A Report on the Outcomes of the Consultation: The Churches and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Marking 60 Years and Enhancing the Future

[1] This consultation was organized by the Inter-unit Task Force for the Decade for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence, and took place October 30-31, 2008 in Chicago, IL. The goal of the meeting was to observe the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Right, and spur a deepening and broadening of the ELCA’s commitment to human rights as a public church. The meeting recognized that strengthening human rights is a key strategy to nurture a culture of nonviolence because human rights violations and violence are often connected. The thirty participants came from backgrounds in academia, advocacy, global mission, seminary, and ecumenical relations. The event was funded through a churchwide grant made possible by Thrivent Financial for Lutherans.

[2] Presenters at the consultation wrote papers that will be published in the February, 2009, issue of the Journal of Lutheran Ethics. The papers cover the following topics:

60 Years of Human Rights: What has been the involvement of the churches?
The Public Church, Just Peacemaking and a Lutheran Future of UDHR
Human-Rights Based Approach to Advocacy, A Role for the Church
Corporations and Human Rights: Lip service or real change?
Post 9-11 U.S. Exceptionalism and Human Rights
Akinamama Model: Women’s Human Rights in Kenya
Human Rights and Migration
Climate Change & Human Rights
The Right to Property and Daily Bread


[3] The following recommendations emerged from plenary and small group discussions. It is noted that most of these recommendations would require cooperation and willingness by more than one unit of the ELCA.

[4] Education & Resources

1. While many existing ecumenical and Lutheran human rights resources are dusty on the shelves, participants were hesitant to create new materials. However, there is a need to connect the dots between the resources we do have, including our historical documents, with the goal of finding a means to remind our constituents about our cross-cutting work of human rights. It was suggested that ELCA could take the lead on creating an updated human rights resource, produced in collaboration with LWF.

2. Consider how we can learn from and publicize examples from churches in Latin America and our global communion, who have had outspoken leadership in human rights.

[5] Advocacy

3. How can we engage congregations thematically? Consider engaging congregations by theme in seminar model, like the Presbyterian church does at their UN office.

4. The meeting of academics / ethicists and advocacy and program staff had positive effects for both groups. Consider opportunities for advocacy staff to engage with academics on a regular basis. Such as

– Establishing issue-based academic ‘ready benches’

– Have advocacy presence at other venues and settings, such as the Society for Christian Ethics, convocation of Lutheran teaching theologians etc.

5. Pilot models of collaboration between Global Mission, Advocacy and companion synods on specific human rights situations.

[6] Ethics & Studies

6. There is some interest in some form of an update or message on human rights relating to the social statement, “For Peace in God’s World” (1995). [This social statement addresses human rights on p. 14.]

7. Consider how do we widen the ethical framework to include concepts such as diakonia, koinania.

[7] International Relationships

8. Find ways to integrate human rights further into accompaniment model in companion synod relationships. Consider the implications of the growing congregation-to-congregation relationships.

9. Explore cross-cultural possibilities with ethnic ministries regarding human rights and countries of origin. For example, engage North American church leaders from the diaspora and second generation in specific related human rights and advocacy. For example, including Asian-Americans attending Asian LWF regional meetings

Evaluation of the Consultation

[8] The goals of the meeting were presented as follows:

Create a dynamic conversation among affiliates of the ELCA in which human rights are recognized as a legal and fundamental grounding to seek a world free from violence.
Familiarize the leaders of the ELCA with origins and principles contained within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and mark the 60th anniversary as a public church.
Create content for a human rights themed edition of the Journal of Lutheran Ethics.

[9] Participants in the meeting learned a lot about human rights, and the goals that were set forth in the grant have been achieved. The meeting was well received by participants; the only complaint was the challenge of clearing their schedules so they could attend. The academic paper format focused the meeting and raised the bar for participant contributions. The sharing of papers built a common ground for programmatic staff and academics to stand on, and made deeper conversation possible. In written evaluations of the meeting, participants were especially thankful for the sessions on U.S. exceptionalism and human rights, and corporations and human rights. The presentations were divided between perspectives from theologians and practitioners; the practitioners’ work was seen as more useful on a day to day basis, while people were personally very interested in the connections between Christianity and human rights. Through essentially having a “phase two” by publishing the papers in the Journal of Lutheran Ethics, the outcomes of the consultation will reach additional audiences, including international partners depending on how we promote this edition of the JLE and papers in ELCA media & website. The planning team was comprised of two sections of Church and Society; including Studies (Ron Duty) & Advocacy (Dennis Frado and Emily Davila). While this was a new alliance within the unit, it would have been useful to have a larger planning team, particularly including persons from Global Mission or other units of the building that deal with congregational life in the planning phase.

Emily Davila

Emily Davila is a freelance writer and consultant based in Bonn, Germany. She formerly served as Assistant Director of the Lutheran Office for World Community at the United Nations.