of humanity. Faithful, authentic, honest, gracious, loving people who desire to walk-arm-in-arm with the least of these.
Let us pray,

Gracious God, our spirits are heavy. Our minds comprehend the scripture verse, “there is nothing new under the sun,” that disease, tyranny, & racism have existed and decimated our world before. God of Creation, we ask for the strength to soften hardened hearts, that minds may be opened to the beauty of the earth and of your creation that is still being created. May we enter the voting booths with Love, Joy, & Hope for a future that is abundant & fruitful for all your creation and let us all come out of the voting booth, like Christ came out of the tomb, with a desire to share the Good News and make the world a better place. We ask these things in your Holy name, Amen.

Lewis Eggleston (he/him/his) is the Associate Director of Development & Communications for ELM. He is a candidate for the Ministry of Word & Service and he resides in Kaiserslautern, Germany with his husband Mitchell and dog-child, Carla.

Faith & Politics: Cary Bass-Deschênes

by Rev Cary Bass-Deschênes
“Pastor, I wish you would preach more about the gospel and less about politics.” 

The first Sunday morning I heard this refrain it felt as if I had joined a club, one of which many of my colleagues in areas outside my “liberal” enclave of Berkeley, had long been members. But the sermon the Holy Spirit directed me to preach that Sunday morning was about the divisiveness within the community of Christ, focusing on the calling of Christ to treat one another with love and kindness. 
“You called someone ‘racist’” 

Now wait a second! I most certainly did not call anyone racist in a sermon. The only time I’ve described anyone as ‘racist’ in a sermon would have been first and foremost, myself, in how I benefited from white privilege and was oftentimes negligent in viewing how my non-white, and in particular my Black colleagues regularly experienced discrimination in ways that seemed so subtle to me but were so obvious to them.

So the word ‘racist’ was not in my sermon, and I don’t think I said ‘racism’, did I? However, I could see where this was going. I contextualized a belief I held about why we were where we were: that much of our electorate chose our leaders under the misguided guise of a hierarchal system anointed by a Creator that upheld patriarchal, white supremacy as its standard for the ordering of humanity. That wasn’t simply something I read in a Pathos blog, it was something I experienced firsthand; and not in the comments section of a Time magazine article about the president.  It was in reading the comments on a Facebook post of a first cousin once removed.

Indeed, that was what it was in my sermon that triggered that response from this particular parishioner, who was longing for a message of good news, but instead felt called out by an association with being white. They were so tired of being forced to experience white guilt yet again. Yes, the president is awful, and yes, black people are still the victims of discrimination, but we’re doing the best we can, pastor? I came here to hear that Jesus loves me, not that I should flog myself for being white!

I’ve been a part of my own people’s fights.  I marched on Washington in 1987 after a Supreme Court decision failed to decriminalize sex between consenting men, and marched again in San Francisco in 2008 when voters in California decided to define “marriage” as solely between “man” and “woman.” Around 2008 I also began joining in the struggle for trans rights, hoping to ensure accessibility, acceptance and safety for trans folx. I have personally experienced discrimination, and feel even more disconnected since the current administration came to power in 2016.

But, in many ways, I’m in the best years of my life. I’ve experienced more personal growth since I turned 50 years old, spiritually as well as emotionally; I’ve come to a level of comfort and acceptance about my age, my gender identity, my sexuality, and how that aligns with God’s plan for me. God has created a wonderful being in me, and as I love God, I have come to love God’s creation as it exists within myself. And while, imperfect as I nevertheless still am, it’s not always easy to love myself, when I actualize it, it’s a very good feeling to have finally reached that after so many years of self-spite and self-doubt.

I’ve also come to acceptance of my whiteness, that while I can make conscious efforts to deconstruct it, no matter how much anti-racism or whiteness examination work I do, I will always bear the privilege of it in new spaces and will often be greeted with suspicion by new individuals. Bearing guilt about it is neither constructive, nor asked for. Awareness of it is, and using that privilege to bring about positive change for people is the best way that I can exemplify Jesus’s call in Matthew 22:39 to love my neighbor as myself.

But whereas God’s love is unconditional, my love seems to have boundaries. To me, this upcoming election is serving to emphasize such seemingly irreconcilable differences within our society, differences that extend well beyond the borders of our own now dysfunctional nation. That my values of social justice and equity and racial equality, which for me come directly from the Gospel, seem to be at odds with others’ values of justice.  The hostility that seems to be concentrated within the current administration and one political party toward me in my sexual and gender identity and people of other races and national origin has enablers, those that consistently vote to put those people back into power and control over public policy.  And it is not some tiny minority of voters who are among them, but a large and vocal minority that comprises not less than 1 in 3 of our nation’s population.

Matthew 5:43-45 tells us to love our enemy.  The Greek understanding of the word ἐχθρός (echthros) is of an individual that would seek to cause you mischief or do you harm.  I grew up in a time where children pledged their allegiance to the United States, and that we had a clear enemy, the Soviet Union. Since their collapse, our government has been striving to demonize nations in order that we have a clear and present danger, but as presidential administrations rise and fall, so do these categories of enemies. Today it is easier for us to look within at our cousins, our parents, our siblings. Maybe even our own children. Not just our families of blood but also those that Jesus has called us together: “these are my siblings”, Christ says. And now, my sibling in Christ is also the one who seems to be personally bent on causing me mischief or wishing me harm.

But Jesus tells me to love these people and pray for the ones who persecute me. November 3 seems like it’s the most important election of our lives, but, according to the polls, my vote will be fully canceled by someone whose effect is to persecute me. If this is not my enemy, my echthros, then who is? And while my cis-male-appearing, white, middle aged self is saying, you must do as Jesus says, my queer, non-binary, HIV positive, neurodivergent self is crying out “that’s easy for you, someone with privilege, to do!”

So yes, it’s really hard to love my enemies. But maybe loving them means hearing what they have to say about issues, understanding how they reached that opinion, knowing that they’re nevertheless human beings beloved by God and saved by grace without accepting their opinion about human rights, the climate, reproductive rights or social justice as Christ-centered or inspired by God. Being able to “agree to disagree” with them, all the while knowing that the Good News of Jesus nevertheless commands me to call out injustice, name White Supremacy for what it is and declare demonic the post Great Awakening evangelicalistic idea of a hierarchal order of humankind and to name humanity as poor stewards of God’s gift to us, the creation, the world. And preach that Jesus loves all of us, along with our brokenness. 
It may sound like politics when I preach, but maybe the Good News is there too.

Cary Bass-Deschênes (they/them) has been the lead pastor at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley, California, since 2015; a small congregation with big works; serving the homeless and food-insecure community of San Francisco’s East Bay with meals and a Food Pantry.  They live with their husband, Michael, in their home in Richmond, with their two dogs, Luna and Esby.  They have recently published their third short story, “The Chaos Artist” in the graphic novel A Matter of Right by Variance Press, due out in late Fall, early Winter 2020-21 under the name, Cary Michael Bass.

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

“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.


By Lewis Eggleston

The newest Hairspray movie came out soon after I did. As a gay kid who went to college in rural South Dakota with limited options for fun, my friends and I would blast the Hairspray CD soundtrack as we drove down country roads taking time off from our textbooks for singing & dancing.

While not perfect, Hairspray is a liberative story that affirms “people who are different, their time is coming,” specifically for people of color. Based on true events, Hairspray tells the story of how one Baltimore TV station, in particular the Corny Collins Show, integrated their after-school teen dancing program. One particular song “Welcome to the 60’s” portrays Tracy’s gracious way of telling her mom to “get with the times” and while Tracy listens to her mother’s fears, she encourages her to step out anyway. During this song Tracy continually but sternly points at the tv, making her mother look at the screen. I’m about to take a leap here, but please go with me.

The Church is Mama Turnblad.

Do you see it now?

“I haven’t left this house since 1951?” – Mama Turnblad

Soon after that Tracy grabs her mother’s hand and leads her out the door until they’re outside and Mama Turnblad says, “Oh Tracy, I’m a little light-headed. There’s so much air out here. Can’t we go someplace that’s stuffy?” Tracy said, “No.

However, the most iconic line happens, and if you blink you might miss it, Mama Turnblad says, “Your Mama’s lookin’ at herself and wonderin’ ‘where you been?'” To which Tracy immediately replies with “Where you been?!”

My Dear Church, where you been?! (To boldly paraphrase my beloved Rev. Lenny Duncan)

Now for the big finish, if you’re familiar with this movie musical then you know one of the most iconic songs in Hairspray is Motormouth Maybelle’s “I know where I’ve been” in an AMAZING performance by Queen Latifah. To me, this call and response “Where you been?!” and “I know where I’ve been” is intentional and profoundly poignant.

The reality is, for the most part, we were handed a church that acts like Mama Turnblad. The younger generations continue to pull the church into new times, pointing continuously at the tv, pleading to “get with the times”, leave your “stuffy” sanctuaries that you “haven’t left since 1951”. This call is not new, and neither is the resistance. But, it’s my belief, our collective call is to take Mama Turnblad by the hand and lead her outside into the world until she realizes she has a voice of her own and that voice has the power to make changes in the world. The hope, however, is that someday (hopefully soon) rather than taking Mama Turnblad’s hand and (sometimes forcefully) leading her out the door into the world, we’ll have a church that personifies and literally acts like & resembles Motormouth Maybelle, a church that knows where it’s been, was a leader in the struggle, has pride in her heart because she knows she’s doing the right thing even though it’s hard, and then and ONLY THEN  will our hands be gently holding each other side by side walking in the streets rather than tugging a hand that will hopefully come along like Mama Turnblad. If you don’t know where you been, how do you know where you’re going?

Let us pray, Gracious God, we confess at times we have all been Mama Turnblad, resistant to change, afraid, overly-conscious of how other’s might perceive us, but with kind hearts still. Mold us into leaders like Motormouth Maybelle, may we be a church that is fierce, fabulous, gracious, authentic, aware of other’s struggle, and present in the moment. Amen.

Lewis Eggleston (he/him/his) is the Associate Director of Development and Communications for ELM. He currently lives in Germany with his dog-child and husband awaiting the day he can travel back to visit parents, siblings, and all the nieces and nephews. He is spending his time getting to know his little village and walking the trails around the town castle. Waiting for the day he can be in another musical. 

A Devotion For The Lonely

By Margarette Ouji

We are living in strange and wild times. Times that many of us have never experienced before. Many are living alone, seeing few people, and the people they are seeing are their neighbors who give them the occasional nod, and the grocery store clerk that has been working since the pandemic hit hard in March of this year. The first few weeks of “sheltering in place” weren’t too bad for me, personally. I remember seeing memes that read, “I didn’t know my preferred state of being was called quarantine.” I am a homebody and didn’t mind working from home and only going out to walk the dog and for grocery store runs. 

It is now March 235th and I feel differently. I feel lonely and worried and afraid for the future and I’m sure so many of us do. Especially for those of us with histories of trauma, living through an in real-time trauma can exacerbate our feelings of loneliness, isolation, sadness, and worry, just to name a few. One place that I find solace, where I can go to regulate my emotions, my body, and my spirit, is music. It’s also where I’ve always found God. Listening to her music made me feel like I was being wrapped up in God’s arms. Her words and voice made me feel seen in a way I had never known. In 2003, my mom took me to see Cher perform with Cyndi Lauper, a real dream come true. When Cher sang, “A Song for the Lonely”, I felt the closeness of God and all of her majesty. 

So let it find you
Where ever you may go
I’m right beside you
Don’t have to look no more
You don’t have to look no more, oh no

Her prayerful words in this song have once again found their way onto my “How to Survive A Pandemic” playlist and they continue to bring me comfort and I continue to find God in her captivating voice. I pray that you find comfort in these times of unknown and fear and worry. May God in all of her glory come to you in the mysterious and surprising ways she always does. 

Margarette (she/her/hers) has spent these months during quarantine learning new crochet patterns and moonlighting as a Logistics Specialist for a plant-based meal delivery company. This summer she served as a camp counselor with Queeranteen Camp and participated in a 6-week workshop for queer/trans Iranian-Americans. She will begin her final year of seminary as the Vicar at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Oakland, CA. Margarette is a board member of ELM and was part of the planning team for the 30th anniversary of ELM. She lives in Richmond, CA, with her wife, Abby, and their dog Luther. They’re excited to share that they are expecting their first (human) child at the end of this year! 

Shame on You

by Carla Christopher Wilson
When I came out in 1996 I went on a crash-course epic journey of lesbian fashion tropes. I spent a sweaty New York Pride season in high femme rockabilly, a festie folk Pride in rainbow-striped bandana head wraps and bohemian skirts with ankle bells, and a Pride in gayboy sidekick mode looking like a misplaced Anime character. “Shame on You” was the anthem of my blue jean Pride summer. Retro t-shirts, faded denim, and the inevitable Birkenstock sandals didn’t matter that year as much as the music. Those years in the late 90s saw movement in creation care and planet activism, immigration as a human right touchstone, and a resurgence of feminism in a Womanist reconceiving that embraced Black and Latinx women and femme voices (or at least finally started trying to).
The song “Shame on You” was the lesbian song of the summer, not because it unabashedly celebrated the hard work and divinely sparked humanity of undocumented immigrants while highlighting their contributions to American life, but because it was “a bop”. The song is joyful, upbeat, and imminently singable. It’s infectious, pop-flavored beat is inviting, playful, and irrepressible. Today, in the year of rapid-fire apocalypse aka 2020, I realize how prophetic that vibe was for a sustainable revolution.
In Nehemiah 8:10 we read “The joy of the Lord is your strength” and know we are called to live in such a way that we bring pleasure and joy to God, but think of those who you love in this life. Your partner/s, your care circle or family, your children, and dear friends…what can they do that makes you the happiest? What makes me happiest in my relationship is my spouse’s happiness. Her smile, her playfulness, her relaxation, her satisfaction, her JOY is my joy. If joy comes from love and love is of God then is our rampant, wanton, wild joy perhaps amazingly pleasing to God? Does God giggle and spontaneously clap with a delighted bounce when we are filled with joy? I think it is Biblical to believe so. In Psalm 65, 96, 98 (and countless others) the same earth that God clearly claims as good sings and shouts for joy. God “delights” in the prophet Samuel and King David. Our God is a HAPPY God, and at no time does that make God any less powerful or capable of miracles.
Pride was, and must continue to be, a revolution. It is a deliberate stand against the status quo and a blatant refusal to alter our personal truth for the comfort of those perpetuating or being complicit in our oppression. We are doing powerful and serious work. As the public demonstrations just in 2020 have shown us, from vigils to shut down immigration detention centers, to marching for healthcare as a human right during a pandemic, to standing with Black Lives Matter, there is still a lot of work left to do. If we approach the intersectional and myriad struggles of this broken world without joy, how sustainable will we be?
Pride is a revolution, and no less so because it is also a party. We WILL free slaves with Moses and Miriam and Aaron and then, like them, we will have a karaoke dance party to celebrate it. We will praise God in a revolutionary way by naming and affirming the beauty of God’s creation, namely, each other. We will look at each other and say “It is good”. We will, like Amy and Emily of the Indigo Girls, tell our immigrant siblings “they shine like the sun” AND we will fight for their freedom. We will wash off our sins in the river even as the river playfully sings “lalala”. We will confront police brutality, gentrification, internalized shame and identity struggles just like The Indigo Girls do AND we will wear fabulous clothing, dance, and spend time with our beloved friends like they do in the same song. 
Our joy, in a world that actively seeks our oppression, is a defiant act of resistance. 
Take Sabbath, be happy, practice love of self and others. It’s Biblical. It honors the saints of Stonewall. It’s healthy self-care for a sustainable movement. It’s, simply, fun. And that is good. Let’s pray.
God of every good thing, thank you for the gift of joy, echoed in creation and Pride anthems. Strengthen us for generational journeys toward equality, that our memory and music will be an inspiration to generations. In the beautiful name of Jesus, Amen.

The Rev. Carla Christopher Wilson (she/her) is a redevelopment pastor serving a congregation in Lancaster, PA. Also the co-chair of Lower Susquehanna Synod’s Racial Justice Task Force, Carla is a queer femme Black (and a little Latinx) warrior for self-care and mental health. A former Poet Laureate of York, PA and a published writer, Carla continues to side hustle as a poet until her latest book, Black Catechism, is released later this summer.

“Send me an Angel”

By Austin Newberry

Like a lot of gay men of my generation, I did not even begin to explore what it meant to be gay, much less come out, until my mid-thirties. Unlike most of them, I arrived on the scene directly from a monastery rather than a relationship with a woman. But, like them, I was the proverbial kid in the candy store. A quarter of a century later, (twenty of those with my spouse), I am sometimes tempted to look back on those years with shame. A committed monogamous relationship wasn’t on my agenda.

I was looking. In the words of a song I often heard on my first forays into the bars, I was looking for an angel. I needed angels right then who would tell me that I was desirable. I needed angels to be patient with my inexperience. I needed angels who would help me find a new sense of belonging.

I prayed in sync with the hypnotic beat of “Send Me an Angel”. And, I believe, my prayers were answered with flesh and blood angels, genuine messengers of God. Mostly sweet, patient, generous, loving men, each of them angels unaware, who are all a part of who I am today, including and maybe even especially, the pastor part. When I am tempted to be ashamed of me in those early days or, worse, to see those men as themselves tempters, I remember my song from those days and the men who were an answer to my prayer. Perhaps you have your own angels whom you wish to remember. In this particularly devastating and yet hopeful Pride season, we stand in the midst of a great company of angels, praising God and joining in their song: “Holy, Holy, Holy!”


Austin Newberry (he, him, his) is serving in his first call as a pastor with the community gathered as First Lutheran Church in Louisville, KY and lives with his spouse in Columbus, IN.