Call for bold witness amid withdrawal and fragmentation

LWF President Archbishop Dr Panti Filibus Musa addressing the 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly: All Photos: Will Nunnally/ELCA
LWF President Archbishop Dr Panti Filibus Musa addressing the 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly: All Photos: Will Nunnally/ELCA

LWF President Musa addresses ELCA Churchwide Assembly

(LWI) - In times characterized by fragmentation, withdrawal and “a dramatic shift” of shared values, the church needs “to embrace fully” both its local and global witness. The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) President Archbishop Dr Panti Filibus Musa made this call in his greeting to the 2019 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

“We are Church” is the theme of the 5-10 August gathering of ELCA’s highest legislative body, taking place in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Musa expressed deep gratitude to the LWF member church for its steadfast commitment and contribution to the Lutheran communion’s work in areas such as mission, theology and ecumenical dialogues, developing a gender justice policy and serving people in need around the world. “Your leadership and the many gifts and resources that you bring to the Lutheran communion are an expression of your global witness,” he said.

 Will Nunnally/ELCA

The Assembly re-elected Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton as ELCA Presiding Bishop.

The Churchwide Assembly is held every three years, gathering ordained and lay delegates from the ELCA’s 65 synods across the country. In addition to regular business such as budget approval and elections, the 927 voting members at the Milwaukee assembly will take action on various recommendations. In earlier sessions, the governing body re-elected Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton as Presiding Bishop. It also voted to approve a memorial that declares the ELCA a sanctuary church, making it the first North American denomination to declare itself a sanctuary church body. As a sanctuary church, the ELCA is committed to serving and supporting migrant children and families in communities across the country.

In his address, Musa congratulated Eaton, particularly thanking her for her role as head of the church and as LWF Vice-President for North America. He prayed for continued engagement with the LWF and the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria which he leads as archbishop.

Human dignity

The LWF president said the assembly theme challenges the ELCA to firstly respond to the question: “‘Who will you be to your own people, here in the USA?’” On the one hand, he said, the church is tasked with witnessing locally to many who “are longing for life that flourishes and thrives” as they seek to express the God-given dignity of each human being. “You need to be the church here, both claiming your space and identifying the voice and witness you will offer, in God’s name, to your own people, in your own context,” Musa emphasized. 

On the other hand, he noted, the church’s catholic nature means “it cannot be on its own but needs always to embrace its global expression.” The assembly, the president emphasized, is an expression of this spiritual insight in the same way as the LWF at a global level.

Pointing to the potential for violence from aggressive language and hate speech among other expressions, Musa called on the church to reject “these tendencies wherever they exist and insist on honest dialogue.” He noted that when “toxic language and discourse take center stage in public debate,” the most vulnerable population particularly finds itself “in even more precarious situations.”

He thanked Eaton and other faith leaders in the country for speaking out together on migrant children in detention and separated families seeking refuge in the US through the country’s southern border. The president said the joint advocacy was of great encouragement to the entire LWF communion “because this is not a time to be derailed from the message that is entrusted to us, but to draw from it and to witness to it in the midst of our broken world.”

This is not a time to be derailed from the message that is entrusted to us, but to draw from it and to witness to it in the midst of our broken world.
LWF President Archbishop Dr Panti Filibus Musa

Musa emphasized the need for such global witness amid “choruses of exasperation, fear and anger.” He urged the church to “continue singing the powerful melody of God’s liberating presence in this world, which sets us free to serve, love, reconcile and do so much more.”

Other actions of the ELCA governing body included adoption of a social statement titled “Faith, Sexism, and Justice: A Lutheran Call to Action” and a policy statement, “A Declaration of Inter-Religious Commitment.” Voting delegates also received an ELCA declaration to people of African descent that includes a confession on bondage to the sins of slavery, racism, discrimination, white supremacy and quietism, and a commitment to begin the work of repentance.

 Will Nunnally/ELCA

Participants in the ELCA Churchwide Assembly join in worship.

 

ELCA Churchwide Assembly

 


The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with nearly 3.5 million members in more than 9,100 worshiping communities across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Led by Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton, it joined the LWF in 1988.