On Saturday, a gunman interrupted worship at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Eleven people were killed, and six were injured. But the destruction goes beyond that house of worship, beyond Pittsburgh. The world is in mourning, and Jewish communities are questioning whether they can ever feel safe. The response to the massacre was worldwide-- mourning the dead, and lamenting the increasing instances both of anti-Semitic atrocities and of mass shootings in houses of worship.
In the United States in the last few years there have been too many shootings in houses of worship. Think Charleston—Mother Emanuel AME. Think Knoxville—Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist. Think Oak Creek—a Sikh temple. Think Sutherland Springs—First Baptist. And now Pittsburgh—Tree of Life Synagogue. Violation of the sacred space of worship is particularly heinous. It transgresses all decency. All public and private spaces should be immune from violence. Historically, places of worship have been, by definition, sanctuaries, safe places.
The anti-Semitism espoused by the alleged killer in Pittsburgh is completely unacceptable under any circumstances. Jews have been the victims of anti-Semitism for too long. For centuries, Jews were oppressed in Europe, under Christian rulers, faring much better under Muslim rulers who were far more tolerant. “Christian” anti-Semitism came to a peak under Nazi Germany, when Hitler and his followers attempted to exterminate all the Jews in Europe.
Post World War II, as the facts about the Holocaust came out, both secular and religious leaders made attempts to address the anti-Semitism that was at the root of the unthinkable attempt to exterminate a whole people. Nations passed laws, and religious groups, having discovered that some of their teachings were used to justify anti-Semitism, made declarations of support for the Jewish community worldwide, and repudiated any past declarations that were derogatory towards Jews.
Montana has not been immune to anti-Semitism. In the 1990’s, acts of anti-Semitism led to the overwhelming community response, led by the churches, “Not in Our Town.” More recently in the Flathead, there was an organized campaign of harassment of Jews, which was, again, opposed by an interfaith coalition, including Lutherans.
The ELCA apologized for past bigotry and harm in a 1994 Declaration, saying: “We recognize in anti-Semitism a contradiction and affront to the Gospel, a violation of our hope and calling, and we pledge this church to oppose the deadly working of such bigotry, both within our own circles and in the society around us.” Along with the Lutheran World Federation, our church has repudiated the many unfortunate anti-Semitic statements made by Martin Luther. Clearly, those statements have been part of the problem.
In 1995, the Montana Synod entered into an historic agreement with the Montana Association of Jewish Communities (MAJCO), pledging common support, prayer and solidarity. We re-affirmed the agreement in 2015. You can find it on our web site. As I wrote to the various Jewish communities across the state this week, expressing condolences and support, I made reference to our agreement from 1995. And I also promised that you, the people of the Montana Synod, were in this with me, that you would pray for and stand with your Jewish neighbors in this difficult time for them. We are in this for the long haul.
Regardless of your religious orientation, anti-Semitism is never acceptable, and violence is never acceptable. Because of increasing acts of anti-Semitism both in our country and abroad, many Jewish communities are feeling vulnerable. It is not enough to wring our hands and wish it would go away. Resisting anti-Semitism and other kinds of bigotry is needed, now more than ever. Please show your solidarity with your Jewish neighbors, by letting them know that you stand with them, and will not tolerate their rights and their safety being threatened by anyone.
For those of us who are religious, it is a religious imperative. And for all of us, religious or not, it is a civic imperative, enshrined in the Bill of Rights.
Bishop Jessica Crist
Do you remember last year at this time? (We were not tied up in mid-term elections.) We were up to our ears in Reformation 500 observances. From local congregational observances to world-wide celebrations, Lutherans and our partners found ways to use the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the 95 Theses to accomplish all sorts of things.
One of those things was simply to demonstrate that we have come a long way in 500 years. No longer are Lutherans and Catholics at war. No longer are Lutherans and Reformed at each others’ throats. We are in full-communion agreement with 3 Reformed Churches (United Church of Christ, Reformed Church in America, Presbyterian church in the USA), and with other churches as well (including The Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church and the Moravians)—all different strands of the Reformation. And we are in cordial conversation with other Protestants, and deep ongoing dialogue with the Catholic Church. We still have our differences, but we have more peaceful ways to address them. We have come a long way in 500 years.
In previous Reformation anniversaries there was sometimes a whiff of triumphalism. That was absent in 2017. Not only did we celebrate, we also repented the excesses of our ancestors in faith, who condemned each other privately and publicly.
In our Synod last year, we had a joint Convocation with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Great Falls-Billings and discussed the Five Ecumenical Imperatives for Lutherans and Catholics. We also had a joint vespers service at the Helena Cathedral, with a joint choir, and preaching from 2 Catholic Bishops and 2 Lutheran Bishop—to an overflow crowd.
The Reformation commemoration also gave us a good chance to learn more about the theological and biblical and ecclesial issues of the Reformation. Many congregations had special adult studies on the Reformation and on the essentials of Lutheranism. In the several years leading up to the anniversary, a task force from the Montana Synod produced resources on the Reformation for both adults and kids There is no reason not to use them. They stand the test of time. Check out our web site.
The Reformation anniversary gave us a chance to broaden our horizons about the ongoing impact of the Lutheran faith. In Tanzania, a crowd of 40,000 stood in the rain to hear a Reformation sermon. The Lutheran World Federation, who began the year of observance with a service with the Pope in Sweden, concluded the year in Namibia. We experienced deep interest in the Reformation in both our companion synods—the Cape Orange Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa and the Bolivian Evangelical Lutheran Church.
So many things were happening in 2017 around the 500th anniversary that some people joked about “Reformation fatigue.” But the Reformation was not a fleeting thing, a fad that fades. The Reformation was a fundamental rethinking of church and salvation, a re-imagining of Christian life, a focus on education, and a reclaiming of the power and authority of the Bible. As Lutherans in 2018, we are Reformation Christians. Thanks be to God!
Jessica Crist, Bishop
One hundred years ago “the war to end all wars” ended. It was November 11, 1918. Soon thereafter the President declared November 11 to be Armistice Day, in honor of the peace that was to follow. In the 1950’s, the name changed to Veterans Day, but the emphasis stayed on honoring veterans and promoting peace.
We have not managed to do away with war in the last hundred years. Currently our country is embroiled in our longest war ever, with no apparent end in sight. And yet we still hope and pray for peace, and we honor those who serve.
Our church, the ELCA, has a social statement on peace, “For Peace in God’s World.” adopted in 1995. The statement was written after the Cold War and before 9/11. “At the end of a tumultuous and violent century, we share with people everywhere hope for a more peaceful and just world….As our world discards the mind-set of the Cold War and faces the new threats and opportunities of a changing time, we join with others in searching for what makes for peace.”
The statement reminds us that earthly peace is not the same as the promised peace of God’s present and future eternal reign. As Christians we work and we pray for both. “Trust in God’s promise of final peace freely given in Jesus Christ alone drives us to engage fully in the quest to build earthly peace.” “Through the cross of Christ, God calls us to serve the needs of our neighbor, especially those groups and individuals who suffer and are vulnerable.” “Sharing a common humanity with all people, we are called to work for peace throughout the globe.”
The last half of the social statement is about the Christian responsibility to be engaged in the world, advocating and working for peace and justice. We are not a pacifist church. We do not refuse participation in the political order or in military service, and we do not automatically condemn all involvement in military engagement. The statement outlines “Just War” criteria, including: right intention, justifiable cause, legitimate authority, last resort, declaration of war aims, proportionality, and reasonable chance of success.
Twenty years later, there is much conversation among theologians as to whether there can be a “Just War” in an age of non-state terrorism, nuclear weapons and drones. The statement encourages Christians to stay engaged in conversation, prayer and advocacy.
And the statement urges Christians to work for a culture of peace, to strive for an economy with justice, and to move towards a politics of cooperation. Included in these are: respect for human rights; discouraging the glorification of violence; foreign aid; controlling the arms trade; NGOs working for peace; care for refugees and migrants.
The ELCA seeks to support the men and women who serve in the armed services, through chaplaincy. Currently our Synod has 2 active pastors who are also chaplains or candidates—Marlow Carrels in Westby and Jayson Nicholson in Laurel. Ken DuVall, retired, continues work on behalf of the VA. Montana and Wyoming have a high percentage of veterans. Our people volunteer at higher rates than most of the rest of the country.
This year Veterans Day falls on a Sunday. Elsewhere in the e-news you can find resources for worship on Veterans Day, from the ELCA. Also, this year, the Montana Veterans Memorial is inviting all congregations who have bells to ring their bell 21 times at 11 am on November 11, as part of the “Bells of Peace.”
We pray, gracious God, that swords will be turned into plowshares and that peace will reign. We give thanks for all who have served. Shield from danger those who bravely protect us. With them, may we glory not in war, but in your love and righteousness. Strengthen us to be peacemakers in the world. Amen.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Veterans day worship resources
You may know that I have just returned from Australia, where I was attending the decision-making gathering of the Lutheran Church of Australia (which also includes New Zealand.) At the meeting, they re-elected Presiding Bishop John Henderson, failed to get enough votes to authorize the ordination of women, and accepted a reconciliation initiative with Aboriginal people. In addition to attending the Australian equivalent of our Churchwide Assembly, I was able to spend a few days in the back country, where the LCA works with Aboriginal people.
Europeans came to Australia later than to North and South America. Germans came to a place they named Hermannsburg, in the center of the country, deep in the country of the Aboriginals, in 1877. Unlike some other Europeans, these German Lutherans considered the people they encountered to be fully human, and they even learned one of the local languages. They set up a church and a school and a tannery, as a job training facility. Hermannsburg today continues to be a center for outreach to Aboriginals, with several dozen Aboriginal pastors serving dozens of remote Aboriginal communities on behalf of the Lutheran Church of Australia. Recently an Aboriginal choir went on a world tour, and when they got to Hermannsburg, Germany, they called it the "Boomerang Tour." They wanted to thank the Germans of Hermannsburg, Germany, for coming to Hermannsburg, Australia to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
On Monday of this week it was Columbus Day for some people, and Indigenous People's Day for others. In this last month I have spent time with indigenous people in Bolivia (our whole church there is indigenous), and again in Australia. And, of course, the Montana Synod has 2 ministries on reservations, focusing on indigenous people. In each of these continents-North America, South America and Australia--there were people there before the European colonizers came. In each of these continents--and Africa as well--the original inhabitants were treated brutally by the invaders, and we all live with the consequences. History moves on, but we all live with the consequences.
At the same time that Europeans were exploring the unknown world, the Pope sent forth a papal bull that is the basis for the doctrine of discovery. In that doctrine, the Pope authorized, even obligated, explorers to take possession on any land not populated by Christians. The explorers from Catholic countries followed his orders, making the natives convert or die. So, did the non-Catholic explorers. They at least followed the "take possession of any land" part of the edict, even if they did not perform such violent conversions. We are still living with the aftermath of the doctrine of discovery, and in 2016 the ELCA voted to repudiate it, following the lead of a number of other denominations.
So what does it mean for Christians in 2018 to repudiate the doctrine of discovery? Clearly we cannot undo history. And nobody is asking us to. But what we can do, as a first step, is to learn history, to hear the voices who have not been heard, and to understand the impact of colonization upon indigenous people all over the globe. It is not enough to say, "I didn't do anything wrong." It is not about individuals, but rather the whole culture. Those of us in the majority culture benefit from the many ways that the indigenous culture was shortchanged by the European-Americans. The least we can do is learn the history.
As Christians we believe that we are one in Christ. All of us. That doesn't erase history. But it reminds us that as family, we are equal in God's eyes. And we should strive to do likewise--to see the value in every person, beloved children of God, who made us all in the divine image, who created all that there is and all that there will be.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
I am writing this from Sydney, Australia, where I am representing the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA at the Lutheran Church of Australia. This will be a busy convention, with some pretty contentious issues. One of the most hotly debated issues is “the Ordination of women and men,” as the issue is now framed. Three times since 2000, the church has voted on women’s ordination. Three times it has failed, the latest being in 2015, when it fell just a few votes short of the needed 2/3.
As the chair of the ELCA’s 50th Anniversary of Women’s Ordination, I am not neutral on the subject. Our church decided the issue in 1970, and although we have had some bumps in the road, we haven’t looked back. So, when Presiding Bishop Eaton asked me to attend this meeting in a church in which women’s ordination was not a settled issue, I was of two minds. On the one hand, I was eager to be a witness to the benefits of women’s ordination, of celebrating the leadership gifts of both women and men. And on the other hand, I was loathe to go backwards, to relive the arguments that our church settled almost 5 decades earlier, and, if I am being brutally honest, I was wary of the kind of vulnerability it would take to be a living representative of what this church is debating.
So, I am in Sydney, with the Lutheran Church of Australia, the only ordained woman in a crowd of about 600. As people notice me, they either welcome me warmly, or they avert their eyes. I am kind of used to that. On official visits to Rome I have been cursed, spit at, and blessed. Once, my very presence as a clergywoman at a papal gathering, caused 4000 people to gasp when I turned around. The official representative from the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod has not made an effort to speak with me.
At opening worship, I saw one other woman in a clergy shirt. She was a visiting Anglican. We looked at each other. I said, “You are a pastor!” And she responded, “You are a Bishop!”
There are other international guests—from Cambodia, Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia. All, with the exception of the LCMS, represent churches that ordain women, and have done so for some time. The majority of the laity favor women’s ordination. So, it will come down to the clergy, who have had a privileged status in the church. The Australian Church, like ours, is anticipating a clergy shortage.
As I prepared for this trip, and as I have been here in Australia, I have received encouraging messages from people, telling me to “go for it!”, to “make a difference!”, to “make it happen!” All that comes naturally to me. That’s how I like to operate. But that is not my job here. Here, I am called to accompany. (I have recently returned from a Companion Synod visit in which we talked about accompaniment constantly. And here I am in Sydney, learning all over again that I am here for not for advocacy, but for accompaniment.)
I ask for your prayers as I accompany the Australian Church through this vote. And I ask for your prayers as I learn from this church, hear of their work with refugees, with aboriginal people, with disaster relief, with theological education.
In the end, we are one in Christ, regardless of how the vote turns out. And that is an important thing for us to remember for our church as well. We may not always agree on issues, even issues that are critically important, but we are, by our Baptism, one in Christ.
And I thank God for that. And for you!
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Lutherans do a pretty good job of responding to hunger. Lutherans in the Montana Synod are food producers—wheat, barley, cattle, and more. We understand where food comes from, and are grateful for the opportunity to be part of feeding the world.
Our congregations respond to hunger, as well. We have food pantries, soup kitchens, community gardens, homeless ministries, backpack programs, snacks for schools, sandwich ministries. We support local food distribution programs, and we support churchwide hunger appeals.
When the ELCA began in 1988, we made a decision to have an annual world hunger appeal. And we have done so every year since then. In this last year we raised over twenty million dollars across the ELCA. Some congregations have a monthly extra offering for world hunger. Some do a special appeal. Some rely on individual gifts. Some make a congregational offering. In my congregation, we went from paying little attention to the issue to being the Synod’s top giving congregation, simply by appointing an advocate who encouraged us once a month to be generous. It worked.
Our Synod has a World Hunger Coordinator, Pastor Jessie Obrecht of Fairfield. She is eager to work with congregations and individuals to find ways to increase their impact on world hunger. Our Synod is fortunate to have had a variety of hunger coordinators over the years, many of whom are still in our Synod, and still committed to world hunger. They include: Jan Martin, Mark Goetz, Patty Callaghan, Dorothy Borge. We are grateful to them, and to all who have advocated for hungry people.
Food producers know better than anyone else that it is a complicated process to get food from the farm or ranch to hungry people. In today’s complicated economy, it involves governments—trade agreements, agricultural policies. In the United States, the Farm Bill has enormous impact on producers, and enormous impact on hungry people.
Specifically, the Farm Bill now under consideration in Congress, is not only of great importance to farmers and ranchers, it affects the most important anti-hunger programs in our country, namely, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program.) SNAP, described as “our nation’s most effective anti-hunger program,” assists individuals and families. TEFAP helps programs that distribute food. Both are critical for addressing hunger in the US.
As Christians, we are committed to addressing hunger on many fronts—local feeding programs, the World Hunger Appeal, and advocacy. Right now Congress is negotiating the provisions of the Farm Bill, looking at both House and Senate versions. They need to hear from advocates of the poor, to support SNAP and TEFAP. I am going to make my voice heard. I hope you will, too.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA