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From Persecution To Witness By Elizabeth Eaton,
Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
For many months now people have been asking for some kind of statement about the persecution of Christians around the world. It seems to be a straight-forward issue. Christians are suffering in Iraq and Syria, in Nigeria and Egypt. Palestinian Christians encounter intense pressure. Christians in some parts of India are threatened. Some would even claim that U.S. Christians are under siege. Atrocities committed against Christians by the Islamic State, Boko Haram, al-Shabab and others are regularly in the news. We hear that more Christians have been martyred in recent years than in the first three centuries of the Christian movement.
Each circumstance of violence against Christians is deeply painful. There are brothers and sisters around the world whose lives are part of the passion of Christ. People are targeted in some countries because they are Christians. But this is a complex issue. Are Christians suffering and dying as witnesses to the faith? Yes. But in many places interreligious conflict has been used as a calculated pretext for political gain. A narrative of religion vs. religion, or religion vs. society, is an effective way of generating support for one’s cause. And, regrettably, suspicion and fear of the “other” leads to intolerance and discrimination.
The persecution of Christians is not new. Martyrs have existed since the beginning of the
church. Stephen was martyred with the consent of Paul, who was martyred by the Roman
Empire. Paul quoted the psalms, writing: “For your sake we are being killed all the day
long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered” (Romans 8:36).
Outrage is a natural reaction to beheadings and crucifixions. The instinct to strike back is understandable. Many Lutherans accept that in a broken world deadly force might be needed. Revenge, however, is not an option for a Christian.
I pray that none of you ever suffers violence for the faith, but every generation has faced hostility. German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “To endure the cross is not a tragedy; it is the suffering which is the fruit of an exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ.”
“Martyr” is a Greek word that means “witness,” “to give testimony.” A witness can also be a symbol that testifies a promised action has been accomplished. When we speak about the persecution of Christians, the real question is: “What will be our witness?”
Here is a story about how some Lutherans in Ethiopia answered that question. It happened in one of our companion synods. Some Muslims burned down a church, thinking they were attacking Roman Catholics. Instead, they burned down a Lutheran church by mistake. They were arrested and sent to jail. In that region it’s the responsibility of families to take care of prisoners’ hygiene and food. Instead, members of the Lutheran church asked authorities if they could dig the prisoners’ latrines and feed them. That was their witness in the face of persecution.
Christians aren’t the only ones being targeted and persecuted. More Muslims have reportedly been killed by the Islamic State than any other group. Our witness must be as peacemakers and as defenders of religious minorities in our country and around the world. We must be the ones who speak out when entire religions are falsely characterized by the actions of extremists. We would not accept Christianity being defined by the Ku Klux Klan or the Christian Identity movement. We should not define entire communities by the distortion of to their religion.
The cross is God’s visual symbol that a promised action has been accomplished. It is God’s stake in the sand. It is God’s witness to the truth that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39).
CHICAGO (May 29, 2020) — The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), has called on the church to join with faith communities across the United States in lament and remembrance, and on our elected leaders to observe Monday, June 1, as a day of mourning to honor the more than 100,000 people who have died from COVID-19.
"I encourage all of us in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to join together across faith lines in this time of collective mourning," Eaton said. "This weekend our Jewish neighbors will remember God's covenant, our Muslim neighbors will recall the reception of the Quran, and as Christians we will celebrate the power of the Holy Spirit present among us. In the significance of these days in our traditions, our faith communities will collectively lament and remember the more than 100,000 lives that have been lost to COVID-19. We join together in prayer for the healing of this nation, and for the world that God so loves."
The day of mourning calls on all religious communities to come together in observing this historic moment in their own traditions and practices. A toolkit and other resources are available for local religious leaders and mayors.
"We are united – as individuals, as communities and as a nation – in our grief," said Kathryn M. Lohre, assistant to the presiding bishop and executive for ELCA ecumenical and inter-religious relations. "The interfaith community has recognized this and claimed this moment as a time to come together as the Christian family and with our neighbors of other religions and worldviews, to mourn the tragic loss of over 100,000 lives. The faith communities also call upon our elected leaders to designate June 1 as a national day of prayer and remembrance, as a time set aside for national mourning."
Federal and local governments are also being called on to observe the day of prayer and remembrance by the lowering of flags, moments of silence and other methods of reflection.
In contemplation of the gravity of the COVID-19 situation during the season of Pentecost, Eaton, along with the Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, invite members to pray for and with one another through a new prayer, "A Prayer for the Power of the Spirit Among the People of God."
This new prayer for Pentecost was crafted by a team of Lutheran and Episcopal prayer leaders in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. It will connect the two church bodies in common prayer and remind members of the common mission, wherever and however we may be gathered.
The ELCA and the Episcopal Church are approaching the 20th anniversary of their full communion agreement, "Called to Common Mission."
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About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with nearly 3.5 million members in more than 9,100 worshiping communities across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of "God's work. Our hands.," the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer Martin Luther.
For information contact: Candice Hill Buchbinder 773-380-2877 Candice.HillBuchbinder@ELCA.org
What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8).
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) reaffirms its commitment to combating racism and white supremacy following the recent murders of Black Americans. Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Dreasjon (Sean) Reed, and George Floyd were our neighbors. Ahmaud Arbery was chased down, shot, and killed by a retired police officer and his son while jogging in Brunswick, Ga. (Feb. 23, 2020). Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician, was shot eight times by Louisville Metro Police Department officers who entered her apartment while serving a "no-knock warrant" (March 13, 2020). Dreasjon (Sean) Reed, a 21-year-old from Indianapolis died after being shot at least eight times by an Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officer (May 6, 2020). George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis while begging for his life, a block away from Calvary Lutheran, an ELCA congregation (May 25, 2020). As the Conference of Bishops, we condemn the white supremacy that has led to the deaths of so many unarmed Black, Indigenous, and Persons of Color in our country. We grieve with, pray for and stand in solidarity with the families and friends of all whose loved ones have been and continue to be victims of injustices run amok, racist violence and the insidious venom of white supremacy.
The ELCA's social policy resolution, "Condemnation of White Supremacy and Racist Rhetoric," adopted by the 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, states: "As persons called to love one another as God has loved us, we therefore proclaim our commitment to speak with one voice against racism and white supremacy. We stand with those who are targets of racist ideologies and actions." As church, together we must work to condemn white supremacy in all forms and recommit ourselves to confront and exorcize the sins of injustice, racism and white supremacy in church and society and within ourselves as individuals and households.
On May 21, the ELCA Southeastern Synod hosted a webinar: "Becoming the Body of Christ – Condemning White Supremacy" in response to the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. This is one of many strategic opportunities happening across this church to address white supremacy and racist rhetoric. On June 17, we will gather again as church to commemorate the Mother Emanuel 9 and to repent of racism and white supremacy. An online ELCA prayer service, including leaders from across the church and Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton as preacher, is being planned for June 17, 2020, marking the fifth anniversary of the martyrdom of the Emanuel 9. We encourage congregations to reaffirm their commitment to repenting of the sins of racism and dismantling white supremacy that continue to plague this church by marking this day of penitence with study and prayer leading to action. https://www.elca.org/emanuelnine
“As for me, I am establishing my covenant with
your descendants after you” (Genesis 9:9).
In today’s lectionary text,
Genesis 9:8-17, Noah receives God’s covenant. The rainbow becomes a sign of the
irrevocable promise of God’s faithfulness and mercy — of God’s peace for all
creation. So, too, are we called to be signs of, or witnesses to, God’s peace.
In our ELCA social teaching we
acknowledge that there are times when “through faithfulness in its life and
activities as a community for peace, the Church in the power of the Holy Spirit
becomes a presence for peace that disturbs” (For
Peace in God’s World, 1995). This is one of those times. Even as we seek peace amid a
pandemic, we must uphold our commitments to our Jewish neighbors. No matter our politics or opinions about our elected leaders
and their policies, all of us must come together on the basis of our church’s
commitments to “oppose the deadly working of such bigotry” (1994 Declaration).
In Christ’s love, all of us
continue to pray for Governor Pritzker and all our elected leaders as they make
difficult decisions intended to protect lives. As a church, we encourage one
another to abide by government policies that seek to safeguard the health and
well-being of our communities, and to participate in healthy forms of civic
In peace and in partnership,
The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton Presiding Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
The Rev. John Roth Bishop, Central/Southern Illinois Synod
The Rev. Yehiel Curry Bishop, Metropolitan Chicago Synod
The Rev. Jeffrey Clements Bishop, Northern Illinois Synod
- - - About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with nearly 3.5 million members in more than 9,100 worshiping communities across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of "God's work. Our hands," the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer Martin Luther.