Under the Tab above (Lutheran News) you can go to:
Martin Luther Church --- SC Synod --- ELCA
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 Rev. Idalia C. Negrón Caamaño, San Juan, Puerto Rico, was elected June 16 to serve a six-year term as bishop of the Caribbean Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). The election was held during the Synod Assembly June 15-16 at Santísima Trinidad ELC, Bayamon, Puerto Rico.
Negrón Caamaño was elected on the fourth ballot with 61 votes to 21 votes for the Rev. Luis I. Ehandia, pastor of Del Buen Pastor in Santurce, Puerto Rico.
From 2003 to 2015 the bishop-elect served as part-time pastor of San Pablo Lutheran Church in San Juan and part-time director for evangelical mission in the Caribbean Synod. She has served full-time in the synod since 2017.
Negrón Caamaño received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of San Juan in 1969. She received a Master of Divinity from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in 2003. The seminary is one of the seven ELCA seminaries.
Negrón Caamaño will be installed Oct. 6 at Christian Church-Disciples of Christ El Señorial in Cupey, Puerto Rico.
The Rev. Felipe Lozada-Montañez has served as bishop of the Caribbean Synod since 2007 and will retire Aug. 31.
- - -
About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with more than 3.5 million members in 9,300 congregations 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
In response to the ever-changing health care landscape, the ELCA and Portico have worked together to design changes to ELCA Medicare-Primary health benefits that will take effect Jan. 1, 2019. The majority of members with these benefits will be positively affected by enhanced coverage and reduced monthly contributions, or premiums.
Continuing a Tradition of Care Since its formation, the ELCA has been committed to caring for the well-being of churchworkers. Portico has overseen the ELCA's health, retirement, and other benefits since 1988, when the ministries of the Lutheran Church in America, the American Lutheran Church, and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches merged to form the ELCA.
At that time, the ELCA agreed to subsidize health coverage for eligible retirees and family members who participated in a predecessor church plan. The subsidies vary in amount based on several factors, including age and years of sponsored service. Currently, the ELCA subsidizes ELCA Medicare-Primary health benefits for four out of five retirees and spouses. The subsidies range from fewer than $5 to several hundred dollars per month.
Along with the subsidies, the ELCA inherited a funding shortfall. The church has sought to close the gap through funding from the churchwide budget and by collecting a "retiree support" contribution from congregations. However, health care costs have outpaced what anyone imagined in 1988, and life expectancies have continued to grow. As a result, retirees' medical costs have increased significantly and, under the current approach, the ELCA estimates a continued shortfall.
In 2016, the ELCA Church Council formed an ad hoc working group to recommend a plan to sustain this important care. In a video message to members, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton shared: "In response to Church Council decisions, we have worked with Portico to make changes that will reduce costs for you and our church and allow us to continue the care and networks of health care providers you count on for years to come. I am very pleased with the outcome, and I believe you will be too."
Enhanced Coverage, Lower Costs Expected Effective Jan. 1, 2019, Portico has selected Humana to insure its hospital and medical benefits as a group Medicare Advantage plan. These new benefits will replace the Medicare supplement currently administered by Mercer.
The change will affect the nearly 12,000 ELCA Medicare-Primary members, including retirees, spouses, dependents, members receiving disability benefits, and churchworkers who continue active service beyond age 65. Covering more than 8.5 million Medicare enrollees, Humana's economies of scale will help reduce the monthly amount that most ELCA Medicare-Primary plan members contribute, while preserving today's robust coverage.
In addition, Humana will offer new wellness programs that have been requested by members, said Portico president and CEO, the Rev. Jeff Thiemann. "We are excited about the enhanced care and cost savings this change will bring for members."
In 2019, members with ELCA Medicare-Primary health benefits will also have prescription drug coverage administered by Express Scripts and dental coverage administered by Delta Dental, the same companies serving members today.
With this change, the ELCA Medicare-Primary health benefits will no longer cover Medicare-eligible members living outside the United States and its territories. Less than 0.1% of Portico's current membership has this coverage.
Subsidy Change Designed to Strengthen Long-Term Viability Also changing Jan. 1, 2019, the ELCA Church Council has determined that subsidies will become a fixed dollar amount instead of a percentage off the monthly health contribution. The amount is expected to increase 3% per year beginning in 2020, as approved by the council.
For most eligible members, the 2019 subsidy will start at the same dollar amount as today, with some exceptions for members whose subsidies are subject to different terms. For example, a monthly subsidy of $100 in 2018 will start at $100 in 2019 and grow by 3% to $103 in 2020.
Because Portico expects members' monthly health contributions to decrease next year, the subsidy will actually fund a greater portion of the monthly contribution amount. As a result, most retirees can look forward to paying a lower monthly contribution in January.
In fact, some older retirees currently receive such a large subsidy percentage that their 2019 subsidy dollar amount will exceed their 2019 monthly contribution. The excess will be applied toward those individuals' future monthly ELCA health contributions.
It's difficult to accurately predict future health care costs, but if health care costs increase at a greater rate than the subsidy does, the portion of contribution paid by the member may increase over time.
Portico to Share Details, Help Ensure a Smooth Transition Members directly affected by these changes are being contacted in July and will receive personalized details, including 2019 subsidy and contribution amounts, starting in late September. Likewise, in July Portico is sharing advance notice of these changes with members currently age 64 who will be eligible for Medicare in January.
To help ease the change to Humana for retired members, Portico will automatically enroll them in the 2019 option that's most similar to what they have today. Just as in recent years, retired members who prefer a different ELCA Medicare-Primary option ― Economy, Standard, or Premium ― can elect it this fall during Portico's Annual Enrollment.
Members with ELCA Medicare-Primary benefits who are sponsored, on leave from call, or disabled will also transition to the new Medicare Advantage benefits. Like today, these members will keep the Standard health benefit option in 2019. They will have a choice of options when they retire and receive subsidy details if they qualify.
In a joint letter to members, Eaton and Thiemann described these changes as a way to better withstand the decades-long dramatic increase in U.S. health care costs. "More importantly," they said, "this new approach means the church can carry on our time-honored tradition of supporting the well-being of faithful servants."
Thus says the Lord: Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow ... (Jeremiah 22:3).
I am dismayed by the Supreme Court's recent decision concerning the president's authority to restrict travel into the United States. It applies to travelers from certain countries based on those countries' inability to provide information necessary for immigration vetting. Strong vetting procedures have already been authorized by Congress and reviews of applications for possible links to terrorism are also in place. Therefore, restricting all travelers from certain countries simply because they are citizens of those countries is deeply troubling. In the past, we have seen the sometimes horrific effects of excluding and marginalizing (or worse) whole classes of people based on their ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender identity or other characteristics.
Our social statement, "For Peace in God's World," provides theological guidance for the church to respond by offering wise words of caution:
Citizens need to give careful attention to how we in the United States perceive our national interest and interpret our national identity, since what states do depends in large measure on their views of their own interests and identity. Sin's power often makes itself felt in arrogant and self-righteous views of national identity, and in narrow, short-term, and absolute views of national interest.
We expect expressions of our nation's identity to build on the best of our traditions, to respect others' identity, and to open up paths for mutual understanding. For the sake of a greater good or for reasons of conscience, citizens may need to oppose a prevailing understanding or practice of national identity and interest.
With this court decision, we are again reaching a point where the assertion of "national security" by the executive branch of government results in the rejection of all other considerations in national policy discussions. Our social statement also reminds us: "In bondage to sin, we fall captive to fear." Jesus taught us to love one another. The social statement calls us to "a dynamic vision of difference in unity."
In a time … when an idolatrous allegiance to one's own community endangers our oneness, we must voice with clarity the powerful vision of difference in unity. This vision calls us to engage differences, not to ignore or fear them. The hope for earthly peace challenges people to strengthen their own particular communities in ways that promote respect and appreciation for people in other communities, for all share a common humanity.
Let us recall that all people are created in God's image and, therefore, rather than have suspicion be our assumption, let us attribute to them honor and respect as God does.
The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton Presiding Bishop Evangelical Lutheran Church in America