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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 Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) met at The Lutheran Center in Chicago Nov. 8-11. The council, which serves as the ELCA's board of directors, centered its meeting around worship, Bible study and personal reflections on faith.
As it continues to focus its work around Future Directions 2025, the council engaged in discussions around a "well-governed, connected and sustainable church," as outlined in the plan's fifth goal. Addressing efforts toward governance and building consensus around a shared understanding of its roles and responsibilities, the council approved the Preface and Part 1 of the ELCA Church Council Governance policy manual. The policy manual development committee also led discussions on Part 2 of the manual, which will address how the council can best be equipped to fulfill the roles and responsibilities outlined in Part 1.
In other action, the council elected the Rev. Philip Hirsch to a four-year renewable term as executive director of ELCA Domestic Mission, beginning Feb. 1, 2019. The council also re-elected the Rev. Rafael Malpica Padilla to a four-year renewable term as executive director of ELCA Global Mission, beginning Feb. 1, 2019.
In other business, the council:
recommended to the 2019 Churchwide Assembly the adoption of the policy statement, "A Declaration of Inter-Religious Commitment;"
defined the symbols for the roster of Ministers of Word and Service as a deacon's stole and a cross. In addition, the council requested the ELCA worship team develop an appropriate rite and rubrics for the ordination of deacons, subject to the 2019 Churchwide Assembly approval of ordination as the entrance rite for the roster of Ministers of Word and Service;
formed a working group to draft a declaration to people of African descent to be presented to the 2019 Churchwide Assembly. The working group will develop in this document a confession of this church's bondage to the sins of slavery, racism, discrimination, white supremacy and quietism, and a commitment to begin the work of repentance, which this church confesses to be "the chief topic of Christian teaching;"
extended the Mission Support experiment with five synods—Nebraska Synod, Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod, New England Synod, Lower Susquehanna Synod, and Metropolitan Washington, D.C. Synod. The council requested an initial report be brought to the April 2019 meeting and a final report and recommendations to the November 2019 meeting. Mission Support is the financial offerings from congregations shared with synods and the churchwide organization;
received reports on the implementation of the strategy toward authentic diversity within the ELCA and the repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery. The reports are in response to actions taken by the 2016 Churchwide Assembly;
approved a 2019 fiscal year current fund spending authorization of $67,164, 676; and approved a 2019 ELCA World Hunger spending authorization of $21,500,000;
approved a Church Council designated fund representing the excess revenue over expenses from fiscal year 2018, estimated to be in the range of $1.5-$2.5 million, to be released toward funding the fiscal year 2019 operating budget;
recommended amendments to the constitution of this church for adoption by the 2019 Churchwide Assembly;
adopted revision to Policies and Procedures of the ELCA for Addressing Social Concerns;
revised the Alcohol Social Criteria Investment Screen; and
participated in a conversation on racial justice;
The council also received:
reports from the officers, its committees, the administrative team and the Conference of Bishops;
an update on Always Being Made New: The Campaign for the ELCA;
a report of the Theological Education Advisory Committee (TEAC);
an update on Lutheran Services in America;
presentations from Separately Incorporated Ministries;
congregational vitality learnings; and
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 more than 3.5 million members in more than 9,400 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 – The Rev. Philip C. Hirsch was elected to a four-year renewable term as executive director of the Domestic Mission unit of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Hirsch was elected by the ELCA Church Council at its November meeting. His term will begin Feb. 1, 2019.
Hirsch has served as director for evangelical mission and assistant to the bishop in the ELCA Metropolitan Washington, D.C., Synod since 2009. Before joining the synod staff, Hirsch served as pastor of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Fairfax, Va., from 1999 to 2009. Hirsch was pastor of Christus Evangelical Lutheran Church in Camden, N.J., from 1994 to 1999, and he served his first call at Epiphany Lutheran Church in Camden from 1990 to 1994.
"I am grateful for this opportunity to help serve and lead the church in its mission in the United States," Hirsch said. "I believe that Jesus Christ is the light of the world and the hope for our broken humanity. I look forward to helping our church grow in its ability to connect a younger and more ethnically and economically diverse people with the gospel. I am confident because I know the Holy Spirit always gives us wisdom, power and love far greater than the challenges we face."
Hirsch received his Bachelor of Arts from Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pa., in 1986 and his Master of Divinity degree from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in 1990. The seminary is one of seven ELCA seminaries. Hirsch earned his Doctor of Ministry in homiletics from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, in 1997.
The current executive director for Domestic Mission, the Rev. Stephen P. Bouman, has served since January 2008 and is retiring from the position Jan. 31, 2019.
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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 3.4 million members in more than 9,100 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
The Presiding Bishop and
Conference of Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the
Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church on behalf of its House of Bishops, and
the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committees on International
Justice and Peace and Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs together wish to
raise their grave concern that the Trump Administration has apparently decided
to halt further U.S. humanitarian assistance to hospitals in East Jerusalem as
part of a wider curtailment of U.S. funding that has been assisting the
Palestinian people for many years.
The four medical institutions
associated with us include: Augusta Victoria Hospital (Lutheran) St. John of
Jerusalem Eye Hospital and Princess Basma Rehabilitation Centre (both
Anglican/Episcopal), as well as St. Joseph’s Hospital (Catholic), together with
Makassed Islamic Charitable Hospital, and Red Crescent Maternity Hospital, are
providing invaluable medical care for the most vulnerable populations,
including Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank. We
consider them integral parts of our common commitment to ministry in the Holy
These hospitals provide
life-saving and, in some cases, unique forms of health care not available
otherwise to Palestinians. For example, Augusta Victoria provides kidney
dialysis for children and state-of-the-art cancer care. St. John of Jerusalem
is the only charitable provider of expert eye care in the West Bank, Gaza, and
East Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Princess Basma Centre provides services for
children with a wide range of disabilities and has become one of the pioneering
rehabilitation centers in autism treatment in the West Bank, East Jerusalem,
and Gaza. St. Joseph’s is a 73-bed general hospital serving the Palestinian
neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. All of these institutions provide extensive
outreach services throughout the West Bank.
Each has benefited from U.S.
assistance for decades and, therefore, this decision to discontinue that
funding leaves the patients, the wider Palestinian community, and us
disappointed and perplexed. It is difficult for us to understand why this
humanitarian assistance is being brought to a halt, given that lives are being
Calling the decision “a blow
to the health of the city”, more than a dozen Israeli doctors recently said, “a
sudden and significant cut of support for medical services will cause imminent
and serious harm to the health and wellbeing of those residents of the city who
are well-served by these hospitals and medical centers.”
In addition to being a morally
correct thing to do, U.S. funding is key to paying pharmaceutical suppliers of
medications, paying staff, and avoiding any interruption in the treatment of
patients. We call on the President to restore this vital funding so that these
patients will continue to receive the treatment and care they need.
The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Chair
The Rev. William O. Gafkjen
Bishop, Indiana-Kentucky Synod
Chair, ELCA Conference of Bishops
The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry
The Episcopal Church
Most Reverend Joseph C.
Bishop of Scranton
Chair, USCCB Committee for
Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs
Most Reverend Timothy P.
Archbishop for the Military
Chair, USCCB Committee on
International Justice and Peace