Skip to content
ELCA Blogs

Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Perspectives

Preaching and Teaching “With Love and Respect for the Jewish People”

By Rev. Peter A. Pettit

We have just navigated our way through Reformation Sunday once again and many in the church will have wrestled with the appointed texts of the Revised Common Lectionary. Jeremiah’s “new covenant,” Paul’s “faith apart from works of the law,” and John’s “if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” all lean into the problematic posture of the church’s millennia-long anti-Jewish rhetoric. Few among us want to go there; any echo of that rhetoric in our preaching and teaching is usually unintentional. The ELCA in 1994 spoke explicitly, in “A Declaration of the ELCA to the Jewish Community,” of “our urgent desire to live out our faith in Jesus Christ with love and respect for the Jewish people.” That means we need to learn to step clearly away from even unintentional offenses into which the lectionary and long-standing theological habits might lean us.

A 56-page guide that has recently been published on the ELCA website lays out steppingstones for taking those deliberate steps of understanding, respect, and authentic representation in relation to our Jewish neighbors and their faith traditions. The guide distils decades of recent research into accessible sections focused on ten key areas of textual, historical, and theological significance. Prophetic language, Jewish leadership in Jesus’ day as well as Jewish diversity then and now, Jesus and the Torah, gospel contexts, Paul among Jews and Gentiles and Martin Luther’s reading of Paul, law and gospel, promise and fulfillment, old/new language regarding covenants, and the dynamics of lectionary constructions all gain clarity through the explication of core principles and numerous examples. Indexes to both scripture and the lectionary calendar aid in locating relevant discussions.

The guide was developed by the ELCA Consultative Panel on Lutheran-Jewish Relations with input from many ELCA colleagues, consultants in the Episcopal, Roman Catholic, and Presbyterian churches, scholars from around the world, and Jewish partners. Dr. Phil Cunningham, a leading Roman Catholic expert at St. Joseph’s University, admitted to a measure of “holy envy” when seeing the guide published. (Of course, he was quoting the Lutheran bishop, Krister Stendahl, with that phrase!). Prof. Ruth Sandberg at Gratz College and Prof. Dan Joslyn-Siemiatkoski at Boston College have already committed to using it in courses on “Post-Holocaust Theology” and “Un-doing Anti-Judaism in the Church.”

Rabbi James Rudin, senior interreligious advisor to the American Jewish Committee, plans to use it in a local dialogue group in Florida. He cheers it as “most useful on a ‘retail’ level (congregational clergy and laity) because it clearly focuses on many of the neuralgic issues present in authentic Christian encounters with Jews and Judaism.” Abel Bibliowicz, author of Jewish-Christian Relations: the First Centuries (4th ed., 2022), has called the guide “thoughtful, courageous and paradigmatic…, a groundbreaking and admirable effort.”

As a handy reference to support weekly preparation, a study document for a clergy or adult study group, or the focus of a retreat or learning series on thinking as Christians in relation to Jews and Judaism, the guide can provide resources for a wide range of settings in the church and beyond. It can be accessed as a downloadable PDF on the ELCA Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations resource page and through tinyurl.com/ELCApreachingguide.

 

Peter A. Pettit is teaching pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Davenport IA and a member of the Consultative Panel on Lutheran-Jewish Relations. For 20 years he directed the Institute for Jewish-Christian Understanding of Muhlenberg College.

 

New Horizons for Episcopal-Lutheran Relations

By Richard J. Mammana

The Episcopal Church’s 80th General Convention in Baltimore this summer was a watershed moment for relationships of Lutherans and Anglicans around the world. The triennial gathering was delayed by a year because of the global Covid pandemic, but the bicameral legislative process (one house for bishops and another for priests and lay deputies) has been in place since 1785. The General Convention makes decisions about the mission and governance of The Episcopal Church, the official name of which is the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.

ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton brought prerecorded video greetings to the assembly, wishing God’s blessing on its deliberations. She was joined by Dr. Heinrich Bedford-Strohm of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria and new communion partners the Rev. Susan C. Johnson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, and Archbishop Antje Jackelén of the Church of Sweden.

While the video greetings were brief and represented an accommodation to health precautions, they were also a sign of increasing depth and breadth in international Anglican-Lutheran relations. (Previous conventions have had in-person ecumenical guests, observers, preachers, and participants from across the Christian spectrum in addition to the presence of representatives from other religious traditions.)

2022 marks two decades of full communion between the ELCA and The Episcopal Church—a pioneering decision for Christians in the United States that now bears fruit in about two hundred ministry sites including combined church plants, shared facilities, joint camping ministries and governmental advocacy, food pantries, campus ministries, archival work, very regular exchange of pastoral care and preaching, and collaboration in educational initiatives. Resolution A183 celebrated continued cooperation and shared ministries between the ELCA and The Episcopal Church.

Two memorial resolutions honored the contributions of Episcopal priest-ecumenists J. Robert Wright (1936-2022) and William Norgren (1927-2022) for their work in shepherding the dialogues that led to Called to Common Mission and the current full communion relationship. Another resolution continued the mandate for the Lutheran-Episcopal Coordinating Committee, which provides resources for implementation of the full communion between the churches: devotional and educational material, liturgical guides, historical documentation, and asset mapping, in addition to constituting a contact group for relations on the official denominational level.

This year also saw an expansion of Called to Common Mission in the United States and the Waterloo Declaration for Canadian Anglicans and Lutherans by creating a new ecumenical, transnational grouping called Churches Beyond Borders. This is a quadrilateral or four-way relationship among the ELCA, The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. Drawing on a 2018 agreement at Niagara Falls, Ontario, this new full communion family affirms the integrity of the bilateral relationships while committing the four churches to ongoing work on the Doctrine of Discovery, climate change, racial reconciliation, gender justice, and other matters specific to North America. It will have important applications in the 13 American states that border Canada and the six Canadian provinces and one territory that border the United States, where First Nations communities and their life and work can both pre-date and transcend national boundaries.

The Episcopal Church also continued this summer to work toward deeper bonds with international Lutheran bodies—one looking back to 350 years of mutual contact in colonial North America and the other to the ongoing needs of the church for diakonia in refugee and asylee resettlement in modern Europe.

The 2022 General Convention’s acceptance of a relationship of full communion with the Church of Sweden completes proposals begun in the 1850s and contacts that began in the middle 1600s. Swedish colonial churches in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries offer early examples of shared ministry between Anglicans and Lutherans; most Swedish Lutheran churches of this period had joined The Episcopal Church by the 1840s. Great waves of Swedish immigration to the United States, sometimes without adequate ecclesiastical accompaniment, further intensified the coming-together of these communities and resulted in 45 Swedish-speaking missions of The Episcopal Church throughout the United States. Full communion will facilitate the sharing of clergy and the greater mutual integration of Americans into Swedish church life and vice versa, fulfilling three and a half centuries of life together. It will also give a deeper context for international disaster relief work done in common and with shared partners.

Still one more emerging connection moved forward in Baltimore this summer is The Episcopal Church’s commendation of a proposal entitled “Sharing the Gifts of Communion” (the Augsburg Agreement) with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria. The background for this agreement is partnership in diaconal ministries in southern Germany by members of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe and the clergy and leaders of the major local Lutheran landeskirche (regional church). The urgency of this collaboration has intensified in the past five decades along with globalization and Germany’s acceptance of large numbers of refugees from regions of conflict or social oppression. A strong postwar presence of Americans in Germany is part of the explanation for the vitality of Episcopal churches here. The Augsburg Agreement, when accepted by both churches, will make for a new transnational Christian relationship in the further service of the Gospel, rooted in existing regional and international agreements extended to a fresh context in creative ways.

The persistence and proliferation of these Episcopal-Lutheran relationships is notable because of their responsiveness to changing religious and social landscapes in all of the places where they are emerging. Just as global Lutheranism marked a 500th anniversary of gospel freedom in 2017, Anglicans will look to a similar five centuries of our Lutheran-inspired reforms in 1534. The two communities have been in arrangements of mutual communication, occasionally antagonism, and often strong support of one another for all of this time, with a summer of new and renewed connections drawing a bright line under important trajectories of recognition and repair.

My long view of these new horizons in Episcopal-Lutheran relations is that something very good is afoot, and that it will not make headlines in the same way that the earliest movements toward ELCA-Episcopal full communion did. There is no more controversy; all of the General Convention resolutions passed without dissent in two houses famous for their canonical precision and (sometimes partisan) passion. In the short space of twenty years in the American case, strangers now are friends because of one Lord, and for the sake of one world. There has been little news coverage because the decisions generate all light and no heat.

For the other outgrowths of mutual love and recognition, the CCM experience of deep realization that we see ourselves in one another—and that in each other we must also see Jesus Christ—provides an impulse to seek other forms and opportunities of similar connection wherever they can strengthen the church for the healing of the nations. Denver has led us in its way to Waterloo and then to Niagara, and now to Uppsala and Frankfurt by way of Baltimore, and we are glad indeed.

 

Richard J. Mammana has served as Episcopal Church Associate for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations since 2014. A descendant of the founders of German Lutheranism in eastern Pennsylvania, he is a staff member of the Lutheran-Episcopal Coordinating Committee (lutheran-episcopal.org).

Studying Ecumenism – Strasbourg Ecumenical Institute Online Course

Registration closes August 31

 

The Strasbourg Ecumenical Institute offers advanced training in ecumenical theology for Lutheran pastors. The next study course will be held online from October 10-14, 2022.

The course will be held in English and is designed for pastors with parish experience or for students with advanced knowledge of Lutheran theology. It will cover an overview of the most important ecumenical agreements between Lutherans and other Christian communions over the past half century. In addition, students will examine the ways churches on the different continents are putting those agreements into practice in their local contexts and how leaders and local communities learn from the ecumenical experiences of those in other parts of the globe.

The goal of the week-long course is to equip participants with knowledge of the principle ecumenical agreements between the Lutheran World Federation and its dialogue partners, mainly in the Catholic, Mennonite, Orthodox and Pentecostal churches. Students will also be asked to discuss relations with other Christians in their respective countries with the aim of developing pathways for further rapprochement at local and national level.

Another objective of the course (open only to a maximum of 20 participants) is to allow students from a wide variety of cultural and religious contexts to engage in “intense transcultural dialogue about ecumenical theology and practice.” Organizers hope that these in-depth conversations will serve to strengthen and build relations between churches within the Lutheran World Federation (LWF).

LWF’s Assistant General Secretary for Ecumenical Relations and acting director of the Strasbourg Institute, Prof. Dr Dirk Lange, said: “The LWF has committed itself to the ecumenical way towards ecclesial communion. To move forward on that journey, encouraging local ecumenical initiatives and strengthening connections between these initiatives and global dialogues, is critical. This course is an incredible opportunity to enter more profoundly into this dynamic.”

Learn more at the course’s landing page: Study-Course-October22.pdf (ecumenical-institute.org)

Apply today: application_form-studyingecumenism2022.pdf (lutheranworld.org)

New Guidelines for Ministry in a Multi-Religious World

by Kathryn M. Lohre

As Lutherans in North America, we have a remarkable opportunity to live out our Christian vocation in a multi-religious world. No matter where we live, the realities of religious diversity are not “out there,” but in our daily lives with our families, in our congregations, communities, and at work. Our ministries – whether as pastors, deacons, or lay people – are shaped by the religious diversity in our midst. The brand new “ELCA Guidelines for Ministry in a Multi-Religious World” provide a way for our ministries to also be shaped for our multi-religious context.

These new guidelines provide both general guidance, as well as recommendations for specific occasions, including prayer services, crisis and tragedy response, social ministries, pastoral care, weddings, funerals, religious rites and ceremonies, and engaging through inter-religious organizations. The guidelines are intentionally not one-size-fits-all templates. Instead, they assert that the foundation for effective inter-religious engagement is authentic relationships coupled with contextual considerations. What you will discover in this document are guideposts for how to weigh factors in light of our shared theological framework and policy commitments for inter-religious relations, consistent with our church’s three inter-religious declarations.*

You can read more about the development of these guidelines in the “Background” and “General Guidelines” sections of the document. Two noteworthy factors in the process were the input gleaned from a survey across the church that yielded the collective wisdom of more than 2,600 respondents, and the review several of our inter-religious partners provided on the penultimate draft. The ELCA is not new to inter-religious relations, and many of our pastors, deacons, and lay people are leading the way in asking bold questions and identifying best practices. The fact that we were able to receive and build upon this collective wisdom richly blessed this work.

Our inter-religious partners are able to hold up a mirror to reflect how they see us. In doing so, they can help us to see more clearly who we want to become, and even how we can continue to grow together. In his review Tarunjit Singh Butalia (Religions for Peace USA) affirmed the guidelines as, “an excellent and well-balanced document [that]…lays out the theological arguments up-front and then delves into the nuts and bolts.”

Other partners acknowledge the value of the document not only for Lutherans, but as a model for their own communities. Rabbi Burton Visotzky (Jewish Theological Seminary) wrote, “I cannot wait for it to be published so that I might share it widely as an example of “best practice” in inter-religious dialogue.” Feryal Salem (American Islamic College) added, “I am inspired to work with Muslim community leaders to think about how we might do something similar.”

We pray that these guidelines will be a blessing to you and to your neighbors of other religions and worldviews. Thank you to all of you who played a role in shaping them, and to all those who will utilize and share them with others.

*These guidelines were called for in “A Declaration of Inter-Religious Commitment: A Policy Statement of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America” adopted by the Churchwide Assembly in 2019. They are consistent with the inter-religious policy of this church as expressed in “A Declaration of the ELCA to the Jewish Community” (1994), “A Declaration of Inter-Religious Commitment” (2019) and “A Declaration of the ELCA to the Muslim Community” (2022).

 

Kathryn Mary Lohre serves as Assistant to the Presiding Bishop and Executive for Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations & Theological Discernment for the ELCA

Reflecting on and Commemorating the Emanuel Nine

This reflection is a cross-published piece, which was originally published on the ELCA Racial Justice Blog on June 6, 2022.

 

By Bishop Virginia S. Aebischer

June 2022 — Reflecting on and Commemorating the Emanuel Nine

On the evening of June 17, 2015, a white supremacist walked into Mother Emanuel AME Church, sat down and joined a Bible study focused on Mark 4. We all know now that he intended to start a race war. Innocent lives were taken in an act of hate, an act all too familiar in our society.

That evening nine innocent people were killed in a temple of the Lord, where love was shared and life in Christ was embraced. The Emanuel Nine are saints who still witness to us today from their graves . . . they witness to the power of God’s word and God’s love! May we never forget and may we be changed! Their family members stood up just days after this horrific tragedy and amazed the world when they voiced forgiveness in Christ’s name. They shared an understanding of the power of God’s word, that it will prevail over any attempt to stifle or kill it. God’s word will be spread far and wide.

Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, has spoken often about God’s love. “Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on social theory or the ways of culture,” he says, “but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are our sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all.”

This June, inspired by a request from an AME congregation we asked the congregations of the ELCA South Carolina Synod to study the Parable of the Sower in Mark 4, to substitute it as their Gospel reading for Sunday, June 19, and to include the names of the Emanuel Nine in the prayers of intercession. Each year our Inclusiveness Network sponsors a worship service in a central location; this year we have decided to reflect on Mark 4, the Scripture being studied by the Emanuel Nine the night they were murdered, and to ponder how it might shape the way we live into community as Jesus’ disciples.

Only God’s word in Christ has the power to stretch and transform us, to equip us and entrust us with a message and a ministry of reconciliation. Only God’s word can open our hearts to the truth that Jesus came not only for me and you but for all God’s beloved children. Only God’s word, Jesus, can bring hope for our communities and the world.

In Jesus we have the power to become communities that reach beyond themselves, and to bring the transformation of God’s extravagant love to every sister and brother. Thanks be to God for this word of life and love. “Lord, let our hearts be good soil!” In Jesus’ name. Amen.

We remember Rev. Clementa Pinckney · Tywanza Sanders · Rev. Sharonda Singleton · Cynthia Hurd · Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor · Ethel Lance · Susie Jackson · Rev. Dr. Daniel Simmons · Myra Thompson.

 

Resources:

ELCA worship for commemoration of the Emanuel Nine

https://www.elca.org/emanuelnine

 

The Rev. Virginia S. Aebischer serves as the bishop of the ELCA South Carolina Synod. (her full bio can be found as part of the original published piece on the ELCA Racial Justice Blog)

Introducing “A Declaration of the ELCA to the Muslim Community”

By Professor Mark Swanson

On March 31st, the ELCA Church Council adopted “A Declaration of the ELCA to the Muslim Community,” uplifting our commitment to friendship and solidarity with our Muslim neighbors.

The idea that the ELCA should develop “A Declaration to the Muslim Community” has been around for some time, especially since the Reformation commemorations of 2017, when there was renewed focus in a variety of forums on Luther’s attitudes toward the religious Other. After the adoption at the 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly of “A Declaration of Inter-Religious Commitment,” the Lutheran-Muslim Consultative Panel began in earnest to discuss the need and possibility of such a document.

At the Panel’s last in-person meeting on February 22, 2020, we decided that the time was right: Muslim friends were asking for such a statement; the LWF Assembly in 2017 had committed itself to working towards a statement on Lutheran-Muslim relations, but had encouraged the ELCA to develop its own and to offer it to the LWF as a contribution; and, of course, acts of discrimination against Muslims (e.g., the so-called “Muslim ban”) and violence (think of the Christchurch mosque shootings of 2019) were heavy on our hearts and minds. Even then, we were wondering what the 2022 US election season might bring (remembering the ”Ground Zero Mosque” and Qur’an burning controversies of 2010, and the “Muslim ban” of 2016).

Work on a preliminary draft of a statement continued into the pandemic but stalled for a time. But last October (2021) we made a fresh start, asking Panel members and a few Muslim friends and colleagues to name just two or three things that should be included in a possible Declaration. The collected responses provided a remarkably coherent roadmap, and a series of focused Panel meetings led to the statement that you now have before you.

I would like to make a few comments about this Declaration:

  • We tried to keep it short and simple, resisting the natural inclinations of the scholars in the group to write excurses and lengthy footnotes.
  • We decided to keep the focus on North America and our relationships as ELCA members with our friends, neighbors, and inter-religious partners here. In just one paragraph do we broaden out (partly at the request of LWF and Muslim colleagues), to speak of projects of the LWF and of major inter-religious initiatives by Muslim leaders and scholars.
  • We were challenged to speak a word about how we view Muslims, and not just how we think or theologize about them – and the language that seemed right was that of love, respect, esteem, and friendship (and certainly nothing that could be read as simply toleration).
  • In speaking about Luther we walked a tightrope, or several at once: acknowledging his painful rhetoric while not going into unnecessary detail about it; avoiding making an apologetic for Luther while at the same time honoring the one from whom our denomination takes its name.
  • We build on earlier Declarations of the ELCA, especially the “Declaration of Inter-Religious Commitment” and also “A Declaration of the ELCA to the Jewish Community.”
  • And we conclude the Declaration with two remarkable quotations from bishops of this church, from Bishop Eaton and from Bishop Hanson, which point to the “journey” or the “pilgrimage” that ELCA members and our Muslim friends and neighbors are on, together.

The final draft of the document was reviewed by several of our Muslim partners, by Bishop Eaton, and by the Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Committee of the Conference of Bishops and by other key partners within the ELCA.

Over the coming month, during the holy season of Ramadan, we will be sharing this declaration with our Muslim partners and neighbors, and invite you to join us in this effort.

I want to close by acknowledging the members of the ELCA’s Consultative Panel on Lutheran-Muslim relations, which was entrusted with the development of this Declaration: panel members Prof. Jonathan Brockopp; Dr. Carol LaHurd; Prof. Paul Rajashekar; and Prof. Nelly van Doorn-Harder; ecumenical representative Dr. Peter Makari; and churchwide staff: Dr. Kathryn Lohre, along with the Rev. Dr. Carmelo Santos and Ms. Kristen Opalinski. It’s been an amazing team: intellectually stimulating, passionate, unafraid of disagreement, every one with extraordinary experience and contacts among Muslims and others.

 

Professor Mark Swanson is chair of the ELCA Consultative Panel on Lutheran-Muslim Relations. He serves at the Lutheran School of Theology as the Harold S. Vogelaar Professor of Christian-Muslim Studies and Interfaith Relations and  Associate Director of A Center of Christian-Muslim Engagement for Peace and Justice.