As I write this last edition of the weekly “Words from the Bishop,” I am grateful for the opportunity to serve these last 12 years. Thank you for allowing me to be your Bishop during these sometimes turbulent times.
These last 12 years have been full of changes in the world an in the church. Our congregations have experienced change as the baby boomers retire and the millennials are drawn to other vocations. Changing demographics have made some congregations rethink their mission—some have grown, and some have shrunk. Our full communion partnerships have made ecumenical cooperation and yoking a reality.
The Synod, too, has undergone change in the last twelve years. We have streamlined the work of the Synod Council and built a new energy-efficient tech-ready Synod House. We have gone from a monthly mailed newsletter to a weekly e-news. We work to save money and travel time by hosting more and more meetings electronically.
We have grown the LPA program, and started LPA 2.0. We have apologized to the tribes, and started a new mission on the Fort Peck Reservation, as well as maintaining our relationship with Our Saviour’s Rocky Boy. We have established a ministry in the Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge, Freedom in Christ.
The church’s adoption of the Human Sexuality Social Statement and the changes in ministry policy stirred up a storm in this Synod as well as across the church. Twenty congregations ultimately chose to disaffiliate with the ELCA, but at least one congregation declared itself to be a Reconciling in Christ congregation, and one new congregation was formed from people whose congregation had left. Other congregations expressed gratitude, “Now my kids are welcome.”
We have grown our relationship with our two companion synods—the Cape Orange Diocese in South Africa and the Lutheran Church in Bolivia. And during the last dozen years the YAGM program has grown and thrived. Each year at least one Montana Synod young adult was involved—and most years there have been several. We have hosted a Glocal event for the ELCA, and were also the site for the American Indian Alaska Native Lutheran Association’s gathering.
We celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation with several years of resources produced by Synod members, leading to a Convocation with the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings on the Five Ecumenical Imperatives adopted by an international committee. The celebration culminated with a joint Lutheran-Catholic Vespers at the Helena Cathedral with 4 Bishops, joint choirs, and an overflow crowd.
Ecumenically, the ELCA entered into full communion with the United Methodists (our 6th agreement), allowing us to partner with Methodist congregations and pastors. During the last 12 years we have partnered with Presbyterians, UCC, Methodists and Episcopalians. We shared a convocation on preaching with the Episcopalians, and had both Presiding Bishops at Chico one year for a joint event.
We affirmed our relationship with the Montana Association of Jewish Communities—a ground-breaking agreement first adopted in 1995. We also commemorated the 10th anniversary of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. During these last 12 years, the Montana Association of Churches became the Montana association of Christians, and the Wyoming Association of Churches became the Wyoming Interfaith Association.
And the work of the church goes on. We continue to recruit and ordain pastors, encourage lay leadership, install rostered leaders and provide continuing education. We work with congregations in conflict, and work cooperatively with the institutions and ministries on our territory and beyond.
And so I end with where I began—with gratitude. I am grateful to the staff who have worked with me over the years, and to the Synod Council and officers who have guided the Synod. I am grateful to the Pastors and Deacons, the LPAs and the Synodically Authorized Ministers who have been on the ground doing ministry. I am grateful to the Deans and the committee members, who have faithfully attended to the church. And I am grateful to the congregations of the Montana Synod who have called me and supported the work of the larger church.
As I transition into retirement, my prayers are with the Montana Synod and with Bishop-Elect Laurie Jungling, and together you begin a new chapter.
Meet the future boldly!
Jessica Crist, Bishop
By now many ELCA members have heard that the ELCA Churchwide Assembly voted last week to become “a sanctuary body.” For some people this announcement came as good, lifegiving news. For others it was much more troubling. It is important for us to understand what this declaration means and what it does not mean.
It DOES mean that the ELCA takes very seriously the situation of migrants and of undocumented people. The ELCA has a long history of ministry to the stranger, based on biblical precedent.
It DOES NOT mean than everyone has to respond in the same way. Some will choose to provide material aid to refugees relocating in this country. I know that when there was talk of Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls being a backup location for unaccompanied minors in the case of a hurricane, I spoke with the Mayor about ways that the faith community could offer hospitality. Offering hospitality is what we do. Some will choose to limit their response to prayer—which should never be discounted. And some will work with LIRS or AMMPARO. Still others will take further steps.
It DOES mean that the ELCA is renewing our commitment to advocate or reform in our nation’s broken immigration system, and for humane treatment of immigrants and refugees.
It DOES NOT mean that the ELCA is condoning or advocating illegal conduct on behalf of its congregations or members.
It DOES mean that the ELCA is encouraging its members to exercise compassion, generosity, hospitality to all, and to speak up for “the least of these.”
It DOES NOT mean that the ELCA is mandating that its congregations engage in any practice.
(The ELCA Churchwide Assembly cannot mandate the actions of ELCA congregations.)
Directly below this you can find a document listing what it means to be a sanctuary denomination. It is important to know what we as the ELCA think we did, not what commentators who were not there claim we did.
The ELCA Churchwide Assembly did many things in our 5 ½ days together. I encourage you to go to www.elca.org to learn more. And I will be writing about other topics in next week’s e-news.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Every three years, people from across the entire ELCA meet for the Churchwide Assembly. It is in Milwaukee this year, starting on Monday, August 5th. Twelve members of the Montana Synod will be there as voting members—from Sidney to Ronan, from Cody to Havre—and places in-between. These Voting Members are listed in the weekly prayers. Please pray for them, and for our church, the ELCA, as we gather to make important decisions about how we will be church together.
There will be elections. We will elect or re-elect a Presiding Bishop. We will elect a new Secretary. We will also elect a number of new people to the ELCA Church Council, the governing body that determines policy and procedures between Churchwide Assemblies. Two Montana women will be on the ballot—Mary Hutchinson from Billings and Loni Whitford from Rocky Boy. The Assembly will elect one of them to serve on the Church Council on behalf of the Montana Synod and the Eastern Washington Idaho Synod.
There will be a kickoff for the 50th Anniversary of Women’s Ordination in 2020. In Friday morning, the Rev. April Larson, the first woman to be elected a Bishop in the ELCA, will be a featured speaker. On Friday evening, the Rev. Beth Platz, the first woman ordained in the Lutheran Church in the US, will speak at the celebratory banquet, at which Congregational resources (Bible Study, Study Guide, Worship Resources) will be launched.
There will be a Social Statement on Faith, Sexism and Justice. The Assembly will have an opportunity to debate and vote on adopting this Social Statement, which has taken longer from proposal to completion than any previous statement.
There will be a policy statement on Interreligious Dialogue. This proposed statement is a followup to the statement on Ecumenism adopted early in the ELCA’s life. We live in an increasingly diverse world, and knowing how to discuss issues of ultimate importance with people who have different faith traditions is critical.
There will be a proposal to ordain Deacons. The ELCA has been evolving in our understanding of the role of ministers of word and service. At the beginning of the ELCA, lay professionals (who had different nomenclature in the different predecessor chores.) were called Associates in Ministry. Eventually, we added another lay ministry category, Diaconal Ministers. And there were Deaconesses. In 2016, they were all merged into Deacons. Now, in 2019, the Assembly will vote on the recommendation that ordination (as opposed to consecration, commissioning, or anything else) be the entrance rite for Deacons.
There will be followup conversations and resolutions on racism. The 2016 Churchwide Assembly adopted several resolutions on racism, and asked for report back in 2019. Anti-racism training in every Synod and anti-racism goals for every Synod were requested, as was a proposal on “authentic diversity.” The 2016 Churchwide Assembly also passed a resolution on the Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery, with action steps, but little has been done on a Churchwide level to fulfill those commitments.
There will be daily worship and Bible Study. Churchwide Assembly worship is a highlight for many people. Excellent preaching, inspiring music, thoughtful liturgies keep participants grounded in why we are really here. Bible Study leaders challenge and teach.
There will be resolutions from Synods. Synods have the opportunity to send memorials to the Churchwide Assembly for consideration. The topics range from environmental issues to Seminary debt to church governance.
Watch for photos and interviews on the Synod page, as well as live streaming from www.elca.org.
And keep us in prayer.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
“Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” Luke 18:16
Summer is a time when we have special activities for children. We host Vacation Bible School, and invite kids to bring their friends. We have world-class camping programs that teach our children about God’s love for them and all creation, while having a lot of fun and learning outdoor skills. Our camps, Christikon and Flathead, are responsible for the ongoing faith formation for generations of people.
But not all children are so fortunate. Refugee children fleeing violence in Central America are not so fortunate. Separated from their parents in some cases, warehoused in inhumane conditions in many cases, these children are not so fortunate. If animals were kept in similar circumstances, those responsible would be prosecuted. I cannot help but recall Dachau, the German concentration camp. At Dachau, there was a small zoo for the entertainment of the children of the Nazi officers who ran the camp. They were rigorous in their care for the zoo animals—in stark contrast to the prisoners who lived in filthy quarters and were half-starved.
What are we, as Christians, to do about the detention of refugee children at the border, and the inhumane conditions to which they are being subjected? A number of Montana Synod folks have asked this very question. Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton issued a statement, along with a number of other faith leaders. It was in the last News from the Montana Synod, and is available at www.elca.org. In this week’s News, please find a note from Vice President Dick Deschamps with a link to more ELCA resources. And Lutheran Immigration and Refugee services (www.lirs.org) has resources on how to help children in detention.
Here are some stories from the border:
From the Grand Canyon Synod:
“We have an ecumenical partnership with Cruzando Fronteras in Nogales, MX. It is encouraging that many of our Southern Arizona congregations have collected donations of dollars and in kind and taken them as they visit. Many bring the stories back to their congregations and have found ways to be engage in Tucson area.
The biggest area of involvement is in Phoenix. The city has processed about 1500 people a week. ICW was dropping women, children and men off at bus stops, and then LSS-SW, IRC and Catholic Charities leaders collaborated. We have about 15 Lutheran churches and a DoC church who have opened their doors for welcome and reception. ICE transports groups to the churches. The churches offer a welcome and orientation, provide phones so connections and travel arrangements can be made to the sponsors and then food, clothing, medical help and transportation to the bus station or airport is provided. While 15 churches have provided space, many more have provided financial and in-kind donations.”
Bishop Deborah Hutterer
From the Southwestern Texas Synod:
“In our Synod, we’ve got a task force, with a retreat scheduled on the border in Eagle Pass, July 26-27, made up of ecumenical partners, the task force, latino leaders, synod council and deans, and other leaders passionate about this. Our hope is to provide concrete plans for advocacy, training and direct service, but we’ll need partners to help fund our ongoing work. Part of the challenge is that the landscape/hotspots keep changing on an almost daily basis, based on who is crossing where from where and for what reasons.
Eagle Pass is also where we have a brand new SAWC out of our existing congregation, called Eagle Pass La Frontera Ministries, which provides temporary shelter and spiritual care for processed asylum seekers as they head out from Eagle Pass all over the country. That’s a ministry of opportunity because of who’s coming across the border right now, and we’re partnering with the Methodists to make it happen.”
Bishop Sue Briner
From the Executive Director of the Lutheran Seminary Program of the Southwest:
“Thought for the day: I cannot worship on Sunday and leave the justice work to others on Monday. While in the Rio Grande Valley I visited the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen and saw the crowd of immigrant families being served by faithful volunteers. A family member was able to enter the local detention center on a maintenance contract and related how the “stench” was overwhelming and horrific. He was told “not to look at them!” If you think the media is exaggerating the conditions at these “concentrations camps,” you are mistaken. It is very real and dehumanizing. Yes, worship on Sunday, but than on Monday, look for Jose, Maria y Jesus in the concentration camps of your community!”
The Rev. Dr. Javier Alanis
“Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” Jesus
Jessica Crist, Bishop
At our Synod Assembly this year we were privileged to have Bishop Motsamai Manong and Pastor Adam Khunou present, visiting from our companion synod, the Cape Orange Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Southern Africa. It is always heartening to spend time with Christians from another part of the world, to share how God is at work in our different contexts. In addition to meeting people at the Synod Assembly, our South African visitors were able to see some of Montana’s agricultural country, visit a reservation, see Yellowstone, and see various social ministries sponsored by congregations around the Synod.
This next week the Montana Synod will be hosting a visitor from another part of the world. Gustavo Driau, based in Argentina, is the ELCA’s representative in Latin America. He assists our companion church, the Bolivian Evangelical Lutheran Church, and works with us as the IELB and the Montana Synod accompany one another. Gustavo Driau has lived in Latin America all his life, and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to his position. He previously served with the Lutheran World Federation in Latin America.
ELCA missionaries from around the world gather for a missionary conference every couple of years. Because Gustavo was going to be in Chicago, we invited him to Montana to meet with sponsoring congregations, and others who are interested. Many congregations donate to global mission. Some support Young Adults in Global Mission. Some support a specific missionary, maybe who has a history of relationship with their congregation.
You are invited to meet with Gustavo Driau at one of the following events:
July 7 - 9:30 am Bethel Lutheran Church, Great Falls—preaching and adult forum
July 8 - 6-8 pm Open House at the Synod House for LPAs and others to meet and greet
July 10 - Evening program at Christ Lutheran Church in Libby
July 14 - 8:15 am at Hope Lutheran, Bozeman
10:00 am at Christ the King Lutheran, Bozeman
Afternoon/evening event in Bozeman, TBA
Our companion synod relationships, our missionary sponsorships and our promotion of Young Adults in Global Mission remind us that the church is bigger than any one congregation, any one country. I invite you to learn more about global mission, and to become more involved.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Tomorrow, June 20, is world refugee day. Currently, there are more refugees in the world than there have been since World War II. Some are economic refugees, some are climate refugees, some are political refugees, some are religious refugees. And while there are root causes that need to be addressed to change the situation, there are real people struggling to survive.
A number of agencies work with refugee resettlement, some faith-based, some secular. One of the oldest and most respected is Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. Founded in 1939, LIRS began its work resettling refugees (mostly Lutheran) displaced by World War II. Some 57,000 displaced persons, primarily Latvian and Estonian, were relocated to the United States by LIRS. In the Montana Synod and beyond, we have the Kogudus ministry, because Olaf Magis, an Estonian, resettled in the United States.
There is a world refugee crisis. We read of overcrowded refugee camps in Africa and the Middle East, and of migrants crowding onto small boats in an attempt to cross the Mediterranean and reach Europe. Closer to home, Central American migrants, fleeing from intolerable conditions at home, risk the dangerous journey into the United States in order to provide a better life for their children.
And while policy makers grapple with solutions, children and families are in dire need. And the Lutherans are there, on the border, and in the places where asylum seekers end up. Bishop Mike Rinehart, Chair of the LIRS Board, writes: “Last month, DHS released 100,000 asylum-seekers onto the streets. LFS, LIRS and others have been scrambling to meet the humanitarian need. Many don’t speak English. Some speak indigenous dialects and barely speak Spanish. Many are wearing ankle bracelets. Many have endured suffering and abuse along the way, and while in ICE detention.”
He goes on: “LFS RM welcomes them, gives them clothing, feeds them, helps them get oriented to the situations, facilitates their travel to whoever they are going to. A local church has opened its doors and hearts to them every week. Another church is providing volunteers.”
A month ago it was reported that Malmstrom Air Force Base was being considered as a backup location for unaccompanied minors, should there we a hurricane where they are now located. The mayor of Great Falls is on alert, should that happen.
Montana is not unaware of refugees. The mayor of Helena, Wilmot Collins, who did a workshop at our Synod Assembly, is a refugee from Liberia. Missoula, in particular has a “Soft Landing” program that resettles refugees. A generation ago Lutheran Social Services resettled refugees from Southeast Asia all over the country—aftermath of the Vietnam War—including Montana.
Lutherans have been generous with refugees and immigrants over the years through ministries like LIRS. Some like to say it is because we are a nation of immigrants. That is true—partly. We are a nation of immigrants from Europe and Africa and Asia and Latin America. But we are also a nation of indigenous people who have been on this continent for millennia before the Europeans arrived.
I like to think that Lutherans are generous with refugees and immigrants because the Bible is full of admonitions not to oppress the stranger, nor the sojourner in our midst. Besides, some of our greatest heroes in faith were refugees—Abram and Sarai, Mary, Joseph and Jesus.
Bishop Rinehart continues: “So far this year, you have, through LIRS, assisted 10,000 people seeking to reunite with unaccompanied children. You have helped 250 unaccompanied children find caring foster homes. You have welcomed 1500 refugees an SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) holders. You have provided immediate care to thousands of migrants released by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and CBP (Customs and Border Protection.)”
He concludes: “We visited with refugees and asylees from Guatemala, Burundi, Iraq, Cuba, Afghanistan and other places. I heard several say, ‘I don’t know what I would have done without the Lutherans.’”
For resources to use in your congregation to highlight our church’s compassionate ministry with refugees, go to the LIRS website, www.lirs.org, and go to resources. Here is a prayer for Sunday, June 23:
“For all children of God, that we may no longer be defined by our labels—Jew and Greek, male and female, refugee, stranger, immigrant, alien. That God’s power would heal us and help us to grow in unity in Christ Jesus, let us pray.”
May it be so.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Trinity Sunday is the only Sunday in the Church Calendar that marks a concept, not a person or an event. The Trinity is foundational for Christianity, but a stumbling block for others. And frankly, it can be a stumbling block for Christians, as well. How can we say we believe in one God, and yet talk about three persons? Are we monotheists, as we claim? Or are we polytheists, as others label us?
Some of Christianity’s best theologians have wrestled with the concept of the Trinity. My best way of describing how something can be one and three at the same time is the water-ice-steam analogy. Recently, a mathematician explained how it makes perfect sense if you understand higher math.
With all due respect to theologians and mathematicians, I suggest that we look at the Trinity through the eyes of poets. I am thinking of Richard Leach, who wrote words to an English folk tune, and created an expansive experience of Trinity.
In Evangelical Lutheran Worship, “Come Join the Dance of Trinity” (ELW 412) doesn’t try to define or explain the Trinity. Rather, it demonstrates it. It begins:
Come, join the dance of Trinity, before all worlds begun-
Already in the first line, we are invited not to ponder, not to theorize, not to question, but to join in the dance! All are welcome, whether we understand it or not, whether we can explain it or not. Have you ever been in a setting when you got drawn into a dance you didn’t know and couldn’t explain? It happened to me at a youth gathering. I was standing there on the plaza in Detroit amidst thousands of orange T-shirted youth when they began to dance. In spite of myself I was drawn in, clumsy, self-conscious, sometimes going left when everyone else was going right, but in.
This dance of Trinity is not something new—it is from the beginning of time, “before all worlds begun.” It reminds me of the text from Proverbs 8 appointed for Sunday: “Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth…”
The hymn continues with an image of weaving as a way to describe the Trinity:
The interweaving of the Three, the Father, Spirit, Son.
Weaving holds the integrity of the individual strands, but it is also true that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The next line expands into the universe, reminding the listeners that it is not random, that God has a purpose in it all
The universe of space and time did not arise by chance,
And then the song returns to the dance, as an expansive, all-inclusive activity of the Godhead.
But as the Three, in love and hope, made room within their dance.
The next verses of the hymn describe the Jesus as the “face of Trinity” and the Spirit as the “wind and tongues of flame that set people free at Pentecost.”
Come see the face of Trinity, newborn in Bethlehem;
Then bloodied by a crown of thorns outside Jerusalem.
The dance of Trinity is meant for human flesh and bone;
When fear confines the dance in death, God rolls away the stone.
Come, speak aloud of Trinity, before all worlds begun,
set people free at Pentecost, to tell the Savior’s name.
We know the yoke of sin and death, our necks have worn it smooth
Got tell the world of weight and woe that we are free to move.
The hymn concludes with a return to the theme of the dance, and the theme of weaving. Now the weaving is the voices of those who have been set free by the dance of the Trinity.
Within the dance of Trinity, before all worlds begun,
We sing the praises of the Three, the Father, Spirit, Son.
Let voices rise and inter-weave, by love and hope set free,
To shape in song this joy, this life: the dance of Trinity.
This hymn expands my imagination about the Trinity, and encourages me to think a little less, and experience a lot more. May God the Three-in-One be praised.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
In two days, Voting Members from every congregation will be gathering in Great Falls for the 2019 Synod Assembly. A Synod Assembly is a business meeting, but it is also a family reunion. It is a combination of people who have been coming every year, and people who are there for their first time. We worship, we sing, we pray, we learn.
This year we will elect a new Bishop, to start September 1. We’ll elect a Vice President and a Treasurer and Synod Council members. We’ll also recognize LPAs who have finished their training. And we’ll thank the current Bishop at the banquet.
We have 18 workshops in two different sessions. You can learn about everything from Stewardship to Prayer, and lots in-between. Dr. Laurie Jungling will offer a Bible Study on the Parable of the Talents in plenary session.
We have special guests at this Assembly. Bishop Matsumai Manong and Pastor Adam Khunou will be with us from The Cape Orange Diocese in South Africa, our Companion Synod. After the Assembly they will visit various ministry sites. Also from South Africa is Damion Kok, a counselor at Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp, as part of the Global Mission/Camp Counselor program.
Sister Bishops, Shelley Wickstrom of the Alaska Synod, and Kristen Keumpel of the Easter Washington Idaho Synod will join us, as will the Rev. Phil Hirsch, Churchwide Staff, who will conduct the election for Bishop.
Every year our staff works hard to put on a Synod Assembly. Since this is our last Synod Assembly together as a staff, please thank members of the staff as you see them. They are truly a treasure.
See you at the Assembly!
Jessica Crist, Bishop
The ELCA has long had a commitment to ecumenism—relationships with other Christians. In 1991, the ELCA adopted “A Declaration of Ecumenical Commitment,” outlining our stance on ecumenism. It is often said, “To be Lutheran is to be ecumenical.” The 1991 statement, in addition to setting out ecumenical commitments, calls for us to go deeper and address inter-religious issues. Now, 28 years later, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly will be considering such a policy statement—“A Declaration of Inter-Religious Commitment.”
The proposed statement is available online at www.elca.org.
We live in a multi-religious world. As Lutheran Christians we engage with the rest of the world, not with suspicion or hostility, but with a strong understanding of our identity in Christ. For the last 30 years ELCA Lutherans have been engaging with their neighbors of other religious traditions. As a Church we have had conversations with Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs.
The statement is divided into eight sections. I will share points from the statement under each:
Lutherans have something distinctive to say about inter-religious commitments. The document provides a common framework for the diverse ministries of the church.
“In a deeply divided world, and as a faithful response to Christ’s message of reconciliation, we seek right, peaceful, and just relationships with all our neighbors, including those of other religions and worldviews.”
“Our context, whether understood locally or globally, is multi-religious. Our Lutheran vocation both shapes and is shaped by our engagement with religious diversity.”
The vision in the statement is 3-fold:
A Biblical Vision
The section on Calling addresses evangelism, interreligious relations, loving our neighbor, serving alongside our neighbor, and living in solidarity with our neighbor.
Commitments: The statement lists twelve commitments for our church as we go forward:
1. Pray for the well-being of wonderfully diverse human family.
2. Articulate why we cherish our core identity, and seek to understand our neighbor’s core identity.
3. Witness the power of Christ through our daily lives, and note others’ rights as we share.
4. Seek to understand the world’s religions better, and identify the misuse of religion.
5. Seek to know our neighbors and to overcome stereotypes and falsehoods.
6. Seek relationship with all who seek justice , peace, human wholeness and the well-being of creation.
7. Work with other Christians for inter-religious understanding.
8. Seek counsel from other religious groups in discernment and advocacy for the common good.
9. Defend the full participation of all in our religiously diverse society.
10. Defend human rights and oppose all forms of religious bigotry.
11. Confess when our words or deeds (of lack thereof) cause offense, harm or violence, and seek forgiveness and reconciliation.
12. Produce study and dialogue materials, and pastoral guidelines.
Biblical and Theological Underpinnings:
This section includes God’s vision, and other religions in the Bible (Rahab, the Magi, etc.). It also suggests Lutheran convictions that come into play:
Theology is relational.
Grace without prerequisites.
Limits on our knowing.
Ever-depending on forgiveness.
Conclusion and Benediction: The statement concludes with this benediction:
“May God bless the efforts of this church as we set our sights on God’s vision, as we seek to respond to God’s calling in our context, and as we strive to uphold these commitments.”
The proposed statement is available at www.elca.org, and will be voted on at the August Churchwide Assembly.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
It has been a long time in coming. Women are 50% of the world’s population, and more than 50% of the church. As a church, we have had social statements and social messages over the years on a whole host of topics from economic well-being to mental health. But we have not yet adopted a social statement on women and justice. Even the current statement being considered by the Churchwide Assembly in August, has taken longer than any other social statement in our history. First proposed in 2009, it was delayed by other pressing matters the church was dealing with, and by a staff reduction caused by financial shortfall. The length of time for the study, once it got under way, was also longer than previous studies.
The final title for the proposed social statement is “Faith, Sexism, and Justice: A Lutheran Call to Action.” It is available at www.elca.org. The writing team decided to make it available in two forms: there is a brief, 8 page synopsis of the study, and then a longer, 30+ page version, followed by a glossary of terms and implementing resolutions.
The statement begins with the fundamental teaching that God desires abundant life for all. Included in this are:
1. God’s intention is revealed in Scriptures.
2. All people are created equally in the image of God.
3. Humans exist in sin, alienated from God and one another.
4. Christ heals and redeems us from this alienation.
5. Because we are freed in Christ, we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves.
6. God’s grace and mercy are for all people.
7. Reason and knowledge are gifts from God for the common good.
8. The church is called to live justly in the world
The statement goes on the describe how sin subverts human flourishing in many ways that oppress people and restrict them. Patriarchy and sexism are among the forces that prevent women and girls from realizing abundant life fully. They also prevent men and boys from realizing life fully.
“As Christians, we see that patriarchy and sexism prevent all human beings from living into the abundant life for which God created them. Patriarchy and sexism reflect a lack of trust in God and result in harm and broken relationships. Just as this church has identified racism as sin, this church identifies patriarchy and sexism as sin. We confess that, as God’s people forgiven in Jesus Christ, we are simultaneously liberated and sinful.”
The statement goes on to say how the Christian tradition is both a challenge and a resource. While tradition has often been used to reinforce patriarchy and sexism, central Lutheran and Christian doctrines free Christ’s beloved people to challenge all forms of oppression.
The statement continues with suggested actions for us as a church, including:
1. Celebrating the gifts of women and girls.
2. Promoting scriptural translation and interpretation that rejects the misuse of scripture.
3. Promote theological language that responds to the gender-based needs of the neighbor.
4. Using inclusive language for humans and expansive language for God.
5. Promote women’s leadership, especially women of color.
6. Promote economic justice
7. Affirm the Lutheran World Federations’s “Gender Justice Policy.”
The statement also calls the ELCA to action to advocate for justice in society.
It is important to note that this statement does not denigrate men. It’s premise is that all people are made in God’s image, and that both men and women, girls and boys will be better off when we live into that reality.
There will be a workshop at the Synod Assembly on the proposed Social Statement. And the Churchwide Assembly in August will vote on it, as well as on the implementing resolutions.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA