Leaders from 55 of the 65 synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) met last week at North Dakota State University for the denominations World Hunger Synod Leadership Gathering.
About 150 participants from all over the nation discussed world hunger and the ELCA's fight against it, took part in devotions and music, and attended workshops.
"Poverty is intolerable," said Dr. Nancy D. Arnison, director, ELCA World Hunger Program, during the opening remarks of the July 13-17 gathering. [World Hunger] is a violation of human dignity and human rights. Poverty is intolerable but not intractable."
According to the ELCA News Service, Arnison told participants that as advocates, we have a powerful voice. Use it at national and international levels."
"It's up to us to make sure all are invited to this table and that all are fed," she continued.
Citing the G8 meeting and pop culture, Arnison said that we are currently witnessing an "attention to poverty like never before."
There is a momentum presenting "an opportunity for Lutherans to be a public church, she added.
Kathryn Sime, director, ELCA World Hunger and Disaster Appeal, provided an update on the church's world hunger ministries. According to Sime, the 2004 ELCA World Hunger Appeal earned $16.25 million. More than $10 million was raised by Lutherans in response to the Dec. 26 tsunami that claimed more than 200,000 lives in several coastal countries of the Indian Ocean.
"We are still continuing to respond to the tsunami," she said. "We are there for the long haul ... (and) are helping communities rebuild themselves stronger than they were before."
Sime reported that ELCAs world hunger ministries have sufficiently funded a five-year plan for long-term rebuilding in tsunami-affected areas in Asia.
"The plan includes partnership with Lutheran World Relief, Church World Service, United Evangelical Lutheran Church in India, Huria Kristen Batak Protestan the (Lutheran) Protestant Christian Batak Church, Sumatra, Indonesia and other trusted partners," she said.
"We are a generous church, with a heart and passion for hunger and disaster ministry," Sime added.
Also speaking at the gathering was the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the ELCA, who told participants that he would be their cheerleader.
Hanson, who also serves as president of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), thanked ELCA synod hunger leaders for their "perseverance in addressing hunger, poverty and justice issues."
According to ELCA, Hanson noted two "interesting" dynamics regarding the G8 meeting a July 6-8 meeting of political leaders discussing the U.N.'s eight Millennium Development Goals addressing poverty and hunger in Africa.
"Around this issue political leaders are looking to religious leaders as a unifying voice," he said. [It is] also interesting that the G8 meeting took place in Great Britain, which is not known as a religious community.
The ELCA head noted the Bush administration's commitment to the Millennium Development Goals and plans to "hold the current administration (accountable) to those goals." A priority of the development goals is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.
In offering "eight assets" in the ELCA's fight against poverty and hunger, Hanson cited the church's global companions; the ELCA World Hunger Program, which is "core to the church's life and identity in the larger society," according to Hanson; Lutheran theology, which undergirds the church's public life; global connectedness grounded in accompaniment; networks and partnerships, such as the Lutheran World Federation, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Lutheran Social Services and others; the "Plan for Mission," which identifies the ELCA's five strategic directions; ecumenical partnerships; and the witness of youth and young adults.
Hanson also cited some challenges the church faces globalization, learning the "art of public discourse and moral deliberation," and confronting terrorism.
"How do we confront the reality of terrorism and not let terrorism become the defining reality of our day," Hanson asked.
"If we let this happen ... allow walls of separation ... we will not be living in community with the world," he said.
"We will not end world hunger until we learn the art of public leadership, moral deliberation and how we can take that moral deliberation and turn that into bold, prophetic action," Hanson told participants.
During his speech, Hanson offered three signs of hope in the ELCA's fight against poverty and hunger: the ONE Campaign and Millennium Development Goals, the "One Table, Many Voices" meeting and the "Hunger No More" event.
The ONE Campaign, supported by many organizations including the ELCA, is an effort to rally people "ONE by ONE" to fight global AIDS and extreme poverty. A goal of the campaign is to convince U.S. political leaders to give an additional 1 percent of the U.S. budget to the causes of poverty.
The "One Table, Many Voices" conference brought together religious leaders of several faiths including Christian, Muslim and Hindu, Hanson said. The conference was held June 4-7 in Washington, D.C., resulting in a call to end hunger and poverty
in the nation and in the world.
Meanwhile, the "Hunger No More" event gathered religious leaders in "saying we need to join hands" and recommit to fighting hunger, Hanson said. The event took place on June 6 at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.