BY JOHN KIPPER, CONTRIBUTING WRITER
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton spoke at the annual Christensen Symposium about what it means to be Lutheran, building and maintaining interfaith friendships and what it means to be a church for the world. The event was well attended, and the last fifteen minutes were open for the audience to ask the Bishop any questions about interfaith relations.
Two key points of her address highlighted Lutherans maintaining their identity amongst a diverse college community, and how differences in perspective can be used as learning experiences both in and beyond the scope of the classroom. ELCA leadership was once skeptical of interfaith schooling because they worried about students maintaining a Lutheran identity. In Eaton’s opinion, it is not only possible for Lutheran students to preserve their identity at an interfaith school, but their identities can be strengthen interfaith schooling.
“We cannot understand the perspectives of others if we don’t know ourselves,” Eaton said. “To establish these crucial relationships, people must be willing to listen to other perspectives and respect the beliefs others may hold.” Eaton stressed that diverse places like Augsburg are a wonderful place to get to know people who are different from us, to learn about them and respect them — especially in a world where being different is oftentimes equated to being dangerous.
Another important part of the address highlighted that the amount of good that can be done through collaboration with others is vastly superior to the amount of good that can be done without working together. Eaton referred to this as a calling to “be a church for the sake of the world.” She called for unity by saying, “Those who are starving do not care that they are eating Catholic rice, Muslim rice or Lutheran rice, they just care that they are eating rice.”. Humanity is bonded by shared experiences rather than shared identities, and the ELCA believes that serving others ranks above whatever different beliefs people may hold. This is not just rhetoric. The ELCA has paired with multiple denominations and other religious sects to conduct charity work all over the world.
This Christensen Symposium reflected on how the diversity of Augsburg’s community and the Lutheran Church contribute to the shaping of Augsburg’s vocation. It was the first in a series of events that Augsburg will host this fall to mark the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation.
This article first appeared in the Friday, September 29, 2017, Edition of The Echo.