Minstrel Art

Michael Rinehart

***WARNING: There are some demeaning minstrel images in this article. Stop now, if you would rather not see these images.***

It was a stunning day at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly. So many good things happened. The assembly voted to adopt a resolution in support of the #ThursdaysInBlack Campaign, resisting a culture of rape and violence toward women. We adopted a Declaration of Inter-religious Commitment. We voted to commemorate June 17 as the Emanuel 9 Day of Repentance. We adopted a resolution condemning white supremacy. It was a good day. Worship was amazing too, with a sermon by Archbishop Musa Panti Filibus, President of the Lutheran World Federation.

Then an image came up on the screen that caught many of us off guard. An image that looked strikingly to me like artwork that was used to deride African Americans stared me in the face. I wondered if there was something more to this that I wasn’t understanding. Afterwards, some were deeply offended. Others had no idea what had happened. Before I go into the image, let me offer a little background for those who may not know the history, or why the picture has raised concerns. The public school curriculum is inadequate when it comes to black history. So this is a learning opportunity. It is really important for us to know and understand this particular piece of history.

In the mid-1800’s, prior to the Civil War, a form of art and theater developed. Some call it “minstrelsy.” White actors depicted life in black communities, by smearing burned cork, grease, or shoe polish on their white faces, to make them look black. Then they acted like idiots. These comedic plays depicted blacks as poor and stupid, in tattered clothes. Everything was exaggerated. Language, dance and lifestyle were caricatured. Blacks were characterized as lazy, cowardly, dishonest, superstitious and dangerous. These plays and the posters promoting them became extremely popular in white communities. They reinforced the dominant society.

The first minstrel shows mimicked enslaved Africans on Southern plantations, depicting black people as lazy, ignorant, cowardly or hypersexual…

– The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC)

Historian Dale Cockrell says poor and working-class whites who felt “squeezed politically, economically, and socially from the top, but also from the bottom, invented minstrelsy” as a way of expressing the oppression that marked being members of thefullsizeoutput_bb9f majority, but outside of the white norm. Minstrel plays and art reinforced white dominance, white supremacy. African slaves were derided as the butt of cruel jokes.

The most well-known blackface character was, of course, Jim Crow, from the 1830’s. He was copied in art, makeup and costumes. Music was composed. Sheet music was written.

Blackface performances became even more popular after the Civil War, as whites grew more fearful of black uprisings, or simply losing their dominant place in society.  As African Americans began to press for their rights and claims to citizenship, the stereotypes and fear exploded. As several historians have stated, “The influence of minstrelsy and racial stereotyping on American society cannot be overstated.”

This was mainstream stuff. Al Jolson performed in blackface in the 1927 film “The Jazz Singer.” Shirley Temple, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby and Mickey Rooney all donned blackface, making racial parody family amusement. What began as creating a stereotype of African Americans as sub-human in every way became a trend. When someone can be presented as less than human, others can be desensitized, an enabled to commit atrocities. It justified fear and suspicion. In many places this dehumanization led to urban myths about African Americans, and fueled lynchings.

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By distorting the features and culture of African Americans—including their looks, language, dance, deportment and character—white Americans were able to codify whiteness across class and geopolitical lines as its antithesis. – The Smithsonian’s NMAAHC

There are some who may be unaware of this history. We must teach it. Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.

Some are mildly aware, but continue to insist that blackface is good family entertainment. This kind of white-splaining is the same mentality that ignores the pain the Confederate Flag raises. Perhaps the most common defense is “I didn’t know.” A second defense is, “It’s not racist.”

In 2018, Megyn Kelly lost her show due to this cultural blindspot. She called blackface “a costume for Halloween”, and misjudged the outrage as “political correctness.” https://youtu.be/pqlD-eZm1ck

IMG_3013If you think racially demeaning art is a thing of the past, just consider the awful stuff that emerged during the last presidential administration. I won’t reproduce the images of President Obama being burned in effigy, the hangman’s nooses, or the calls for him to return to Africa. It got ugly. This is not over. In fact hate speech and vandalism are on the rise. We have work to do.

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So let’s return to the artwork in question. Here it is:

Knowing the history you can see the problem. It’s obvious why some in the worship service were stunned to see this appear during worship. I was one of them.

It turns out the artwork is by an obscure artist named Joseph Byron Egan (American, 1906-1962) who lived and worked in Ohio and Illinois. I have spoken with a couple of art professors. They said the artist is obscure, and the history of this artist and his work, not to mention his intentions, are unknown. The influence of minstrel art cannot be missed. Whether intentional or not, its similarity to the minstrel genre cannot be coincidence.

So what happened? I have a hard time believing any of the people I know on the worship team would intentionally use art designed to demean others. I can’t image they would knowingly use minstrel art. I hope no one intended to re-traumatize a constantly traumatized community, used to hearing their experience of racism denied, discredited and dismissed.

This was a mistake. Those involved didn’t recognize it for what it was. This is, however, part of the problem. This raises a different kind of issue then. As my friend and colleague said, “This is not about an individual. This is about systems.” How diverse was the team that vetting these things? Any African American I know who saw this image would have flinched immediately, and said, “No way.”

To his credit, the outgoing director of worship stood before the Churchwide Assembly and apologized. He took full responsibility. The Presiding Bishop also apologized. The art curator apologized. This is the most appropriate response.

This is a test for a church that just renounced white supremacy. Do we mean it? Will we own the problem, or whitewash it? What are we going do to about it? Can we recognize our blind spots, and how racism is baked into our systems, culture and institutions? Can we acknowledge unintentional bias? Can we admit that even when we are unaware, our actions can cause harm? Can we own our blindness? Can we admit that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves? Will we, like theologians of the cross, call a thing what it is? Or will we deny, defend and deflect?

We all have blind spots. I am the chief of sinners. This is why we need each other. Many of our schools did a lousy job of teaching black history. Many know nothing of the minstrel plays and art. Those who don’t know the history are doomed to repeat it. Those who have not personally experienced racial discrimination may be oblivious to things that are eminently obvious to people of color. If the whitest denomination in the U.S. wants to look more like the communities it serves, we will need to open our eyes. Denying the offense only shows our cultural unawareness.

The only solution is for us to learn the history, and to come into relationships with those across the racial divides. Education and diverse relationships are antidotes to racial ignorance. It will not do to say, “I don’t see color. I’m color blind.” Blind indeed. Blind to the inequities and injustices in society. Blind to the generational income gap. Blind to the educational gap. Blind to the health gap. We don’t need blindness. We need to open our eyes. Awareness, not blindness.

We must accept the apology. We must also, however, ask what actions are going to be taken to remedy the situation. Will we make sure planning teams are racially diverse? Diverse in other ways? What have we learned? How will be grow?

More importantly, before you attempt to remove the log from others’ eyes, be sure to take the log out of your own. Are our synod and congregational worship teams and committees diverse? How about our outreach teams and committees? Call committees? Congregation Councils? Synod Council? This is not about political correctness. This is about healing the brokenness of the world. It is about healing the wounds in our society, and in our church. It starts at home. It starts with our friendships, our children, our neighborhoods, our congregations. This matters deeply. It is the gospel.

The Apostle Paul came to the conclusion that what Jesus had done in his life, death, and resurrection ultimately meant an end to human distinctions. Racial distinctions had no real power. They did not matter. He concluded that the difference between citizens and non-citizens was unimportant. The divide between slaves and free had been bridged. Even the inequities between men and women had been overcome in Christ. Those “in Christ” see beyond this reality into a new reality. If this is so, then the church has been blessed with the calling to live freely and boldly into this new reality.

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 

– Galatians 3:28

 

 

 

 

Reflections on the 2019 Churchwide Assembly

Kerry Nelson

I was very grateful to be elected to attend the 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly as a voting member. Until I got there. As soon as I walked into the hotel, and then stood waiting for the elevator with Bishop Eaton, I felt the same sense of “imposter syndrome” that has marked my entire time as a Lutheran. I didn’t grow up in this church. I will never truly belong to this church. I am, and will always be, an outsider.

How can that be? I’m a tall, white, heterosexual, male person now serving in my 32ndyear as a pastor. I’m even, according to Ancestry.com, 63% Norwegian and 24% Swedish! I should be a Lutheran poster boy! But that is only the me that the world sees.

The world doesn’t see the little boy growing up without a father in a home with a mom and three younger sisters, told to be the “man of the house” before he entered kindergarten. The world doesn’t see a home life marked by alcoholism, mental illness, terror, and abuse. The world doesn’t see how much shame a person swallows when raised by a single parent in the 1960’s, or what it felt like to be dirt poor. I didn’t get a paper route in the 3rdgrade, lying about my age, or start working weekends and summers for a farmer when I was in the 7thgrade, for the fun of it. If I wanted something, I had to buy it myself.

I also learned while growing up that the church wasn’t for people like us. The church was for families, white families, with a father, a mother, at least two kids, a nice house, a stable job, and a few pets. Church people dressed nicely, didn’t drink, smoke, or swear. Church people were boring and they certainly weren’t us.

But then something changed for me. After my freshman year in college, I got a glimmer of hope that God was real, that there was room in God’s love for me, and that I mattered. When the news of God’s love for me really hit me, not the outside me but the inside me, things in my life began to change.

Still today, the news that God loves me, who I really am, beneath everything else, remains shockingly good news to me. By the end of my college years I had joined a Lutheran church and headed off to seminary so that I could spend the rest of my life sharing my newfound, very Lutheran, sense of God’s grace and presence.

I share all of this because it powerfully shaped my experience at the CWA.

Along with Bishop Rinehart, I was ordained into the ELCA. During my time in the seminary, we didn’t spend much time talking about the formation of this new church body. That meant next to nothing to me as I struggled through Greek and the personal emotional crises that marked those years. I was excited to be part of something new.

When certain seminary professors talked fondly of the good old days when all the students were male, I thought about my mother and how many cultural forces kept her in her place.

When people in the early years of the ELCA complained about “Higgins Road” and the “quota system”, all I could hear was the dying gasp of the loss of WASP power and the hopeful strains of Dr. King’s dream. I was absolutely convinced that, if there wasn’t room in our church for all of the people that God made room for in God’s love, then there wasn’t room for me.

When people came unglued at the idea of two men in love with each other – as well as all of the other diverse ways that people experience life – all I could think about was how there had to be room in God’s love for them too. I might not ever fully understand their life experiences but neither will anyone else fully understand mine. The best we can do is welcome one another, share our stories, and stand with and for each other.

So I paid close attention at the CWA. I saw a church that has come a long way. NOT by battening down the hatches of a Northern European culture or hiding behind stained glass accompanied by organ music. Not that we haven’t done some of that. Or that we still don’t struggle with that. But that isn’t where we sense God leading us.

We are, and will always be, simul justus et peccator, but the good news is that we are a church struggling to be shaped by the good news of God’s love and the implications implicit in that for how we do our lives. We are a hospital church, not a museum church. I am a stone cold sinner who will always need the healing balm that God provides in Christian community. And, I’m convinced, so does everyone else.

I trust that others will share the list of actions and stances that the CWA took. Let my reflection be simply this – I remain grateful that God led me to the Lutheran community, and that, once I got there, they let me in. As I looked around at that crowd of diverse witnesses surrounding me in that assembly hall, I realized that, imposter though I be, I wasn’t alone.

 

 

 

Sanctuary, Detention and the Prayer Vigil at the Milwaukee ICE/DHS Office

Michael Rinehart

When a thousand people gather from all over the country, it is quite a thing to behold. The 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Milwaukee August 5-10 felt like a very large family reunion of sorts. On Wednesday of the gathering, a prayer vigil was planned during lunch. Whoever wanted to would walk to the ICE/DHS office in Milwaukee, about a mile, and hold a prayer vigil. As it turned out about 700 of us went. This tells you that people don’t want to see families separated and treated as they have been. A majority of US Americans feel this way. Most want to welcome asylum-seekers. The naysayers are loud, but not as many as one might think. This is true of much of the immigration issue. For example, surveys show that even a majority of Trump voters favor an earned path of citizenship for the 11 million people in our country seeking documentation.

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People in this church see immigration, detention, separation of families, the crisis in Central America and the plight of asylum-seekers as a moral issue, not a political one.

The 2019 Churchwide Assembly received 88 memorials from synods. One of those was from the Metro New York Synod requesting the ELCA declare itself a “sanctuary church.” To understand what the New York Synod means by “sanctuary church,” one can begin by reading what they wrote in the original memorial:

Category A9: Sanctuary

Metropolitan New York Synod (7C) [2019]

RESOLVED that Sanctuary not only means the provision of shelter but is a

  • RESPONSE to raids, detentions, deportations, and the criminalization of immigrants and refugees; a
  • STRATEGY to fight individual cases of deportation, to advocate for an end of mass detention and amplify immigrant voices; a
  • VISION for what our communities and world can be; and a
  • MORAL IMPERATIVE to take prophetic action of radical hospitality rooted in the ancient traditions of our faith communities; and be it further

RESOLVED that the Metropolitan New York Synod declare itself one of the first major metropolitan Sanctuary Synods of the ELCA ready to help protect refugees and undocumented people from arrest and deportation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers (ICE), in partnership with organizations like Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, The New Sanctuary Coalition, The New York Immigration Coalition, New York Legal Aid Society, and the ELCA’s AMMPARO program by:

  • Developing a network of sanctuary congregations
  • Coordinating accompaniment trainings— being silent advocates during check-ins or hearings
  • Creating a plan for awareness building around issues of immigration and refugees
  • Advocating for just immigration policies, including fairness in admitting and protecting refugees; and be it further

RESOLVED that the Metropolitan New York Synod endorse, fully support, and help train congregations seeking to be sanctuary congregations, creating a network of sanctuary in our synod, whose work would include but not be limited to:

  • Help congregations explore why and how to identify themselves as sanctuary congregations,
  • Reach out to nearby immigrant congregations or communities,
  • Expand or redevelop existing programs with a focus on reaching out to immigrants and refugees,
  • Create and distribute “Know Your Rights Cards” to undocumented persons,
  • Reach out and network with other sanctuary congregations to share support and information,
  • Provide short-term respite sanctuary during immediate crisis,
  • Train in and participate in accompaniment program,
  • Participate in the ELCA’s AAMPARO program for unaccompanied minors,
  • Encourage participation in “Jericho Walks” around Federal Plaza, and
  • Host Immigration Consultations with legal professionals for immigrants; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the Metropolitan New York Synod memorialize the 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly to adopt a similar resolution for the whole Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The Metro New Synod defines sanctuary as shelter, response to raids, detentions, deportations, and the criminalization of immigrants and refugees; s strategy to fight deportation, advocacy, amplification of immigrant voices, and radical hospitality.

It’s that last RESOLVED that brought this to the Churchwide Assembly.

Sanctuary is a loaded term. Different religious groups use the term in different ways. Christians have offered sanctuary for two thousand years. Houses of worship have served as places of refuge for a long time. All churches  are called to serve all people in need, without checking their citizen status at the door.

According to Wikipedia, the Sanctuary Movement began in the 1980’s when churches sheltered Central American refugees fleeing Civil War. “The movement was a response to federal immigration policies that made obtaining asylum difficult for Central Americans.” Churches protected those fleeing the Salvadoran and Guatemalan death squads, and seeking asylum in the US. Presbyterian Minister John Fife co-founded the Sanctuary movement. He was convicted of violating immigration laws and served five years probation. He later became the Moderator for the Presbyterian Church USA. The other co-founder was American rancher and Quaker philosopher Jim Corbett. He pointed the Geneva Convention barred countries from deporting refugees during a Civil War. He was arrested and ultimately acquitted.

At its peak, Sanctuary involved over 500 congregations in the United States which, by declaring themselves official “sanctuaries,” committed to providing shelter, protection, material goods and often legal advice to Central American refugees. Various denominations were involved, including the Lutherans, United Church of Christ, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Jews, Unitarian Universalists, Quakers, and Mennonites.

Congregations that have participated in civil disobedience draw on the experience of the Underground Railroad, and also Medieval Jewish and Christian understandings of sanctuary. Think Rosa Parks. Gandhi burning his South African identification card. Martin Luther King once said, “One who breaks an unjust law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.”

Many congregations are involved in helping immigrants to know their rights. The ELCA Churchwide Organization, through the AMMPARO strategy, has, for a long time, been working through our global partners in Central America to alleviate the conditions that cause people to migrate. We support

organizations and faith communities that work with deported migrants in Central America and advocate for the humane treatment of immigrants in Mexico. In the U.S., we have a network of 151 welcoming and sanctuary congregations that are committed to working on migration issues and a welcome for immigrant communities. This church also has five sanctuary synods (our regional structures), all of which do work with immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers.

Knowing this, Reference and Counsel amended the resolution to recognize that some congregations were doing this kind of sheltering  work already, and to direct the appropriate leaders to provide resources to congregations on immigration and sanctuary. Someone in the assembly, moved to put the sanctuary declaration back in, and after discussion it passed. The Assembly then took up the motion, and eventually passed this amended version.

CA 19.03.11

To receive with gratitude the memorial from the Metropolitan New York Synod concerning sanctuary;

To reaffirm the long-term and growing commitment of this church to migrants and refugees and to the policy questions involved, as exemplified most recently in the comprehensive strategy Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities (AMMPARO);

To recognizethat the ELCA in congregations, synods and the churchwide organization are already taking the actions requested by this memorial; and

To request that appropriate staff on the AMMPARO team, LIRS and the Domestic Mission, Global Mission, and Mission Advancement units review the existing strategies and practices by the five current sanctuary synods and develop a plan for additional tools that provide for education and discernment around sanctuary; and

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America declares itself a sanctuary church body; and

To requestthe ELCA Church Council, in consultation with the appropriate churchwide units and offices, provide guidance for the three expressions of this church about what it means to be a sanctuary church body and provide a report to the 2022 Churchwide Assembly.

We’ve talked a lot about what sanctuary means. Now we need to discuss what it does not mean.

In our ELCA polity, we do not have canon law. The Churchwide Assembly also voted to make June 17 a day to commemorate the Emanuel 9. It cannot force congregations to observe it. We’re not set up that way. A synod May be RIC, but that doesn’t guarantee every congregation will be welcoming. The declaration says the denomination will support congregations that choose to offer sanctuary. Nothing in this action binds synods, congregations, or any other organizations affiliated with the church; it binds only Churchwide.  So, it does not require congregations to do anything.

Sunday, August 11, 2019, Fox News hit job on the ELCA and the sanctuary declaration.  https://video.foxnews.com/v/6071684544001/?fbclid=IwAR0TBUG-artys0R8ZyTQbmccAezaT3b9Er33pTXJl_QQLgfLuArMSl-zo50#sp=show-clips

There are so many inaccuracies in the report there is not enough space to go into them all one by one. I love how the Southern Baptist Minister describes us as a declining liberal denomination, flossing over the fact that all denominations are in decline, including his own Southern Baptist Convention Which is the smallest it has been in 30 years. Dr. Ahmed describes the alarming health risk of unvaccinated illegal immigrants pouring over the border. Sadly, such made-up images work on the uninformed.

The minister quoted Romans 13, saying we should be subject to the governing authorities. He conveniently forgets that many of Paul’s letters were written from prison. He conveniently forgets that the pioneer of our faith was executed by those governing authorities. Pop Christianity seems to have forgotten its roots, and its commitment to those in need. We seem to be responding to the one in the ditch more like the priest and the Levite, than the Good Samaritan.

In the midst of this barrage of information, one thing is clear. Jesus told us to welcome the stranger. He told the story of the Good Samaritan. We are called to love our neighbor regardless of their race or  citizenship status. This is not a political issue. It is a moral issue.

The ELCA Churchwide Assembly 2019

Churchwide Assembly
Madison Wisconsin
August 5-10, 2019

Wow, what a whirlwind. Nearly one thousand people gathered from all over the country, and some from beyond, to pray, worship, study, vote, and work together. Worship was 11:00 a.m. every day. There were Bible Studies, receptions, hearings and more. Below are the various decisions that were made.

Gulf Coast Synod Voting Members to the 2019 Assembly:

  1. Lynnae Schatz
  2. Angela Bell
  3. Dennis Meszaros
  4. Ephraim Danforth
  5. Adriana Johnson Rivas
  6. Kerry Nelson
  7. Diedre Hayes (unavailable due to family issues)
  8. Caleb Parks
  9. Michael Rinehart, Bishop
  10. Robert Rivera, Vice President (unavailable due to health issues)

This issue of Connections will have a number of articles on the many aspects of the Churchwide Assembly. This article begins with a short summary, then goes a bit more into detail in a day-by-day play-by-play.

There will be additional articles on the following for September 1, 2019 issue of Connections.

  1. The 50th Anniversary of the Ordination of Women, by Tracey Breashears Schultz
  2. Reflections on the 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly by Kerry Nelson.
  3. The renunciation of white supremacy, and the declaration to the people of African descent, by Mike Rinehart
  4. Sanctuary, Detention and the Prayer Vigil at the ICE/DHS Office by Mike Rinehart
  5. Becoming Aware of Minstrel Art, by Mike Rinehart

If it feels like a lot. It was. Six days.

First the really short summary…

Our denomination, the ELCA, holds a churchwide assembly triennially – to worship, vote on matters of governance and policy, and be church together for the sake of the world.  This past week’s churchwide assembly was full of important votes and actions, including:

  • Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton was reelected for a second six-year term on the first ballot.
  • A declaration of apology to our siblings of African descent, which was received by the African Descent Lutheran Association with thanks and a call for accountability and living into the words shared.
  • Approved resolution declaring the ELCA is a “sanctuary church body,” encouraging participation in the ELCA AMMPARO initiative for migrant children, discernment of care for our immigrant neighbors in our context, and the promise of forthcoming resources for this work.IMG_2813.jpg
  • Approved support for the World Council of Church’s Thursdays in Black, awareness movement for a world without rape and violence.
  • Voted to commemorate June 17 as a day of repentance, in honor and remembrance of the martyrdom of the Emanuel 9.
  • Approved a declaration for inter-religious commitment, reaffirming ecumenical and interfaith partnerships.
  • Approved the recommendations from a strategic taskforce which has been studying how to work toward authentic diversity in our church.
  • Approved memorials: affirming but not “endorsing” the Poor People’s Campaign, care for immigrants and refugees, and other statements.
  • Adopted a new social statement, “Faith, Sexism, and Justice: a Lutheran Call to Action,” and its implementing resolutions.
  • Deacon Sue Rothmeyer was elected Churchwide Secretary, a full-time position which acts as executive administrator and leader on all constitutional matters and interpretation.
  • Constitutional change for Deacons (rostered ministers of word and service) to be ordained, from the previous practice of consecration.
  • Celebrated the milestones of 50 years of women’s ordination, 40 years since the first woman of color was ordained, and 10 years since full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ clergy.

 Now the daily play-by-play

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Bishops, VPs, Church Council and staff met.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Registration and Opening Worship

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Carlos Peña (former ELCA VP) and his wife Diane (both members at First Galveston, Bishop Mike and Clarence Smith (ELCA Church Council and former member of Faith Bellaire)

Opening of the Assembly

After opening worship and dinner, we met in plenary. We agreed to the rules and set the agenda. Committees and their chairs were established.

Constitutional Amendments

Some constitutional amendments were approved, giving the Church Council voice and vote at the Churchwide Assembly (12.41.16., 12.41.17), and moving the Endowment Fund of the ELCA to chapter 17 as a separately incorporated ministry, beginning with 17.60. through 17.60.B19.

Campaign for the ELCA

The Rev. Ronald T. Glusenkamp, director of the Campaign for the ELCA, and Ms. Christina Jackson-Skelton, executive for the Mission Advancement unit, provided an update on the completion of the campaign. At its close on June 30, 2019, cash and multi-year commitments totaled $195 million dollars. Planned gift commitments toward campaign priorities were $55 million. The total impact of the campaign was $250 million.

fullsizeoutput_bb8cFirst Ballot for Presiding Bishop

Vice President William B. Horne II led the assembly in casting the first ballot for presiding bishop. 922 voting members had arrived and registered by this time. We recessed, a bit after 9:30 p.m.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Oops

A voting member brought constitutional provision 22.21.of the ELCA Constitution to the Secretary’s attention. It states, “In no event shall an amendment be placed before the assembly for action sooner than the day following its presentation to the assembly.” This meant the constitutional changes from yesterday were out of order. Though they had released the election results, and Bishop Eaton had been elected on the first ballot, this ballot was also invalid, since Church Council members had voted. So we had to do it all again.

Constitutional Amendments

Once again we amended the Constitutions, Bylaws, and Continuing Resolutions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: 12.41.16., 12.41.17., and 17.60. through 17.60.B19. The action passed, again, with a 2/3 vote.

First Ballot for Presiding Bishop (again)

Vice President William B. Horne II led the assembly in casting the first ballot for presiding bishop. As of 9:16 a.m., 929 voting members had registered to cast ballots.

Faith, Sexism and Justice: A Lutheran Call to Action

The Proposed Social Statement “Faith, Sexism and Justice: A Lutheran Call to Action was presented by the co-chairs of the Women and Justice Task Force, the Rev. Viviane Thomas-Breitfeld and Mr. Brad Wendel. The vote was set for Friday.

Budget Proposal

We heard a lengthy presentation of the budget, with videos for each section. The Rev. M. Wyvetta Bullock, executive for administration of the churchwide organization, presented the proposed budget for the next triennium. The vote was set for Thursday.

Report of the First Ballot for Bishop

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Bishop Eaton was elected to a second term on the second first ballot.

Of 893 legal ballots cast, Bishop Eaton was elected with 725 votes, more than the first time.

Declaration of the ELCA to the People of African Descent

Bishops Eaton, Gohl and several Church Council members presented the Declaration. The Rev. Lamont Wells, President of the African Descent Lutheran Association and members of that Association, Ms. Tracey Beasley and the Rev. Tiffany Chaney accepted the document.

Memorials Committee

Synod assemblies sent 88 memorials to the 2019 Churchwide Assembly. The memorials were sorted into 34 categories. The committee prepared a recommendation for assembly action for each category. The committee moved 32 of the recommended actions en bloc and began addressing the remaining two recommendations separately. Voting members removed six recommended actions from en bloc. A total of eight memorial topics will be discussed over the course of the assembly. Here are the 32 that passed en bloc. YES-829; NO-33.

  • Category A1: Gun Violence
  • Category A3: Ethiopian Suffering
  • Category A4: Earth Charter
  • Category A5: Carbon Fee (and Dividend)
  • Category A7: Immigrants and Refugees
  • Category A8: Deportation
  • Category B1: Just Peace
  • Category B2: Palestine (No Way to Treat a Child)
  • Category B3: Augusta Victoria Hospital
  • Category B4: Engagement in the Holy Land
  • Category C2: Income Inequality
  • Category C4: Gender Identity
  • Category C6: Gun Policy
  • Category C7: (In Support of) “Faith, Sexism, and Justice” Proposed Social Statement
  • Category C8: Implementation of “Faith, Sexism, Justice” Proposed Social Statement
  • Category D2: Sexual Misconduct
  • Category D3: Unaltered Augsburg Confession
  • Category D4: Thrivent
  • Category D5: Social Purpose Funds (Portico)
  • Category D6: Seminary Tuition
  • Category D8: Vision and Expectations Task Force
  • Category D9: Bishop Evaluation
  • Category D10: Merging or Consolidating Synods
  • Category E1: Word and Service Constitutional Amendments
  • Category E2: Binary Designations
  • Category E3: Titles of Ministers

A list of all the memorials and their details can be found here. Note that they didn’t all pass in their form in this report. Many were amended.

A Declaration of Inter-Religious Commitment

“A Declaration of Inter-Religious Commitment”was introduced by Bishop Lull and members of the task force. A vote was scheduled for Thursday.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Recognition of Secretary Boerger’s Service

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Secretary Chris Boerger and his spouse Dee Dee.

The Rev. Wm Chris Boerger was recognized for his leadership in this church and his six years of service as secretary with the Servus Dei award. This award honors officers of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America at the completion of their terms.

Memorial: 50thAnniversary of the Ordination of Women

Ms. Cheryl T. Chatman and Mr. Reid A. Christopherson, co-chairs of the Memorials Committee, addressed the memorial relating to recognizing the 50th anniversary of the decision to ordain women to the ministry of Word and Sacrament and the memorial regarding sanctuary. A list of all the memorials and their details can be found here.The assembly voted, Yes-824; No-75, to insert “and the 10th anniversary of the ELCA’s decision to remove the barriers to ordination for people in same-gendered relationships” after the “Lutheran Tradition in the United States.”

To receive with gratitude the memorials from the Oregon, Southwest California, Western North Dakota, Northeastern Minnesota, Minneapolis Area, Saint Paul Area, Nebraska, Central States, Arkansas-Oklahoma, Northern Illinois, Southeastern Iowa, Western Iowa, North/West Lower Michigan, Northeastern Ohio, New Jersey, New England, Metropolitan New York, Upstate New York, Southeastern Pennsylvania, Allegheny, and Virginia synods concerning the 50th anniversary of the ELCA’s ordination of women to the ministry of Word and Sacrament;

To encourage all synods and congregations to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the ELCA’s ordination of women in 2020 and the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the ordination of women of color in the Lutheran tradition in the United States and the 10th anniversary of the ELCA’s decision to remove the barriers to ordination for people in same-gendered relationships and recognize the diversity of gifts that women’s ordination brings to this church;

To call upon synods, congregations and the churchwide organization to recognize the need for repentance and continued examination regarding equity for ministerial leadership and to collaborate in systemic work to address disparities based on gender and race for people in rostered ministry;

To direct the Office of the Presiding Bishop, in consultation with other churchwide units, to conduct a gap analysis of rostered women, with a particular focus on the challenges faced by rostered women of color; and

To recognize the implementing resolutions for the proposed social statement “Faith, Sexism, and Justice: A Lutheran Call to Action” as a response to the sexism and racism concerns raised by these memorials.

Memorial: “Faith, Sexism, Justice: A Lutheran Call to Action” and its implementing resolutions.

The memorial passed by a majority. A list of all the memorials and their details can be found here.

Memorial: Sanctuary

The assembly voted, Yes-718; No-191, to amend the motion to add “The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America declares itself a sanctuary church body.” as the last clause. Then they amended the motion to add “LIRS” in the fourth paragraph after “AMMPARO team.”

Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton called for the orders of the day, so we moved on, leaving the memorial on the table. The original memorial can be found here: A list of all the memorials and their details can be found here. The memorial in its final form is printed below at the point at which it passed.

Prayer Vigil

 

During lunch those who wished to participate walked to the local ICE/DHS Office and held a prayer vigil. 700 people participated.

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Hundreds participated in the prayer vigil at the ICE/DHS office.

Elections: First Common Ballot

The Elections Committee distributed ballots for the 2019 Churchwide Assembly to elect members to the Church Council, boards of separately incorporated ministries, and boards of churchwide committees. There were 112 tickets for action. The deadline to return ballots was 2:15 p.m.

Elections: First Ballot for Secretary

Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton led the assembly in casting the first ballot for secretary. As of 9:37 a.m., 932 voting members had registered to cast ballots.

College Corporation Meetings

The 2019 Churchwide Assembly recessed and convened sequentially at 3:44 p.m. as the college corporation meetings for Wartburg College, Waverly, Iowa and Luther College, Decorah, Iowa. The 2019 Churchwide Assembly reconvened at 3:52 p.m.

Memorial: Category A9: Sanctuary

The assembly amended the last clause. The following passed:

CA19.03.11 To receive with gratitude the memorial from the Metropolitan New York Synod concerning sanctuary;

To reaffirm the long-term and growing commitment of this church to migrants and refugees and to the policy questions involved, as exemplified most recently in the comprehensive strategy Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities (AMMPARO);

To recognize that the ELCA in congregations, synods and the churchwide organization are already taking the actions requested by this memorial; and

To request that appropriate staff on the AMMPARO team, LIRS and the Domestic Mission, Global Mission, and Mission Advancement units review the existing strategies and practices by the five current sanctuary synods and develop a plan for additional tools that provide for education and discernment around sanctuary;

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America declares itself a sanctuary church body; 

 To request the ELCA Church Council, in consultation with the appropriate churchwide units and offices, provide guidance for the three expressions of this church about what it means to be a sanctuary church body and provide a report to the 2022 Churchwide Assembly…

Memorial: Category A2: Peacebuilding

The assembly voted, YES-656; NO-224

CA19.03.12 To receive with gratitude the memorials from the Sierra Pacific Synod concerning the creation of a U.S. Department of Peacebuilding but to decline to take action at this time.

Emanuel 9 Day June 17

Ms. Emma K. Wagner and Mr. James J.F. Jennings, co-chairs of the Reference and Counsel Committee, made the motion to adopt Motion A: “Resolution to Establish June 17th as Emmanuel 9 Day of Repentance” on behalf of the committee. An amendment was proposed to the resolution. After further discussion, Presiding Bishop Eaton called for the orders of the day.

Election Results of First Ballot for Secretary

Of the 861 legal ballots cast, none of the nominees received the necessary 646 votes for election. Those who received votes are able to remove their names from being included on the second ballot for secretary before 12:00 p.m. on Thursday, August 8.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

World Council of Churches’ Thursdays in Black Campaign

Ms. Emma K. Wagner and Mr. James J.F. Jennings, co-chairs of the Reference and Counsel Committee, made the motion to adopt Motion E on behalf of the committee.

Presiding Bishop’s Report

fullsizeoutput_bbb8As a part of her report, the Presiding Bishop led us in singing This Little Light of Mine, after which Pra. Adriana Johnson Rivas of Houston kept sing, in Spanish, by herself for all one thousand of us.

Motion E: Resolution on Support for Engagement of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America through the #ThursdaysinBlack Campaign of the World Council of Churches

Submitted by: Bishop Donald Kreiss [Southeast Michigan, 6A]

 WHEREAS, in 2015, the ELCA Church Council adopted the ELCA social message “Gender-based Violence” in order to increase awareness, accountability, and action across the church about the alarming degree of gender-based violence in church and society; and

WHEREAS, the companion “Foundational documentation for a social message on Gender-based Violence” provides additional resources for understanding gender-based violence as a deeply systemic social problem, a theological concern, a pastoral challenge, and a critical matter for faith-based action and advocacy; and

WHEREAS, in 2013, the Lutheran World Federation Council adopted a “Gender Justice Policy,” laying out a biblically-rooted framework for the global Lutheran communion of churches to take concrete, contextually appropriate steps to implement gender justice; and

 WHEREAS, the XII Assembly of the LWF in 2017 passed a resolution encouraging member churches to partner with civil society on sex education and the elimination of all forms of sexual and gender-based violence in church and society; and

WHEREAS, the World Council of Churches (WCC) Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women (1988-1998) gave witness to the movements of women against gender-based violence around the world and inspired the launch of a global, ecumenical campaign, Thursdays in Black: Resistance and Resilience; and

WHEREAS, the WCC, on the occasion of its 70th anniversary in 2018, relaunched its #ThursdaysinBlack campaign, calling upon its member churches and the global ecumenical family to recommit to work toward education about and elimination of gender-based violence; therefore, be it

 RESOLVED, that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America calls upon all people across all expressions of the church to participate in the #ThursdaysinBlack campaign by wearing black on Thursdays and actively participating in the various reflection and action items detailed in the ELCA “Gender-based Violence” social message and documentation; the LWF Gender Justice Policy; and the WCC resources for #ThursdaysinBlack.

 http://www.ELCA.org/Faith/Faith-and-Society/Social-Messages/Gender-Violence
http://www.LutheranWorld.org/Content/Resource-LWF-Gender-Justice-Policy
http://www.Oikoumene.org/En/Get-Involved/Thursdays-In-Black

Reference and Counsel Committee recommended adopting the resolution. The assembly overwhelmingly passed the motion, YES-891; NO-4. ACTION CA19.04.13

Elections: Report of the First Common Ballot and Second Common Ballot

The Elections Committee reported elections on 109 of the 112 tickets of the first common ballot for the Church Council, Committee on Appeals, Committee on Discipline, Nominating Committee, and the boards of the Board of Pensions (Portico Benefit Services), Mission Investment Fund, Endowment Fund of the ELCA (ELCA Foundation), and the Publishing House of the ELCA (1517 Media). There was no election on Tickets 19, 52, and 99. The assembly used electronic voting machines to conduct the second common ballot election between the two nominees on the remaining tickets.

Elections: Second Ballot for Secretary

The Elections Committee presented the names received on the first ballot for secretary that were not withdrawn.. Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton led the assembly in casting the second ballot for secretary. There were 114 people nominated on the first ballot; 53 individuals withdrew

their names from consideration, leaving 61 people for the second ballot. A nominee must receive three-fourths of the votes to be elected on the second ballot. As of 2:16 p.m., 932 voting members were registered.

“A Declaration of Inter-Religious Commitment” Policy Statement

Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton led the assembly in voting on the policy statement. The Policy Statement Ad Hoc Committee received one proposed amendment, which it did not forward for recommendation to the assembly. Thirty-nine ecumenical and interreligious guests were in attendance during the vote and passage of the policy statement. YES-890; NO-23. CA19.04.14

Motion F: Resolution to Hire an Assistant Program Director Justice for Women

Submitted by: Ms. Bethany Fayard [Southeastern Synod, 9D]

WHEREAS, the ELCA has invested considerable time and resources developing the proposed social statement, “Faith, Sexism, and Justice: A Lutheran Call to Action”; and

WHEREAS, a primary concern of the church body as expressed throughout the hearings process is that the church take action on any resulting implementing resolutions; and

WHEREAS, the office of Theological Discernment has an insufficient budget to support additional staff that would be necessary to implement the resolutions; therefore, be it

 RESOLVED, that, should the proposed social statement pass, $100,000 be allocated from budget line item “address social issues and work for justice” to the Office of the Presiding Bishop for Justice for Women to monitor, assess, and ensure the fulfillment of proposed commitments.

Recommendation of the Reference and Counsel Committee: Reference and Counsel recommended that this resolution be referred to the Office of the Presiding Bishop. The assembly agreed, and voted to refer. YES-789; NO-59. CA19.04.15

20202022 Budget Proposal

Secretary Wm Chris Boerger presented the Church Council’s recommendation. The assembly passed the budget, YES-880; NO-10. CA19.04.16

2020 Budget Proposal

  • To approve a 2020 current fund spending authorization of $68,378,325;
  • To approve a 2020 ELCA World Hunger spending authorization of $21,500,000; and
  • To authorize the Church Council to revise the spending authorization after periodic review of revised income estimates. 

2021 Budget Proposal

  • To approve a 2021 current fund income proposal of $68,442,034;
  • To approve a 2021 ELCA World Hunger income proposal of $21,500,000; and
  • To authorize the Church Council to establish a spending authorization after periodic review of revised income estimates.

2022 Budget Proposal

  • To approve a 2022 current fund income proposal of $68,507,018;
  • To approve a 2022 ELCA World Hunger income proposal of $21,500,000; and
  • To authorize the Church Council to establish a spending authorization after periodi review of revised income estimates.]

Motion A: Resolution to Establish June 17th as Emanuel 9 Feast Day of Repentance

Submitted by: The Rev. Kwame Pitts [Metropolitan Chicago Synod, 5A]

Reference and Counsel Committee recommended adopting the resolution. A voting member made the motion to amend “venerate” to “commemorate,” a category used for martyrs, Dr. Martin Luther King, etc. The assembly, after much discussion and a break, agree to amend. YES-851; NO-35. The amended motion then looked like this:

WHEREAS, the Lord teaches us “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.”(Luke 5:31-32); and

WHEREAS, the Emanuel 9 (Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel L. Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and Myra Thompson) on June 17, 2015, while in prayer and bible study at the historic African-American church, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Charleston, South Carolina were murdered by a self-professed white supremacist adult who was raised and formed in the ELCA; and

WHEREAS, that self-professed white supremacist espoused racist rhetoric and epithets before and after committing these murders; and

WHEREAS, two of his victims, Rev. Daniel Lee Simmons Sr. and Rev. Clementa Pickney, were graduates of the Lutheran Theology Southern Seminary, one of eight ELCA seminaries.; and

WHEREAS, the deep sin of white supremacy and racism continues to be a plague and hindrance in the life of the ELCA as a church called to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ; therefore, be it

 RESOLVED, that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America reaffirm its commitment to repentance from racism by:

  1. Venerating Commemorating June 17th as a feast day of repentance in the ELCA for the martyrdom of the Emanuel 9; and
  2. Having the names of the Emanuel 9 (Clemente C. Pinckney, Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel L. Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and Myra Thompson) added to future ELCA publications to venerate commemoratetheir martyrdom and lead us to repentance because of the white supremacy and racism in our church; and
  3. Calling for this feast day of veneration of commemoration tobe grounded in prayer as the Emanuel 9 were murdered while in prayer at the end of the bible study; and
  4. Directing the Division on Worship to help develop future worship prayers and litanies around repentance from racism; and
  5. To encourage giving both prayer and financial support the memorial to be built in remembrance of the Emanuel 9 (https://www.emanuelnine.org/); and
  6. Be in deeper conversations with the AME church on ways of reconciliation and repentance on the matters of white supremacy and racism.

The amended motion passed, YES-887; NO-8. CA19.04.17

Motion B to Condemn White Supremacy

Submitted by: The Rev. Kerry L. Nelson [Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod, 4F]. This motion was authored by Gulf Coast Synod Attorney Kathy Patrick.

WHEREAS, we are members of the Body of Christ called to love and serve a hurting world; and

WHEREAS, each of us is called through our Baptisms to proclaim that God’s love is for all people, not just for people who are white; and

WHEREAS, we have observed with alarm a rising tide of racist rhetoric, hate crimes, and domestic terrorism in the name of white supremacy in our nation; and

WHEREAS, we have now seen again the terrible consequences of violence visited on immigrants and people of color in the name of so-called “Christian Nationalism” or “white supremacy”; and

WHEREAS, we now grieve with the communities of El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, who have experienced terrible losses as a result of mass shootings or racist violence directed against their neighbors, friends, and loved ones; and

WHEREAS, we continue to grieve with and remember the communities of Charleston, South Carolina and Charlottesville, Virginia, who have also been victims of hate crimes in the name of white supremacy; and

WHEREAS, as Lutherans, we have a unique historical calling to recognize, name, and condemn racist acts, imagery, and violence that seeks to injure, demean, or marginalize persons who are not white or Christian; and

WHEREAS, we acknowledge with horror that Christians, including persons raised in congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, have committed mass shootings in our nation; and

WHEREAS, we understand that interpretations of Scripture that seek to legitimize racism or white supremacy are false teachings that must be named and condemned as such by this Church with one, powerful voice; therefore, be it

RESOLVED, we the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America do hereby resolve and proclaim that:

  1. White supremacy is racism and we condemn it;
  2. Violent rhetoric against persons of color in the name of so-called “Christian Nationalism” is not a true Christian faith. It is idolatry and we condemn it;
  3. The love of God is for all people, without exception, and we proclaim it;
  4. The justice and mercy of God are for all people, without exception, and we proclaim this;
  5. Our religious and political leaders have a moral responsibility to condemn racist rhetoric and to speak with respect for the innate dignity of all persons, regardless of their race, ethnicity, national origin, immigration status, or faith tradition and we call our leaders to honor this responsibility; and
  6. Language that refers to people of color or immigrants with words like “invasion” or “infestation” or “white replacement” is racism and we condemn it;
  7. We are called by Jesus to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” As persons called to love one another as God has loved us, we therefore proclaim our commitment to speak with one voice against racism and white supremacy. We stand with those who are targets of racist ideologies and actions. With them, we demand and will advocate for a more just, loving, and peaceful world where the gifts of all people are appreciated, and the lives of all people are treasured; and
  8. We call all congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to engage in communal study of the structures and rhetoric that empower and fuel racism and white supremacy and to take to heart the teaching of Scriptures, so we may all be better equipped to speak boldly about the equal dignity of all persons in the eyes of God.

Reference and Counsel Committee supported the motion, but recommended referral to the Office of the Presiding Bishop of the churchwide organization. Pastor Kerry Nelson (Faith Bellaire) spoke eloquently of the importance of a clear statement by this assembly to carry to the parish. The motion to refer failed. The motion to adopt passed, YES-893; NO-5. CA19.04.18.

Elections: Report of the Second Ballot for Secretary

862 votes were cast on the second ballot for secretary requiring 647 votes for election. There was no election on the second ballot. The names of the seven receiving the greatest number of votes were presented:

  • Deacon Sue E. Rothmeyer, 358 votes
  • The Rev. Stephen Herr, 116 votes
  • The Rev. Lamont A. Wells, 95 votes
  • Bp. Jon V. Anderson, 48 votes
  • Mr. John Emery, 38 votes
  • Mr. Peter Severson, 27 votes
  • The Rev. Tyler D. Rasmussen, 23 votes

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Friday, August 9, 2019

Elections: Question and Answer Forum for top Seven Nominees for Secretary

Six of the seven aforementioned nominees responded to questions prepared by the Executive Committee of the ELCA Church Council. Mr. John Emery was unable to speak due to health concerns.

Consideration: Social Statement on Women and Justice

The motion passed, YES-863; NO-26. CA19.05.19

Consideration: Social Statement Implementing Resolutions

Once a social statement passes, there are implementing resolutions that must also be passed. The ad hoc committee reported on six amendments and presented the amended version. The resolutions passed as amended, YES-864; NO-30. CA19.05.20

  1. To urge members, congregations, synods, churchwide ministries, social ministry organizations, church-related institutions, ecumenical partners, and all people of good will to be guided by this statement’s convictions and commitments to resist and dismantle patriarchy and sexism, and to transform life in the church and in society;
  2. To call upon members of this church to pray, work, and advocate for justice for all those affected by sexism and patriarchy and to draw upon this statement in forming their judgments and actions in daily life;
  3. To encourage members to be guided by the ELCA social message on “Gender-based Violence” (2015) in taking action, such as urging their congregations to implement policies and to become intentional sites of advocacy and support for local efforts that serve those affected by such violence;
  4. To call upon all members of this church to reflect on how mass media (films, video games, etc.) and social media distort sex, gender, and sexuality and to address this problem in their own actions (especially their care for children);
  5. To call upon congregational leaders, rostered and lay, to encourage women and girls to pursue leadership roles within congregations and in discernment toward rostered ministry;
  6. To encourage ELCA congregations to present positive gender roles in their educational activities, preschools, and day care, and to urge youth-related ministries within this church to adopt positive modeling of gender equity in all leadership, programs, and educational events;
  7. To urge congregations, synods, and the churchwide organization (CWO) to address inequities (in pay, senior leadership, availability of second and third calls, etc.), as well as the systemic causes of such inequities, for rostered and lay women of various backgrounds, identities, and personal experiences and to advocate for adequate and equitable leave for all parents and families;
  8. To call upon the Conference of Bishops, synods, and the churchwide organization to use gender-inclusive and expansive language for God, and to direct the ELCA worship team
  9. a) to use such language whenever it commissions, curates, or develops new liturgical and related educational resources and
  10. b) to supplement existing resources toward that end; and
  11. c) to explore the development of an inclusive language lectionary similar to the Psalter in Evangelical Lutheran Worship.
  12. To direct the Mission Advancement unit of the CWO to collaborate with the Office of the Presiding Bishop in creating a single page at ELCA.org where readers can access the existing resources of the ELCA and the Lutheran World Federation related to the concerns of this statement and to work to make those resources available in languages other than English;
  13. To call upon this church’s advocacy and related ministries, such as ELCA Advocacy and ELCA World Hunger, to support and advocate for measures, policies, and laws consistent with this social statement and to give sustained attention to its convictions and commitments in the creation of programs and projects;
  14. To recognize past and present CWO efforts to address institutional sexism and foster gender justice in this church, and to urge sustained devotion of resources, such as support for the CWO’s Justice for Women program;
  15. To encourage the ministries of Women of the ELCA and Lutheran Men in Mission to continue and expand their work to address the issues identified in this social statement and to commend greater participation in these efforts;
  16. To call upon those engaged in publishing activities throughout the ELCA to continue and extend their support for gender equity in ELCA resources and communications through such dimensions as language, images, stories, Bible studies, themes, and representation of contributors;
  17. To urge faculty, staff, and administrators of ELCA-related colleges, universities, and seminaries to renew their efforts to develop syllabi and best practices that affirm and promote the gifts of women from varied identities and backgrounds;
  18. To call upon rostered and lay congregational leaders, synod and CWO staff, social ministry organizations, and faculty and staff at ELCA colleges, seminaries, and universities to renew their efforts to welcome, care for, and support the lives and gifts of LGBTQIA persons and to oppose discrimination against these persons so that they may live into the promise of gender justice envisioned in this social statement;
  19. To call on the church in all its expressions and related agencies, organizations, and institutions to embed and incorporate anti-sexism training and protocols in their ongoing work, including appropriate adaptations to boundaries training for rostered ministers, and to create institutional resources to support rostered ministers who experience sexual misconduct or gender-based harassment, as well as pastoral care resources for all affected by sexism; and
  20. To direct the ELCA Church Council to establish a process for public repentance regarding the sins of patriarchy and sexism and establish a churchwide day of confession and repentance no later than the 2022 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.
  21. To call upon the Office of the Presiding Bishop, in collaboration with appropriate units in the CWO, to establish and oversee processes for implementation of and accountability for these resolutions and to report to the fall meeting of ELCA Church Council in 2021.

Elections: Third Ballot for Secretary

There were 908 votes cast. 2/3 required to elect. There was no election

  • Deacon Sue E. Rothmeyer, 251 votes
  • The Rev. Stephen Herr, 184 votes
  • The Rev. Lamont A. Wells, 170 votes
  • Mr. Peter Severson, 114 votes
  • Bp. Jon V. Anderson, 101 votes
  • The Rev. Tyler D. Rasmussen, 78 votes
  • Mr. John Emery, 10 votes

The top three moved to the four ballot.

Consideration: Strategy Toward Authentic Diversity in the ELCA

The assembly approved the strategy, YES-855; NO-13. CA19.05.21. And the implementing resolutions. YES-840; NO-16. CA19.05.22

Elections: Fourth Ballot for Secretary

Each of the three nominees on the fourth ballot for secretary—Deacon Sue E. Rothmeyer, the Rev. Stephen R. Herr, and the Rev. Lamont A. Wells—was given five minutes to address the Churchwide Assembly. As of 2:05 p.m., 932 voting members were registered. Voting members used electronic voting machines to cast the fourth ballot for secretary. The Elections Committee reported the results of the fourth ballot. There were 906 votes cast; 60 percent or 544 votes were needed for election.

  • The Rev. Lamont A. Wells, 347 votes
  • Deacon Sue Rothmeyer, 338 votes
  • The Rev. Stephen R. Herr, 221 votes

The top two went to the fifth and final ballot.

IMG_2978Consideration: Amendments to the Constitutions of the ELCA

The 2019 Churchwide Assembly acted on proposed amendments to the Constitutions, Bylaws, and Continuing Resolutions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. 2/3 Vote Required. YES-855; NO-21. CA19.05.23 To adopt, en bloc, with the exception of such amendments as may be considered separately, the amendments to the Constitutions, Bylaws, and Continuing Resolutions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; and to authorize the Office of the Secretary to make appropriate changes in the Constitution for Synods and the Model Constitution for Congregations congruent with the ELCA constitution as amended.

Consideration: Amendments to the Constitutions of the ELCA Removed from En Bloc

ACTION YES-779; NO-105. CA19.05.24 To amend the ELCA constitutional provision 7.52. as follows:

7.52. A minister of Word and Service of this church shall be a person whose commitment to Christ, soundness in the faith, aptness to serve, teach, and witness, and educational qualifications have been examined and approved in the manner prescribed in the documents of this church; who has been properly called and received onto the roster ordained; who accepts and adheres to the Confession of Faith of this church; who is diligent and faithful in the exercise of ministry; and whose life and conduct are above reproach. A minister of Word and Service shall comply with this church’s constitutions, bylaws, and continuing resolutions.

Elections: Fifth Ballot for Secretary

IMG_2987
Deacon Sue Rothmeyer was elected Secretary.

The Elections Committee reported that 911 votes were cast and 456 were needed for election.

  • Deacon Sue E. Rothmeyer, 509 votes
  • The Rev. Lamont A. Wells, 402 votes

CA19.05.25 To elect Deacon Sue E. Rothmeyer as the next secretary of the ELCA.

Consideration: Amendments to the Constitutions of the ELCA Removed from En Bloc (continued)

ACTION YES-787; NO-53. CA19.05.26 To amend the ELCA constitutional provision 5.01 as follows:

CHAPTER 5: PRINCIPLES OF ORGANIZATION

5.01 c. The congregations, synods, and churchwide organization of this church are interdependent partners expressions sharing responsibly in God’s mission. In an interdependent relationship, primary responsibility for particular functions will vary between the partners among the expressions. Whenever possible, the entity most directly affected by a decision shall be the principal party responsible for decision and implementation, with the other entities facilitating and assisting. Each congregation, synod, and separately incorporated ministry, as well as the churchwide organization itself, is a separate legal entity and is responsible for exercising its powers and authorities.

Each congregation and synod in its governing documents shall include the Confession of Faith and Statement of Purpose and such structural components as are required in this constitution the Constitutions, Bylaws, and Continuing Resolutions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Beyond these common elements, congregations and synods shall be free to organize in such manner as each deems appropriate for its jurisdiction.

The Church Council shall establish an ongoing process to review the function of the structural organization of this church and to develop recommendations for changes.

Except as otherwise provided in this constitution and bylaws, the appropriate office or unit of the churchwide organization, through the Church Council, shall establish processes that will ensure that at least 60 percent of the members of its assemblies, councils, committees, boards, and other organizational units shall be laypersons; that as nearly as possible, 50 at least 45 percent of the lay members of these assemblies, councils, committees, boards, or other organizational units shall be female women and 50 at least 45 percent shall be male men, and that, where possible, the representation of ministers of Word and Sacrament shall be both female and male include both women and men. At least 10 percent of the members of these assemblies, councils, committees, boards, or other organizational units shall be persons of color and/or persons whose primary language is other than English. Processes shall be developed that will assure that in selecting staff there will be a balance of women and men, persons of color and persons whose primary language is other than English, laypersons, and persons on the rosters of this church. This balance is to be evident in the selection of staff consistent with the inclusive policy of this church.

Except as otherwise provided in this constitution and bylaws, synods, through synodical councils, shall establish processes that will ensure that at least 60 percent of the members of their assemblies, councils, committees, boards, and other organizational units shall be laypersons; that, as nearly as possible, 50 at least 45 percent of the lay members of their assemblies, councils, committees, boards, or other organizational units shall be female women and 50 at least 45 percent shall be male men, and that, where possible, the representation of ministers of Word and Sacrament shall be both female and male include both women and men. Each synod shall establish processes that will enable it to reach a minimum goal that 10 percent of the membership of its assemblies, councils, committees, boards, or other organizational units be persons of color and/or persons whose primary language is other than English.

 A layperson is a person who is not on the roster of Ministers of Word and Sacrament or the roster of Ministers of Word and Service of this church.

5.01.B169 Each synod shall submit its goals and strategies to the appropriate churchwide unit or office and shall annually submit a report on progress toward its goals to the Church Council such unit or office.

5.01.E19 The Church Council shall establish triennial percentage goals for this church to meet the commitment expressed in 5.01.A16. The minimum goal shall be that at least 10 percent of the members of this church shall be persons of color or whose primary language is other than English.

5.01.F19 It is the goal of this church that at least 10 percent of the voting members of the Churchwide Assembly, Church Council, and churchwide boards and committees be youth and young adults. The Church Council shall establish a plan for implementing this goal. For purposes of the Constitution, Bylaws, and Continuing Resolutions of the ELCA, the term “youth” means a voting member of a congregation who has not reached the age of 18 at the time of election or appointment for service. The term “young adult” means a voting member of a congregation between the ages of 18 and 30 at the time of election or appointment for service. 5.01.G19 To implement 5.01.g., those deacons elected as laypersons prior to the adoption of this provision may complete the term to which they were elected as a layperson. They would not be eligible for reelection as a layperson if such reelection were otherwise possible.

ACTION YES-823; NO-35. CA19.05.27 To amend the ELCA constitutional provision 4.02.c., subject to ratification at the 2022 Churchwide Assembly:

4.02 c. Serve in response to God’s love to meet human needs, caring for the sick and the aged, advocating dignity and, justice, and equality equity for all people, working for peace and reconciliation among the nations, caring for the marginalized, embracing and welcoming racially and ethnically diverse populations, and standing in solidarity with the poor and oppressed and powerless and committing itself to their needs.

IMG_3028Memorials Committee (continued)

Ms. Cheryl T. Chatman and Mr. Reid A. Christopherson, co-chairs of the Memorials Committee, led the assembly in continued discussion on the memorials.

Category C1: Church and State

ASSEMBLY ACTION YES-782; NO-82

CA19.05.28 To receive with gratitude the memorial from the Minneapolis Area Synod requesting a social statement on the role of government, the nature of civic engagement, and the relationship of church and state; and

To authorize the development of an ELCA social statement on government, civic engagement and the relationship of church and state that will allow thorough attention to scriptural, historical, theological, and social issues as a means to probe shared convictions and establish this church’s comprehensive teaching in accordance with “Policies and Procedures of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for Addressing Social Concerns” (2018); and

To urgently request the ELCA Church Council to authorize a social message as a priority in the development of a social statement; this message would elaborate in one place what this church already holds regarding issues such as public church, the vocation of citizenship, the relation of church and state in accordance with “Policies and Procedures of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for Addressing Social Concerns” (2018).

Category D1: 50th Anniversary of the Ordination of Women to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament

ASSEMBLY ACTION YES-800; NO-19

CA19.05.29 To receive with gratitude the memorials from the Oregon, Southwest California, Western North Dakota, Northeastern Minnesota, Minneapolis Area, Saint Paul Area, Nebraska, Central States, Arkansas-Oklahoma, Northern Illinois, Southeastern Iowa, Western Iowa, North/West Lower Michigan, Northeastern Ohio, New Jersey, New England, Metropolitan New York, Upstate New York, Southeastern Pennsylvania, Allegheny, and Virginia synods concerning the 50th anniversary of the ELCA’s ordination of women to the ministry of Word and Sacrament;

To encourage all synods and congregations to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the ELCA’s ordination of women in 2020 and the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the ordination of women of color in the Lutheran tradition in the United States and the 10th anniversary of the ELCA’s decision to remove the barriers to ordination for people in same-gendered relationships and recognize the diversity of gifts that women’s ordination brings to this church;

To call upon synods, congregations and the churchwide organization to recognize the need for repentance and continued examination regarding equity for ministerial leadership and to collaborate in systemic work to address disparities based on gender and race for people in rostered ministry;

To direct the Office of the Presiding Bishop, in consultation with other churchwide units, to conduct a gap analysis of rostered women, with a particular focus on the challenges faced by rostered women of color; and

To recognize the implementing resolutions for the proposed social statement “Faith, Sexism, and Justice: A Lutheran Call to Action” as a response to the sexism and racism concerns raised by these memorials.

Category C3: Migrants. ASSEMBLY ACTION YES-811; NO-44. CA19.05.30

To receive with gratitude the memorial from the Delaware-Maryland Synod concerning migrants and refugees;

To reaffirm the long-term and growing commitment of this church to migrants and refugees and to the policy questions involved, as exemplified most recently in the comprehensive strategy Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities (AMMPARO);

To encourage members of this church to review existing social teaching and policy and use these guides to take additional action toward addressing harmful political rhetoric against migrants and refugees; and

 To request that appropriate staff in the Domestic Mission, Global Mission, and Mission Advancement units develop a plan for additional tools that provide for education and discernment specifically directed to political rhetoric and the accurate portrayal of migrants and refugees.

Category A6: Poor People’s Campaign. ASSEMBLY ACTION YES-804; NO-65. CA19.05.31

To receive with gratitude the memorials from the Oregon, New England and Metropolitan New York synods concerning the National Poor People’s Campaign; and

To affirm the Church Council action [CC18.11.23u] recognizing “the importance of the Poor People’s Campaign in bringing an end to systemic racism, economic injustice, ecological devastation and related injustices; to support the vision and goals of the Poor People’s Campaign that are in alignment with this church’s social teachings; to encourage the churchwide organization, synods, congregations and members to become involved with the issues as a faithful witness to God’s call to do justice and show love for the neighbor.”

Category C5: Call to Edit Human Sexuality Social Statement. Yes-440; No-400 To postpone the memorial to “Call to Edit the Human Sexuality Social Statement indefinitely.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Closing Worship

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Bishop Eaton Preached a thoughtful Pentecost sermon, acknowledging that we have made some sweeping decisions, and the like those on Pentecost, when we return our friends may wonder if we were drunk.

Consideration: Amendments to the Constitutions of the ELCA Removed from En Bloc (continued)

The 2019 Churchwide Assembly acted on proposed amendments to the Constitutions, Bylaws, and Continuing Resolutions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America which were removed from en bloc action. 2/3 vote required.

Defeated

  • To amend ELCA bylaw provision 7.41.03. YES-315; NO-499
  • To amend ELCA constitutional provision 7.71.02. YES-359; NO-458

Memorials Committee (continued)

Category D7: Health Care Benefits. CA19.06.33. YES-662; NO-127

RESOLVED, that the ELCA in assembly direct the Church Council, in partnership with the Conference of Bishops and Portico Benefit Services, to review the current Church Council’s recommendation for the Gold+ coverage for all rostered ministers and employees of the church and that they develop a recommendation for the whole church for health insurance coverage by the spring meeting of the Church Council in 2020 for the 2021 enrollment.

To request the churchwide organization survey employees to understand the impact on staff and identify any modifications that can be made within budgeted funds for 2020; and

To encourage Portico to continue to provide educational tools to assist employees of the churchwide organization which thoroughly explain the different plans.

Announcement of 2022 Churchwide Assembly

Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton announced that the 2022 Churchwide Assembly will be held in Columbus, Ohio at the Greater Columbus Convention Center from August 8 through 13, 2022.

Unfinished Business

Items unfinished will be forwarded to the Church Council for action.

FORWARDED: To refer Motion C to the Church Council for consideration.

FORWARDED: To refer Motion D to the Church Council for consideration.

FORWARDED: Resolution of Appreciation for Church Council Members who are Ending their Terms of Service in 2019 (Motion L)

We, the members of the 2019 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, give thanks to God for the members of the Church Council who will be concluding their six-year terms at this assembly. We wish to thank these 22 individuals for their dedicated service to this church during their terms and to acknowledge that their service included membership on task forces, ad hoc committees, attendance at synod assemblies, and representation of this church in global, national, and local forums.

 We appreciate their tireless work of renewing and growing the church’s mission. We continue to keep them and their work, which is our work, in prayer.

FORWARDED: Resolution of Appreciation for Churchwide Staff (Motion M)

The members of the 2019 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America gathered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, thank the churchwide organization and staff for their hard work and dedication to the mission of Christ in this church. We thank God for their willingness to serve as a part of the everyday lifeblood of this church both here in the United States and globally.

We thank each of the offices and units of the Churchwide organization:

  • Office of the Presiding Bishop
  • Office of the Secretary
  • Office of the Treasurer
  • Mission Advancement
  • Domestic Mission
  • Global Mission

 We are church together in Christ because of this churchwide organization’s willingness to continue renewing and growing our church in both acceptance of others and what it means to truly live the Gospel.

FORWARDED: Resolution of Appreciation & Thanksgiving for Hospitality (Motion N)

The members of the 2019 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America deeply thank the City of Milwaukee and the Greater Milwaukee Synod for hosting this assembly, for their drinks of barley and hops, and for their cheese curds. Our host synod is truly living the Miller High Life.

 As we join in fellowship together, we are reminded of the indigenous history of the land we are on and the Algonquian name of Milwaukee as the “gathering place.” We give thanks for the Menominee, Fox, Mascouten, Sauk, Potawatomi, Ojibwa, and other American Indian tribes that called this land home.

We are appreciative to the City of Milwaukee for allowing us the ability to walk in the Word together on Wednesday to and from the ICE detention center.

We give thanks for the Wisconsin Center for their accommodations, for their assistance in helping us assemble together in prayer and business, facilitating our ability to worship boldly, for providing us with laughs in their lifelike—and creepy—police officer statue, and for serving as a focal point in the work of this church.

We give thanks for the Hyatt Regency and Hilton hotels for giving us a place to rest and reflect on our time together. We also give thanks to the hotel staff, Wisconsin Center staff, and restaurant workers of Milwaukee for their hard work.

The City of Milwaukee embodies a beautiful expression of what it means to be church, and we thank them for welcoming us into their city so warmly. 

The fifteenth Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was adjourned at 12:03 p.m. in Hall A/B of the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

One last thought. I was moved that this 104-year-old pastor, Maria de Jesus came out for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women. She processed. She heard Pastor Elizabeth Platz speak. It was a celebration.

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San Lucas and Eagle Pass Frontera Ministries

By Bishop Mike Rinehart

On Friday, July 26, 2019, I picked up Pastor Emmanuel Jackson at his house in Katy, TX and we headed to the border. We wanted to better understand the situation on the border. We knew that we needed to see it first hand. You can see it first hand too. More about that in a minute.

Iglesia Luterana San LucasWe were fortunate. Bishop Sue Briner had invited us to participate in the retreat she was holding for key leaders on the border, at Iglesia Luterana San Lucas in Eagle Pass, just 2 1/2 hours south of San Antonio. I highly recommend that you travel with good company, as I did. Oh yeah, and snacks.

After a late lunch in San Antonio, we arrived at San Lucas a little bit before dinner time. We checked into our luxurious accommodations at the Motel 6 and headed to the church.

San Lucas is about 2 miles from the Rio Grande. We were greeted warmly by Pastor Julio Vasquez and his wife Emma, who runs Eagle Pass Frontera Ministries. Julio is a former Roman Catholic priest who fell in love, with Emma, and then with Lutheran Church. A group of about 32 gathered in the sanctuary and then headed over to the fellowship hall for a fabulous meal prepared by members of the church. As we ate dinner, about a dozen asylum-seekers arrived at the church seeking overnight accommodations

Following dinner, we went back into the sanctuary to meet the asylum-seekers, and dispense of time in prayer, song and scripture with them. They had it after dinner after that, and we began our meeting. While we were meeting, another 20 to asylum-seekers arrived.

Eagle Pass Frontera MinistriesThose of us who have been to El Salvador and other countries in Central America know that the crisis is not made-up as some fake news would have you believe. No, people are not grabbing random children and bringing them across the border. Many are fleeing economic meltdown and extreme violence. They are showing up at our doorstep. Whatever you may believe, or whatever your political persuasion, one thing is clear: Jesus taught his followers to respond to those in need with compassion. We in the church are not in the business of deciding who is a citizen and who is not. Our call is to love the stranger, and to care for the needy in our midst, regardless of their citizenship. The folks at San Lucas get this.

Eagle Pass is 4thlargest crossing for asylum-seekers in the U.S. 100-300 come each day. McAllen and El Paso are the tops two. Once approved by Border Patrol, they are here legally, awaiting a court date to determine if they will be granted asylum status. To bust myths: They are here legally.

On the second day we learned from Methodist Pastor Becky Baxter Ballou, who serves a local congregation and directs a ministry to help these asylum-seekers, called La Trinidad Resource Center. Her work brings her in contact with most of the asylum-seekers.

Pastor Emmanuel observed that we are in a global refugee crisis that may be the just the beginning. Human migration is going to be the existential issue for the next 50-100 years.

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Pastor Juan and Emma Vasquez of Iglesia Luterana San Lucas and Eagle Pass Frontera Ministries

He asked how we are we engaging the younger generation, because they will be running the next lap.

We discussed the reality that this work is big, and complex. It’s too much for any one denomination. We must work cross-denominationally. There is an ecumenical imperative. If you’re doing it alone, you’re probably duplicating efforts, wasting resources and functioning patriarchally. Let’s figure out who is already doing the work on the ground and join forces.

Pastor Julio and Emma

May 22, 2019 San Lucas began to receive guests. The synod is supporting  their work, to pay the costs for supplies and the building. The guests stay one night and then are on their way to friends or relatives.

If you want to learn about this ministry you can come visit. They don’t have housing for large groups, but our Motel 6 accommodations are quite reasonable. If you come, you’ll meet people, see the situation, and be put to work:

  • Repairing the building
  • Cooking
  • Cleaning
  • Doing laundry
  • Welcoming people
  • Assembling gift bags/health kits

If you want to come and volunteer, contact Pastor Julio Vaquez at julioadalva@gmail.com

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The International Bridge to Mexico

After hearing from Pastor Julio and Emma, Emmanuel and I went to the border. There’s a “wall,” more like a fence really, but the gate is open. Along the Rio Grande there is a park and a golf course. You can talk right down to the river and dip your feet in if you like. We walked along the river and looked at the international bridge. Following that we visited La Trinidad Resource Center.

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Pastor Emmanuel Jackson (Living Word, Katy) looking across the Rio Grande into Mexico

The rest of our time was working with the group as they brainstormed a compassionate response to the multifaceted situation. The group closed with prayer and Emmanuel and I headed back toward Houston.

I would encourage you to go to the border. This is your country. You are welcome. Eagle Pass is a larger town than I expected, with an Academy, a mall and plenty of motels. Visiting will clarify some things while complicating others. It will dispel myths and broaden your understandings through relationships. And after all, go towards the need — isn’t this what Jesus did?

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Closing Prayer at the end of the retreat at San Lucas

Paving the Jericho Road:How can we Respond Compassionately to the Crisis on the Border?

By Bishop Michael Rinehart

There is plenty of arguing these days about the border. Just turn on the TV. Fox News, CNN, MSNBC and others are all arguing about the border. We could argue it to death. Facebook and other social media are filled with inane misinformation. Fake news if you will. You’ve heard the myths. People are grabbing random children in order to sneak into the US. They’re all MS-13 gang members. They’re all illegal.

If you want to leave the arguments behind and do something, keep reading.

AMMPAROLast week, Pastor Emmanuel Jackson (Living Word Katy) and I were privileged to spend some time at the border with members of the Southwestern Texas Council, some ecumenical partners, Stephen Bouman and Mary Campbell, Director of AMMPARO. The retreat was held at Iglesia Luterana San Lucas in Eagle Pass, the fourth largest border crossing for asylum-seekers. Pastor Julio, his wife Emma, and the good people at San Lucas, provide meals, prayers and housing for those who have been processed and admitted. In the last four months 100-300 have been showing up in Eagle Pass on a daily basis. Some people respond with fear and suspicion to the visitors from the south, who are seeking a new life. The folks at San Lucas respond with compassion and kindness.

In the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10), the priest and the Levite walked by the man left for dead on the Jericho Road. Religion was no help. They responded with fear. The Samaritan responded with compassion. There are also the same two responses to the current situation in the border. For those of us who wish to respond with compassion, what can we do? If we stop arguing, and move forward with those who care about migrants and refugees. Here are five things you, your friends, or your congregation can do.

  1. PRAY for immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers.

As people of faith, we begin with prayer. Pray for those who are homeless. Pray for those who cannot go hone. Pray for those who are making a new home in a strange new land. Pray for those so desperate that they are traveling hundreds of miles to escape their situation.

Pray in your daily prayers. Pray weekly in your worship service. Read one of these Bible passages each day and meditate on it.

Pray for specific people. If you have been engaged in this work, pray for those you have met by name.

Never doubt the power of prayer, which changes things on every level.

  1. ADVOCATE for immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers.

Advocacy is speaking up for a cause. It is sharing your view point with those who make decisions, and sometimes speaking truth to power. It is standing with those who suffer. You have a voice, and that voice can make a difference.

When talking about the story of the Good Samaritan, Martin Luther King said, “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that a system that produces beggars, needs to be repaved. We are called to be the Good Samaritan, but after you lift so many people out of the ditch, you start to ask, maybe the whole road to Jericho needs to be repaved.”

The church runs the risk of running around do-gooding by collecting and distributing handouts to those in need, but not changing the system that created the need in the first place. Worse yet, we can throw spare change at the poor to make ourselves feel better, morally superior, while supporting the oppressive systems that keep them poor. If we are to truly engage the problem, we must be willing do address the structures have allowed the situation to occur, and perhaps even caused it.

This may be as simple as calling your legislators to weigh in on an issue. This makes a difference. Legislative offices count emails, letters, calls (most effective) and visits (most effective). Contrary to what some fear, calling your legislator is not a violation of the separation of church and state, which simply means Congress cannot pass laws, establish a state religion, or prohibit the free exercise of religion. You are a citizen. You have both the freedom and the responsibility to participate in democracy. If they get a landslide of calls on a certain issue, it makes a difference.

You can reach your legislators quite easily.

Don’t assume your legislators or their staff are up on your issue. They have an enormous universe of issues to manage. Be a resource to them. Build a bridge.

Don’t assume you’re in the minority. There are often small opposition groups that are so loud, angry, cruel, and polarizing they seem louder and more numerous than they are. Some will intentionally push out inaccurate information in an attempt to sway public opinion. For example, a majority of U.S. Americans support an earned path of citizenship for the 11 million undocumented people in this country. You wouldn’t know this by following the news. Have the courage of your convictions.

We hold an annual Lutheran Legislative Event, where we discuss the most pressing moral issues of the day, and then go speak directly to our legislators or their staff. In 2020 that event will be February 16-18 in Austin.

Sometimes advocacy requires standing side-by-side with the most marginalized communities. It may mean praying in vigil with those who have been victimized. It may mean protesting detention centers, or immoral policies. If you’re interested in visiting a detention center, contact the Gulf Coast synod office or immigration task force. Where we stand, and with whom we stand matters. Show up. Don’t be afraid to stand up and speak up.

  1. VOLUNTEER at places that are welcoming and supporting immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel or start a new ministry in most cases. God is already at work. There are people who have been on the ground doing this work for some time. Find out who is already engaged and join in on their work. Apprentice yourself. You’ll learn and grow. You don’t have to speak Spanish.

Go on immersions. Growth begins when you leave your comfort zone. We can’t begin to understand a situation until we’ve had bolts on the ground. So sometimes volunteering is serving, and sometimes it’s sitting at the feet of others, or walking in their shoes. Go. It matters. It will change you.

With regards to the border, here are some ways to go, learn and volunteer:

  • Jay Alanis, Executive Director, Lutheran Seminary of the Southwest in Austin Texas, does an annual border immersion. Contact him at revjay3@gmail.com.
  • Iglesia Luterana San Lucas welcomes and houses 20-30 asylum-seekers a night. 5 hours from Houston, you can volunteer here, meet the visitors and experience the border first hand. Your group can cook, clean, meet guests, pray with them, work on their aging facility, do laundry, assemble health kits and more. They can house very small groups of 4-6, or stay at one of the many inexpensive hotels. They also have RV hookups. Contact Pastor Julio Vasquez at julioadalva@gmail.com.
  • Immigrants and asylum-seekers come through the bus stations in Houston and New Orleans every day. Connect with those who are doing ministry there. Meet people. Hear their stories. It will burst the myths you hear in the media.
  1. ENGAGE your friends and acquaintances.

People tell they want to help, but they don’t know what to say. Work on your elevator speech. Hone your taking points in a way that touches the heart for most people, across the political spectrum.

How you say things depends on your community. Is you community urban, suburban, rural or small town? Is your area politically red or blue? Are your people religious or secular? Young or old? Work out your talking points with fear and trembling. Write them down. Memorize them. Assemble accurate facts and data that clarify the situation. Learn what moves people to compassion. Figure out what shifts the conversation from military/law enforcement framework and solutions, to humanitarian framework and solutions.

This means reading up and knowing the facts, so that you don’t pass around fake news. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service has a Myths and Facts page here:https://www.lirs.org/immigration-fact-check.

Some of my standard talking points are:

  • We are a nation of immigrants.
  • Migration is the story of the Bible and the history of the world.
  • Jesus calls us to welcome the stranger.
  • No one is advocating closed borders. No one is advocating open borders. Let’s move past the extremes to a common sense solution.
  • The U.S. is not a country united by any one culture or race. We are a people from everywhere, united by a common creed: that all people are created equal, and endowed by their creator by certain inalienable rights…
  • We are talking about human rights, not US citizen rights.
  • Immigrants built this country and are continuing to build it.
  • We are an immigrant church. There would be no Lutherans in the US if it weren’t for immigration.
  • We are in the greatest global refugee crisis the world has ever seen. The US has always stepped up to its global responsibility, resettling an average of 95,000 refugees a year. We must not abdicate our responsibly on the world stage, as a safe haven for tired poor huddling masses, as it says on the Statue of Liberty.
  • Most refugees are children.
  • Most new businesses last year were started by immigrants.

Your talking points for your friends and community may look quite different than these. Work our what you need to say and how you can say it in a way that can be heard by your particular audience.

  1. DONATE to those who are doing things.

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” Jesus said. Giving shapes our priorities, and, if we are honest, our priorities shape our giving as well.

Giving is fungible. That is, it can be used for many things. If you donate toilet paper, it can only be used for so many things. If you give money, it can be used for what is needed today, and then used for something different that may be needed tomorrow. Money is also easier to transport. You can send a life-saving gift around the world in a matter of seconds.

We can’t be several places at one time, physically. But through giving, we can be supporting ministry in many places at one time. It may be impractical for us to fly across the world to participate in flood cleanup in a foreign country, but our gifts can pay others to do so or provide much needed relief. Giving is an incredible way to help, especially in this.

Where to donate to make a difference? This depends on what you want to accomplish. In our part of the country, San Lucas in Eagle Pass, and their border organization, Eagle Pass Frontera Ministries, are doing ministry in the trenches. You can also support them through the Southwestern Texas Synod. For more far-teaching impact, consider giving to Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS.org), one of the oldest and most-respected organizations of its kinds in the U.S. LIRS’ mission is to protect, embrace and empower migrants and refugees.

If you’re not sure where to give, our synod, The TX-LA Gulf Coast Synod has a fund to support immigration and border ministries. Funds are allocated by the Immigration Task Force. This fund is flexible enough to respond to the most pressing needs. You can give by clicking here and writing “Immigration” in the “Other Donations” box: https://www.eservicepayments.com/cgi-bin/Vanco_ver3.vps?appver3=tYgT1GfNxRUldiimjHMvObrcxH_Ci43zDpnHQkiil-i1q4qJDDuf89STNCYkcYRM2evTpo0mld6BrVzd2nG0p-UbSDY8Qs9D47stQoQVEQ8=&ver=3

So Pray, Advocate, Volunteer, Engage and Donate. These are great places to start. Pray, Advocate, Volunteer, Engage and Donate, though it need not be in that order. You might start by donating at first, or volunteering. Go with what makes sense to you. Also understand that there are seasons for each of these. You may be flat broke, but you can volunteer. Or you may be 85 and unable to build a Habitat for Humanity House, but have resources to financially support the work. I like to say to people, “Can’t go? That’s okay. We need some people to stay home and write checks.”

Pray, Advocate, Volunteer, Engage and Donate, not necessarily in that order. By the way, that spells out PAVED. Dr. King said we need to know when the Jericho Road needs to be rePAVED. These are way we can get the road Paved.

One Person Who Helped Made a Difference for Hundreds of Refugees

By Bishop Mike Rinehart

Refugees 1In 1989, Bhutan expelled tens of thousands of ethnic Nepalis from Southern Bhutan. These people had migrated into Bhutan hundreds of years earlier. They were given Bhutanese citizenship but retained their distinctive Nepali language and culture. They grew in numbers and began to worry the king and the ruling Druk Buddhist majority, who feared losing that majority. As people often do, they rejected and mistreated those not like them. “They were mean to them,” says Zimmer. Laws were passed to force religious and cultural uniformity. The Nepali language was outlawed in schools. Tensions rose. When the Nepalis organized and protested, the activities were declared unlawful. Violent clashes with the army and massive arrests ensued. Pro-democratic protests increased. Pluralism is an inevitable result of democracy.

100, 000 fled to Nepal where they were not wanted either since they had left so long ago. So, these refugees lived in refugee camps in eastern Nepal, many for the next 20 years, when the United States and other countries stepped in to help them find new homes. The U.S. has historically joined other benevolent democratic countries in resettling refugees, around 95,000 refugees a year on average in the U.S

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Deb Zimmer with husband Jack in the background

Like the years following the Vietnam War, Lutherans and their congregations stepped up to this life-saving and heart-warming work. One of those Lutherans was Deb Zimmer, a member of Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Lititz (Lancaster County) Pennsylvania.

1,500 of those refugees came to Lancaster County, like the Upreti family pictured here. They came from a camp with no electricity and with no indoor plumbing, where they cooked over an open fire. Goma (the mother) and Khem (the father) were sent to the camp in 1992, so their three children were born and raised there. They came to the U.S. in 2009.

In 2009, “our church got started,” says Deb Zimmer, now a member of Tree of Life Lutheran Church in Conroe, Texas. “We had two refugee organizations in Lancaster, Pennsylvania that took in refugees: Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) and Church World Service (CWS). LIRS came and spoke to our church October 2009 asking for volunteers.”

Not long after that they received their first family. “We helped them find and set up their home,” says Deb. There was much for them to learn. The church bought them rice cookers and set up a store with clothes and household items for them to choose from. “We helped them adapt to life in the U.S. including driving a car. Since they had lived in the camp for 20 years. We transported them everywhere. There were trips to the dentist, to the doctor, to WIC, to State Health, stores…”

garden 1A 50’x100’ garden with four sections was provided for planting produce they enjoyed. The sections were divided into plots and assigned to families. The families chose to plant peas, hot peppers, cherry tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, mustard leaves, red onions, garlic, ginger, carrots, radishes, spinach, eggplant, gourds and more. This is the church making a difference in people’s lives, and in the world. This is welcoming the stranger. Jesus would smile

refugees 3Not all were Christian. 60% were Hindu. 27% were Buddhist. The rest were other religions, including Christian. Nevertheless, every Sunday they invited these new Americans to church and showered them with love. “We’d pick them up and bring them if they wanted.” Some showed up for the Wednesday night Bible study. The church purchased Nepali Bibles. As more and more families resettled in town, more and more showed up in church. “First there were a few in church, then there were 20, then 50.” Today there are three Nepalese churches in Lancaster.refugees 2

For six years Deb Zimmer worked with many families, over a hundred refugees, getting to know them, learning about their lives, driving them around. Deb Zimmer and her husband Jack now live in Texas, where they are members of Tree of Life Lutheran Church in Conroe. You may know her daughter, Melissa Minieri, who worked in the synod office.

If your congregation disappeared tomorrow, what would be the impact on the community? The world? Some congregations that are like private clubs with a religious motif. Other congregations are making a difference in people’s lives. Some congregations are changing the world with the love of Christ.

A Spoon Full of Sugar and the Gift of Interim Ministry

By Tracey Breashears Schultz, Bishop’s Associate for Leadership

I didn’t see it in the theaters, but when Mary Poppins Returns was released on Netflix this July, I was one of the first to watch it. I saw it on a Saturday, and then, on a Sunday afternoon later in the month, I decided to sit down and watch my favorite parts a second time. I ended up watching the entire movie again, from start to finish! (I also bought the soundtrack on iTunes.)

Mary Poppins ReturnsYou might think I loved it for the excellent acting, the bright costumes, the dancing and choreography, or the delightful, catchy songs. You would be right; I enjoyed all of those things, but most of all, I had a realization about Mary Poppins. Her work—her magic and her hope—reminded me of the ministry I do with congregations in transition and with the interim ministers who are called to serve them.

Think about it. In Mary Poppins Returns, the beloved nanny comes to help when she is most needed. Michael Banks’ wife has died a year earlier, and in his grief, he finds it hard to parent or to plan for the future. His three children have been doing their best to take care of themselves, but they’ve lost their ability to play and imagine. Mary Poppins comes with her trademark carpet bag and pulls out just what is needed. She teaches the children (and Mr. Banks) that there is a way through their grief. She gives them songs and tools on which to rely. She reminds them to follow the light when they are lost or afraid. She sparks their imaginations and shows them how to try new, hard things. She convinces them that anything is possible (even the impossible). She delights at their growth, and when she knows her work is done, she leaves them so she can help the next household.

Congregations in transition go through grief, too. When their pastor has retired or taken another call, even when they know that moving on is the right thing, it is hard to imagine a new future right away. This time between pastors is a good time to try new things and to take risks, but when you are used to the old ways and your previous leader, it is easy to get stuck. This is why finding the right interim for a congregation is so important. The interim comes to teach. She provides tools that can be used even after she is gone. She sparks imaginations. She reminds the congregation to follow the light of the gospel. She walks alongside the call committee and convinces them that anything is possible (even the impossible). She delights in their growth, and when she knows her work is done, she leaves to help the next household of faith. (I’ve used the feminine pronouns in keeping with my Mary Poppins analogy. I mean no disrespect to the gifted male interims in our synod.)

I invite you to join me in giving thanks for the pastors in our synod who are called to the work of interim ministry. They willingly walk into high anxiety or conflict-ridden systems and meet the challenges they face with grace and fortitude. The tools and resources they share with congregations under their care are those from which many of us could benefit. I am so convinced of this that I have registered for interim training from the Interim Ministry Network. I don’t expect I’ll come home with a carpet bag like Mary Poppins’, but I won’t be surprised if I discover some magic and hope!

Holy Hospitality

By Chris Markert

Holy Hospitality

Perhaps like me, when you hear the word hospitality in church settings, you might immediately begin thinking about how the church makes first-time guests and visitors feel welcome at worship… How is the signage for parking and restrooms?  Are the worship bulletins “user-friendly”? Is there delicious hot coffee and doughnuts available?  Is there a staffed nursery or a children’s interactive area in the worship space? Are the worship times and location easily found on the church’s website and social media presence?

But what if hospitality meant more than these things?

The Gulf Coast Synod has made one of its core convictions intentional and extravagant hospitality. Yes, this includes how congregations cultivate spaces of welcome and friendliness for first time guests and visitors, but hospitality means so much more than that..

First, let’s review hospitality from a biblical standpoint.  In the Old Testament, we read the story of two hungry widows who during a famine travel to a foreign place. A local landowner shows hospitality by allowing one of the widows to glean grain from his field. Later, he invites her to share lunch with him. They ultimately marry. And an important part of this story is that the widow, Ruth, is an outsider… a foreigner.

In the book of 1 Kings, we read the story of a widow and her son during a drought. They are preparing to make their last meal before giving into death. But when Elijah the prophet shows up, they are willing to share even their last morsel. And everything changes. Miraculously, the remaining flour and oil never run out. Again, this widow and her son are outsiders- they hail from Zarephath.

In the New Testament, Jesus feeds a hungry crowd who have nothing to eat. Philip is welcomed by a eunuch, and in turn the eunuch experiences God’s great love in the waters of baptism.  Paul and Silas are ex-convicts who are welcomed by Lydia into her home.

When we review the biblical narrative, we begin to catch a glimpse of what holy hospitality looks like.  It isn’t just inviting or welcoming people to church.  It isn’t just tolerance for those who are different from us. It is about cultivating (with the help of the Holy Spirit) an intentional community of belonging for ALL people, especially those who are poor, oppressed, or who have been historically marginalized.

As a synod, we are committed to helping congregations and ministries of our synod focus on holy hospitality, especially in the following four areas:

  • First Impressions. This includes practices of welcoming first-time guests and visitors: signage, well-designed website and social media presence, clean restrooms, coffee and refreshments, trained greeters to greet guests, etc.
  • Multicultural Hospitality. This includes anti-racism efforts and growing understanding around issues of privilege and power. It also includes expanding the number of congregations that are designated AMMPARO congregations that welcome and advocate for refugees.
  • Hospitality with People with Disabilities. This includes working to design worship, facilities, and ministry opportunities that ensure all people experience belonging, including those with differing abilities and disabilities.
  • Hospitality with LGBTQIA+ Households. This includes creating policies that protect LGBTQIA+ persons and families from harm or harassment, and designing ministry opportunities so that LGBTQIA+ experience belonging. It also includes expanding the number of congregations that are designated Reconciling in Christ (RIC).

One resource that is now available is our synod’s Hospitality Assessment. This is a congregational self-evaluation that produces a report, which is then used to create a Hospitality Action Plan. Contact Chris Markertto learn more about the Hospitality Assessment.

  • Click here to learn more about AMMPARO and how your congregation can be supportive of refugees in our midst.
  • Click here to learn more about MOSAIC- a ministry that advocates for persons with disabilities and that also provides training and resources to congregations.
  • Click here to learn more about Reconciling in Christ (RIC) and how your congregation can grow in its welcome and care for LGBTQIA+ persons and families.

Houston, Meyerland/Westury and Salem, 2 years after Hurricane Harvey

By Bishop Mike Rinehart

It has been two years since Hurricane Harvey hit in 2017. Harvey cost the same as Hurricane Katrina. These two most devastating storms, both in our synod, are tied for the costliest cyclones in U.S. history.

I took a walk through Meyerland today after worship at Salem Lutheran Church. Pastor Marvin Harvard tells me the neighborhood seems to be at about 50% occupancy.

The first thing I noticed was that the local elementary school is still under construction.

elementary school

There were quite a few empty lots, where homes had been demolished, but nothing new had yet been built.

empty lot

empty lot 2

Continue reading and see more photos of the recovery