I would like to tell you about two communications which I recently sent to ELCA leaders. The first one I sent to Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton. The second one I sent to a synodical bishop. As usual, I have heard nothing from Bishop Eaton. I am very grateful to the synodical bishop, who I feel has very graciously and respectfully listened to and heard my concerns.
My communication to Bishop Eaton had to do with the slowness of her response to a crisis brewing within the ELCA’s Sierra Pacific Synod (SPS – northern California and northern Nevada). Last December the SPS synod council took action to terminate the call of a Latino mission developer, and they implemented their decision on a day that is very special to the Latino community. Please notice that I am not taking a position regarding the action taken by the SPS synod council. What I am taking a position on is only the slowness of Bishop Eaton’s response – particularly in light of how quickly she will take a position and send out a communication on other matters that are not within her scope of authority, responsibility, and expertise. Here is what I wrote to Bishop Eaton.
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Dear Bishop Eaton –
I was astounded to learn that it took you over three weeks to send a communication to the ELCA Latino Ministries Association regarding the termination of call of the mission developer for the Mision Latina Luterana in Stockton, California.
You have said that, as presiding bishop, you have no authority to interfere with the actions of synodical councils and synodical bishops, but I do not understand why it would take you over three weeks to reach out to the Latino community and acknowledge their confusion and pain over the loss of their pastor.
When the verdict regarding Kyle Rittenhouse was announced, you almost immediately had a response and you spoke critically of the judicial system, as if you knew the facts of the case far better than those who were involved day after day with the case.
In your communication on the occasion of the eightieth anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, you did honor the veterans of World War II, and you did honor the memory of those who died in that conflict, including at Pearl Harbor, but you could not let it stay at that. You also had to speak against racism.
There are plenty of issues, situations, and problems that need your attention in the organization over which you have oversight and responsibility. I would suggest that you clean up your own house before you claim to be able to speak helpfully, insightfully, and authoritatively concerning matters over which other people have oversight and responsibility.
As one who has a deep love for Jesus,
Dennis D. Nelson
Retired ELCA Pastor
I purposefully signed the letter as “Retired ELCA Pastor” rather than “Executive Director of Lutheran CORE,” hoping that might increase the chances of my receiving a response. So far it has not.
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My letter to a synodical bishop had to do with that synod’s joining with the ELCA in making a Statement of Land Acknowledgement as a primary part of all of its communications.
First, some background information.
The February 2022 issue of ELCA Worship News contains a section entitled “Resources for Land Acknowledgement.” A link to that section can be found here.
Reading that section raised several questions in my mind as I realize that the ELCA Churchwide offices on Higgins Road, as well as the offices of all sixty-five of the ELCA synods, as well as all of the ELCA congregations, are all located on land formerly occupied by native Americans.
First, the whole matter of land acknowledgement must be very important to the ELCA because its Declaration to American Indian and Alaska Native People commits the ELCA “to begin the practice of land acknowledgements at all expressions of the church.” The importance of this practice is also displayed in the fact that the introductory letter suggests all kinds of occasions and ways in which land acknowledgement statements could be used – read aloud at the beginning of every worship service, printed at the top of worship bulletins, used to create outdoor signage and a plaque for the narthex, and used at the beginning of zoom meetings.
Second, this practice is clearly based upon the premise that all land in the United States is stolen land. The resource document states, “All land is Indigenous land.” The introductory letter states, “A land acknowledgement is a ritual intended solely to show gratitude to the land and acknowledge the original and Indigenous peoples from whom the land was stolen.” (A whole other issue is the fact that I do not know what it means to show gratitude to the land – not gratitude for the land, gratitude to God for creating the land and making it a good land, or gratitude to those who developed the land, but gratitude to the land.)
Third, both the introductory letter and the resource document clearly state that the practice of land acknowledgement is only a first step – and an easy first step. The introductory letter says, “This is arguably one of the easier commitments.” The resource document adds, “We understand that this protocol is only a first step and that, as we venture into the world, we must learn more, do more and realize healing and justice for the Indigenous peoples whose lands we now occupy.”
In my communication to this synodical bishop, I summed up the content of the introductory letter and resource document. I then made the following three observations. I believe that this issue is even more significant and poignant in light of the fact that the congregations in that synod are significantly diminished, the giving from the congregations to the synod has dropped significantly in the past decade, the annual spending plan for the synod is much greater than the anticipated income, and a significant part of the shortfall is made up from funds obtained by selling the properties of closed congregations. Here is what I wrote to that synodical bishop.
“First, if the synod feels that the land now occupied by its offices and congregations is stolen land, then the synod is morally obligated to return to native American people at least the value of the land whenever a congregation is closed and the property is sold. If the synod does not do that, then the synod is clearly being complicit in the stealing of land from Indigenous persons. The word ‘complicit’ is a word that the ELCA uses often to describe those whose attitudes and actions it is critical of. Before I accuse someone else of being complicit, I need to ask whether there is any area where I am being complicit.
“I can certainly understand the synod’s not returning also the value of the buildings, because the buildings were not present when the land was stolen. But if the synod does not want to be complicit in the stealing of land by holding onto the value of stolen land, and for the synod to act in a way that is consistent with its values, statements, and priorities, then the synod would need to return to Indigenous persons at least the value of the land.
“Second, if the synod chooses to remain complicit in the stealing of land, how could the synod have the integrity and moral authority to have a statement of land acknowledgement as part of its communications and worship services? Having such a statement without also returning to Indigenous people the value of stolen land gives the impression that the synod is in favor of justice only if being in favor of justice does not cost the synod anything.
“Third, if the synod chooses to remain complicit in the stealing of land, how could the synod have the integrity and moral authority – along with the ELCA – to advocate for reparations for people of African descent?
“I am reminded of what John the Baptist said to those who came out to hear him and be baptized by him. ‘Bear fruit that befits repentance.’
“When the ELCA, including the (Synod), calls upon our country to repent of past evils and injustice, then the ELCA, including the (Synod), also needs to think through whether there are any ways in which they are being complicit in perpetuating those evils and injustices.
Blessings in Christ,
Dennis D. Nelson
I am constantly amazed over how arrogant, self-righteous, ungrateful, and inconsistent the “woke” agenda actually is. You take what they say, bring it out to its logical conclusions, apply their standards and criteria to them, and it collapses. We hear a lot about “white fragility.” I think instead we should hear about “woke fragility.”