An ELCA delegation, led by ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton, participated in the Conference of National Black Churches annual gathering in Charleston, S.C., Dec. 13-15. The conference represents eight historic African-American denominations in the U.S. and the African Diaspora. The ELCA is a co-sponsor of the conference’s cross-racial dialogue, now in its second year.
Meeting under the theme “From Anger to Answers: Race and Reconciliation in America,” the consultation brought together member churches of the conference along with representatives from mainline denominations. Discussions during the conference helped facilitate the collection and dissemination of racial justice strategies.
In her remarks, Eaton spoke of the early contributions to the Lutheran church by African-Americans: “We are predominately a European-American denomination, but not entirely. In fact, as part of our history in this country, we have built upon the contributions of African-Americans. In this very city, Jehu Jones was born a slave in Charleston, bought his freedom, became ordained in the Lutheran tradition and founded one of the first African-American Lutheran congregations in the United States in Philadelphia. One of the oldest congregations in the continental United States is in Old Town, N.J. The first service was held in the living room of a freed slave.
“That’s part of our tradition, sadly we forgot that pretty quickly and [we] have devolved in a lot of ways into an ethnic enclave where in some cases we try to define what it means to be Lutheran as what it means to be Danish or Swedish or German or Hungarian. And that’s something that we’re working on in our church.”
Eaton described the ELCA’s efforts to address racial justice, including the 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly resolution “African Descent Lutheran Lives Matter,” which calls on the church to “combat institutional racism within the ELCA through attitudes, actions, policies and practices.” She said this includes a commitment to increase the ethnic diversity and the capacity of people of color for leadership roles in the ELCA.
Eaton also highlighted the resolution “Deepening Relationships with the Historic Black Churches,” which calls on the church to initiate or continue efforts to strengthen and expand partnerships with these churches.
In a covenant statement released by the conference, the participating churches outlined a joint call to action in which they committed to:
- Calling member congregations to reach out to churches in their communities from different racial and ethnic backgrounds and engage in honest and thoughtful dialogue, corporate worship, fellowship and opportunities for collective ministry efforts.
- Convening regional sacred conversations addressing racial reconciliation that energize and animate our churches and their communities.
- Advocating for public policies that reflect the values of racial justice and reconciliation while resisting policies that roll back advances that have been made toward a more just and inclusive nation and world.
- Accompanying and actively supporting younger generations of leadership that aligned with the vision and values shared in the covenant.
“It is important that we continue to show up, in ministries of presence, within our church and with ecumenical partners around issues of racial justice and reconciliation,” said Kathryn M. Lohre, ELCA executive director for ecumenical and interreligious relations and a member of the delegation. “Deepening relationships with the Historic Black Churches depends on and is nourished by deepening relationships across racial lines in this church. New partnerships are beginning to emerge, and we give thanks to God for the opportunity to seek ways to live our unity in Christ more fully.”