Thursday, August 8, 2019


If you listened to last Sunday's sermon on Ecclesiastes 1 ("Vanity of Vanities. All is Vanity"), first of all, thank you.  I listened too.   I thought I had some good points, but sounded more disjointed to me that I thought.  I'd like to have another shot at it. But secondly, you will recall that the word that gets translated into "vanity" is the Hebrew word "abel".  Other translations have used words like "meaningless" (NIV), "useless" (GNT), "futile" (NET).   Because the word is related to the idea of breath, I choose to translate it as "pffft". 

Our ELCA Churchwide Assembly is meeting this week and the press release for August 7 came out with a pretty shocking headline--"ELCA Churchwide Assembly declares ELCA sanctuary denomination".  What's that mean!?! (if you can't tell from the previous paragraph, the answer is going to be pffft.)

Sanctuary is a biblical idea.  In Numbers 35, we read:

When you cross the Jordan into Canaan, select some towns to be your cities of refuge, to which a person who has killed someone accidentally may flee. They will be places of refuge from the avenger, so that anyone accused of murder may not die before they stand trial before the assembly.  These six towns you give will be your cities of refuge. Give three on this side of the Jordan and three in Canaan as cities of refuge.  These six towns will be a place of refuge for Israelites and for foreigners residing among them, so that anyone who has killed another accidentally can flee there.
In a land where the standard rule was "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth", being guilty of accidental manslaughter was a tricky concern, and this provision seems to suggest that there was no sense in having two families fatherless over an accident.  Get to one of the specified cities and get something worked out.

Declaring itself a "sanctuary church" draws up images of an immigrant family seeking refuge at an ELCA congregation as a brave alb-clad pastor stands at the door with the procession cross shouting out to ICE agents "YOU SHALL NOT PASS". 

So this is the first paragraph of the press release:

In a key action this afternoon, the 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly voted to approve a memorial that declares the ELCA a sanctuary church. This is 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.

First of all, it's a little confusing.   We are one headline and three sentences in and we've called ourselves a sanctuary denomination, a sanctuary church, and a sanctuary church body. For those of you who do not understand when someone accuses the ELCA of too much jargon, this is exactly what they mean.   (click here for a hilarious send-up of ELCA jargon from 2009)

You would think for a "key action" and the bold step of being the first North American denomination to declare itself a sanctuary denomination/church/church body there were be something a little bit more meaty than being "committed to serving and supporting migrant children and families in communities across the country".  Any hows? Any direction?  Any finances committed?  Pffft.

Religion News Services reported that there was also a march including 570 assembly members from the convention center to the Milwaukee ICE office where they taped 9.5 theses onto the office door.  (9.5...see what they did there!???  Get it?!?)
Every bit as dramatic as this, but with a tape dispenser

Lutherans have a tradition of helping refugees.   I support those agencies.    I urge my church members to support those agencies.   They do good and Godly work.  Had the memorial commended these services in their ministry, I'd not be here ranting.   But this "key action" is frustratingly pffft. 

All the more frustrating because after that paragraph in the press release there was more news to be discussed from the day.    (Yes, the key and history-making action got all of three sentences)   In the other news, the retiring Secretary of the ELCA, the Rev. Chris Boerger was quoted saying "'We still have 3.4 million members,' he said. 'We are not an insignificant church.'"  I'm sorry, Pastor Boerger, but as the adage goes "when you have to tell someone you are the boss, you are not the boss."  I've said before and I'll say again--since its formation, the ELCA has only grown smaller, older, poorer and whiter.    And I mean no offense to the small, old, poor and white readers.  Of Catholics, Evangelicals, and Mainline denominations, it is the mainline decreasing the fastest.   And, of the mainline, we are one of the front runners of decline. 

Like the dog of Proverbs 26:11, we just seem to be unable to resist the temptation to gather together, make nonsense statements, and act as if it matters.   


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