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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).
Media reports say the United States will not continue
to fund the Lutheran World Federation-operated Augusta
Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem. Please call the White House hotline (202-456-1111) or write
a comment in its comments
submissions area to urge them to ensure there is no interruption of assistance for children and others in need
of treatment for cancer and additional life-threatening diseases. This funding represents dollars already promised as part of the 2017 budget.
Another way to help is to give today. Your gifts will be used over-and-above our church’s ongoing, annual support in order to prevent interruptions to the life-saving, critical care provided to children and other patients. Donate today.
Prayer of Intercession:
Look with mercy, gracious God, upon people everywhere who
live with injustice, terror, disease, and death. We remember before you today
the Palestinians who come for healing to East Jerusalem hospitals, including
the Lutheran Hospital on the Mount of Olives. As these hospitals struggle now
with keeping their doors open, send your Holy Spirit upon us and all government
authorities to provide the support needed for your healing work to continue in
Jerusalem; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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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 more than 3.5 million members in more than 9,300 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
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) members pray and care for God's marvelous creation every day. We also join the global Christian community each Sept. 1 to Oct. 4 to mark the Season of Creation. This season starts with a World Day of Prayer for Care of Creation, an invitation to focus our worship, our stewardship and action on honoring God by honoring and caring for God's handiwork.
As members of the ELCA, we share a love and a responsibility for all that God has made. In our social statement "Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope and Justice," we affirm that "made in the image of God, we are called to care for the earth as God cares for the earth. God's command to have dominion and subdue the earth is not a license to dominate and exploit. Human dominion, a special responsibility, should reflect God's way of ruling as a shepherd king who takes the form of a servant, wearing a crown of thorns."We confess the ways in which we have been negligent in our responsibility to God and to all of creation and commit ourselves to exercising our stewardship by upholding the integrity of creation and safeguarding those most vulnerable to environmental degradation.
On this year's World Day of Prayer, I am mindful that our warming climate is creating unprecedented crises for millions. These include increased food insecurity, forced migration, natural disasters, civil conflict and water scarcity. From across all communities most affected by climate change, women and girls are disproportionately affected. According to ACT Alliance, these communities suffer huge losses that extend beyond monetary losses to noneconomic impacts such as loss of lives, land, territory, language and culture. Our response to these losses has focused on the neglect and carelessness, both in private industry and in government regulation, that have contributed to these changes. An honest accounting also recognizes that we all participate, both as consumers and investors, in economies that make intensive and insistent demands for energy. We are part of the solution.
In September, the ELCA will mark the Season of Creation by taking a leadership role during the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco. Together with The Lutheran World Federation and other partners, we will host a Talanoa Dialogue to accompany those most affected by climate change. The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change states: "Talanoa is a traditional word used in Fiji and across the Pacific to reflect a process of inclusive, participatory and transparent dialogue. The purpose of Talanoa is to share stories, build empathy and to make wise decisions for the collective good ... sharing of ideas, skills and experience through storytelling."
The focus of these dialogues will be "Loss and Damage" and "Just Transition" related to climate change. The former will explore the suffering that climate change is causing right now and seek new ways to learn from and accompany those most affected. The latter recognizes that we must also accompany those whose livelihoods are dependent on extractive industries, making sure they are not left behind during the transition to renewable energy sources. These dialogues will equip us in the planetary movement toward climate solutions with initiatives that reflect God's concern for the sufficiency and sustainability of all people.
Our ELCA ministries are making an impact as we as a church take hold of our common responsibility to creation and to God. We know that transitioning to lifestyles that eliminate the causes of global warming is critical and must be done now. In response to the 2016 Churchwide Assembly resolution "Toward a Responsible Energy Future," ELCA members answer the call to care for all of God's creation in our churches and homes through stewardship, education and advocacy. These efforts include establishing environmental stewardship committees, building awareness around energy efficiency, evaluating investments in fossil fuels, and learning more about sustainable farming and development.
All who care for the earth and work for the restoration of its vitality can be confident in the power of the Holy Spirit to guide us as we serve in concert with God's creative and renewing power and the indwelling Spirit of Christ to give us hope, courage and direction.
Almighty God, in giving us dominion over things on earth, you made us coworkers in your creation. Give us wisdom and reverence to use the resources of nature so that no one may suffer from our abuse of them, and that generations yet to come may continue to praise you for your bounty; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen (prayer for stewardship of natural resources, ELW p. 80).
The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton Presiding Bishop Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
CHICAGO – Lutheran Disaster Response has been allocated up to $7.3 million from the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (National VOAD) as part of a cooperative agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to support the implementation of a disaster case-management delivery mechanism for survivors of Hurricane Harvey in Texas.
Lutheran Disaster Response is one of five National VOAD members participating in Project Comeback: Texas, a program specific to the state. Working through Lutheran Social Services Disaster Response, a ministry of Upbring, funds will be used to hire case managers to help disaster survivors access their recovery needs and identify resources, financial and other, to rebuild their homes and their lives.
"Lutheran Disaster Response is pleased to be a part of this program that will help those impacted by Hurricane Harvey by providing disaster case-management services through our long-time affiliate, Upbring, which has many years' experience in this work. This work will assist survivors by having a person to walk with them down the long road to recovery," said the Rev. Michael Stadie, program director of Lutheran Disaster Response U.S.
Much of the work will be focused in 10 counties, one of which includes the city of Rockport, a Texas coastal city that was one of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Harvey.
"Lutheran Social Services Disaster Response, a ministry of Upbring, is honored to partner with the ELCA and Lutheran Disaster Response to provide disaster case-management services for an anticipated 1,000 families along the Texas Gulf Coast that continue to feel the devastation of Hurricane Harvey," said Kurt Senske, Upbring CEO. "By joining forces with local congregations and community organizations, we will truly be serving those in need as we provide help, hope and resources to create a brighter tomorrow."
According to a National VOAD press release, Project Comeback: Texas will be implemented by National VOAD members through their local affiliates and partners, and the direct providers will be organizations already connected to their communities, allowing for better understanding of local relationships, resources and culture. It is also expected that these organizations will hire, collectively, over 400 people – the vast majority of whom will be local hires, further contributing to the community's economic recovery.
Many of the National VOAD consortium partners are already working in these areas and the availability of FEMA funding will allow them to expand their capacity to other areas of need and extend the length of time that they are able to provide disaster case-management services to over 12,000 households in need of further support.
--- About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with more than 3.7 million members in more than 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