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Lisle, Ill. (ELCA)-FI — In the midst of several transitions, the board of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Division for Church in Society (DCS) laid the groundwork for years of future work, according to the Rev. James B. Martin- Schramm, associate professor of religion, Luther College, Decorah, Iowa. The Oct. 23-25 meeting was Martin-Schramm's first as DCS board chair.
The ELCA Churchwide Assembly elected one-third of the 21- member board in August, and the Rev. Rebecca S. Larson completed her first year as DCS executive director. Worship and community- building were significant elements of the meeting, Martin-Schramm said.
The churchwide assembly is the chief legislative authority of the ELCA; it meets every other year. The Church Council is the ELCA's board of directors, and serves as the interim legislative authority between churchwide assemblies.
The DCS board recommended the ELCA Church Council approve a governance proposal for the church's work in corporate social responsibility. In related actions the board endorsed and recommended the ELCA Church Council approve issue papers dealing with environmental, health and economic issues; and it affirmed the appointments of Emma Graeber-Porter, New York, and Perry Gray- Reneberg, Eureka, Calif., to the ELCA's advisory committee for corporate social responsibility.
"Because of our own process, we have been less effective in this ministry of advocacy in the corporate world than we probably could have been. Now I'm confident that, with the new governance proposal we have recommended to the Church Council, we will be much more effective and much more able to collaborate with our ecumenical partners," said Martin-Schramm.
Through the advisory committee, the ELCA Division for Church in Society counsels various institutions of the church about the social records of corporations in which they hold stock. In some cases, shareholder resolutions may be considered to effect change in the corporation's practices.
In many cases the resolutions are drafted in cooperation with other religious institutions through the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility, based in New York, Martin-Schramm said. The process the ELCA used to approve its participation in filing the resolution often subjected the resolution to editing that would make the ELCA's resolution different from the resolution being filed.
Generally, resolutions are filed with corporations before the end of each year in preparation for stockholder meetings to be held the following spring. Many resolutions are withdrawn before reaching the stockholder meetings because they prompt significant dialogues between the filer and the corporation's management.
DCS board meetings and ELCA Church Council meetings, where stockholder resolutions are reviewed, are often held after corporate deadlines have passed for filing resolutions to be considered at the next year's stockholder meetings.
The new governance proposal addresses both the editing and the timing of resolutions being considered for ELCA involvement, Martin-Schramm said. The proposal is to give editorial responsibility to the board's advisory committee and approval authority to the DCS executive director.
The DCS board would "identify the broad range of issues that we want corporate social responsibility resolutions to address. That's a much more appropriate role for this board, so I'm confident that the work of the ELCA in corporate social responsibility will be much improved by this new governance proposal," Martin-Schramm said.
The DCS board affirmed a management plan for the ELCA Domestic Hunger Development Loan Fund, which was established in May 1987 to help people develop self-sufficient community projects. The fund has operated with guidelines that were revised in 2001, and the management plan is "to achieve greater local impact with limited staff."
"The church, when it created this loan fund, did a good job of establishing some procedures and guidelines, but they needed a little more work," Martin-Schramm said. The fund now manages almost $3 million in outstanding loans, and it's important to "make sure that the resources devoted to that loan fund are being utilized in the most effective and appropriate ways possible," he said.
The Rev. James M. Childs Jr., director, ELCA Studies on Sexuality, gave the board a progress report on work to provide the church with recommendations on blessing same-gender relationships and on accepting ministers in such relationships, and to develop a social statement on human sexuality. The division is collaborating with the ELCA Division for Ministry on this project.
Childs said the divisions' task force prepared and distributed a six-session study guide, "Journey Together Faithfully, Part Two: The Church and Homosexuality." Part one was a four-session discussion of the ELCA's "Message on Sexuality: Some Common Convictions."
The Rev. Leslie Weber Jr., DCS associate executive director, led the board through the first session of the new study guide.
The DCS board:
+ began a process of strategic planning for 2005-2007;
+ communicated to the ELCA Church Council a summary of its conversation that a process for restructuring the ELCA churchwide organization focus on streamlining the organization while ensuring broader participation of ELCA members in the church's governance;
+ gave preliminary consideration to a message on terrorism and a resolution on organ, tissue and blood donations that it plans to present to the April 2004 meeting of the ELCA Church Council; and
+ elected the Rev. James M. Brandt, St. Paul School of Theology, Kansas City, Mo., and the Rev. Rosa M. Key, Philadelphia, as at- large members of the DCS board's executive committee.