I need to take a few moments away from "The Saga of the Web-Surfing Squatter" to share a good word for my friend and parishioner, State Senator Dan Watermeier.
I have come to know Dan as a man of great integrity, abundant patience, and personal generosity. He is a freshman senator from the area where I serve as interim pastor. Recently, the Nebraska unicameral voted to retain the death penalty within the bounds of the Nebraska penal code. Dan voted in favor of that action.
Let me hasten to say that Dan and I agree on some matters of public policy and disagree on others. We sit on different parts of the political spectrum. I support the ELCA's social statement on the death penalty and desire that it would be abolished in each and all jurisdictions in our country. Dan is of a different opinion, as is the majority of his constituents. I know that he voted his conscience and as the elected representative of his district.
That is as it should be.
A few days ago I received unsigned postcards urging me to challenge Dan on his vote. The messages were self-righteous, strident, and (worst of all) anonymous. Dan had the courage of his convictions to register a very public vote and then to take the consequences of that vote. He does not have the luxury of sending unsigned diatribes through the U.S. mail. Thus, while I disagree with the vote, I can only applaud Dan's willingness to lead and to serve.
If someone wants to share an opinion with me, that opinion had better come with a name attached. Otherwise it goes immediately into the recycle bin.
The assertion in the message was that somehow one cannot be a faithful ELCA Lutheran and support the death penalty. I cannot as a person and a pastor, reconcile the public policy of state-sponsored executions with my faith position. However, I know that others can do that. We are the church of "evangelical freedom," are we not? We know that the whole law is summed up in one sentence--to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are permitted to dialogue and to differ on how that sentence is applied in our personal and our public lives.
Dialogue is impossible, however, when one of the dialogue partners remains in the shadows of anonymity. I am embarrassed that people with whom I share a policy agreement would engage in such a shabby tactic. I know that I stand in good company when I assert that I will defend Dan's right to vote his conscience even when I disagree with that position.
Democracy is indeed the worst form of human government--except for any other. Our system works best when people stand in the light of day and engage in civil and honest debate. So if someone wishes to send me another message about how I ought to counsel one of my parishioners, have the good sense and the good grace to sign it, please.
Dan, thank you for your unselfish service to the state of Nebraska. Keep up the good work!