ELCA Presiding Bishop Releases Letter to the Presidential Candidates

On Sept 28, only a few days before the first presidential debate, the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) released an open letter criticizing the focus and strategies of both the Republican and Democratic presidential campaigns.

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson’s letter, addressed to President George W. Bush and U.S. Senator John F. Kerry, challenged the two nominees to address concerns beyond terrorism and fear.

"We know the reality of fear," Hanson wrote in his letter. "Please do not appeal to our fears. As people of faith, we claim the biblical promise, 'Do not be afraid.' We need a vision of our shared future with all of God's creation. Do not reduce all of the cries of suffering humanity to this single issue."

Hanson said that while terrorism “haunts our times,” there are other important concerns that must be addressed, such as "hunger and poverty, corrupt and brutal political systems, harsh discrimination and social inequalities, civil wars, environmental degradation and epidemic diseases."

"These, too, are sources of insecurity and hopelessness for millions," Hanson said. "They do not belong in a world that is increasingly interconnected. To neglect or to be indifferent to these realities while countering terrorism is both morally wrong and shortsighted."

Additionally, Hanson censured the “tone and content” of both campaigns, telling the two candidates that such personal attacks add nothing to the depth of the debates.

“Stop looking back 30 years and challenging each other's military service. We need you to provide us with a vision for the next 30 years,” said Hanson. “Help us see what responsibilities and possibilities come with the privilege of freedom and the abundance of prosperity."
This is not the time for the United States to withdraw from the world or seek to "dominate the world with our economic and military power," Hanson added.

"We need to hear what it means for our nation to be stewards of that power for the sake of peace and the well-being of all God's children," he said. "It is time to stand with all who suffer in the world, all who live daily with the reality of violence, and it is time to work together so that all might have daily bread and experience justice, mercy and peace."

Hanson, the president of the 66 million member Lutheran World Federation, concluded his message by saying he would continue to pray for both candidates and their families as they continue their campaigns.

The following is the full text of the letter as released by the ELCA on Sept 28:

An Open Letter to President George W. Bush and Senator John F. Kerry
September 27, 2004

Dear President Bush and Senator Kerry:

As a religious leader and as a citizen with great regard for this country, I make this plea on the eve of your first presidential debate.

It is time for the tone and the content of your campaigns to change. The world is watching this election closely. The challenges facing this country and the magnitude of the issues confronting the world are too grave and complex for negativity.

We know the reality of fear. Please do not appeal to our fears. As people of faith, we claim the biblical promise, “Do not be afraid.” We need a vision of our shared future with all of God’s creation.

Please stop looking back 30 years and challenging each other's military service. We need you to provide us with a vision for the next 30 years. What will the world look like if we do not work together to stem the tide of the HIV/AIDS pandemic? What life will our children have if we continue to deplete the earth’s resources, and pollute streams and the air? How will we justify that we are people of faith if the chasm between those with wealth and those in poverty continues to widen? How can we describe ourselves as the land of the free if more and more citizens will be denied access to affordable housing and health care, living-wage jobs and decent education?

Help us see what responsibilities and possibilities come with the privilege of freedom and the abundance of prosperity.

This is not the time for the United States to withdraw from the world or seek to dominate the world with our economic and military power. We need to hear what it means for our nation to be stewards of that power for the sake of peace and the well-being of all God’s children. It is time to stand with all who suffer in the world, all who live daily with the reality of violence, and it is time to work together so that all might have daily bread and experience justice, mercy and peace.

Yes, terrorism haunts our times. We must resoundingly reject such violence. One role of government is to protect society. Please do not reduce all of the cries of suffering humanity to this single issue.

Yes, terrorism haunts our times, but so do hunger and poverty, corrupt and brutal political systems, harsh discrimination and social inequalities, civil wars, environmental degradation and epidemic diseases. These, too, are sources of insecurity and hopelessness for millions. They do not belong in a world that is increasingly interconnected. To neglect or to be indifferent to these realities while countering terrorism is both morally wrong and shortsighted.

As people of faith, our hope is in God. As it is written in the Psalms, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalms 46:1)

I will continue to pray for both of you and your families as you continue this campaign.

In God's grace,
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson
Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Chicago