The first plenary session of the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) 2019 is off to a predictably politically inoffensive start as Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton paused to “honor the nation tribes” and “celebrate the many people who first called this land home.”
The 927 voting members from the ELCA’s 65 synods gathered this week in Milwaukee, Wisconsin were invited by Eaton to “remember the tragedies” endured by Native Americans and “find inspiration in their resilience in overcoming challenges today.”
“Milwaukee is and always has been a native place. Home to a diverse number of indigenous Americans,” said the Rev. Paul Erickson, bishop of the Greater Milwaukee Synod, following his welcome address to the assembly on Monday.
Any assembly participants seeking an additional “time of learning and humbling” themselves over Native-American subjugation, space is available in room 101C of the Wisconsin Center. There, participants can “deepen their understanding of the oppression and colonized history” of local indigenous communities.
The politically correct tone is no surprise for the ELCA assembly. Numerous progressive proposals, called memorials, will be presented to the ELCA’s primary decision-making body. Among the most notable measures are memorials addressing gun violence and gun policy, immigration, and gender identity.
In the wake of multiple mass shootings in the U.S., a memorial from the Metropolitan Chicago Synod encourages other synods and congregations to “dedicate a time of study and exhortation to action on the issue of gun violence and public policy on guns” and urges the Church Council to authorize the “development of a social message on gun violence and public policy that points to human suffering, grave injustice, pending danger, public health and social perplexity.”
Immigration is another prominent issue up for consideration by the Churchwide Assembly. In its memorial on deportation, the Greater Milwaukee Synod calls on the ELCA to “speak in opposition to the inhumane policies of harassment, detention and deportation implemented by the U.S. government.”
Assembly participants are also invited to join the Greater Milwaukee Synod for a march and prayer vigil before the city’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement building on Wednesday afternoon.
Another memorial from the Sierra Pacific Synod notes society’s “paradigm shift as it regards its understanding of biological sex, gender, identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation” and recommends the development of a social statement on gender identity and gender expression.
In its statement, the Sierra Pacific Synod specifically requests:
[T]he Office of the Presiding Bishop provide materials to facilitate education among ELCA members so as to build awareness of the broad varieties of gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation among God’s people, as well as to provide pastoral care insights regarding concerns and issues of the transgender experience and gender nonconformity; and to request that the Church Council consider authorizing development of a social message on gender identity and gender expression.
The ELCA Churchwide Assembly 2019 will conclude on Saturday, August 10. Other assembly business will include the nomination and election of a new presiding bishop for a six-year term.