Dr. Uwe Siemon-Netto, theologian and journalist, addresses the importance of voting as a believer with “God’s Divine Call to the Polls.”
by April Bayer
Celebrated journalist and Lutheran lay theologian Dr. Uwe Siemon-Netto recently visited Concordia’s campus to talk to students about voting as a Christian and the importance of ethical journalism.
Siemon-Netto was born in Leipzig, Germany in 1936 and shared vivid childhood memories of experiencing Allied attacks on the city during World War II. During this formative time in his life, Siemon-Netto was inspired by the service of his Lutheran grandmother, who dedicated lots of time to providing food and supplies to those in need, even after losing her sister to one of the bombings.
“I am 82 years old, and I can tell you not a day goes by that I haven’t thought about (my grandmother’s) marvelous personality of courage,” Siemon-Netto said. “You know, in the war, we starved, especially in the post-war. She would take a rucksack full of cans (of food), jumped on a train, walked through the countryside, and came back…carrying more than her own weight. She did this not for herself. She did it for us, her family, and of course, for the neighbors.”
Siemon-Netto said that his grandmother’s care for others would go on to influence his faith and his approach to journalism. He began his journalism career in 1956 with the Westfalenpost, a newspaper in Westfalia, West Germany. He later become an editor for The Associated Press in Frankfurt, Bonn and Berlin and covered news stories around the world. Some of Siemon-Netto’s coverage includes the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1967, the Battle of Ia Drang and the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War, the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War in 1967, and China’s Cultural Revolution.
In his presentation, Siemon-Netto focused on the United Kingdom’s recent decision to leave the European Union, commonly known as Brexit, as an example of how journalistic malpractice can influence voters and cause them to make decisions that have the potential to harm their countries.
“We cannot call ourselves responsible democrats if we vote on behalf of ourselves and on behalf of our vengeance, hatred, scared posts in the media,” Siemon-Netto said. “If you want to be a lover (of others) and a good neighbor, then you have to inform yourself.”
Siemon-Netto has studied and written extensively on Martin Luther’s doctrines of vocation and the two kingdoms and is currently a Senior Distinguished Fellow of 1517 The Legacy Project, a nonprofit dedicated to carrying on Luther’s tradition and educating people about his theology.
Siemon-Netto said Christians should view voting as a way of fulfilling the vocation of serving their neighbors in love, whether that be in their own country or those from other countries.
“In your vocation, you don’t have to anything special. Be a student, but do it with love for your neighbor,” Siemon-Netto said.
Siemon-Netto also pointed out that Christians live in a difficult and sinful world but that they can look to Christ for hope and guidance.
“If we make a seemingly reasonable wrong decision, God will already correct our mistakes,” Siemon-Netto said. “Looking at the structure of the universe, at cells and atoms and the beauty of nature, reason will tell us there is a Creator.”
Dr. Edgar Ziegler, a retired dentist who recently moved to Seward and whose children attended Concordia, said that Siemon-Netto’s stories about his grandmother and childhood during World War II were especially meaningful to him. They reminded him of the time he witnessed a Nazi military parade in Nuremberg, during a trip to visit family in 1937. Ziegler was seven years old at the time.
“The parade started, and I can remember Hermann Göring who headed the Luftwaffe, Joseph Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler (and) Rudolf Hess and then, in the midst of this, came a great big long Mercedes with Adolf Hitler riding in it,” Ziegler said. “I saw him go by, waving, not unlike our politicians today.”
Ziegler said he saw God’s will working in many ways to reunite his family in Germany and the United States after World War II and that Siemon-Netto’s presentation showed how God’s will is still present at the polls and in our government today.
“As (Dr. Siemon-Netto) mentioned tonight, ultimately, God’s will is going to prevail, as much as we like to think we can change it and remedy it and make it better,” Ziegler said.