Last week I attended the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Milwaukee, WI as a voting member from the Northwest Washington Synod. The assembly happens every 3 years and serves as the highest legislative-making body of our denomination. Over 900 voting members made the following decisions (as listed in the ELCA’s “summary of actions”):

  • Reelected on the first ballot the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton to a six-year term as ELCA presiding bishop.
  • Elected Deacon Sue Rothmeyer to a six-year term as ELCA secretary. Rothmeyer, currently serving as executive for administration with the Office of the Secretary, was installed during the assembly’s closing worship on Aug. 10 and will begin her term Nov. 1.
  • Approved the social statement “Faith, Sexism and Justice: A Call to Action” and its implementing resolutions. The social statement, in part, names patriarchy and sexism as sins and calls the church to action on a range of issues, including gender-based violence, workplace discrimination and economic inequality.
  • Adopted “A Declaration of Inter-Religious Commitment,” which will serve as church policy for inter-religious relations. The policy statement was adopted with the witness of 39 ecumenical and inter-religious guests in attendance.
  • Approved the triennium budget for 2020-2022, which includes a current fund spending authorization of $68,378,325 for 2020, a current fund income proposal of $68,442,034 for 2021 and $68,507,018 for 2022; and an ELCA World Hunger spending authorization of $21.5 million 2020, and an income proposal of $21.5 million for 2021 and for 2022.
  • Adopted the “Strategy Toward Authentic Diversity in the ELCA,” which consists of a report and recommendations on how the ELCA exhibits authentic diversity and formulates goals for racial diversity and inclusion.
  • Witnessed the presentation of the “Declaration of the ELCA to People of African Descent,” which was accepted by the Rev. Lamont A. Wells, president of the African Descent Lutheran Association (ADLA), and members of ADLA.
  • Adopted 26 memorials en bloc, ranging in topics from gun violence to engagement in the Holy Land and gender identity to seminary tuition.
  • Adopted a memorial that affirms the ELCA’s long-standing commitment to migrants and refugees and declares the ELCA a sanctuary church body.
  • Adopted a memorial that calls for the development of a social statement and social message on the relationship of church and state.
  • Adopted a memorial to encourage all synods and congregations to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the ELCA’s ordination of women in 2020, the 40th anniversary of the ordination of women of color in the Lutheran tradition and the 10th anniversary of the ELCA’s decision to remove barriers to ordination for people in same-gender relationships.
  • Adopted a memorial to support the vision and goals of the Poor People’s Campaign that align with the ELCA’s social teachings.
  • Adopted a series of amendments to the “Constitutions, Bylaws and Continuing Resolutions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America,” including one that makes ordination the entrance rite for ministers of Word and Service, and an amendment to no longer count deacons as laypeople for representational principles.
  • Adopted a resolution that committed the ELCA to support the World Council of Church’s “Thursdays in Black” campaign toward a world without rape and violence.
  • Adopted a resolution to commemorate June 17 as a day of repentance in the ELCA for the martyrdom of the Emanuel 9—the nine people who were shot and killed June 17, 2015, during a Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.
  • Adopted a resolution to condemn white supremacy, calling all ELCA congregations to engage in a “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.”
  • Celebrated the end of Always Being Made New: The Campaign for the ELCA, which concluded June 30 with nearly $250 million raised in cash, multiyear commitments and planned gift commitments. At the 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, voting members approved the $198 million campaign to help sustain and grow ministries of the church.
  • Elected members to serve on the ELCA Church Council, churchwide committees and churchwide boards, including Portico Benefit Services, the Mission Investment Fund and 1517 Media.

Perhaps the most talked-about decision was the vote to become a sanctuary denomination. As I mentioned in my sermon last Sunday (found under Worship/Sermons on this website), I told how in the morning we voted to become the first sanctuary denomination in the United States, and at lunchtime 700 of us marched a mile to post, following the model of Martin Luther, our 9.5 theses on the door of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Milwaukee calling for fair and just policies for migrant families.

In its simplest form, becoming a sanctuary denomination means that the ELCA is publicly declaring that walking alongside immigrants and refugees is a matter of faith. It means that when we hear on Sunday the biblical call to welcome the alien and the oppressed, we will use our hands and voices on Monday to make it happen.

It is crucial to understand that the ELCA will never ask or expect any person, congregation, or synod to engage in any illegal action. But what it does mean is that we will seek to provide concrete resources to assist the most vulnerable in our broken immigration system. It might mean supporting the ELCA’s Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation, and Opportunities (AMMPARO), or hosting ESL classes in congregations, or providing legal or financial support to those working through the immigration system. Each congregation and each person will need to decide how to most authentically live into this decision.

When we adopted Tae from South Korea, he automatically gained citizenship and naturalization when we went through adoption court in California. However, we still had to fill out (and pay over $500) for a U.S. Certificate of Citizenship for Tae. Mike and I are both well-educated people for whom English is our first language. But when we tried to fill out the form, we were flabbergasted at how difficult it was to understand and complete. We even had to consult a friend who is an immigration attorney to fill it out!

If we who have resources, access, and education had a difficult time navigating citizenship, it makes me realize that those who are fleeing violence and death in their countries of origin and then facing a complicated immigration, refugee, and asylum system in the U.S. need and deserve our empathy and support, and thus I am grateful for this decision by the ELCA.

I look forward to having conversations this year – through adult education, written resources, and conversation – about how we as a congregation might live into this decision by our denomination. Please know that I welcome your thoughts and input at any time.