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When a candidate is in the flock

With Lutherans running for office, pastors care for politicians

Unlike in the 2012 presidential election, religion has not become a matter of debate in Minnesota’s election campaigns this cycle. But, as would probably be expected, most of the candidates have claimed religious traditions. At least four of the candidates running for the U.S. House are Lutheran — Rep. Collin Peterson (MN-7), Rep. Erik Paulsen (MN-3), Rep. Tim Walz (MN-1), and Walz’ opponent, Allen Quist.

And while it is often volatile to mix religion and politics, it is true that these public servants also have private faith lives and church memberships. Pastors provide moral and spiritual guidance, as well as offer pastoral care. What would be required of a servant of the gospel who was also shepherd to a politician?

Jessicah Duckworth

“First and foremost, the pastor of a politician needs to let that public servant know that the church is a confidential place, a protective place, to discern and wonder about policies and votes,” said Jessicah Duckworth, assistant professor of congregational and community care at Luther Seminary, St. Paul. “He or she must create sacred space for deliberation and spiritual wondering.

“After all, where does a public figure go when being torn down or when their identity is being stripped away,” Duckworth added. “And that is especially true for the families, because, remember, they are seeing all the ads and speeches that can be very negative. So the pastor should intentionally touch base with the spouse and the children to make sure that they are okay in the midst of the anger around them.”

Proclaiming the gospel to all those in the pew

Such concern seems to come naturally in a number of Lutheran congregations. “No one at Victory is star-struck [with member Erik Paulsen],” explained the Rev. Brandon Prigge, pastor at Victory Lutheran Church (LCMS), Eden Prairie, Minnesota. “Around here, he is just a guy; heaven doesn’t open just because he opens the door. … This is a spiritual home, and we respect that [space].”

Prigge even said that sometimes he surprises himself when reminded by a television commercial that Paulsen is a member and a member of Congress.

“Where does a public figure go when being torn down or when their identity is being stripped away,” Duckworth said.

The Rev. John Petersen, Christ the King Lutheran Church (ELCA), Mankato, where Rep. Tim Walz is on the rolls, said, “It really doesn’t matter who is in the pew on a given day; we are called to proclaim the Gospel.”

The Rev. Craig Ferkenstad, Norseland Lutheran Church (ELS), St. Peter, the home congregation of First Congressional District candidate Allen Quist, said, “Partly because of Lutheran recognition of the Two Kingdoms, the separation of church and state, we tend to leave the ways of the world behind as we enter the doors.”

Ferkenstad, Petersen, and Prigge all said that they don’t really think about their candidate/members as they prepare the message. “Whenever I prepare a message, I hope the Gospel has impact somewhere, somehow. A candidate’s presence doesn’t change that.”

Duckworth adds one suggestion however. “We should pray for all elected officials visibly in the church. We should ask the candidates, ‘Would you like us to pray with you?,’ and extend them, not endorsements, but blessings.”

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