As Christians, we are called to love and serve

the neighbor. The question posed in Luke 10:29— “Who is my neighbor?”—has been one the ELCA has explored since its founding in 1988. In an increasingly diverse America, neighbors aren’t always Christian. “The Scriptures don’t specify what that

neighbor’s ethnic background is. I think that’s intentional,” said Kathryn Lohre, assistant to the ELCA presiding bishop and executive for ecumenical and interreligious relations. For the ELCA, a diversity of religious belief

systems coexisting in society isn’t a threat— it’s an invitation to conversation and understanding. “It’s part of our baptismal vocation as Lutherans,” Lohre said. “We’re responding faithfully to [Martin] Luther’s explanation of the Eighth Commandment by engaging in mutual understanding.” In explaining that commandment, Luther

wrote: “We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light” (Small Catechism). This has been the basis for the ELCA’s

interreligious work over the last three decades. Soon after its formation, the ELCA recognized non-Christians as neighbors by establishing the ELCA Consultative Panel on Lutheran-Jewish Relations. In 1994 the ELCA was the first Lutheran denomination to apologize to the Jewish people and repudiate Luther’s anti-Semitic writings from 1543.

In 2008, in response to an open letter from

Muslim leaders looking for common ground and understanding with Christians, the ELCA Consultative Panel on Lutheran-Muslim Relations was formed. This year the church has reflected deeply

on how to continue to serve Muslim and Jewish neighbors. In January, President Donald Trump attempted to restrict entry of refugees and visitors from predominantly Muslim countries into the U.S. A month later there were attacks on Jewish cemeteries in Missouri and Pennsylvania, and threats of violence against 13 Jewish community centers across the country. In reaction to these occurrences, ELCA

Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton issued statements encouraging members and congregations to “[reach] out and [show] up with our Jewish neighbors” and to “offer safety to people fleeing religious persecution regardless of their faith tradition.” Eaton also appointed the ELCA Interreligious

Task Force in 2016 to develop a draft interreligious policy statement that is slated to be presented to the 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly. Task force member Jacqueline Bussie, director of

the Forum on Faith and Life at Concordia College, Moorhead, Minn., said: “As a Lutheran Christian, I think of Christ as a reconciler, as in 2 Corinthians 5:18 that says, ‘God reconciled us to Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.’ I’m called to reconciliation. In a world that is so divided and in conflict over religion, a ministry of reconciliation must include interfaith cooperation, service and dialogue.”


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