Wednesday Words

September 11, 2019

Pastor Paul Cannon

ELCA Churchwide Assembly Reports

Pastor Cathy and Pr. Paul will be dedicating the next few weeks to inform you on some of the decisions made at the 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly. To read previous Churchwide reports, scroll through the previous two Wednesday Words.

· Approved a resolution declaring the ELCA is a “sanctuary church body,” encouraging participation in 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.

· Approved memorials: affirming but not ‘endorsing’ the Poor People’s Campaign, care for immigrants and refugees, and other statements.

One of the least well understood actions of the 2019 Churchwide Assembly, was the vote for the ELCA to become a “sanctuary church body.” There has been much discussion and misinformation about what this means, and what it doesn’t mean for individuals, synods and congregations.

On the most fundamental level, becoming a sanctuary denomination means that the ELCA is publicly declaring that walking alongside immigrant and refugee children, and their families, is a matter of faith. However, the churchwide office has made clear that being a sanctuary denomination does NOT call for any person, congregation or synod to engage in any illegal actions.

Being a sanctuary denomination will look different in different contexts; each church can decide what that means for themselves. For some, it might mean discerning how to help immigrants in their own communities, and for others it might mean helping to fight the conditions in other countries that cause people to flee their homes. The ELCA is not mandating or directing individual churches to respond in specific ways.

As a matter of faith, we look to the Bible for our guidance on this issue. Stories of immigration in the Bible are particularly strong in Exodus, when God led his people out of slavery in Egypt and into the promised land. It was not an easy journey for God’s people, and they were not always welcomed with open arms. The Bible encourages us to love our neighbors as ourselves.

The action by the assembly was a call for prayerful attention and conversation to be given to this issue. And to that extent, the resolution has already served its purpose, though we continue in our discernment about what it might mean.