A Pastoral Letter Condemning Antisemitism

ELCA Clergy throughout the region composed and signed a joint letter condemning antisemitism. We printed it in our bulletin on March 26, 2017. I drafted the initial letter. My colleagues (including a Jewish Rabbi) refined the language.

In 1994, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) pledged “to oppose the deadly working of [antisemitism], both within our own circles and in the society around us” (Declaration of ELCA to Jewish Community). Now that our Jewish neighbors have once again become the victims of antisemitic threats and vandalism, we are instructed by our Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, “to speak out, to reach out, to show up, and to root out this deadly bigotry” (Letter to Pastors, dated February 22, 2017).

As Lutheran Christians, we confess our own history of antisemitism. We are implicated in the history of anti-Judaism spanning the history of the Christian faith, and in the memory and heritage of Martin Luther and his “anti-Judaic diatribes and the violent recommendations of his later writings” (Declaration of ELCA to Jewish Community). It is in this spirit of truth telling that we acknowledge our truth while, at the same time, point to the wider truth of God’s love for all of God’s people. The violent invectives of our past should not be the reality of the present or our future. We are inspired by our Christian faith in a God who becomes incarnate and moves closer to us to save us, despite our flaws and sin, and thus free us to move closer to others in fellowship and solidarity. As Christians, we are called to be “ambassadors of hope in the face of despair” (letter dated February 22, 2017) as a faithful response to the love of God in Jesus and to our call to love all our neighbors.

Therefore, we, the undersigned pastors of Lutheran churches of the ELCA, serving or supporting congregations in Bergen, Essex, Morris, Passaic, and Rockland counties, condemn antisemitism in the strongest possible terms. No Jewish person, institution, house of worship, or cemetery should be threatened with hate or violence. Bomb threats directed at over 100 Jewish Community Centers and Day Schools (including Tenafly and Paramus) and the vandalism at Jewish cemeteries in St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Rochester are deplorable acts. The rise in the use of swastikas and other Nazi imagery is abhorrent. Our condemnation of this violence and all antisemitic speech, threats, and actions is unequivocal. We will continue to speak out and confront the evil of antisemitism in our communities. We will stand alongside our Jewish neighbors, institutions, and places of worship. We call upon our elected local, state, and national leaders to repudiate all expressions and acts of antisemitism. We will continue “to work for the end of systemic racism and discrimination” so “all people in our communities, regardless of race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity…may flourish” (A Pastoral Post Election Letter from Northern NJ Clergy, dated November 23, 2016).

Signed:

The Rev. Wendy Abrahamson, Pompton Plains
The Rev. Hayley Bang, Paramus
The Rev. Arnd Braun-Storck, Elizabeth
The Rev. Carol Brighton, Ramsey
Deacon Abby Ferjak, Ridgewood
The Rev. Julie Haspel, Oakland
The Rev. Peggy Hayes, Dumont
The Rev. John Holliday, Old Tappan
The Rev. Lisa Holliday, New Milford
The Rev. Michael Linderman, Ramsey
The Rev. Jenny McLellan, Allendale
The Rev. Jeff Miller, Clifton
Vicar Paul Miller, Ramsey
The Rev. Will Moser, Montclair
The Rev. Robert Mountenay, Wayne
The Rev. Peggy Niederer, Teaneck
The Rev. Scott Schantzenbach, Oxford
The Rev. Joseph Schattauer Paillé, Wyckoff
The Rev. Wes Smith, Saddle River
The Rev. Roger Spencer, North Haledon
The Rev. Beate Storck, Tenafly
The Rev. Marc A. Stutzel, Woodcliff Lake
The Rev. Stephen Sweet, River Edge
The Rev. Ignaki Unzaga, Glen Rock
The Rev. J. Lena Warren, Pearl River, NY

Letter to the Emerson School Board

March 6, 2017

School Board of Emerson
Emerson Board of Education Office
133 Main Street
Emerson NJ, 07630

Dear Emerson School Board Members,

I am a parent of two young sons. My oldest will shortly begin his journey through Emerson schools. One month ago, I was in the gym at Memorial, signing him up for Kindergarten. When my family and I were looking for a home in Northern New Jersey, having access to a high quality education was important to us. We are excited to be living in Emerson and participating in Emerson’s schools.

I am writing to voice my support for the district policy (5756) regarding transgender students adopted by Emerson in June 2016. As a person of faith, I believe everyone is made in God’s image. People of faith are called to support all students, regardless of gender, race, class, social background, and sexual orientation. We have a vested interest in providing the best education to all students. A student cannot utilize the amazing educational opportunities available to them if they are not embraced for who they are.

I look forward to my children growing up in a school district that proactively affirms and supports transgender students. I want my kids to grow up in an environment where diversity is welcomed. A diverse school environment might make them uncomfortable when they encounter new ideas, experiences, and people. But a welcoming and inclusive school district will help turn discomfort into curiosity, conversations, and new friendships.

In light of the recent changes to the guidance about transgender students provided by the US Board of Education, I invite the Emerson Board of Education to continue its current policy. By supporting transgender students, the Emerson Board of Education supports all students.

Sincerely,

I wrote this letter in support of students. If you agree with this movement in civil rights, celebrate school districts who get it.

#IStandWithTheJCC Rally

On Friday, March 3, I might have been the only Christian clergy (I didn’t see other collars) at a rally against Anti-Semitism. Over 100 bomb threats against JCCs and Jewish Day schools have occurred in the last few months. At least two Jewish cemeteries have been desecrated. Nazi symbols are being spray painted and carved on church doors. The rally yesterday took place at the JCC on the Palisades and was publicized the evening before. I’m glad I was able to show up and be present. There’s much more to do.

#StandwithGrimm: A Brief Before the US Supreme Court

There is a case before the US Supreme Court pitting a transgender youth against their school district. The youth wants to use the restroom that matches their gender identity. The school district is saying no. A “friend of the court” brief was filed on behalf of over 1800 religious leaders supporting the youth. I’m on page 100 in the appendix of names. Gavin should be allowed to use the restroom of that matches his gender identity.

Save the ACA: In the Background

On February 25, the family and I attended a local SAVE THE ACA rally at the Bergen County Court House. We didn’t bring a sign but I did wear my collar. K has a nice image of all the signs. Several people in my community rely on the ACA for medical care. 50,000 people in Bergen County will lose their health insurance if the ACA is repealed and not replaced with something that has similar coverage. My faith compels me to desire and do what I can so all have health insurance. I’m in the background of a few of these shots. Next time, I’ll make a sign.

A Pastoral Post Election Letter

ELCA Clergy throughout the region composed and signed a joint letter condemning hate. We shared to our congregations in November 2016. The Rev. Michael Linderman composed the letter. His colleagues (including me) refined the language.

Dear friends in Christ,

In the days following this very presidential election, we are saddened by reports of increased vandalism, threats, and intimidation, some of an explicitly racist nature, throughout the country. Several news outlets, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, have reported a surge in such incidents, which have been directed mainly at Muslims, Jews, black and Latino people. The FBI recently reported that such incidents have been on the rise already in 2015, and that attacks on Muslims have seen the sharpest increase in frequency.

As Christian leaders, we find this both reprehensible and unacceptable. We are inspired by our Christian faith in a God who becomes incarnate and moves closer to us to save us, despite our flaws and sin, and thus frees us to move closer to others in fellowship and solidarity. We appreciate the support of our Synodical Bishop, The Rev. Tracie Bartholomew, who has instructed us that, “[r]egardless of who you or your parishioners voted for, we all must denounce this behavior. As the body of Christ, we are called to stand with those whom God loves and claims as God’s own cherished children…. We are charged to eradicate racism in all its forms, welcome the refugee and immigrant, and work for justice and peace in all the earth. There is no place for bigotry in our church.” (letter dated Nov. 14, 2016)

Thus we, the undersigned pastors of Lutheran churches of the ELCA, serving or supporting congregations in Bergen, Passaic, and Essex counties, want to assure all people in our communities, regardless of race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity, that we will seek to preserve and protect their rights and dignity, and promise to work for the end of systemic racism and discrimination. All people, but especially those who feel powerless or the targets of bigotry or scapegoating, should be treated fairly and with human decency, and as an enlightened community, we should all strive to address their needs so that together, we all may flourish.

Signed:
The Rev. Wendy Abrahamson, Wayne
The Rev. Hayley Bang, Paramus
The Rev. Bruce Bassett, Glen Rock
The Rev. Arnd Braun-Storck, Elizabeth
Chaplain Abby Ferjak, Ridgewood
The Rev. Maristella Freiburg, Newark
The Rev. Peggy Hayes, Dumont
The Rev. Julie Haspel, Oakland
The Rev. Lisa Holliday, New Milford
The Rev. Michael Linderman, Ramsey
The Rev. Jenny McLellan, Allendale
The Rev. Will Moser, Montclair
The Rev. Peggy Niederer, Wyckoff
The Rev. Scott Schantzenbach, Oxford
The Rev. Beate Storck, Tenefly
The Rev. Marc Stutzel, Woodcliff Lake
The Rev. Steven Sweet, River Edge
The Rev. Ignaki Unzaga, Passaic