During the 2013 Synodical Convention in St. Louis it was a great blessing to witness the affirmation of altar and pulpit fellowship between the LCMS and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Liberia (ELCL), and the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC).
The Synod spent tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of dollars and many hours to ensure that the ELCL and SELC met its standards for doctrine and practice. Good for them.
Now place yourself in the shoes of a member of the ELCL or SELC. Having passed the test of purity required by the de facto mother Synod of global confessional Lutheranism, you happen upon Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS). As an African or Siberian brother / sister in Christ you are definitely puzzled about LCMS fellowship with LIRS.
We understand that LIRS is a sacred cow, but Lutherans aren’t supposed to tolerate shibboleths.
The organization is an openly left-leaning political advocacy agency that takes great liberties with the term “Lutheran”. Is it merely a public square issue? No, because LIRS makes theological pronouncements and promotes its work as a distinctly Lutheran ministry.
What theology is on display? It would not be unkind to describe it as Christian voodoo with an abundance of ecumenical weirdness. Indeed, the ELCA worldview saturates LIRS in a way that would get Africans and Russians booted from A&PF.
How should Liberian and Siberian Lutherans react to being placed under the St. Louis microscope only to see the likes of LIRS flaunting its heterodoxy? Yet the LCMS is tucked in tight with LIRS and promotes its efforts uncritically.
Of course, there is no shortage of hypocrisy within the Synod where some District Presidents run fiefdoms of rebellion where the primary motivation appears to be flipping off LCMS doctrinal statements.
We wonder why Lutherans in Ethiopia and Madagascar might be interested in A&PF with the LCMS when there are two standards in operation – one for outsiders and one for insiders.
When the LCMS makes principled statements in the public square about religious freedom, what is the public to think when it indulges in unprincipled partnerships?
Some argue that LIRS has nothing to do with doctine. If that’s the case, then we should have no hesitation to look for more effective partners in Baptist, Methodist, Buddhist, Jewish or Muslim denominations. Right? What are the ties that actually bind us? Are we members of a Synod or a $ynod?
Here are some examples of LIRS walking out of fellowship without any apparent resistance or rebuke from the LCMS:
- We witness to God’s love for all people to realize a vision of just and welcoming communities.
- Pastrix promotion and celebration everywhere.
- We found just one reference on the LIRS Web site to Word and Sacrament, but hundreds of suggestions that diakonia is a means of grace.
- “Whatever the sacred text (Bible, Koran, Old Testament), they all speak about honoring the dignity of every single human, the call to serve others and to be generous and welcoming. All faith communities stand for all of those things.”
- I have been welcomed through baptism to God’s abundance. With you, through grace and faith, we live out this abundance through acts of courage and welcome.
- Hospitality for newly arrived neighbors is supported by the sacred texts of all faiths.
- As Paul urged Philemon to free Onesimus of his own accord, we too are encouraged of our own accord to take proactive action
- Salvation by other means: “…uses participatory photography to transform the lives of underserved youth and communities“
- Two highlights stand out for me: (1) the truly interfaith nature of those who responded and agreed to serve – Muslim and Jewish as well as our Christian brothers and sisters, and (2) the moving reading in Spanish of “An Alien’s Prayer” by Edward Hays (from Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim) by one of our leaders from a Roman Catholic parish with a high immigrant membership.
- Do we want Jesus to go with us? [Expected answer: yes] Does Jesus go in the box? [Expected answer: no] Why not? [Expected answers: free responses] Because Jesus is with us everywhere, right in our heart. He sees us, he knows where we are going. He loves us so much that he died on the cross for our sins, and he takes care of us every single day. We don’t have to be afraid. Awesome, huh? He loves us no matter where we are!
- As Pacific School of Religion builds on its tradition of boldness, it is seeking to re-imagine theological education. A key part of that renewed vision is the preparation of spiritually formed, theologically rooted leaders for social transformation. My partnership with LIRS has given me an opportunity to live out this kind of vision as faith communities respond with depth and resilience to the challenges surrounding immigration. These experiences in connecting with faith communities, producing resources, and engaging political and community leaders around immigration can be applied to other areas of social transformation.
- I think interfaith work strengthens the integrity of all faith work. In the world’s (not just the United States’) mosaic of faith cultures, I question the validity of uni-faith work. Interfaith work provides checks and balances to arrogance and helps keep our efforts honest. It is a reminder that we are not all the same and do not need to be the same to be faithful and do what is faithful by the lights of our different traditions. And we are all here together. It teaches that we can have faithful boundaries and mutual respect through shared service. But it is hard – I do not do it especially well, I am lucky in that there are multiple existing interfaith networks in my area. I just keep showing up and trying.
- Opportunity to participate in religious practice and access to personal religious property including prayer beads, rosaries, prayer rugs and other items appropriate to religious practice; accommodations for dietary restrictions as required by religious practices