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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 — The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and leaders from The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada have prepared a series of devotions to observe the Season of Creation 2020, Sept. 1–Oct. 4.
The season, which begins with the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, is a time to join with the global Christian community in renewing, repairing and restoring commitments to God, to one another and to all of creation. For the four churches, it is also a time for strengthening relationships with one another. Through Scripture, hymns, advocacy and action, the weekly devotions, which begin Sept. 6, invite people to live out their vocation as stewards of creation.
"We pray that our actions as stewards of God's good creation will continue to deepen not only in this season, but for all time," said Eaton. "Even as our relations as churches are not bound by national or ecclesiastical borders, neither is our witness to the One who came to redeem all of creation."
In addition to Eaton, the devotions were contributed by the Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, presiding bishop and primate, The Episcopal Church; the Rev. Susan C. Johnson, national bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada; and the Most Rev. Linda Nicholls, archbishop and primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.
"I pray that these reflections will open hearts and minds to experience our relationship in and with all of creation in new ways," said Nicholls.
In the opening devotion, the leaders stress the significance of a collective responsibility in caring for creation. "Waking up to matters of climate justice and environmental stewardship are among the most important callings people have today. Over many years, through many voices, our churches have come to a growing conviction that loving our neighbour includes loving Mother Earth as a neighbour."
"It is timely, relevant and exciting for our churches to join together in prayer, worship and reflection during the Season of Creation," said Johnson. "With open hearts, minds and souls may we discern new actions and practices to show love for God's creation."
"In this season of activism as we seek God's liberating, life-giving love for all, may these prayers and devotions inspire us to care for a world in which all creation can flourish," said Curry.
The relations among the four churches have moved more closely toward "mutual recognition," bringing into mutual relation the two churches of "Called to Common Mission" in the United States and those of the Waterloo Declaration in Canada. One notable feature of the agreement is that it cites the experience of Indigenous people "not divided by national borders established by colonialist power" as grounds for expanding shared life among the churches. A Memorandum of Mutual Recognition (MMR) was approved by both Canadian churches in July 2019. The 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly adopted constitutional changes embracing the Anglican Church of Canada, and in November 2019 the Church Council adopted the MMR. Once The Episcopal Church acts, the mutual recognition of the four churches will come into full effect.
The Season of Creation devotions are available here.
- - - 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 Public Relations Manager 773-380-2877 Candice.HillBuchbinder@ELCA.org
"ELCA social teaching supports human rights for all people, regardless of their sex (biological), gender, or sexuality. This stance is rooted in respect and welcome for all people as created in the image of God and evident in the ELCA's longstanding commitment to protecting civil and human rights" (Faith, Sexism, and Justice: A Call to Action, 2019).
As National Pride Month is celebrated across this country, I rejoice in the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that employment discrimination on the basis of a worker's sexual orientation or gender identity is illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The court's decision is an important recognition of equal protection under the law for LGBTQIA+ people and for all.
LGBTQIA+ people are not faceless or nameless. They are our children, parents, siblings and colleagues. They work hard and pay taxes. They serve in our congregations and communities. Our life together is enriched. They are us. The U.S. Supreme Court ruling brings us a step closer to realizing our founding conviction, "Wethe people of the United States."
St. Paul writes, "If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it" (1 Corinthians 12:26). The June 15 decision brings the civic body a step closer to the cherished American value of equal rights for all. There is more work to be done to guarantee equal rights for LGBTQIA+ people beyond the workplace — in housing, medical care and military service. We are committed to this work as we celebrate, during Pride Month and all year round, the gifts of our LGBTQIA+ siblings.
In Christ's peace,
Elizabeth A. Eaton Presiding Bishop Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
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 Public Relations Manager 773-380-2877 Candice.HillBuchbinder@ELCA.org
This church urges "flexible and humane ways for undocumented persons who have been in this country for a specified amount of time to be able to adjust their legal status." — ELCA social message, "Immigration" (1998)
Today I rejoice in the renewal of dreams and the transformation of heartbreak into hope that today's Supreme Court decision brings to our nation's more than 700,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, their families and their communities. Today's decision recognizes the American identity of these young adults and values the long and deep contributions that these DACA recipients are making and will make to our nation.
Since 2012, DACA has provided protection from deportation to young people who have grown up as members of our churches and as neighbors enriching our common life. It has allowed them to remain in the only home they have ever known, pursue their educations, and work to strengthen our communities. For these reasons the ELCA has been on record in support of such a program since 2011 (CA11.04.26; https://www.elca.org/Resources/Faith-and-Society#Socialresolutions).
These protections can now continue, easing individual anxiety for the future and ensuring that families can stay together.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that our health and future cannot be separated from the well-being of our neighbor. Even as we celebrate, there is more to do to provide permanent protection for DACA recipients. Today's important decision must be reinforced by legislation that ensures our immigrant neighbors can continue to pursue educations, develop careers, raise families and worship alongside us without constant threats of deportation.
We look ahead and urge passage of H.R.6, the American Dream and Promise Act, which passed the House of Representatives in June 2019. It would provide legal status and a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients while promoting just treatment for other undocumented communities.
The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton Presiding Bishop Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
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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