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A note from Bishop Dillahunt: 'What does this mean?' in regard to CWA actions

Dear Members, Friends and Colleagues in Ministry in the Southern Ohio Synod,

Grace and peace be with you in the name of Jesus Christ our risen Savior and Lord. 

In the past week you have heard a lot from me about the senseless killings in Dayton and yet, here is another Note as we navigate the choppy waters of our neighborhoods, communities, world and Church.  So please read on…this one is long but necessary.

Scripture calls and guides our lives as Church.  Micah 6:8 is easy to read but often hard to live out.  Matthew 25:35 invites us to see others differently.  What we do as church is to be Jesus to others. Without Jesus our work is empty.

As you know, last week the Churchwide Assembly was held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “We are Church” was the theme.  Things happened: elections for the Presiding Bishop and Secretary were held.  We hold Presiding Bishop Eaton in prayers and thoughts as she continues leading this church. We also hold Deacon Sue Rothmeyer in prayer as she begins her new call as Secretary.  Other decisions were made about the Entrance Rite for Deacons, now to be ordained;  a declaration of apology to our siblings of African descent;  approved the support of the World Council of Church’s “Thursdays in Black” awareness movement for a world without rape and violence;  voted to commemorate June 17 as a day of remembrance  to honor the Emanuel 9; approved the recommendations from the strategic task force, which is studying how to work toward authentic diversity in the church, adopted a Declaration for Inter-religious commitment affirming ecumenical and interfaith partnerships; adopted a new social statement, “Faith, Sexism and Justice” and elected people to Church Council as well as other elections.

However, one decision made has caused a flurry of questions, debate, interest, comments, criticism, anger and rejoicing in social and news media, from members, and concerned friends from across the country.  On August 7, the Assembly adopted a resolution that, among other things, declared the ELCA to be “a sanctuary church body”.  We received questions and comments as well, some in support of the action and some against. There is a lot of misinformation swirling around and I want to invite you to stop and breathe, creating space to look at and absorb exactly what all of this means.  It is important to look at the materials and the resolution itself.

So as we breathe together and ask the Lutheran Question: ‘What does this mean?’ keep in mind the following:

•   The Churchwide Assembly’s declaration as a sanctuary denomination binds ONLY the ELCA Churchwide Organization; it does NOT bind congregations, synods or other organizations.  

•   Furthermore, the resolution passed this past week affirmed “the long-term and growing commitment of this church to migrants and refugees and to the policy questions involved”.  Declaring the ELCA to be a sanctuary church body is a public declaration that we will continue doing what we have been doing as a church for a long time in support of refugees and immigrants.

•   The Churchwide Assembly did NOT define what it means to be a sanctuary denomination, but rather requested that the ELCA Church Council provide guidance as to what it means to be a sanctuary denomination.

•   The Churchwide Assembly (and this is important) did NOT call for any illegal actions. All actions mentioned by the assembly are legal, and whether any person or organization chooses to engage in civil disobedience and accept the consequences is up to them.


I repeat, NOTHING in this action binds synods, congregations or any other organizations affiliated with the ELCA…It binds Churchwide and Churchwide alone. And the question of what does this mean and how we live into this is the Church Council’s work. We have to expect people to interpret the declaration in many ways.

What can you do?   Keep breathing and do some homework…

•    Review the resolution as reported in the Assembly’s Legislative Update

•    Take a look at and re-read the ELCA Social Teaching Statement on Immigration which helps provide the context and history that informed the decision 

•    View the videos of the discussion on the floor of the Assembly (Time stamps for videos provided below)

•    Wed. morning – Discussion begins at 1.09:

•    Wed. afternoon – Discussion starts at 1.21:

•    AMMPARO, Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities…this was passed 3 years ago at CWA

•    Review the 2018 SOS Resolution on the Separation of children from parents which, we as a synod, passed:  2018 SOS Assembly Resolution

•    FAQs from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU): ACLU Sanctuary Congregations and Harboring FAQs : 


Finally, remember the mission, vision and values of this Synod:

Our Mission is to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection…we share and invite others to know God’s love and grace in Jesus. 

Our Vision and Values: Stronger and Better Together…Joining Jesus in the Restoration of the world as we Clarify, Cultivate and Collaborate.


Please SOS, breathe, read, reflect and then respond.



Bishop Suzanne Darcy Dillahunt




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