Called to Citizenship

Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

​by Dustin Wright, intern, Lutheran Office for World Community at the United Nations

In one of the most cherished verses of the Hebrew Bible, the prophet Micah exclaims “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (6:8). As Lutherans, we simply cannot help but respond to God’s saving love by doing as Micah encourages. We walk humbly with God through prayer and worship, act in kindness by supporting and welcoming our neighbors, and do justice by advocating for and accompanying those who have little voice in our communities and around the world. While it is not particularly controversial that we should do this, discerning how to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God can often be difficult — especially in the aftermath of a long campaign season, which left many of us exhausted.

Looking at such a challenge through the lens of Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon’s theology of vocation can greatly assist us (Melanchthon was a colleague of Luther’s and one of the first Protestant intellectual leaders). Both Luther and Melanchthon believed that all of us, not just pastors, are called to multiple vocations. In a time where the lives of monks and other clergy were deemed more holy than that of the common believer, the reformers argued that even the most mundane ways we serve others were equally important. As Luther states in “The Large Catechism,”

Is it not a tremendous honor to know this and to say, “If you do your daily household chores, that is better than the holiness and austere life of all the monks?”… How could you be more blessed or lead a holier life, as far as works are concerned? In God’s sight it is actually faith that make a person holy; it alone serves God, while our works serve people (LC IV.145-146). 

We can live out a calling to serve through our chosen careers, and we can also serve through other vocations, like being a loving parent or child, a supportive friend, and even an active citizen.

Living under our contemporary American system of democracy, it’s easy to see our call to citizenship as fulfilled primarily by voting every year. Although voting is indeed a central aspect of active citizenship, our role as citizens didn’t stop last month. Staying informed, contacting our government officials, and encouraging others to do the same through mutual conversation, blog posts or letters to newspaper editors are other important ways to live out our calling. As an intern at the Lutheran Office for World Community at the United Nations, I can certainly say from experience that public officials uniquely value input from people of faith. They want to hear from us. The advocacy ministries of our church help coordinate these efforts, so when we speak out on an issue, we are doing so with a united and orchestrated voice.

Regardless of the specific actions we take, this vocational calling to active citizenship is best carried out when our advocacy efforts reflect both moral deliberation in our faith communities and service to our neighbors near and far. Service efforts often help unify our ELCA congregations, and when service is the basis of Lutheran advocacy, we speak to our public officials with a more cohesive, informed, and faithful voice, urging them to make decisions about laws and resolutions that deeply impact the lives of our neighbors and the vibrancy of God’s creation.