Greetings to you in this season of Advent. In the spirit of preparation, we are writing to bring to your attention a forthcoming inter-religious resource, and to enlist your help in launching an ELCA-wide conversation on inter-religious relations in 2016 and beyond.
We live and work in an increasingly multi-ethnic and inter-religious context. In our daily encounter with diversity, what are the theological and practical challenges we face? What from our Lutheran tradition is instructive for understanding our inter-religious calling and living out our commitments? In short, what does it mean to be Lutheran in a multi-religious world?
In late 2012, the ELCA Consultative Panels on Lutheran-Jewish and Lutheran-Muslim Relations undertook an inter-religious case studies project to explore these questions. A call for submissions went out inviting real-life cases of inter-religious engagement in ELCA ministry contexts. Over 50 case studies were received and woven together with historical analysis, practical tips, and theological reflection, culminating in a book project that will be published by Lutheran University Press in early spring 2016: Engaging Others, Knowing Ourselves: A Lutheran Calling in a Multi-Religious World.
This book will be a contribution toward the 500th observance of the Reformation, and a resource for ELCA-wide study, dialogue, and reflection. This will serve as a foundation for a process to be led by Presiding Bishop Eaton in the coming years to develop an ELCA vision statement on inter-religious relations, as a compliment to “Ecumenism: The Vision of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America” (1991). At their recent meetings, the ELCA Conference of Bishops and Church Council have been made aware of this project and the longer-term trajectory toward a statement.
At this time, we invite you to provide leadership in your synods and regions in launching this ELCA-wide conversation on inter-religious relations. Over the next few weeks, Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations staff, in partnership with the book’s authors, will be preparing a workshop template based on key questions and ideas in the book. This template will be adaptable for use at synod assemblies, convocations, theological conferences, rostered and lay leader gatherings, and other educational settings in 2016 and beyond. The workshop template and other resources will be sent directly to you, and also to the Conference of Bishops, by year-end. They will also be posted at elca.org/ecumenical, ELCA500.org, and on the LEIRN blog.
In the meantime, we encourage you on behalf of the Office of the Presiding Bishop and the LEIRN Board to contact your synodical bishops and staff, your Synod Assembly Planning Teams, ELCA college and seminary leaders, and others in your synods and regions to make yourself available to lead workshops in 2016 and beyond, or to support this work in other ways.
At the same time, you might also volunteer to support similar work around the Declaration on the Way. We are pleased to report that in October the ELCA Conference of Bishops unanimously affirmed the 32 Statements of Agreement, followed shortly thereafter by a unanimous affirmation of the USCCB Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. Earlier this month, the ELCA Church Council accepted the 32 Statements of Agreement, and forwarded them to the Churchwide Assembly:
- for reception of the 32 Statements of Agreement, acknowledging that “receiving these agreements recognizes that there are no longer church dividing issues with respect to these Statements…” (Declaration on the Way); and
- for commending to the ELCA the Declaration on the Way; From Conflict to Communion; and the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification as resources for the common life of the church as we approach 2017 and beyond.
You will receive more information and resources about this in the coming months. You can download the full text at http://www.elca.org/en/Faith/Ecumenical-and-Inter-Religious-Relations/Bilateral/Declaration-on-the-Way
We give thanks to God for you, and for this network that can be activated to build bridges of Christian unity and inter-religious understanding. Your work in your own contexts, and together across this church, is instrumental for living out our common calling in these complex yet encouraging times. Peace be with you as we prepare for the birth of the One who unites and sustains us as sisters and brothers in Christ, and as children of God with all of our neighbors.
Kathryn M. Lohre
Assistant to the Presiding Bishop and Executive, Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations
Rev. Chris Olkiewicz
President, Lutheran Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Representatives Network
Engaging Others, Knowing Ourselves: A Lutheran Calling in a Multi-Religious World
Foreword - Elizabeth Eaton
Preface - Esther Menn and Peg Schultz-Akerson
Introduction - Darrell Jodock
Chapter 1 - Mark Swanson
New Realities, New Thinking Since 1990
Chapter 2 - Carol Schersten LaHurd
Guidelines for Interacting in the Real World
Chapter 3 - Jonathan Brockopp
Exploring the Uncomfortable Questions: The Experience of Inter-Religious Work
Chapter 4 - J. Paul Rajashekar
Our God and Their God: A Relational Theology of Religious Plurality
Conclusion - Darrell Jodock