July 10, 2009
Churchwide Assembly to consider 144 memorials from synods
Comprehensive immigration reform, Israel and Palestine, Lutheran Disaster Response, and fuller participation in church leadership are topics of memorials recommended for specific discussion at the 2009 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The recommendations were made by a 15-member memorials committee appointed by the Church Council, which met here last month. Memorials are requests from the church's 65 synods that ask for churchwide assembly action on significant policy issues. The committee considered 144 memorials for the 2009 assembly, recommending action on each in a 96-page report.
The biennial assembly, consisting of 1,045 voting members, is the church's highest legislative authority. It will meet Aug. 17-23 in Minneapolis.
John C. Richter, Allentown, Pa., and Phyllis L. Wallace, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, are council members who co-chaired the memorials committee. In an interview with the ELCA News Service, Richter said the committee engaged in a wide-ranging conversation. He said he was pleased that the most important consideration for members was "how best to facilitate the work of the assembly" without dictating it.
Many synods sent memorials related to human sexuality. Because the subject is already on the agenda for discussion and action, the committee recommended that the assembly's actions serve as the response to these memorials, Richter said.
Two documents on sexuality issues will be considered at the 2009 assembly. One is a proposed social statement, "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust." Social statements are theological and teaching documents that form the basis for policy in the ELCA. The other, a "Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies," asks the assembly to consider a process to change ministry policies to make it possible for Lutherans who are in "publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gendered relationships" to serve as ELCA associates in ministry, deaconesses, diaconal ministers and ordained ministers. Both documents were mandated by previous churchwide assemblies.
According to the committee report, 37 synods sent memorials calling for the churchwide assembly to adopt the proposed social statement, and five called for its rejection. The report listed 34 synods that sent memorials favoring adoption of the ministry recommendation, and 12 called for rejection of the recommendation. Some synods suggested amendments to one or both documents.
In addition, the report noted that 27 synods asked for a two-thirds vote "related to some or all of the sexuality issues," while three synods asked for a majority vote. The council previously recommended a rule to the assembly that a majority vote be required to adopt ministry policies proposals. The ELCA Constitution requires a two-thirds vote to adopt social statements.
The committee recommended four categories of memorials for separate discussion and action. Richter said the committee's choices were based on what it believed voting members would want to discuss. At the same time, he said, the committee was also aware the assembly may want to discuss other topics. The four categories include:
• Comprehensive immigration reform: Two synods asked the assembly to call on ELCA members to advocate for reform of U.S. immigration policies. The committee recommended that the assembly "urge comprehensive reform of immigration policies and processes" and call for suspension of immigration raids until reforms are in place. It also noted that a message on immigration is expected from the Church Council later this year.
• Strategy for engagement in Israel and Palestine: Seven synods sent memorials related to the ELCA strategy, "Peace Not Walls: Stand for Justice in the Holy Land." The committee recommended reaffirming the ELCA's commitment to the strategy.
• Fullness of leadership, Project Connect: Eight synods asked the church to confront racism and encourage more people of color to consider church service as a vocation. All cited "Project Connect," a project of three ELCA seminaries, as an example of such a program. The committee's recommended response is that people involved in Project Connect share their learnings with the church. It also asked the assembly to renew the ELCA's commitment to confront racism and review factors that limit people of color from "the fullness of leadership in this church."
• Lutheran Disaster Response: Seven synods expressed "strong support for and concern about Lutheran Disaster Response" in similar memorials. LDR is a collaborative ministry of the ELCA and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. The committee's recommended response noted LDR is involved in a strategic planning process and that the process will address "the future nature and focus of LDR." It also asks for a progress report at to the April 2010 meeting of the Church Council.
Some of the other memorials sent to the churchwide assembly addressed topics such as parish nurses, inner-city congregations, environmental stewardship, and support for seminaries and churchwide ministries.