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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).
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in
America is very disturbed by the November 18 announcement by Secretary of State
Michael R. Pompeo that the Administration unwisely is changing current U.S.
policy by stating that the “establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in
the West Bank is not per se inconsistent with international law.”
Our church has consistently called
for an end to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory, the
cessation of all settlement activities and withdrawal from settlements on
Palestinian territory to the 1967 boundaries, a negotiated, final status
agreement between Israel and the Palestinians and the establishment of and
international support for a viable, contiguous Palestinian state. We will
continue to work with ecumenical and inter-religious partners who share these
commitments. In the long term, we wish to see Israelis and Palestinians
co-existing in justice and peace, as citizens of viable and secure Israeli and
The Administration’s announcement
makes the realization of these outcomes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
more difficult and distant, rather than advancing the cause of peace. The announcement, like earlier ones on the
conflict, gives no evidence of having been developed in consultation with those
who will be most adversely affected by this policy, namely the Palestinians in
the occupied territory.Instead, it will
give a “green light” to further settlement activity and a worsening of the
conditions of occupation, including intensified military and police measures
and the further diversion of natural and other resources that benefit only
By reverting to the policy of the
Reagan Administration, the new policy ignores facts that have been created on
the ground since 1989 (from a settler population then of close to 200,000 to an
estimated more than 700,000 at present in the West Bank and East
Jerusalem).It also discredits
international law such as various provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention --
to which Israel is a party --about the
obligations of an occupying power as well as the prevailing international
consensus about settlements, most recently articulated in Security Council
resolution 2334 of 2016 (to which all UN member states are bound according to
the UN Charter).
Our distress with this announcement
is primarily its impact on the daily life of Palestinians, especially our
sisters and brothers in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy
Land, but also their Christian and Muslim neighbors. We are also concerned with
policy changes that further distance the United States from the prevailing
international consensus on the path toward a negotiated solution to the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including respecting human rights standards and
The Rev. Elizabeth A.
Eaton Presiding Bishop Evangelical Lutheran
Church in America
CHICAGO — The Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) met at the Lutheran Center in Chicago, Nov. 7-10. Twenty-three new members, elected by the 2019 Churchwide Assembly, were welcomed. The council serves as the ELCA's board of directors and interim legislative authority between meetings of the Churchwide Assembly.
The council took the following key actions:
Authorized use of ministry rites for pastors and deacons in response to constitutional changes by the 2019 Churchwide Assembly that identified ordination as the entrance rite for ministers of Word and Service. The ministry rites for ordination to the ministry of Word and Service, ordination to the ministry of Word and Sacrament, installation of a deacon and installation of a pastor will be effective Jan. 1, 2020.
Created an advisory team to receive updates, track progress and provide periodic reports on the "Strategy Toward Authentic Diversity in the ELCA," adopted by the 2019 Churchwide Assembly.
Adopted a continuing resolution authorizing the creation of a resource development committee of the council to continue developing strategies related to funding initiatives and future churchwide appeals.
Adopted the "Memorandum of Mutual Recognition of Relations of Full Communion" among The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and the ELCA as a way to strengthen ties among the two U.S. and two Canadian churches.
Authorized development of a social message on the vocation of citizenship, civic engagement, and church and state, as requested by the 2019 Churchwide Assembly.
Received the final report of its Theological Education Advisory Committee, approved the committee's recommended transition plan and thanked the committee members for their service.
Approved a 2020 spending authorization of $67,666,652 for the churchwide organization and $21,596,595 for ELCA World Hunger.
Received an update on development of the resource "Trustworthy Servants of the People of God," the replacement for "Vision and Expectations," which articulates the church's hopes and expectations for its rostered ministers.
Adopted the Reference and Counsel Committee recommendations regarding unfinished business from the 2019 Churchwide Assembly.
Referred to the Domestic Mission unit the Conference of Bishops recommendation that the unit give top priority to this church's response to the global crisis of climate change.
Thanked the Rev. Wyvetta Bullock for her faithful service as executive for administration and her many years of service to this church. Bullock will retire Jan. 30, 2020.
In a special order of the day, the council received a greeting from Ms. Rose Simmons, whose father, the Rev. Daniel Lee Simmons Sr., was one of the nine congregants martyred in June 2015 at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.
The council also received reports from the church's presiding bishop, treasurer, secretary and vice president, from the ELCA Conference of Bishops, and from the ELCA's separately incorporated ministries. They also received greetings from ecumenical partners.
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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
CHICAGO — Kathy Freeman Summers was appointed to a four-year term as president and CEO of the ELCA Foundation and executive director of the Mission Advancement unit of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Her term began Oct. 1.
Summers brings to the ELCA more than 30 years of executive leadership in both nonprofit and for-profit organizations.
In her role as president and CEO of the ELCA Foundation, Summers will work closely with the board of trustees to oversee endowments and investments in the ELCA Foundation's proprietary Fund A, as well as the development of planned gifts. As executive director for Mission Advancement, she will oversee advancement services, mission funding and strategic communications for the ELCA.
Since 2016, Summers had served as executive director of the City Colleges of Chicago Foundation. City Colleges of Chicago is the largest community-college system in Illinois and one of the largest in the nation, serving more than 80,000 students annually at seven colleges and five satellite sites.
Summers' responsibilities at City Colleges of Chicago included management of foundation assets, planning and strategy for the board of trustees, donor engagement, regulatory compliance and risk management.
She received a Bachelor of Science in education from Lincoln University, Jefferson City, Mo., and an MBA in marketing and finance from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. Summers is a member of Salem Lutheran Church in Chicago.
- - - 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