November 17, 2016
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
This week the Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America released a statement regarding events which are happening at Standing Rock. I am not writing to support, condemn, justify or explain that statement. I know some in our synod have read the statement with great joy and others with deep concern. My own concern is that the statement did not acknowledge the local effects of the unfolding protest.
As I have said in the past, the gathering of the 7 council fires of the Lakota people is an historic event. The fact that 320 tribes from around the world have traveled to Standing Rock as a sign of solidarity is historic. This seems to be a galvanizing point for Native People to stand against the unjust treatment they have received at the hands of the U.S. Government. I do believe we, as a church, are called to listen to our Native American neighbors, learn their stories and build relationships of mutual trust and respect. With that in mind, I do support our church’s decision to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery.
I have written in the past about my concern that Native and non-native relations could be set back significantly. I am hearing reports of Native Americans being forced to endure unspeakable slurs. We cannot allow this to happen; we must be willing to stand up to such racist hate.
I have shared my disappointment with Bishop Eaton that her statement did not acknowledge the effects the protests are having locally. Ranchers and farmers are having their lives disrupted, their businesses impacted and their private property damaged. There is no mention in the Presiding Bishop’s statement of the toll being taken on law enforcement officers and their families. There is no mention of the difficult work going on locally behind the scenes to build understanding, seek creative solutions and fight racism. In other words, the statement is written for a national audience, and our local realities are not being fleshed out.
I also asked the Presiding Bishop what does it mean “to offer material support” and “the resources of our people”. She responded it would mean encouraging our congregations to provide warm clothing or firewood for the camp. Bishop Eaton further stated it does not include a plan to provide them with financial assistance.
Some have asked about the Synod’s position concerning the pipeline controversy. Neither Synod Council nor Synod Assembly have taken a stand. As Bishop of the Western ND Synod, I do support the right to free speech, prayerful gatherings and legal, peaceful demonstrations. I condemn unlawful and violent protests. There are appropriate administrative and legal forums to resolve the conflicting issues. The Synod has not, and will not, provide any financial or other material support to protests.
One of the results of the Bishop’s statement is that Sonna Anderson, our Synod Vice President, has resigned her position effective Wednesday, November 16, 2016. Sonna is a judge in the South Central District which serves both Sioux and Morton counties. Ethical standards require that judges be involved in no organizations which could create even the appearance of having a conflict of interest. I am deeply saddened by her resignation. Sonna has been a faithful Vice President and a joy to work with. The Synod Executive Committee will gather via conference call soon to make decisions around this matter.
At the same time, I want to tell you about two gatherings that took place this last Saturday. Synod staff invited conversations around race and racism. I wondered if anyone would show up to these gatherings – a step along the journey for us to build bridges across the races in our part of God’s world. People did come. There was lively, honest conversation. In the midst of it, some hard truths were spoken, questions were raised and voices were heard. I learned there are people who have been deeply hurt by racial divides on the prairie, and I learned there are people who want a different future where all of God’s children are beloved. I left those meetings feeling hopeful. More conversations are being planned, so please come.
As I close this letter, I would once again ask you to pray. May God’s Holy Spirit keep all involved safe, help us to seek truth, open paths to love our neighbor, and build bridges to those who are different than us. I’m always available for conversation.
Yours in Christ,
Serving as Bishop of the Western North Dakota Synod ELCA
Download a pdf of this Response to Presiding Bishop's Statement Nov 2016