From a Lay Leader's Desk

A series of opinion articles from lay leaders in our synod.



Sep 28, 2021

By Emma Graeber Porter, a member of New Hope Lutheran Church, Jamaica

2 Cor 3:17 NIV “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom."
These are turbulent and unsettling times in which we are living.   Who among us does not desire independence from the ills of today?  But I ask, Is Independence only reserved for what Americans observe on July 4th – A celebration of history that does not include freedom for people who look like me? Or does it have a broader implication?
While visiting my family in North Carolina to observe ‘Independence Day’ on the 4th of July, we, like so many, were happy to escape the burdens our society has experienced this past year and which are continuing.  We all needed a break from COVID, the 2020 election, racial tensions, climate change, lack of civility and gun violence, just to name a few.  Everyone was elated having fulfilled our pledge to each other to get vaccinated to be ready for our in person gathering after going through the COVID mandated separations.  We enjoyed hugs and going mask-less in our bubble. It was awesome!  My cousin, Sharon Graeber, put pictures on Facebook under the caption “Celebrating with the Fully Vaccinated Graeber Family.” We attended church, then had a big family BBQ with lots of delicious food and fellowship. 
Yet, as we reveled in our joy, we couldn’t dismiss concerns that our future gatherings may be in peril due to rapid increases in COVID cases across the country again.   Even more disturbing is the reality that most new cases are among unvaccinated people who feel their freedom to avoid taking the shots outweighs the overall wellbeing of the general population. Selfish Independence?
There are other imminent threats such as assault on our voting rights, police brutality, gun violence, the absence of civility in our society, climate change and a multitude of other ills bombarding our daily discourse.  The common thread to all of these challenges is a sense of superiority of one person or group over another. Unruly Independence?
Take voting rights for example.   Voting is a right multitudes of people have fought and died to have.  Voting is the most decisive tool that we each have to gain a say in our destiny, i.e. to participate in and have representation in the government governing us.  It is the foundation that paves the way for using our God given voice in determining our path in life. Voting has also become the thing people who want to block free access to voting fear.  They choose their desire for political power over the rights of all. Misguided Independence?
Then there’s police brutality, which was so prominently displayed in the death of George Floyd.  The verdict is still out on how the outcome of the Floyd trial will impact other current and future cases affecting our Black and Brown communities.  Will victims and their families know independence from this type of oppression? Uncertain Independence?
Gun violence is as common as a car backfiring in some of our neighborhoods.  Unfortunately it takes the lives of those in disputes as well as innocent bystanders at an alarming rate.  Here too, someone chooses their independence over the life of another. Unbridled Independence?
Those of us old enough to remember taking Civics Class in school know how much education on civics is needed today.   Civics teaches the rights and duties of being good citizens and how our behavior affects the well-being of others.  Civil discourse is at an all-time high.  Consider the increase in unprovoked racial and ethnic attacks on innocent people and fights in airports and on planes. Even our church, the ELCA, is struggling with treating people equally as it reckons with racial discrimination. Callous Independence?
Climate change is also an example of uncontrolled independence that is threatening the future of all of us.  Decisions are being made big corporations, people and the government that ignore the fact that the consequences of those decisions and actions are interdependent with and have bad climate implications.  Weather conditions are unpredictable.  Water and food supply are at risk.   For far too long a few have exerted their independence to hoard and misuse the resources needed by all. Greedy Independence?
So, what role should we as Christians play in the context of these complex issues to ensure everyone’s Independence?  Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”.   As declared by Theodore Roosevelt, “This country will not be a good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a good place for all of us to live in.”  Christians are called to make this a reality by refusing to be silent when we should oppose injustices waged against anyone. We are the change that will create Christian Independence, freeing everyone from oppression.  Rev. King said, “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”  So, will you march? Will you vote? Will you lift your voice?  Independence for everyone depends on each of us participating to ensure it.
Phil 3:12 NIV “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”