Dear Friends in Christ,
You may (or may not) recall the request that came from our siblings in the American Indian/Alaska Native Association of the ELCA (AIAN) last July to hang orange banners in our churches to honor and remember the lives of the children who were lost to the boarding school system in our nation and who hopefully will be returned home as their bodies are rediscovered. Here is the link to that request, as well as my letter and video lifting up that request.
In that request, the AIAN asked that we hang these orange banners for 225 days, remembering the 225 bodies of children that had been discovered in Canada and the U.S. at that time. Those 225 days have passed and yet the remembering and honoring continues. But even as we remember and honor, we are called to continue our confession and change of life (repentance) in the face of the suffering that those actions caused not just to those children stolen from their families but also the long-term consequences for their descendants that are perpetuated even today.
By partnering with our Indigenous neighbors and living with them as equals, how can we work with them to seek justice and make their lives better in the ways they wish and hope for? How can we continue to learn more about the truth of the past even as we seek to find ways to rectify the painful consequences of that history and also join the Indigenous peoples in building new and more sacred relationships? In other words, how can we become better neighbors as Jesus calls us to be neighbors, loving our fellow human beings as much as (or even more than) we love ourselves as the Samaritan did in Jesus’ famous parable?
So today, I remind you to remember and invite you to lift up those orange banners again, perhaps putting them in a new location, and to honor the children of God those banners represent and the families they left behind. And then reflect anew on how we can learn from the past, including our past sins, to make amends on behalf of those who are not here to do it for themselves. As I stated in July, “We as followers of Christ have the faith to confess our sins in the love and grace of God in Christ. But at the same time, through those same words of love and grace from God, we also hear God’s ongoing call to enter into the light of the truth of our history and our present, and to love our neighbors who are suffering.
Blessings to you this week as you explore ways to be Christ-like neighbors through your love!
In 2019, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly directed this church to develop both a Social Message and a Social Statement concerning how ELCA Lutherans understand the relationship between church and state. As a presidential election approached and people felt trapped in the messiness of political polarization, the assembly issued a call to provide guidance from the Lutheran perspective concerning how this church ought to interact with the government and nation, how the government ought to interact with the church and other religions, and how followers of Christ can and should engage in voice and work in the public sphere (civic engagement).
As a recent article in the Living Lutheran explains, the Churchwide Council first adopted a social message in November 2019 entitled “Government and Civic Engagement in the United States: Discipleship in a Democracy.” This message, says Michael Cooper-White who authored the Living Lutheran article, functions as a small catechism, teaching us the basics of how Christians can decide whether a government is “achieving God’s intention for it, that the neighbor is being served.”
The development of the social statement began shortly after the social message was released. This document will serve as a larger teaching statement concerning the relationship between “government, the nature of civic engagement and the relationship of church and state.” The development of the social statement is a five-year process involving lay people and clergy, academics and experts on multiple topics, as well as geographically and socially diverse individuals from all over the ELCA. I am one of two bishop representatives on the Social Statement task force which has been meeting regularly over the past two years to study, listen and deliberate about the topic (by zoom; we have yet to meet in person).
Soon, however, you will have your opportunity to weigh in on this important topic in a couple of ways. First, throughout the ELCA, listening posts are currently being held that are open for all ELCA members to share their thoughts and opinions. Such listening posts will be held at the MT/NWY Synod Assembly in June for our voting members. If you are interested in hosting a listening event concerning this topic in your area of the synod, you may email email@example.com for more information.
Also, a study resource will be released in the next year to the whole church so you that you, your leaders and your congregations can enter into the study process along with the task force. After going through the study you will have the opportunity to offer your thoughts and concerns in writing to the task force. This study process is a time to engage in moral deliberation together about how church and state ought to relate to one another and how we as followers of Christ who are also citizens in a democracy can and should participate in the life of our nation and world.
Remember that we in the ELCA do our best to discern and deliberate on these matters from the ground up, including as many voices as possible who want to participate, rather than someone issuing a statement from on high. Although it will be written by a small task force with members represented from across the church, we will take the input from members of the wider church very seriously when composing the ELCA’s social teaching on this issue. And then voting members whom you will send to the Churchwide Assembly in 2025 through your Synod Assembly election in 2023 will vote to approve (or not) the social statement as the guide and teaching of the ELCA regarding church, state and civic engagement.
As followers of Christ in the ELCA, you have the opportunity and the responsibility to participate in developing this social statement. I invite and encourage you find various ways to do so over the next two years.
For more information on this social statement concerning church, state and civic engagement, please check out the article in the January 2022 edition of The Living Lutheran entitled “Government that Serves the Neighbor: ELCA Social Statement on Civic Engagement Underway.”
Blessed week to you all!
Bishop Laurie Jungling
Elected June 1, 2019, Laurie is the 5th Bishop of the Montana Synod