The Strengths of Ecumenical Protestants
My experience as president of Bread for the World convinced me that faith-based legislative advocacy works. Bread and its members win legislative achievements again and again, and the cumulative impact among hungry people in this country around the world is clear.
I asked Amy Reumann, senior director for Witness in Society for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), to talk about faith-based advocacy from her perspective. She focused on how the ELCA and its people do it, and I learned more than I knew before about how advocacy is integrated into the life of the church.
At the same time, Amy painted a picture of a church body that is deeply grounded in Jesus and faithful in many ways, and I want to focus this post on the strengths of the ELCA and the other Protestant churches who participate in the ecumenical movement.
The 38 church bodies that are part of the National Council of Churches include Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Presbyterian. Reformed, African-American, Orthodox, and Peace churches. Each of these globally connected traditions is distinctive and valuable. They identify by their own names more than by the category "ecumenical Protestant." But what these churches all have in common is Christian faith, fellowship across denominations, and commitment to share the love of God through social reform. Most of them have been joined together in what is now the National Council of Churches since 1908.
They don’t get as much press attention as Evangelicals or Catholics. The local Methodist or Presbyterian church may seem routine and predictable, while the National Council of Churches has often been maligned as a “socialist” organization. But the leadership of these churches has an impressive long-term record on issues of racial and economic justice. When Bread for the World wants to strengthen its network of activists in a target legislative district, the state or local council of churches is always a good place to start looking for like-minded people.
Most of these churches also have theological traditions that are open to learning from science, the modern world, and other religions. Some Evangelicals think that such churches fall short in their theology and experience of conversion. But while all churches have their flaws and failings, ecumenical Protestant churches are firmly grounded in the Christian gospel, and Jesus is very much alive among their members.
Amy embodies some of the strengths of ecumenical Protestants generally - a joyful, well-informed faith in Christ, a deep sense of personal connection to people in need, commitment to “walking with” rather than “assisting” and “speaking for” people and communities in poverty, and clear awareness of the strengths of other churches and groups.
She explains how the ELCA’s advocacy is grounded in local Lutheran congregations, which are often diverse in their political views, levels of income, and in other respectss. Its policy positions are based on carefully considered theological and policy analysis. ELCA advocacy also draws strength from ELCA connections with people in poverty. A local congregation’s relationship with a recently evicted family in their community informs the ELCA's significant work on housing policy, for example. The denomination's partnership with Lutheran churches in Central America is the foundation for what it does to accompany and advocate for migrant children.
I’m an ELCA pastor and have been part of an Episcopal parish for many years, so I’m biased. But Amy Reumann’s presentation reminded me to be grateful for the many strengths of ecumenical Protestant churches generally - not least, their long-standing and effective work in legislative advocacy.