Open letter to Bishop Elizabeth Eaton

To the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
8765 W. Higgins Road
Chicago, IL 60631


Dear Bishop Eaton:


Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Word and Wisdom of God, through whom all things were made.  We come together as a group of concerned Lutheran theologians, pastors, and ethicists to thank you for your efforts and to begin a conversation about next steps around our commitment as a denomination to stand up for ecological justice.


A gospel call for ecological justice belongs at the heart of the 500th anniversary observance of the Reformation in 2017 by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). The Lutheran World Federation has already, with its three-fold theme, signaled its intention to include creation at the center of global commemoration: “Salvation: Not for sale. Human beings: Not for sale. Creation: Not for sale.”  To bring ecological justice into the ongoing Reformation of the church testifies to the living nature of the Lutheran tradition and witnesses to the scope of God’s redemption of the whole world.  


We therefore write in solidarity with Lutherans around the world and a growing number of ELCA pastors, laity, theologians, teachers, authors, and activists whose Christian faith compels us to care deeply about creation and all inhabitants of Earth. We affirm nothing less than the communion prayer of the Lutheran liturgy to “dedicate our lives to the care and redemption of all that [God] has made.” The heart of our motivation is thus critical action in personal, communal, systemic and global arenas, openly collaborating with religious and secular partners who share this dedication. God’s work, our hands. God’s world, our love.


We commit ourselves to support and assist the ELCA in becoming even more faithfully a denomination that embraces creation care in and throughout its life and mission.  This includes, centrally, ELCA activities leading up to and following the observance of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.


Today more than ever we see planetary creation at risk.  Equally, however, we confess that the life of creation is an integral part of the redemption brought by the gospel of grace—the ongoing generativity of God, the redeeming work of Christ, and the prophetic and revivifying movement of the Holy Spirit. Our action is our response to the grace of God in Christ and the love of God for all creation.


Therefore we applaud your pastoral letter on climate change of September 19, 2014, which stated,

Daily we see and hear the evidence of a rapidly changing climate. Glaciers are disappearing, the polar ice cap is melting, and sea levels are rising. Incidents of pollution-created dead zones in seas and the ocean and toxic algae growth in water supplies are occurring with greater frequency. Most disturbingly, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is rising at an unprecedented rate. At the same time we also witness in too many instances how the earth’s natural beauty, a sign of God’s wonderful creativity, has been defiled by pollutants and waste.


Climate destabilization not only threatens future generations, it also exacerbates existing forms of economic marginalization.  As your letter asserts, the effects of climate change already harm the most vulnerable among us, deepen poverty, and multiply victims of natural disaster beyond a civil society’s ability to bring relief. These natural disasters are inextricably interwoven with environmental racism, the patriarchal oppression of women, and the exploitation of the poor. Such concerns galvanize our church’s commitment to love God and neighbor—with actions for justice, concern for the poor, and meaningful responses to human suffering across all of Earth’s community.  


We thus stand with you in asserting that “The present moment is a critical one, filled with both challenge and opportunity to act as faithful individuals and churches in solidarity with God’s good creation.” We believe that the ELCA as a whole and all the institutions of the ELCA can and must fully embrace creation care at the heart of God’s mission on every level— in congregations, synods, church colleges and universities, seminaries, social ministry organizations, outdoor ministries, and other agencies. We urge you to think with your colleague bishops and financial officers about how expressions of the ELCA might practice energy conservation, invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy, divest its investments from fossil fuel industries (as the New England Synods, Northwest Washington, and Oregon Synods have memorialized), and reinvest in companies whose products and services promote planetary sustainability. We are prepared to support you and the ELCA as a whole in providing guidance, resources, and an expanding leadership for justice for all of Earth’s community, to proclaim the gospel on every shore with passion and purpose.  Lutheran theology, ethics, biblical and historical study, worship, and spirituality provide rich resources for this task.


For all these reasons, we urge the ELCA to include ecological justice in all planning for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, including the program of the Bishops’ Academy in Wittenberg, Germany, in January 2015. We are eager to work with you in creating, implementing, and making available resources and programmatic plans for these celebrations.


In conclusion: With Lutherans around the world we express our profound gratitude for your public call for action on climate change, and we ask that you receive our pledge to assist you in leading the ELCA into new levels of commitment to planetary care of creation.


Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream. (Amos 5:24)


I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)


For those who are in Christ, creation is new. Everything old has passed away. Behold! All things are new. (I Corinthians 5:17)


Faithfully in Christ,


Lisa E. Dahill, Associate Professor of Worship and Christian Spirituality, Trinity Lutheran Seminary.

James Martin-Schramm, Professor of Religion, Luther College.

Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, Associate Professor of Theological Social Ethics, Seattle University.

Dennis Ormseth, Retired ELCA Pastor, LRC Organizer in the Twin Cities and Care for Creation Preaching Commentator.

Richard Perry, Professor of Church and Society and Urban Ministry, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.

Larry Rasmussen, Emeritus Professor of Social Ethics, Union Theological Seminary, NYC.

Dave Rhoads, Director, Lutherans Restoring Creation, and Emeritus Professor of New Testament, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.

Barbara Rossing, Professor of New Testament, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.

Robert Saler, Executive Director of the Center for Pastoral Excellence at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis.

H. Paul Santmire, Retired ELCA Pastor and Scholar.

Leah Schade, Pastor and Theologian, United in Christ Lutheran Church, Lewisburg, PA.

John Spangler, Executive Assistant for Communication and Planning, Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg.

Benjamin Stewart, Gordon A. Braatz Associate Professor of Worship, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.

Nick Utphall, Associate Pastor, St. Stephen's Evangelical Lutheran Church, Monona, WI.

Aana Marie Vigen, Associate Professor of Christian Social Ethics, Loyola University, Chicago.

Audrey West, Adjunct Professor, Pennsylvania.

Nancy Wright, Pastor, Ascension Lutheran Church, Environmental Liaison to the New England Synod,


Questions/comments, e-mail The 2017 Eco-Justice Group at


Cc: ELCA Bishops, Members of the Committee for the Observance of the 500th Anniversary


Attachment: “Why Lutherans Care for Creation.”