Skip to content

Pastoral Letter on the Upcoming Elections

Pastoral Letter of Bishop Guy Erwin to the people of the Southwest California Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, on the upcoming elections.

Dear sisters and brothers, grace and peace to you in the name of Christ!

On Tuesday, November 8, 2016, citizens of the United States and the State of California are called to the polls to cast votes for candidates for office and propositions that will change our laws. To cast such votes, when able to do so, is understood in our country as the highest duty of a citizen. Even for Christians—whose first citizenship is in God’s eternal realm—participation in the political decision-making of the secular state is also a duty to self and neighbor, and should be undertaken conscientiously and with seriousness.

I urge you to vote, and as you do so, to consider the ways your Christian faith should inform your decision-making. In this, as in many of the decisions that we must make as members of a complex, diverse and pluralistic society, a Christian voter needs to consider whether support of a candidate or an issue is consonant with their values and beliefs.

As Christians, we vote because we honor the governing authorities and respect the rule of law. But we also vote because it is a social duty and responsibility. We go to the polls out of respect for the principle of representative government; the votes we cast in turn reflect our care for other humans in the society in which we live together.

From a Lutheran perspective, there are two fundamental questions we must ask ourselves when voting: first, How does my vote live out my love for God, self, and neighbor? and second, Who may benefit and who may be harmed by my choice? The second question amplifies the “love of neighbor” principle already found in the first, but it is appropriate to emphasize that aspect, since voting is an essentially social, public act.

Our church, the ELCA, takes seriously its role as a religious body in a pluralistic, officially faith-neutral constitutional democracy. It abides by the legal injunctions not to instruct its members to vote or against particular candidates or political parties. It may, however, (and does) use its teachings and principles to recommend a stand on issues presented for public judgment. But your vote is ultimately your own, and your conscience and reason must judge a candidate’s or an issue’s merits.

Here in California, ballot propositions and initiatives take up a large part of the ballot. The Lutheran Office of Public Policy in Sacramento makes recommendations for voting on some ballot propositions, when it believes that the ELCA has teaching or social statements that bear on the issue in question. On some propositions, it remains neutral. Beyond that, the California Council of Churches (in which the ELCA participates) stakes out positions as well. These may not in every case match the LOPP recommendations, but generally do. I attach links to those organizations’ websites at the end of this letter.

When you go to the polls, sisters and brothers, take your faith commitments with you. Weigh your decisions according to the questions above: Does this vote show love and support for my neighbor? Does it help others or might it harm them? Some questions may be clear; others less so: our life in society is complicated.

Martin Luther reminds us in his explanations to the Ten Commandments in the Small Catechism that our obligation to God is to support our neighbor. Your voting should reflect that commitment to God and neighbor. Your vote should above all be an act of love and care.

Again and again, Luther insists in the Catechism that obedience to God means care for the needs of others: we respect those in authority; we help and support our neighbors in life’s needs; we honor marriages and support those in them; we help others grow in prosperity; we defend those unjustly maligned; we protect the property of our neighbor for their sake; and we do not take advantage of the weakness of others.

All these things we do for the sake of God’s love for us shown in Jesus Christ. We remember that Christ dwells in us, and we recognize the image of God in our neighbor. This is our faith: the faith in which we live and die; the faith in which we act as neighbors to each other. This is the faith we take to the polls when we go to vote.

With great affection and unswerving confidence in God’s promises, I extend to each of you my blessing: may God grant you strength, serenity, and peace!


November 5, 2016

Lutheran Office of Public Policy:

California Council of Churches: