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
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA