The Upper Susquehanna Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), meeting for its annual assembly on June 15-16, 2012, passed two resolutions and one memorial to their national church body regarding horizontal slickwater hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking.” The first resolution called for the synod to establish a task force to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the justice issues surrounding the natural gas industry. This would include ecological protection, public health endangerment, impacts on local communities such as housing, school districts, forced pooling, crime, violence against women, and exploitation of rural and impoverished families.
The second resolution takes a public stance on the issue. It calls for a statewide moratorium on the issuing of future permits for hydraulic fracturing until long-range, comprehensive studies about the cumulative effects of air and water pollution, water resource depletion, public health endangerment, and other possible impacts from the drilling and fracturing processes have been completed. The third document, or a memorial, asks the ELCA to establish its own task force to study the issue of hydraulic fracturing in order to guide the national church body’s public stance on the issue.
The Rev. Leah Schade, pastor of United In Christ Lutheran Church in West Milton, one of the primary authors of the documents, stated that she was both surprised and encouraged by the assembly’s votes.
“There is a wide range of stances on this issue within the Lutheran church. Some are benefitting financially from the industry, but many are concerned about the safety of human health and God’s creation. I am very proud to be a member of a church body that has so courageously exercised its role in public theology, making sure that Lutherans claim a voice on this highly controversial issue,” Schade said.
The Rev. Theodore L. Cockley, chaplain at Buffalo Valley Lutheran Village, another of the documents’ authors, spoke about the need for people of faith to speak up about the moral and ethical questions surrounding the natural gas industry.
“Just as Jesus has commanded us to care for ‘the least of these,’ we have a responsibility to advocate for those most vulnerable who are suffering because of this industry,” Cockley said.
The votes came after considerable debate in the assembly’s Friday meeting. A panel discussion was offered to participants before the documents came before the assembly. The panel was moderated by WKOK Radio’s Mark Lawrence and consisted of an industry representative, Pete Stover, from the Marcellus Coalition; Dr. Carl Kirby, Bucknell University professor of geology; Dr. Wendy Lee, Bloomsburg University professor of philosophy and women’s studies; Rev. Schade, a PhD candidate studying preaching and ecological theology.
The Upper Susquehanna Synod, headquartered in Lewisburg, PA, is one of 65 synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The synod is made up of 131 congregations in Clinton, Columbia, Juniata, Lycoming, Mifflin, Montour, Northumberland, Snyder, Tioga and Union Counties. For more information on the synod and its congregations, visit www.uss-elca.org.