From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Lutheran Bishops Briefed in Washington

From Brenda Williams <>
Date 19 Oct 1998 16:19:54


October 19, 1998


     CHICAGO (ELCA) -- Fifteen bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church
in America (ELCA) were on Capitol Hill for briefings hosted by the Lutheran
Office for Governmental Affairs (LOGA) and the ELCA's Metropolitan
Washington, D.C., Synod  Sept. 9-11.  Topics ranged from international debt
to faith and government vocations.  The guest list included Chief Justice
William H. Rehnquist and U.S. Senator Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) -- both ELCA
     The bishops were reminded that Rehnquist would preside over the U.S.
Senate in an impeachment trial.  They asked him how his faith influences
his life and work.
     The Chief Justice said a sense of God's call to his vocation keeps
him going.  He also talked of getting on with his life following the death
of his wife a few years ago.
     "God put you on earth to do a job.  Every day is a gift of God.  You
plow into your work," said Rehnquist.  "You may have problems -- physical,
emotional -- but you have the sense that God is looking after you."
     Johnson expressed some anxiety about being in a room full of bishops.
"If my confirmation pastor could see me now," said the Senator, "he'd be
nervous."  He voiced appreciation for the Rev. Andrea F. DeGroot-Nesdahl,
bishop of the ELCA's South Dakota Synod, and the work of Lutheran Social
Services of South Dakota.
     Faith "manifests itself in Christ-like acts toward one another," said
Johnson.  He said his public service was guided by Jesus' biblical
instruction to care for "the least of these."
     Johnson cautioned the bishops about simplistic assumptions that there
is always a "Christian" position on complex policy matters.  He said he was
"troubled by the growing number of people who wrap policy positions in
their Christianity and then conclude that those who differ aren't really
     Carole Collins, coordinator for the Jubilee 2000/USA Campaign, spoke
with the bishops.  The ELCA is one of more than 30 partners involved in the
     The campaign is "part of a worldwide movement to cancel the crushing
international debt of impoverished countries;" it grew out of a project of
the Religious Working Group on the World Bank and the International
Monetary Fund.  The campaign is not limited to religious organizations.
     "Jubilee" is a biblical tradition that every 50th year slaves are
freed and debts are canceled.  The campaign is calling 2000 a Jubilee year,
asking for "definitive debt cancellation" and a process to "prevent
recurring destructive cycles of indebtedness."
     The Rev. Gary L. Hansen, bishop of the North/West Lower Michigan
Synod, recently returned from a visit to Honduras.  His synod has a
companion relationship with the Christian Lutheran Church of Honduras.
Hansen said the question of debt relief came up in the first hour of his
conversation with his Honduran host bishop.
     Welfare reform and housing in the United States were topics for
Father Joseph Hacala, SJ, director of the Center for Community and
Interfaith Partnerships in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban
Development (HUD).  He told the bishops that 14 percent of all renters --
5.3 million families -- pay more than half their income in housing and that
not all those coming off the welfare roles are finding jobs.
     Hacala said HUD is instituting reforms to make its grants and
services more available to grassroots groups as well as to local housing
     "This is a time of considerable soul-searching and prayer at the
White House," said Bruce N. Reed, assistant to the President for domestic
policy and director of the Domestic Policy Council.  The bishops met with
Reed in the Old Executive Office Building next door to the White House to
discuss policy matters.  "Not too many people are interested in discussing
policy these days," Reed quipped, indicating he was also open to discuss
legal investigations of the Clinton administration.
     Asked about attempts to raise the minimum wage, Reed expressed the
frustration that mobilizing the nation and Congress on almost any domestic
issue is extremely difficult in an era of relative prosperity.
     Bishops wanted to know how Reed's faith informed his decisions and
sustained him personally.  Reed spoke of his membership in Augustana
Lutheran Church, Washington, D.C., and the diversity of that congregation.
"All the problems I face at work are also encountered at Augustana," he
     "It would be very difficult to carry on without faith," said Reed.
"Our capacity for forgiveness and tolerance is tested every day."
     "Our theology of law and gospel works," said the Rev. James Ford, as
he reflected on his 20 years as chaplain of the U.S. House of
Representatives.  Ford, an ELCA pastor, took the bishops on a tour of the
     Doris Meissner, commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization
Service (INS), spoke with the bishops about immigration and refugee issues.
Religious freedom and pending legislation to impose sanctions on nations
practicing religious persecution were topics for the bishops and M.
Alexandra Arriaga, special advisor to the Assistant Secretary of State.
     The bishops arranged individual meetings with members of Congress
representing the territories of their synods.

Bishop attending briefing     ELCA synod
Roy G. Almquist . . . . .Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod
Robert D. Berg. . . . . .Northwest Synod of Wisconsin
Allan C. Bjornberg. . . .Rocky Mountain Synod
David A. Donges . . . . .South Carolina Synod
Gary L. Hansen. . . . . .North/West Lower Michigan Synod
Philip L. Hougen. . . . .Southeastern Iowa Synod
Richard N. Jessen . . . .Nebraska Synod
Marcus C. Lohrmann. . . .Northwestern Ohio Synod
Marcus J. Miller. . . . .Northeastern Ohio Synod
E. Roy Riley. . . . . . .New Jersey Synod
Peter Rogness . . . . . .Greater Milwaukee Synod
Theodore F. Schneider . .Metropolitan Washington, D.C., Synod
Floyd M. Schoenhals . . .Arkansas-Oklahoma Synod
David Strobel . . . . . .Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod
Alton Zenker. . . . . . .Central-Southern Illinois Synod

[The content of this report was provided by the Rev. Michael Cooper-White,
director of the ELCA's Department for Synodical Relations.]

For information contact:
Frank Imhoff, Assoc. Director 1-773-380-2955 or NEWS@ELCA.ORG

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