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  • Writer's pictureBranden Hunt

I still have hope for the Church

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote the following words in 1963 while he was in jail for participating in nonviolent demonstrations against segregation:

“The contemporary church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's often vocal sanction of things as they are. But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. I meet young people every day whose disappointment with the church has risen to outright disgust.”

Ever since I first read those words I have thought every day about the Church in the United States and how 56 year after Dr. King wrote those words, they remain relevant to us Christians today.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my Church. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is one of the most progressive denominations in our country. I love the ELCA and I am proud to be a part of it. In many ways the ELCA has shaped and formed me.

• The ELCA has given me a passion for social justice.

• The ELCA has caused me to lose weight and to gain weight.

• The ELCA has been there for me when I did not know which direction I was going.

I love my Church and all that it does for the sake of the world. But there are times when it feels like the Church is so far behind! There are times when it is so easy to see that young people do not want to be part of the Church because they see it as irrelevant to the issues our country faces today.

There are times when the Church is so focused on toeing the line just right, and maintaining the status quo that it does not see the refugee, the poor, the widow, or the orphan crying out for help from the Church!

And then we become a social club.

But this past week, I was reminded of why I love the ELCA so much and why I have stuck with them through and through! The ELCA holds a churchwide assembly triennially to worship and vote on matters of governance and policy. The ELCA's 15th churchwide assembly was held in Milwaukee last week and it was full of important votes and actions, including:

• The re-election of Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton to another term. She is the first woman national bishop in the history of the ELCA.

• The issuing of an official apology to our siblings of African descent for the role the Church and Christianity played in the history of slavery in our country.

• The approval of a declaration for interfaith commitment.

• The adoption a new social statement “Faith, Sexism, and Justice: a Lutheran Call to Action,” which talks about our commitment as the Church to defeating sexism.

• The approval of a resolution declaring the ELCA as a “sanctuary church body” and commitment to serving and supporting migrant children and families in communities across the country, making the ELCA the first North American denomination to do so.

Amid all the voting and business, the Presiding Bishop and 700 ELCA Church members marched to the Milwaukee Immigration and Customs Enforcement office (ICE) to hold a prayer vigil. The march showcased the Church's dissatisfaction with the way asylum-seeking children and families who enter the U.S. at the southern border are treated.

As I watched all these events and declarations livestreaming over the internet and read about the march, I cried tears of joy as I saw a glimpse of what the Church can be in the U.S. I cried tears of joy as I saw the Church I had come to love take a bold step in the direction of love, justice, and compassion.

I cried tears of joy as I saw the church doing what they feel like God was calling them to do.

I became even more convinced that the work we are doing here at St. Philip is lining up with what Jesus calls us to do as his followers.

Of course, the Church has many faults. The Church will mess up repeatedly. The Church will let us down. But there are times like this when I am reminded why I love this Church so much. And that I must stay in the fight. And that I must hold the Church accountable. I must celebrate the victories.

I know that I can never give up on this Church I love so much.

This Church is so amazing.

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