From a Bishop's Desk

A series of opinion articles and essays from bishop's of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and ecumenical partners.


“One Nation, Under God, Indivisible…”

Jun 30, 2022

Grace to you and peace, dearly beloved.


When I was in fourth grade, the teacher in our classroom asked me to go next door to borrow an eraser from Mr. N. Timidly. Walking into his classroom (I was a shy kid); he invited me to come to the front of the class, but before I could explain what I was there for, he asked me, “What does the word ‘indivisible’ mean?” I was caught completely off guard and had no answer, so he broke the word down for me. As it turns out, he was teaching his class about the Pledge of Allegiance. Now the fact that I am relating this story to you shows that I never forgot that experience. Or that word. 


Indivisible,” of course, means “can’t be divided.” That word wasn’t an accurate description of our country then (it was the late sixties), and it’s still not accurate now. The sad truth is that we are divided. All one need do is spend a few minutes catching up on the news to see just how divided. Let’s consider the latest Supreme Court decisions about gun control and abortion, references that in and of themselves can trigger a reaction. We see the deep and disturbing fault lines in our society. It seems that in many cases we have no ability to speak calmly around these and many other concerns. Also, consider that the January 6th hearings are taking place now. Have I gotten your attention yet?


I am reflecting on this troubling situation as we get ready here in the United States to celebrate Independence Day. Personally, I love being a resident of this country! For me, America still represents democracy and freedom at a deep level, despite how imperfect the reality of that can be. Are we one nation, or two, composed of “red” and “blue” states? Are we “under God,” speaking not theologically (in which case, we certainly are!) but practically, with the number of “Nones and Dones,” — those who have no religion or who have walked away — now outnumbering those who belong to an organized faith? Perhaps these descriptions of the United States have always been aspirational, a goal to be reached forworked forfought for, and held dear or lost if we fail to do the fighting and the work, which must be done together in order for us to truly be one nation


To me, one of the strengths of America has been the goal of finding a way forward that was responsive to the needs of all our residents, with the most marginalized and oppressed most often being the ones to work for and remind the rest of us of that goal. We then hold that up as an encouragement and example for the world. That goal must be lifted up as a priority at every level of our society, from town halls to the halls of Congress, with the participation of each resident to ensure government of, by and for the people.” That aspirational goal goes beyond “winning” or “being right,” to conversationcompassion, and thoughtfulness so that the rights of all our residents — understood as a beautiful community rather than a loose collection of individuals — can be promotedprotected, and preserved.


It is perhaps no coincidence that one of the readings for this past Sunday was from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Reading through the letter, one can see that the Galatian community gave Paul cause for grave concern. In our reading from chapter 5, Paul writes, “For freedom, Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. You were called to freedom; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.” Such relevant words! Are we, as disciples of Jesus in this beloved synod, taking these words to heart and living out their call to us to “live like Christ in our communities?” These words, too, are aspirational, a way of being that we work toward under the guidance of the Holy Spirit so that we and all of God’s children have the chance to become the people we were created to be.


Let’s take one contemporary issue mentioned above, that of the June 24th Supreme Court decision regarding abortion, which will end 50 years of legal precedent in our nation and endanger the health and well-being of many of the members in our church and beyond. Talking about abortion has never been easy in this country, and the same holds true in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can see and feel how emotionally charged this issue is, and, in times of stress, we tend to surrender our ability to be thoughtful. Yet many values are at stake here: the right of a woman to self-determination — autonomy over her own bodythe sanctity of life for both mothers and the developing child(ren), the question of whether or not the government has the right to legislate morality, and access to adequate and safe care, to name a few. I would encourage you again, as our synod’s newsletter did over this past weekend, to read Bishop Eaton’s message and the 1991 ELCA Social Statement. These are both thoughtful, faithful reflections. As our Presiding Bishop reminds us, "no matter what your views on abortion are, as a church, we are made up of members who have had abortions and members who have chosen not to. Among us are pastors, deacons, and others who have counseled with women, girls, and others they love. We are friends, loved ones, and relatives of people who have had to decide whether or not to get an abortion." Amid the legislative challenges to access to abortion, I encourage you to remember that this Church supports ongoing access to legal abortion and access to abortion services and reproductive health care which is not restricted by economic factors.


For freedom, Christ has set us free.” St. Paul is very specific about what that freedom calls us to do. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.”


As we prepare to celebrate Independence Day in this great country of ours, it is my prayer that we will renew our commitment to work tirelessly for those values at the root of that greatness so that we continue as a beacon of “liberty and justice for all.” And as Christians, we persevere in hope. Let us continue to be bold in our prayers and in our public witness, together, for a more just society that cherishes and guarantees the dignity of all.


Yours in Christ, 

Bishop Egensteiner