Some of you are aware that recently our institutional church body, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), had its churchwide assembly. At the assembly, much like at our synod gatherings, representatives make recommendations and decisions about how to best move forward as a church. Recent media focus has drawn attention to one of those decisions—the decision to become a “sanctuary denomination”—and has prompted many good questions from folks. Before we get into that particular decision, I think it’s important for us to be refreshed about how our denomination works.
Christ Lutheran Church is part of something big. We, as a church, belong to the denomination of the ELCA, the largest Lutheran body in the United States. That larger body is broken into 65 different synods throughout the US. The word Synod derives from the Greek σύνοδος (sýnodos) meaning assembly or gathering. Our Synod is the Southeastern Synod and is comprised of 4 States (Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee). We are a larger synod geographically but only have 160 member congregations. The ELCA is grounded on the autonomy of individual churches. My hunch is that this comes from our roots in the Reformation. We do not as congregations tend to react well when we are told: “you have to do x, y or z.” This seems to be at the heart of the problem folks are having with now being a sanctuary denomination: are we being told to do something illegal, or is our church body endorsing illegal action?
As your pastor, let me assure you that we are not forced into anything. Christ Lutheran has always been and will continue to follow the law. By voting to become a sanctuary denomination, our larger church body is asking us to consider how we are called to respond to the way immigration and refugee care happens in the area we live, and perhaps more broadly.
Now here it would be easy for me to continue on and give long explanations, but ultimately, I want to encourage you to work a little bit harder. Below I have listed several ways for you to engage this topic. Please Do! At CLC, we take pride in our familial identity, our deep community, and the ways we think deeply about how God is at work in our lives. I want you to be informed and knowledgeable about Making Decisions on this topic. I desire for us to be honest and have real conversations about where we are at without judgment but holding onto grace.
Sanctuary Denomination Designation resources:
When we take on these topics and wrestle faithfully, I find that we are more aware of the desire of God for our community and in our own lives—and truly, this is one of the main purposes and intentions of the sanctuary denomination decision. Often following Jesus is not always easy, but in Him, we have life and life abundant. May God bless you as you walk through this topic and many more to come.
As always, if you want to talk one on one or in a small group, please let me know.