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Cultivating a moral sense in the nation's capital

The Luther Institute focuses on faith and ehics

Until recently, the Lu-ther Institute has been a well-kept secret, largely invisible to most Lutherans outside the beltway that encircles Washington, D.C. The current president, Laura Mitchell, is determined to change that.
Speaking with the editor of Metro Lu-theran during a re-cent visit to the Twin Cities, the energetic head of the trans-Lutheran organization described the center’s current activities:
* Lay programming (which is beginning to be beamed to local congregations via satellite).
* A Lutheran Study Center, designed for Luther-an college and seminary faculty. The Institute annually provides four academics $5,000 apiece, study support matched by the school where the faculty person teaches.
* The annual Wittenberg Awards Dinner (see box, top right), which celebrates the accomplishments of notable Lutheran individuals and institutions.
And, for the future:
* “First book” support, helping a Lutheran academic complete his or her first major scholarly publication.
n A scholar-in-residence program, with financial support for one year.
* A Network of Lutheran Academies.
* Conferences, the first of which may be for Lutheran business leaders.
The Institute grew out of a national tragedy. After the Watergate scandal ended the presidency of Richard Nixon, Lutherans in the nation’s capital, primarily at Reformation Lutheran Church, asked how their faith tradition could link moral discourse and public policy. The Institute was born at Reformation Church in 1983. A nonprofit organization, it salaries four part-time employees and is extremely frugal with its limited financial resources. Its annual budget is in the $250,000 range.
Mitchell’s husband is an economist for the Federal Reserve Board, enabling her to work part-time.
“Originally,” she says, “the Center was driven and sponsored by lay people. The focus has always been on the Lutheran laity. We want especially to help those making public policy.”
That focus gets theological energy from a unique Lutheran doctrine, “the Two Kingdoms.” Martin Luther formulated the concept, which argues that Christians are citizens of two realms simultaneously, the Church and the world. God rules both, and Christians need to be engaged in both.
That means Lutherans need to be equipped to serve in government, as many currently do. Mitchell says, “The D.C. scene isn’t very civil these days. But Lutherans, whatever their political leanings, can move beyond polarization.”
The Center sponsors a monthly breakfast for Lutherans on Capitol Hill. Mitchell says 12-20 usually participate, most of whom tend to be congressional staffers. She hastens to add, “We work with staffers because they’re change agents.”
What’s striking about Laura Mitchell’s passion for Lutheran identity and influence in the public realm is the fact that she grew up in a different tradition.
“I was Presbyterian. I married a Roman Catholic. We moved to Madison, Wisconsin, and, one Sunday morning, drove by the front door of Bethel Lutheran Church. We went in and experienced Lutheran liturgy and a sermon about grace. It was wonderful. We knew we were home.”
To learn more about the Luther Institute, visit www.
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2004 Luther Institute Wittenberg Awards to be presented in Washington, D.C. November 6
* The Rev. Herbert F. Brokering, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Author, lyricist, peace partner, hymnist (and previous winner of the Metro Lutheran Gold Pen Award).
* The Rev. J. David Simonson & Eunice Nordby Simonson, Fergus Falls, Minnesota and Arusha, Tanzania. Founders of the Monduli Secondary School for Maasai Girls.
* The founders of the “Davey and Goliath” animated TV series.
* Dr. Norman Borlaug, Mexico City, Mexico. Father of the “Green Revolution.”
* The Rev. Julius Jenkins. President, Concordia College, Selma, Alabama.