During the 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly held in Milwaukee from August 5-10, 2019, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted on matters of national church governance and policy. Two critical issues included electing Presiding Bishop Elizabeth to a second six-year term, and approving a 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.
According to the newly passed legislation, the ELCA adopted the following measures:
- Becoming a sanctuary denomination means that the ELCA is publicly declaring that walking alongside immigrants and refugees is a matter of faith.
- Being a sanctuary denomination does not call for any person, congregation, or synod to engage in any illegal actions.
- We have a “broken system” regarding immigration, refugees, and asylum-seekers.
- Being a sanctuary denomination is about loving our neighbors.
- Being a sanctuary denomination will look different in different contexts.
- While we (ELCA) don’t yet know the full scope of the work that this declaration will open for the church, we do know that our faith communities are already doing sanctuary work.
- Except for our members whose ancestors were here before European settlement or others who were forced to come to the U.S. against their will, the ELCA is an immigrant church.
- At the last ELCA churchwide assembly, we (church) committed to walking alongside Central American children and families fleeing their communities by passing the AMMPARO strategy (Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation, and Opportunities).
- Through the AMMPARO strategy, we (church) are also working through our global partners in Central American to alleviate the conditions that cause people to migrate.
- In baptism, we are brought into a covenantal relationship with Jesus Christ that commits us to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.
- Being a sanctuary denomination means that we, as the church together, want to be public and vocal about this work.
Bishop Elizabeth Amy Eaton was elected on August 14, 2013, as the fourth and first female Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Since her election, Bishop Eaton has been instrumental and vocal about her expression and discontent regarding the current policies and political platforms of the Trump Administration. For starters, Bishop Eaton has shown both support and understanding for the LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Asexual) population.
No human institution decides who is human, who is visible, who is valued. Human sexuality and gender identity is a beautiful mystery. Trans people, like all people, are beloved by God.
— Bishop Eaton (@ELCABishopEaton) October 24, 2018
Regarding other Trump political stances, particularly immigration control and international relief funding, Bishop Eaton has voiced numerous concerns.
Jesus identifies with every wanderer, every displaced person, every refugee, asylum seeker and migrant, when he tells the crowd, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Matthew 25:35). #WorldRefugeeDay
— Bishop Eaton (@ELCABishopEaton) June 20, 2019
We lament that due process was denied for Jose Robles, who sought sanctuary at Gethsemane Lutheran in Seattle. Robles had been a victim of a crime in the US and is eligible for a U-visa. Please keep the Robles family in prayer. Join the vigil: https://t.co/uxlQszgh1Q
— Bishop Eaton (@ELCABishopEaton) July 19, 2019
— Bishop Eaton (@ELCABishopEaton) October 13, 2017
I am trying to understand the president’s decision to cut aid to Guatemala El Salvador Honduras. The rich and the governments of these countries will not bear the brunt, the poor who are leaving to seek asylum will.
— Bishop Eaton (@ELCABishopEaton) March 31, 2019
Bishop Eaton and the ELCA announced during the August Churchwide Assembly that welcoming people is not a political issue, but simply a matter of faith. However, is the ELCA under Eaton dangerously close to violating precedent of the Supreme Court of the United States and the Internal Revenue Service under section 501(c)(3) organizations, that (under federal law) prohibits churches from becoming directly or indirectly involved in political campaigns and candidates?
Church denominations today have seen a dramatic decline in membership over the past 20 years, with a 20-percentage-point decline since 1999. While many factors are attributed to the fall; the move to non-religious affiliation accounts for the majority of the 17-point drop in church membership over the past two decades.
No matter the actual identifier in the decline of church membership, today’s Americans are constantly embattled in societal and political issues. However, many individuals in search of a new church home may find that political talking points from the pulpit are a violation of their relationship with God. Many want the Gospel – in all its wonder and glory, and not watered down or politically synthesized.
Despite all the recent scandals, most Americans today want a church that they can call home. They want God as the center of their universe, quite possibly though, they do not wish political opinions and commentary in their Sunday Sermon. Give me the Gospel Goods and Let’s Get Out of Here! If the ELCA is offering any form of a sanctuary, let it be a sanctuary of safety and security, away from all the societal issues and political banter.