Monday, August 31, 2009

The Accidental Anglican

In an era when all things liturgical are often characterized as detrimental to effective evangelism and outreach, one man is proving that liturgy and mission may not turn out as such a bad marriage after all. Check out the Christianity Today article about Todd Hunter and his journey from the Evangelical realm to the Anglican church: The Accidental Anglican.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Seminex Grads and DayStar

I stumbled on an interesting sentence from Dr. Ed Schroeder on his Crossings website that was quite revealing. Many have long suspected that remnants of Seminex remained ensconced within Missouri long after the "Walk Out." And many have seen the theology of those who left linger around in far corners of the Synod, and in more recent years reappear in more visible ways and more prominent sectors. Northwoods Seelsorger occasionally reviews articles on the DayStar site, noting the liberal perspectives there that seem to have more in common with the ELCA than the LCMS. Even though these folks perport to be defenders of the true Missouri, their words say otherwise. It is Seminex in thinly and not so thinly veiled disguise.

In an article noting the success and evidence of "Seminex theology" 35 years later, Schroeder remarks:

"A major place, better, THE major place, where Seminex theology is operative today is shown in those numbers Ralph Klein just told us about: Seminex grads as rostered pastors. In ELCA 372. In LCMS 110. What we've all been hearing from such folks at this get-together is solid testimony of that. And those 110 in the Missouri Synod! That was a surprise for me. I knew a number of "our folks" were major movers in the DayStar crowd of promissio-confessors in the LCMS, but I didn't know the total number was so large."

Now this is from Ed Schroeder, not some right-wing conspiracy blog. Take it for what it's worth.....

Mission vs. Mission

The above title reflects an observation on the different ways that churches define "mission" when it comes to the work of the church. As a Lutheran my understanding of "mission" always involved the active sharing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ - his atoning death and resurrection - with those who had not yet heard this good news of salvation, or in reintroducing it to those who had drifted from the faith. Of course it could also involve charitable acts of kindness that reflected the Gospel, but these acts were reflections of the mission's primary emphasis - to proclaim.

In my recent efforts to travel the Net examining the beliefs and practices of other denominations, I stopped at the web site of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and saw their view of "mission" (see side link "U.S. and World Mission.") Under the question "What is Mission?" they include the first section called "Presbyterians express the importance of MISSION in various ways." Under this they list the following quotes:
  • “Mission is the ‘heart’ of the Great Commission. Christians are to GO into all the world sharing the love of Christ.”—Rev. Betty Crawford, Corvalis, Oregon

  • “Mission, to me, is ‘walking the walk’—an opportunity to be God’s hand extended to others, be they next door or on the other side of the globe. In mission, we demonstrate the love that has been bestowed upon us through Christ Jesus, not necessarily by our words, but by our very lives and actions.”—Kathie Sherman, St. Louis, Missouri

  • “Mission is worshiping God by helping people.”—Ladell Hemsworth, 15, Foley, Minnesota

  • “Mission is PEOPLE; people who love and serve the Lord.Glenice Johnson, retired missionary, Atlanta, Georgia
The second section is entitled "MISSION can be defined in different ways, such as," and then the following is also listed:
  • “bearing witness to God’s love for the world in Jesus Christ”— (Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Study Catechism, Question 63)

  • “the whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world” —Turn to the Living God: A Call to Evangelism in Jesus Christ’s Way, page 4

  • “The life, death, resurrection, and promised coming of Jesus Christ has set the pattern for the church’s mission.”—The Confession of 1967, the Book of Confessions, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 9.32
Now, admittedly, the explanation is brief and cannot be said to be their last word on the theology of mission. However, it seemed to me that the emphasis here was predominantly on the act of showing love and concern with an obvious absence of any mandate to actually share the content of the Gospel itself. The last point does mention the actual life, death, resurrection, and coming of Christ as the "pattern for the church's mission." But does this include proclaiming the Gospel? We don't know. And therein is my concern in the more liberal mainline denominations today. Is Mission being defined more as an act of love and kindness, with or without the clear proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? I hope not....

Episcopal Church Condemns "Doctrine of Discovery"

They resist condemning sins so clear in Holy Scripture, yet cannot resist reaching back deep into history to find obscure places to rant. At their recent general convention delegates of the Episcopal Church of the US found a favorite sin of liberal Christianity to once again hammer away at as they passed Resolution D035: "Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery."

The Episcopal News Reported:

The doctrine began in 1455 when Pope Nicholas V, by way of his order "Romanus Pontifex," gave Portugal's King Alfonso V permission to "invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery."

While the principle might seem irrelevant today, the resolution's advocates say its impact echoes through current governmental policy and human behavior.

John Chaffee, resolution sponsor and a history professor at the State University of New York at Binghamton, said in an interview that "history continues to be relevant in terms of justice issues today."

"One of the things that the church needs to do is stand up for issues of justice and I think this is a very clear case of that," said Chaffee, lay deputy from the Diocese of Central New York. The Doctrine of Discovery, he said, "really has had a profound role in the subjugating of native peoples, particularly in the legal sense."

He suggested that the resolution would in part help Episcopalians understand the "historical underpinnings of our relationship to native Americans."

For instance, Diocese of South Dakota Bishop Creighton Robertson told ENS in April 2008 that just after the Civil War, the U.S. government offered various Christian denominations land in exchange for their complicity in its effort to force Indians to assimilate into the white settlers' culture -- "so that they would be farmers instead of hunters and gatherers, or warriors," Robertson said. The Episcopal Church helped to carry out that plan mainly east of the Missouri River.

"We did that. That's the church's sin," said Robertson, who is an enrolled member on the Sisseton Reservation in South Dakota. "We have to confess that."

Advocates of Resolution D035 argue that Doctrine of Discovery has served as the foundation of U.S. Indian law since at least 1823 when the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government held title to Indian lands as the inheritor of European colonization. It said that indigenous people had a right to occupy the land but not to own it.

John Dieffenbacher-Krall, an Episcopalian and community organizer from Maine involved in the repudiation effort, said renouncing the doctrine and advocating for changes in how indigenous peoples are treated is "bedrock Christianity; this is part of God's message to us."

National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald of the Anglican Church of Canada recently called the doctrine "a corrupting idea … that distorts humanity, distorts peoples' ability to see."

"We're really called to be relentlessly courageous for the truth and ruthless in applying it to our lives, and especially our institutions," said MacDonald, who helped draft Resolution D035 and advocated in Anaheim for its passage.

By way of the resolution the church:

  • renounced the doctrine;
  • urged dioceses to reflect their history and seek a greater understanding of indigenous peoples "within the geo-political boundaries claimed by the United States and other nation states located within the Episcopal Church's boundaries," and to support their efforts to have "their inherent sovereignty and fundamental human rights" respected;
  • called for the elimination of the doctrine's "presence in its contemporary policies, program, and structures";
  • directed the church to advocate for the federal government's endorsement of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the U.S. opposed when the U.N. General Assembly adopted it in 2007; and
  • directed "the appropriate representatives of the House of Bishops and House of Deputies" to ask Queen Elizabeth II in her role as the head of the Church of England to do the same.

After the Diocese of Maine's convention passed a similar message two years ago, then-diocesan Bishop Chilton Knudsen wrote both Queen Elizabeth and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams as directed in that resolution, asking them to renounce the doctrine. The queen's personal secretary wrote back saying the issue had been referred to Canterbury, according to Dieffenbacher-Krall. Williams replied about six months later saying that while he was sympathetic to the call of repudiation, the Church of England did not exist during the time that the doctrine was being formulated.

Still, with the General Convention resolution, "we've done something that really prompts healing and reconciliation between our church and indigenous people," said Dieffenbacher-Krall, who said he first learned about the doctrine in the 1990s while working with Indians in Maine on land claim and pollution issues.

Steve Newcomb, a Lenape Indian and scholar whose research on the Doctrine of Discovery both Chaffee and Dieffenbacher-Krall credit with raising their awareness of the issue, praised convention's action and said in addition to the measures called for in the resolution, he hoped to see even larger results.

"I'm hoping that this issue will not only make people take notice of the maltreatment of the indigenous nations of peoples," but that Christians will also "look at how the Doctrine of Discovery is reflective of a mentality and type of behavior that is so destructive to the ecological systems of the planet."

Indigenous peoples' way of living on the earth can provide models of sustainability that have been ignored for centuries, Newcomb said.

(The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.)

Note: The Wikipedia article on "United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples" (Passed at the UN in 2007) states that: "The Declaration sets out the individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples, as well as their rights to culture, identity, language, employment, health, education and other issues. It also "emphasizes the rights of indigenous peoples to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions, and to pursue their development in keeping with their own needs and aspirations". It "prohibits discrimination against indigenous peoples", and it "promotes their full and effective participation in all matters that concern them and their right to remain distinct and to pursue their own visions of economic and social development." Concern was rightly expressed by the US and other countries about the ambiguity of the term "indigenous" and the concept of "self-determination." Certainly no one objects to any culture maintaining its own uniqueness and individual customs. However, this resolution goes beyond this and possesses the potential for all kinds of disruption within national government. All are equal citizens under the same law. All possess the same rights and privileges. What business does the church have in disrupting this?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Reflections on the Conflicted Faith of Ted Kennedy

With the recent passing of Senator Ted Kennedy, accolades are flowing freely and generously from those who admired him most. Even his critics have found the capacity to offer gestures of complimentary reflections, praising most often his tenacity to hold fast to what he believed.

However, when such a topic turns to the deeper issues of faith and church the dedication to doctrine and conviction is more conflicted for this lifelong Catholic. As a recent article in TIME by Amy Sullivan well notes, the "hard-living Kennedys weren't known for being famously devout." Indeed, their indiscretions are only too well documented as are many others of Washington, regardless of religious affiliation. In fact, Ted Kennedy struggled with his faith throughout his life, it appears, and one would hardly blame such soul-searching especially after the repeated tragedies that hit his family with one death after another.

Sullivan notes, however, that Kennedy found a way to return to his family faith, albeit in his own unique way. "'And ultimately, says Casey, Senator Kennedy's relationship with Catholicism is one familiar to many American Catholics. 'He went through a period of alienation from the church,' says Casey. 'But he came back on his own terms, he made a form of peace with the church.'"

"On his own terms." That says much of Kennedy's faith as a Catholic. Like many Catholics in politics it seems that it is not possible to be fully Catholic, with the unbearable weight of all that moral baggage, and still win elections, or maintain ones status within the Left. In the early 70's Kennedy was opposed to abortion. But that changed with the years, despite his church's unwavering opposition. As Sullivan writes: "Indeed, abortion was the main topic on which Kennedy received criticism from church leaders. He had begun his political career opposed to abortion — in a 1971 letter, Kennedy wrote, "Wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized." But like many other Democratic politicians, he became a supporter of abortion rights by the 1980s. By the end of his career he was regularly awarded a 100% positive rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America for his abortion-related votes, a record that put him at odds with church leadership."

Kennedy may indeed be the icon of today's modern Christian, claiming piety and devotion to a church, while practicing that faith according to personal choices rather than being bound by biblical or doctrinal mandates. History will have to judge the success or failure of his voluminous legislative efforts. However, God's Word judges clearly the willingness to confess the faith or hide from it for personal gain. For all the accolades showered upon this man, I remain regretful and saddened that he could not find the courage to maintain a simple defense for those helpless unborn children whose lives were unceremoniously snatched from them in the name of choice.

Monday, August 24, 2009

"Life-long, monogamous same gender relationships" - What Exactly Will That Now Mean in the ELCA?

One item, among many, that troubles me in this recent decision to include openly practicing gays in the ministry in the ELCA, is how the definition of "life-long, monogamous....relationships" is going to be interpreted (even though I am thoroughly opposed to any sexual orientation in the ministry other than heterosexual.) In search after search on the internet I am left with the impression that "same gender" is virtually synonymous with LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender), even though I am sure that was not the true intent of the original resolution. Bisexual, of course, seems completely at odds with the concept of "monogamous," yet I suspect that many within the LGBT community of ELCA will disregard the language and interpret it as they wish.

A recent article by Rod Deher at the blog site "Crunch Con" touches on this point and should be read by those within the ELCA leadership as they contemplate, in retrospect, "what does this mean?" with respect to this landmark decision:

What does "monogamy" mean to gays?
Sunday August 23, 2009

The Lutherans (ELCA) have now okayed gay clergy who are in "committed" relationships, and endorsed "chaste, monogamous and lifelong" same-sex relationships. But as Terry Mattingly observes, there has been no real public discussion about just what "monogamy" means when it comes to gays. TMatt writes:

As a visiting gay theologian once told me during a conference at Iliff, very few gay, lesbian and bisexual Christians have what he called a "twin rocking chairs forever" definition of monogamy. That was just too restricting, he said. Most gays, he said, believe that it is possible to be "faithful" to one partner and, thus, "monogamous," while continuing to have sexual experiences with others.

TMatt says there are three general schools when it comes to monogamy and the gay experience:
First of all, there are gay theologians whose definition of this term is very traditional, arguing that gay unions are forever and that those taking vows must remain sexually faithful to one another. Twin rocking chairs forever.

Then, there are those who, in effect, say that "monogamy" essentially means serial monogamy (this, of course, is the definition used by most heterosexuals today in a culture rooted in easy divorce). In other words, things happen and relationships break up. However, partners are supposed to be sexually faithful to one another while the relationship lasts. Twin rocking chairs for right now.

Finally, some say that gay, lesbian and bisexual Christians can be "emotionally" faithful to a partner, while having sexual experiences with other people -- secondary relationships that do not threaten the primary, "monogamous" relationship. The twin rocking chairs are symbolic.
There are, of course, lesbigay theologians who reject monogamy and almost all other traditional limits on sexual experience. Take, for example, the trailblazing Episcopal priest and seminary professor Carter Heyward, author of books such as "Touching Our Strength: The Erotic as Power and the Love of God."

As TMatt and Fr. Kendall Harmon note, leading gay-rights advocates like Andrew Sullivan and Dan Savage hold to a rather flexible view of monogamy. Here's a quote from Sullivan:
Dan [Savage] and I agreed that moderate hypocrisy - especially in marriages - is often the best policy. Momogamy [sic] is very hard for men, straight or gay, and if one partner falters occasionally (and I don't mean regularly), sometimes discretion is perfectly acceptable. You could see [Erica] Jong bridle at the thought of such dishonesty. But I think the post-seventies generation - those of us who grew up while our parents were having a sexual revolution - both appreciate the gains for sexual and emotional freedom, while being a little more aware of their potential hazards. An acceptance of mild hypocrisy as essential social and marital glue is not a revolutionary statement. It's a post-revolutionary one. As is, I'd say, my generation as a whole.
Well, I'm in Andrew's generation, and if what he describes is Christian, or even tolerable within a marriage of integrity, then the kids are not alright. This position is not compatible with Christian sexual morality. Period. There is and should be theological guidelines for how to repair relationships broken by adultery, but an authority no less than Jesus Christ, in the Gospel of Matthew, said that adultery is the only grounds for ending a marriage. Fidelity is the uncompromising standard. N.B., Jimmy Akin points out that this same discourse as reported in the other Gospels attributes to Christ an even stricter standard, which disallows divorce at all. Obviously the church has over time worked out ways of handling the situations people find themselves in, while trying to be faithful to the spirit of the Lord's teaching. The point is, though, that it is impossible to argue from Scripture or tradition that monogamous commitment within a Christian context considers it "perfectly acceptable" to have sex outside of marriage.
There's more from Sullivan at Fr. Harmon's website. TMatt's focus is not so much theological as it is journalistic, namely, shouldn't the media, in covering the Lutheran situation and similar debates in other churches, ask what, exactly, the understanding of "monogamy" is within the church? Is there a commonly shared definition? Is there more difference here than many, even within the church, are aware of?

These are important questions. It is often argued by those who favor same-sex marriage that the institution of marriage will transform same-sex relationships, and make them more committed and monogamous. But what if same-sex relationships, if they are guided by this corrupt definition of monogamy, serve actually to undermine the church's traditional understanding of monogamy? That's one reason why the answer to this question is so important.
It's also important that I once again exhort readers from both sides (all sides?) of this controversy to conduct the combox dialogue dispassionately. I will delete comments that bring more heat than light to this discussion.

Press Release from ELS Regarding ELCA Decision

[Side note: Personal historic moment - This is Northwoods Seelsorger's 400th post since he started blogging in November of 2006.]

The Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) disagrees with the recent resolution of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), which voted 55% on August 21, in favor of ordaining homosexuals in an "active" relationship. This press release may be used by ELS churches and pastors for submittal to their local newspapers.

Evangelical Lutheran Synod disagrees with homosexual clergy resolution adopted by ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America)

MANKATO, MINNESOTA—Officials of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS), a church body based in Mankato, noted with concern and disappointment the decision of the national convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), held in Minneapolis August 17-23, to allow the ordination of practicing homosexuals and lesbians as pastors of the church.

The smaller ELS is not affiliated with the larger ELCA, even though the names of the two churches are very similar.

ELS President, Rev. John A. Moldstad, said: “Ordaining practicing homosexuals and lesbians to the ministry is a serious departure from the biblical standards of morality to which Lutherans and Lutheran pastors have historically been held.” Moldstad clarified that, in contrast to the newly-adopted position of the ELCA, the position of the ELS on the matter of homosexuality and marriage is as follows:

We confess that Scripture condemns homosexuality and extra-marital relations (fornication and adultery) as sin. Nevertheless, when an individual caught up in such sins truly repents, the forgiveness of the Gospel is to be fully applied. We confess that the divine institution of marriage is to be heterosexual, in which, according to God’s design, a man and a woman may enjoy a life-long companionship in mutual love. We teach on the basis of Holy Scripture that marriage is the only proper context for the expression of sexual intimacy and for the procreation of children. See Rom. 1:26-27, 1 Cor. 6:9, 18 and 7:2-9, John 4:17-18, 1 John 1:9, Gen. 1:27-28 and 2:18-24, Matt. 19:4-6. (From We Believe, Teach, and Confess, adopted by the ELS in 1992)

Moldstad explained that ELS churches welcome into their midst those who may struggle with temptation toward a same-sex attraction, but who know in their conscience that this is wrong, and who seek God’s help in their struggle. Said Moldstad, “The ELS believes that in this world it is the duty of the church – as the body of Christ – to be a community of healing and reconciliation in the Gospel, and a beacon of hope to all humanity. And so, while the church is indeed called by the Lord to condemn as sin that which God condemns as sin, it is the church’s privilege also to offer and apply the grace, forgiveness, and acceptance of God, in Jesus Christ, to all who repent of their sins – whatever those sins may be.”

In addition to the similarity in names, the ELS shares a common heritage with some segments of the ELCA. The Mankato-based group was organized in 1918 by pastors and congregations that had declined to enter a merger that formed one of the predecessor bodies of the ELCA. The ELS has not participated in subsequent Lutheran mergers either – including the one that formed the ELCA in 1988 – because of what it saw as doctrinal compromises that these mergers represented.

President Schroeder of WELS Reacts to the ELCA Decision Regading Gay Clergy

WELS president expresses regret at ELCA decision on gay clergy

Milwaukee, Wis.—Rev. Mark Schroeder, president of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), is expressing regret at the vote of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) convention regarding homosexual clergy. Friday, delegates approved a resolution committing the church to find a way for “people in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships” to serve as professional leaders of the church.

“To view same-sex relationships as acceptable to God is to place cultural viewpoint and human opinions above the clear Word of God,” says Schroeder. “The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, along with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, and other smaller Lutheran synods, maintains and upholds the clear teaching of the Bible that homosexuality is not in keeping with God’s design and is sinful in God’s eyes.”

At the same time, Schroeder says WELS congregations stand ready to support those struggling with same-sex attractions. “As with any sin, it is the church’s responsibility to show love and compassion to sinners, not by condoning or justifying the sin, but by calling the sinner to repent and by assuring the sinner that there is full forgiveness in Jesus Christ,” Schroeder says.

WELS, with about 390,000 members and nearly 1,300 congregations nationwide, is the third largest Lutheran church body in the United States. In Wisconsin alone, there are more than 201,000 members and 417 congregations. “It’s unfortunate that many headlines have referred to the recent decisions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America as something ‘Lutherans’ have decided,” Schroeder says. “In fact, the ELCA is only one of many Lutheran denominations. We are saddened that a group with the name Lutheran would take another decisive step away from the clear teaching of the Bible, which was the foundation of the Lutheran Reformation.”

Schroeder says that WELS is firmly committed to upholding God’s design for marriage as outlined in Scripture—a design intended for one man and one woman. “We believe, and the Bible teaches, that God designed this relationship to be a blessing for men and women and for society. Any departure from what God himself has designed does two things: it denies the clear teachings of Scriptures and it undermines God’s desire that the man/woman relationship in marriage be a blessing.”

President Kieschnick's Address to the ELCA Assembly

August 22, 2009
ELCA Churchwide Assembly, Minneapolis

From the Rev. Dr. Gerald Kieschnick, President of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod:

Presiding Bishop Hanson, Members of the Assembly, Special Guests, Friends in Christ,

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Over the years of my life and ministry, these words from St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 5 have become especially meaningful:

God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not counting mankind’s sins against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
(2 Corinthians 5:19-21, ESV)

What a blessing it is to know that our sin is forgiven, removed from us as far as the east is from the west, because of the atoning sacrifice of Christ on Calvary’s cross. And what a humbling privilege and huge responsibility it is to know that God is making his appeal, through people like you and like me, people with feet of clay, that the world might be reconciled to God through faith in Christ.

I bring you these greetings on behalf of the 2.4 million members of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod at a difficult time in the world and in the church. Economic pressures bring great burdens. Strife finds its way into the LCMS, the ELCA, worldwide Lutheranism, and the Christian Church as a whole. Mankind’s inhumanity to mankind manifests itself in global unrest and worldwide terrorism. Peace is often elusive, both in the world and in the church, as sin and Satan continue to rear their ugly heads in both venues.

Lutherans are no strangers to discord and divisiveness. The Lutheran church was born under such conditions. Yet we also know the path to concord, expressed in these rather straight forward words in The Formula of Concord, written during a notable time of doctrinal controversy and discord in the church. Hear these words from the Kolb-Wengert translation:

"For these controversies are not merely misunderstandings or semantic arguments, where someone might think that one group had not sufficiently grasped what the other group was trying to say or that the tensions were based upon only a few specific words of relatively little consequence. Rather, these controversies deal with important and significant matters, and they are of such a nature that the positions of the erring party neither could nor should be tolerated in the church of God, much less be excused or defended.

"Therefore, necessity demands explanation of these disputed articles on the basis of God’s Word and reliable writings, so that those with a proper Christian understanding could recognize which position regarding the points under dispute is in accord with God’s Word and the Christian Augsburg Confession and which is not, and so that Christians of good will, who are concerned about the truth, might protect and guard themselves from the errors and corruptions that have appeared among us."

The writers of this Formula pledged themselves, and I quote, "to the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments, as to the pure, clear fountain of Israel, which alone is the one true guiding principle, according to which all teachers and teachings are to be judged and evaluated." Discord can become concord when Christian individuals and Christian church bodies are faithful to the Holy Scriptures, which reveal the Gospel of God’s grace, forgiveness, and salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

The very fact that I represent a denomination known as The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod at an assembly of a denomination known as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America bears witness to the fact that, sadly and regrettably, in spite of the holy Word and mercy of our God, the Confessions affirmed by the constitutions of both our church bodies, and the faithful example of those who have gone before us, schisms remain, not only in the Christian church, but also in the Lutheran church. We have doctrinal differences that separate us. That is no secret.

I speak these next words in deep humility, with a heavy heart and no desire whatsoever to offend. The decisions by this assembly to grant non-celibate homosexual ministers the privilege of serving as rostered leaders in the ELCA and the affirmation of same gender unions as pleasing to God will undoubtedly cause additional stress and disharmony within the ELCA. It will also negatively affect the relationships between our two church bodies. The current division between our churches threatens to become a chasm. This grieves my heart and the hearts of all in the ELCA, the LCMS, and other Christian church bodies throughout the world who do not see these decisions as compatible with the Word of God, or in agreement with the consensus of 2000 years of Christian theological affirmation regarding what Scripture teaches about human sexuality. Simply stated, this matter is fundamentally related to significant differences in how we understand the authority of Holy Scripture and the interpretation of God’s revealed and infallible Word.

Only by the mercy of our Almighty God does hope remain for us poor, miserable sinners. By His grace, through Word and Sacraments, the evangelical witness and authentic message of sin and grace, Law and Gospel, must resound to a troubled world so desperately in need of His love in Christ.

May God grant each of us sensitivity, humility, boldness, courage, faithfulness, and forgiveness as we continue to strive toward God-pleasing harmony and concord in what we believe, teach, and confess. We have much to accomplish in the mission our Lord Jesus has entrusted to us.

May God have mercy upon us all, and grant us His peace in Christ.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Timeline of a Denomination at Drift

The following is a timeline of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, chronicling, in particular, its most controversial and troubling developments. It emphasizes three significant areas of concern: abortion, ecumenical compromise, and homosexual accommodation. The ecumenical compromise can be seen by examining the various denominations with which the ELCA has entered into "full communion," especially those of Reformed background, thus relinquishing their clear confession to the real physical presence of Christ in the Supper. These ecumenical fellowships, along with their association with the large ecumenical organizations mentioned early in the timeline (e.g. LWF), demonstrate how little this church body values the need for clear and uncompromised confession of doctrine.

Prior to 1988: The ELCA, through predecessor church bodies, is a founding member of the Lutheran World Federation, World Council of Churches and the National Council of Churches USA.
These organizations are ecumencial fellowships of widely divergent theologies.
*Ordination of women to the pastoral ministry occurs in 1970 in the Lutheran Church of America.
1988: The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America officially comes into existence as a merger of the ALC (American Lutheran Church), LCA (Lutheran Church in America), AELC (Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches).
1991: ELCA adopts statement on abortion allowing for this procedure in situations where "the pregnancy occurs when both parties do not participate willingly in sexual intercourse," and "circumstances of extreme fetal abnormality, which will result in severe suffering and very early death of an infant."
1995: A resolution is offered at the church wide assembly calling for a change in the ELCA health insurance plan that allows for elective abortions. The ELCA health insurance plan still allows for abortions with their called workers.
1997: By a vote of 809 to 121, the assembly endorsed a recommendation commending the church's 1991 social statement on abortion, pledging to continue "moral deliberation" on the subject and asking the ELCA Board of Pensions to provide information on "educational efforts on abortion." That action was in response to resolutions from the ELCA's South Dakota Synod, Northeastern Minnesota Synod, Central-Southern Illinois Synod and Lower Susquehanna Synod that sought to limit the plan's ability to pay for abortions. An attempt to amend the recommendation, in a way that would have limited the plan's ability to pay for abortions, failed by a vote of 651 to 271. The ELCA Board of Pensions already took steps in April of this year to limit the plan's ability to pay for late-term abortions. (From the ELCA News Service)
**ELCA enters into “full communion” with the Reformed Church in America.
(In 1990 it was officially advised to adopt as the position of the Reformed Church in America that the practicing homosexual lifestyle is contrary to scripture, while at the same encouraging love and sensitivity towards such persons as fellow human beings.) (MGS 1990: 461)
**ELCA enters into “full communion” with the United Church of Christ.
(In 2005 the UCC formally endorses same-sex marriage as a right for all.)
(In 1972 this church body became the first major denomination to ordain an outwardly practicing homosexual.)
(The UCC strongly supports legalized abortion and has opposed the ban on “partial birth abortion.”)
**ELCA enters into “full communion” with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
1999: **ELCA enters into “full communion” with the Episcopal Church of the United States.
(First openly homosexual bishop was elected in this church in 2003.)
(The 2009 General Convention affirmed that "gays and lesbians (that are) in lifelong committed relationships," should be ordained, saying that "God has called and may call such individuals to any ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church." The Convention also voted to allow bishops to decide whether or not to bless same-sex marriages. - Wikipedia)
(The EPUS adopts the ordination of women in 1976.)
**ELCA enters into “full communion” with the Moravian Church.
*The Lutheran World Federation signed the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification with the Roman Catholic Church. The Declaration declared that the mutual condemnations between 16th century Lutherans and the Roman Catholic Church no longer apply to today’s church bodies. They compromise their witness to the very doctrine that formed the center of the Lutheran church's confession.
2009: **ELCA enters into “full communion” with the United Methodist Church.
(From the “Social Principals” of the UMC: “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church…”)
*ELCA adopts resolution allowing for people in “publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as professional leaders of this church." The vote is split closely: 55% for, 45% against.
"*ELCA adopts a Social Statement on Sexuality ("Human Sexuality:Gift and Trust") that acknowledges the divergent views of homosexuality within the denomination, yet holds each view as equally valid: "In our Christian freedom, we therefore seek responsible actions that serve others and do so with humility and deep respect for the conscience-bound beliefs of others. We understand that, in this discernment about ethics and church practice, faithful people can and will come to different conclusions about the meaning of Scripture25 and about what constitutes responsible action. We further believe that this church, on the basis of 'the bound conscience,' will include these different understandings and practices within its life as it seeks to live out its mission and ministry in the world."

Saturday, August 22, 2009

It's Official - Ministry Now Fully Open to Publicly Practicing Homosexual Couples

Well, it's official. The ELCA finally garnered enough votes to make the historic change. Openly practicing gays and lesbians now have full inclusion in the ordained ministry. The original resolutions (final ammendments not noted here), with the votes were:

1. Step one asks the assembly whether, in principle, this church is committed to finding ways to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support and hold publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships. - Passed 619-402

2. Step two asks the assembly whether, in principle, this church is committed to finding a way for people in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as professional leaders of this church. - Passed 559 to 451

3. Step three asks this church whether, in the future implementation of these commitments, it will make decisions so that all in this church bear the burdens of the other, and respect the bound consciences of all. - Passed 771-230

4. Step four proposes the specifics of how this church can move toward change in a way that respects the bound consciences of all. - Passed 667-307

Below are news releases from the ELCA site.

August 21, 2009

ELCA Assembly Opens Ministry to Partnered Gay and Lesbian Lutherans

MINNEAPOLIS (ELCA) - The 2009 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) voted today to open the ministry of the church to gay and lesbian pastors and other professional workers living in committed relationships.
The action came by a vote of 559-451 at the highest legislative body of the 4.6 million member denomination. Earlier the assembly also approved a resolution committing the church to find ways for congregations that choose to do so to "recognize, support and hold publicly accountable life-long, monogamous, same gender relationships," though the resolution did not use the word "marriage."
The actions here change the church's policy, which previously allowed gays and lesbians into the ordained ministry only if they remained celibate.
Throughout the assembly, which opened Aug. 17, the more than 1,000 voting members have debated issues of human sexuality. On Wednesday they adopted a social statement on the subject as a teaching tool and policy guide for the denomination.
The churchwide assembly of the ELCA is meeting here Aug. 17-23 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. About 2,000 people are participating, including 1,045 ELCA voting members. The theme for the biennial assembly is "God's work. Our hands."
Before discussing the thornier issues of same-gender unions in the ordained ministry, the assembly approved, by a vote of 771-230, a resolution committing the church to respect the differences of opinions on the matter and honor the "bound consciences" of those who disagree.
During the hours of discussion, led by ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson, the delegates paused several times each hour for prayer, sometimes as a whole assembly, sometimes in small groups around the tables where the voting members of the assembly sat, debated and cast their votes.
Discussion here proved that matters of sexuality will be contentious throughout the church. A resolution that would have reasserted the church's current policy drew 344 votes, but failed because it was rejected by 670 of the voting members.
Pastor Richard Mahan of the ELCA West Virginia-Western Maryland Synod was among several speakers contending that the proposed changes are contrary to biblical teaching. "I cannot see how the church that I have known for 40 years can condone what God has condemned," Mahan said, "Nowhere does it say in scripture that homosexuality and same sex marriage is acceptable of God."
But others said a greater acceptance of people who are gay and lesbian in the church was consistent with the Bible. Bishop Gary Wollersheim of the ELCA Northern Illinois Synod said, "It's a matter of justice, a matter of hospitality, it's what Jesus would have us do." Wollersheim said he had been strongly influenced by meetings with youth at youth leadership events in his synod, a regional unit of the ELCA.
Some speakers contend that the actions taken here will alienate ELCA members and cause a drop in membership. But Allison Guttu of the ELCA Metropolitan New York Synod said, "I have seen congregations flourish while engaging these issues; I have seen congregations grow recognizing the gifts of gay and lesbian pastors."
During discussion of resolutions on implementation of the proposals, Bishop Kurt Kusserow of the ELCA Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod asked that the church make clear provision in its policies to recognize the conviction of members who believe that this church cannot call or roster people in a publicly accountable, lifelong, monagamous, same-gender relationship. A resolution that the denomination consider a proposal for how it will exercise flexibility within its existing structure and practices to allow Lutherans in same gender relationship to be approved for professional service in the church. That resolution passed by a vote of 667-307.

August 21, 2009

ELCA Assembly Actions Draw Criticism, Praise from Advocacy Groups

MINNEAPOLIS (ELCA) – Leaders of organizations favoring and opposing further involvement of people who are gay and lesbian in the church praised and denounced actions taken at the churchwide assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Both expressed a desire to have the church remain united and for those with disagreements on sexuality to respect one another’s views.
The churchwide assembly, the chief legislative authority of the ELCA is meeting here Aug. 17-23 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. About 2,000 people are participating, including 1,045 ELCA voting members. The theme for the biennial assembly is “God’s work. Our hands.”
Lutheran CORE, a reform group opposing the new policies, has called for a meeting in Indianapolis next month of people who will not support the decision to allow non-celibate gays and lesbians to become clergy and other rostered leaders.
“Lutheran CORE is continuing in the Christian faith as it has been passed down to us by generations of Christians,” said the Rev. Paull Spring of State College, Pa., chair of the organization. Today, CORE ended its relationship as an organization “officially recognized” by the ELCA. A statement issued here said CORE will begin to encourage ELCA members and congregations to withdraw financial support from the denomination.
The actions of the assembly mean that many of those sharing CORE’s concern “will participate in and support faithful ELCA ministries, but cannot support ELCA ministries that reject the authority of God’s word,” said the Rev. Erma S. Wolf of Brandon, S.D., vice chair of CORE’s executive committee.
While CORE’s disagreements with the ELCA run deep, Spring said he was not encouraging congregations to leave the ELCA, although he admitted that some pastors and congregations are already planning to do so.
Ryan Schwarz of Washington, D.C. a member of CORE’s steering committee, said of the assembly actions, “the church should not be voting on whether or not to follow the teaching of the Bible.” Schwarz is one of three remaining nominees for ELCA vice president.
Emily Eastwood, director of Lutherans Concerned/North America said, “Today, I am proud to be a Lutheran.” Lutherans Concerned/North America has long been working to encourage the ELCA to accept people who are gay and lesbian, but not celibate, into the ministry.
“The ELCA has always had gay ministers,” she said, “Now those and all ministers are free to claim who they are and to have the love and support of a lifelong partner.” Eastwood also said the actions of the Assembly focused on the “centrality of family life” for both heterosexual and homosexual couples.
At the same time, Eastwood said, the ELCA recognizes the “bound consciences” of those who disagree with this week’s actions. “Congregations that wish to call a qualified minister in a committed, long-term, same gender relationship can do so without hindrance,” she said. “And congregations that do not wish to do so cannot be required to ever do so.”
“We pledge to work with the church, including with those who would oppose us, for reconciliation to fulfill our collective mission to spread the love of Christ for the sake of the world,” Eastwood said.

August 21, 2009

ELCA Presiding Bishop Comments on Decisions Regarding Ministry Policies

MINNEAPOLIS (ELCA) -- With debates closed and decisions made, the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States has voted to allow Lutherans in same-gender relationships to serve as pastors of congregations and serve in other professional leadership roles. This will result in a change in current ministry policies of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), which require that professional leaders abstain from "homosexual sexual relationships."
At an Aug. 21 news conference the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, spoke about voting members who are rejoicing over decisions made to change ministry policies and those who did not support the decisions of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.
The churchwide assembly, the chief legislative authority of the ELCA, is meeting here Aug. 17-23 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. About 2,000 people are participating, including 1,045 ELCA voting members. The theme for the biennial assembly is "God's work. Our hands."
Hanson expressed gratitude for the manner in which the church has engaged the topic of human sexuality for the past eight years.
He said the assembly continued the conversation about human sexuality "with deep and heartfelt respect for the view of the other, engagement with Scripture and the tradition, listening to the faith stories and experiences of one another, and in prayer for seeking the discernment of the spirit."
Mindful of those voting members who spoke and voted in opposition of changing policies, Hanson said he hopes that they will remain committed to the conversation.
"I am always concerned when I hear any indication of either congregations or clergy or both wondering about whether they can continue to be part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in light of these decisions," he said. "Included in my concern is even a deeper concern for those who are at that point tonight. Are you willing to stay engaged with us in the conversation about how you can, with integrity, stay in this church body so that we might respect your bound conscience?"
The Rev. Stanley N. Olson, executive director, ELCA Vocation and Education, shared some next steps on how the denomination will proceed in modifying ministry policies.
"We will now need to begin to draft the language that will put into those policies the decisions the assembly has made. That language must be drafted in full respect to the kinds of disagreement that have been articulated, the joys and sorrows that are reflected in these conversations," he said.
Olson said the church has several policy documents "to assure that we have the kind of leaders that we need, speak to the processes by which we prepare and approve people for leadership, and the process by which folks are called into particular places of ministry."
"This is not simply rules and procedures for implementing something new. We have these policies because we are committed to having the kind of leaders who will serve the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who will respect this church and other churches, and who will have the world in view. We see the qualities, skills and the commitments that will make that possible," Olson said.
The Rev. Kaari M. Reierson, associate director for studies, ELCA Church in Society, said the experience of the assembly mirrors that of the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality, particularly "the sorrow of disagreement, the concern for each other and the church, and the sharing of deeply held concerns that are by now familiar to us all."
The task force developed the report and recommendations on ministry policies considered by the assembly.

Friday, August 21, 2009

ELCA Encourges Synod to Implement Sexuality Study

It will be interesting to see what study materials now come out of Augsburg-Fortress to help children fully accept the bi-sexual, transgender, gay and lesbian lifestyle, and if parents will protest at all as it is agressively integrated into the Sunday School and Confirmation programs.....

August 20, 2009
ELCA Assembly Takes Steps to Implement Social Statement on Sexuality
MINNEAPOLIS (ELCA) – Congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have been asked to implement the newly adopted social statement on human sexuality by continuing the study of sexuality, assist members to welcome people who are gay and lesbians, encourage comprehensive sex education programs in public schools, support the church’s work to combat HIV/AIDS and to take the “spirit of this statement” into all appropriate activities.
In an action taken Aug. 20 by the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, the more than 1,000 voting members of the assembly also asked the church’s publishing house to consider developing materials to help young people and their parents understand Christian values and make “responsible choices” in matters of sexuality; and called upon the church’s theologians, bishops, pastors and educators to “extend theological and biblical reflection as well as theoretical and practical understanding of human sexuality.”
The “implementing resolutions” are intended to begin placing the policies and concerns of the statement, titled “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” into all areas of the church’s work. They were passed by a vote of 695 to 285.
The churchwide assembly, the chief legislative authority of the ELCA, is meeting here Aug. 17-23 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. About 2,000 people are participating, including 1,045 ELCA voting members. The theme for the biennial assembly is “God’s work. Our hands.”
The resolutions also asked the ELCA’s Board of Pensions to amend its benefit policies to bring them in line with the social statement, presumably to provide benefits for partners of ELCA employees who are in same-gender relationships.
The studies used in developing the social statement should be provided as continuing resources for ELCA members “as long as demand continues,” the resolution said.
The presiding bishop of the ELCA should consider developing worship materials to be used by pastors, individuals and families at the time of divorce, the resolutions said. That proposal provoked some discussion on the floor of the assembly, as some felt that worship materials might “celebrate” divorce.
But Pastor Jean Larson of the Montana Synod said such resources would be useful. “We can compare this to a funeral service, because a divorce is a death,” she said.
The first item in the list of implementing resolutions noted the deep disagreements that exist in the ELCA over issues of sexuality and called upon members of the ELCA to “commit themselves to finding ways to live together faithfully in the midst of disagreements.” A key feature of the statement was the recognition that members of the 4.6 million member denomination hold widely diverging opinions on sexual issues, particularly on homosexuality and whether the church should ordain gay and lesbian pastors who are in committed same-gender relationships.
The resolutions also cited a 2001 message from the ELCA entitled “Commercial Sexual Exploitation” as having “continuing value for the mission and ministry.”
Other resolutions asked the church and its regional synods to continue efforts aimed at preventing sexual harassment and misconduct and said the church should provide “effective resources” for dealing with those matters.
The ELCA Church in Society program and other units of the church should monitor the implementation of the social statement and make a report to the Church Council and future churchwide assemblies.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

ELCA Now in Full Communion with the United Methodist Church

Again from the ELCA News Service reporting on today's votes at the Churcwide Assembly:

MINNEAPOLIS (ELCA) – By a vote of 958-51, the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) adopted a full communion agreement with the United Methodist Church (UMC). The agreement is the ELCA’s sixth full communion relationship. In 2008 the UMC General Conference adopted the same agreement...Full communion makes possible a variety of joint ministries, sharing of resources and interchangeability of clergy.

This is hardly surprising, given the previous "full communion agreements" with the Reformed, the UCC, and the Episcopalians. But again, it shows their total disregard for the doctrinal heritage of the Lutheran church, especially our teaching regarding the Lord's Supper.

From the archives of the United Methodist Church website the following can be found:

Do United Methodists believe the communion elements actually become the body and blood of Christ?

“No, we believe that the change is spiritual. They signify the body and blood of Christ for us, helping us to be Christ’s body in the world today, redeemed by Christ’s blood. We pray over the bread and cup that they may make us one with Christ, “one with each other, and one in service to all the world.”
This Holy Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion, the official statement on communion, says, "The Christian church has struggled through the centuries to understand just how Christ is present in the Eucharist. Arguments and divisions have occurred over the matter. The Wesleyan tradition affirms the reality of Christ’s presence, although it does not claim to be able to explain it fully...
Article VI of The Confession of Faith of The Evangelical United Brethren Church, speaks...of the sacraments: “They are means of grace by which God works invisibly in us, quickening, strengthening and confirming our faith in him. . . . Those who rightly, worthily and in faith eat the broken bread and drink the blessed cup partake of the body and blood of Christ in a spiritual manner until he comes.”
United Methodists, along with other Christian traditions, have tried to provide clear and faithful interpretations of Christ’s presence in the Holy Meal. Our tradition asserts the real, personal, living presence of Jesus Christ. For United Methodists, the Lord’s Supper is anchored in the life of the historical Jesus of Nazareth, but is not primarily a remembrance or memorial. We do not embrace the medieval doctrine of transubstantiation, though we do believe that the elements are essential tangible means through which God works. We understand the divine presence in temporal and relational terms. In the Holy Meal of the church, the past, present, and future of the living Christ come together by the power of the Holy Spirit so that we may receive and embody Jesus Christ as God’s saving gift for the whole world."
This Holy Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion Copyright © 2003, 2004 The General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church, PO Box 340003, Nashville TN 37203-0003 (800-972-0433).

One Step Closer for the ELCA - Social Statement on Sexuality Adopted

Take note of the latest decision at their national assembly in this ELCA news brief. One wonders if this is a harbinger of the decision yet to come this week on gay clergy. Side note: You can keep track of the "Assembly Voting Results" on the ELCA website here. To date they have voted on only seven major items. There is little surprise in the other resolution results.

August 19, 2009

ELCA Assembly Adopts 'Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust'

MINNEAPOLIS (ELCA) -- The 2009 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) adopted "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust" with a vote of 676 (66.67 percent) to 338 (33.33 percent) on Aug. 19. The passing of the social statement on human sexuality required a two-thirds vote.
The churchwide assembly, the chief legislative authority of the ELCA, is meeting here Aug. 17-23 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. About 2,000 people are participating, including 1,045 ELC voting members. The theme for the biennial assembly is "God's work. Our hands."
Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust is the denomination's 10th social statement. It addresses a spectrum of topics relevant to human sexuality from a Lutheran perspective.
Social statements "guide us as we step forward as a public church because they form the basis for both this church's public policy and my public speech as presiding bishop," the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, told the assembly.
An ad hoc committee addressed 13 proposals to amend the social statement from voting members and 42 "memorials" or resolutions from the 65 synods of the ELCA. They ranged from editorial amendments to changing the intent and coherence of the existing text.
With a 303 to 667 vote, voting members defeated an amendment to replace a section of the social statement about "lifelong monogamous same-gender relationships" -- a section that identifies the issues within the denomination about homosexuality, describing a range of widely articulated views. The proposed replacement language reflected the position of some in the church that believe the "practice of homosexual erotic behavior as contrary to God's intent."
The ad hoc committee recommended that the amendment not be adopted, since the position articulated implies "a consensus that no longer exists."
After considering 6 of the 13 amendments, voting members moved to accept the recommendations of the ad hoc committee on all other amendments and moved to consider the adoption of the social statement.
Speaking in favor of adoption of the statement, the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, bishop of the ELCA Northeastern Ohio Synod, said she hopes the assembly does not become "so narrowly focused on the issue of homosexual sexual behavior that we missed the point that we're speaking a clear word that needs to be heard by our culture," particularly on topics about co-habitation outside of marriage, sex as a commodity, child pornography and more. She said the church has high expectations for all Lutherans, especially for ELCA professional leaders.
Speaking in opposition, voting member Curtis Sorbo, ELCA Eastern North Dakota Synod, said the social statement "should be a teaching tool. I don't think that it is. Instead we have descriptions of different sexual relationships that we are asked to accept by bound conscience," he said. "We are asked to affirm a description of sexuality in today's culture because of a new reality. Our church needs to address this issue based on the authority of the word of God, not a description of public opinion and personal desires."
"We took some risks in the writing of this in ways that we thought were appropriate for these times," the Rev. Peter Strommen said in a news conference following the plenary.
The statement was structured from a standpoint of "love of the neighbor and trust," he said.
Strommen served as chair of the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality, which developed the social statement under the directive of the 2001 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.
In response to the vote on the statement's adoption Strommen said, "I doubt very much that I've ever been present at an election with that many votes cast coming out exactly two-thirds. Quite stunning," he said. "We're naturally very glad that it passed."
"I am very proud of this church," the Rev. Rebecca S. Larson, executive director, ELCA Church in Society, said at the news conference. "It is a time of diminished joy," she said. "We know there is suffering all around on this issue."

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Lutherans Prepare for Big Decision on Gay Clergy

In case you haven't been keeping up with the news regarding the ELCA's upcoming churchwide assembly (convention), especially regarding the issue of the full inclusion of openly practicing gay clergy, make sure to read this Associated Press article from Friday. You can find it at YAHOO! News. Note how many of the local "synods" (equivalent to districts in other Lutheran groups) have already called for their inclusion. The implications of this convention are huge even for those of us outside this denomination.

You should also take a look at the ELCA News Service article posted on August 13 entitled "ELCA Clergy Support Gay, Lesbian Rights, Ordination, Survey Says." The article begins: "Results of a national survey show that a majority of clergy of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) -- 54 percent -- support ordination 'with no special requirements' for people who are gay or lesbian, according to an Aug. 5 news release." Of course, one should note that this is the opinion of the "clergy," and not the "laity." It would be interesting to see how representative they are of their own flocks.

Depending on how this convention turn out, which is meeting this coming week, there would be a significant realignment of Lutherans in this country as many ELCA parishes finally say "enough is enough." But we will have to wait and see how this story unfolds.

U.S. Viewed Geographically According to Denomination

Ever wonder what the U.S. looks like county-by-county according to denominational representation? If so, go here to see a larger version of the map to the right. One better appreciates the influence of the ELCA as a 'Lutheran presence' in the country after seeing this map. In a small way it helps in explaining why we cannot avoid dealing with ELCA matters and relationships on a fellowship level even in isolated rural areas like mine. The ELCA predominates in the northern fringe of the country. This also explains when journalists refer to 'Lutherans' they are often thinking about the ELCA. They outnumber the LCMS two-to-one.

Include here, as well, is an additional map of the geographical representation of just the ELCA in the U.S. If you wish to view a larger version of this go here.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Heresy, Heterodox, Schismatic, Apostasy - Where did all the old designations go?

The previous post and a recent comment caused me to think about the way the Christian church once viewed itself and those outside of it. Reflecting on the "close communion" debate also made me contemplate how far we have come from the time when we really cared about what the church taught. A line in a Wikipedia article on "heresy" gives a sense of the times: "The use of the term 'heresy' in the context of Christianity is less common today..." I suspect the same could be said as well for other old terms such as "heterodox" and "schismatic" that attempted to describe when a person or group strayed from the accepted biblical and historic boundaries that defined the Church as Christian. I found it interesting that in a Google search of "heterodox" the word "economics" was associated with the word most frequently in the first group of hits. This used to be just a church word. How far we have come.

WordNet's definition of heterodoxy, which is used in the Wikipedia article by the same title, defines the word as: "any opinions or doctrines at variance with an official or orthodox position". Isn't it interesting how "opinion" and "doctrine" can be placed side-by-side with equal authority? That, in itself, shows the heart of our problem today. Since many can not and will not accept a common definition of what "orthodox" is, let alone the truthfulness of the Scriptures, we are left to a pool of competing 'opinions,' each held to be as legitimate as the next. Because we cannot possibly reconcile so many competing views in any cohesive whole, we then must adopt the position that each opinion is sacrosanct in itself. Questioning the truthfulness of it is then viewed as rude, insensitive, and arogant.

Now outside of faith and religion the concepts of heresy and heterodoxy are alive and well, especially in the arena of scientific discussion of the origin of the universe and life. Yesterday I picked up the book Uncommon Dissent - Intellectuals Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing, edited by William A. Dembrski. In his introduction Dembrski notes that "many of Darwin's contemporary disciples have turned stifling dissent into an art form...doubts [about Darwinsim] must be disqualified and repressed." Anyone who has tangled with those who enthusiastically embrace evolutionary theories quickly discover that such theories are held to be orthodox and unquestionable truth, even on the level of the other 'hard sciences' such as physics. Intelligent Design is easily dismissed as outside the realm of true science and merely a convenient cover for Creationism, and thus one more inroad of religion into the realm of science. Well, I digress a bit. My point was supposed to be primarily in the realm of faith....

As the old fenses of the past continue to be disassembled and laid quietly to the side to allow all herds and flocks to intermingle indiscriminately on holy ground, a discussion such as this will be seen as so much shouting in the wind. At least in some areas....

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Pastoral Authority

Apparently the topic of pastoral authority remains a lively topic of discussion out there. Doing a Google search of the words in the title within quotation marks I secured 60,800 hits. I then added the word Lutheran outside the quotation marks and still got 8,720 hits. I further added LCMS to the list and received 358 hits. Using the word "Lutheran Church Missouri Synod" only raised it to 396 hits. Interestingly enough, Dr. Mary Todd's book Authority Vested was the first listed in that last search.

Having served as a pastor for over 20 years I have seen a variety of reactions to pastoral authority. Some view the Office quite highly, deferring to the pastor on any and all questions pertaining to the church. Others approach the issue from the opposite side of the spectrum, challenging anything and everything the pastor says. Certainly those who hold this office have at time abused its authority and claimed power outside the boundaries of the Call and should be challenged. They rule their parishes with the iron fist of a little dictator. To the other extreme we have those who are glorified door mats over which all walk indiscriminately without any thought of his presence. Disrespect to the man brings disrespect to the Office and thus to God Himself.

I suspect that the majority of average Lutheran parishes fall somewhere in the middle as with most things. My experience itself falls in that in-between zone. It has never been my practice to 'demand' respect, since those who don't have it certainly cannot be forced. Sometimes people become conflicted between the man occupying the Office and the Office itself. They dispise the man so much they cannot bring themselves to respect him despite the Office. One sees this a lot with people in political office as well. In times past we used to tell our children that even if they didn't 'like' the person they had to respect the office that person held and act accordingly.

A dilemma, though, presents itself in the actual practice of using pastoral authority. For example, at what point does a pastor firmly assert his authority, especially in a public meeting? And how does he assert that authority? Of course, the only authority a pastor has is the authority of the Word of God. If God speaks clearly in His Word, His people must listen and heed. Yet what about those times when God's people are at odds over the interpretation of that Word, each side passionately insisting that their point is the Truth? When debate gets overly emotional and the pastor's authority is questioned and the Office is not respected, should a pastor himself suspend the meeting and quietly leave until another time can be scheduled when the 'climate' has cooled enough for more rational discussion? Surely allowing an argumentative atmosphere to develop in a public meeting is never healthy, and is never productive.

In our society today authority of any type seems at a low point once again. Every man is his own expert, and every man is his own authority. Individualism trumpts community. Such is the cultural terrain we must travel even on the holy ground of God's Temple.

Any thoughts or insights out there?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Evangelism vs. Ecumenism in the ELCA

While many still wonder about the seriousness of differences between the two largest Lutheran denominations in the U.S., reading just a little of what comes out of the ELCA would certainly aid in answering this important question. Interreligious involvement forms the center focus of the August issue of The Lutheran, the ELCA’s official monthly magazine, demonstrating how far this Lutheran church body has drifted from its Christian moorings. While the LCMS has attempted for years to keep mission work to the unbelieving at the center of its global efforts, the ELCA, instead, seems to prefer to remain relatively silent on the imperative to preach the Gospel to those who are without Christ. Its preference, instead, remains to further cooperation between all religious groups, concentrating on themes of fairness, justice, and economic equality, while carefully avoiding any implication of the void that comes without Christ.

The Rev. Dr. William Lesher, retired president of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, in a sidebar article commenting on the Parliament of World’s Religions, with which he now works, demonstrates this emphasis when he remarks that “Our biggest challenge in the world today is ignorance of each other’s faith - certainly our ignorance of what others really believe and equally of what they believe about us.” He is convinced, according to the article, that “there can be no peace on earth until there is peace among the world’s faith communities.”

Certainly understanding among those of different faiths and cultures goes a long way to encouraging open communication and peaceful coexistence. Hopefully no reasonable person would dispute the need for understanding for the sake of avoiding hateful violence and bigoted retribution. Furthermore, many in the Christian community at large recognize the divine mandate to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and shelter the exposed. They also recognize the need at times to join resources and efforts.

Still, if one were to listen to the voices in the ELCA today, one could imagine Jesus himself avoiding any language that required absolute allegiance to Him and His Word (as in “No one comes to the Father, but by me,” or “I am THE Way, THE Truth….”) in the effort to ‘build bridges of understanding’ with the Pharisees and High Priests who tried to silence him. The Savior would have engaged in more of a ‘dialogue’ style of discourse seeking to increase awareness of his points, while respecting the contrary beliefs without any condemnation. For sure his rhetoric would have been ratcheted down several notches, and he would by no means have resorted to the kind of needless violence witnessed in the Temple that day. Finally, would Jesus not have tried to reach out to his opponents with the invitation to join Him in an interfaith team to feed the hungry and clothe the poor while they discussed finer points of theological difference in a more peaceful way? My goodness, He was so ‘black and white’ about his claims!

Toward the end of the article the author mentions a chaplain in Iraq who called looking for resources “to help him inform the soldiers in his care about Muslim beliefs and practices.” “He was looking to obviate misunderstanding and increase respect through awareness, and he evidently understood his search as core to his faith.” Now it is commendable for a person to help others increase respect for those different than themself. However, does one need to educate people on Muslim faith to accomplish this? Is the Christian Gospel inadequate to teach people the need to “love thy neighbor” even if they do not understand the differences of those they meet? Beyond this, did this chaplain carefully avoid any mention of the call in the Koran for retribution against those who disagree with Allah, or of its attitude toward the Christians and the Jews? Did he ‘sanitize’ the theology of Islam to be politically correct and make sure to eliminate any implication of violence in their sacred writings? How did he explain those Muslims who feel a holy call to kill and destroy in the name of Allah? Are they not sincere believers who require understanding as well? Beyond this, did he avoid any need to point out that those who die without Christ die eternally? Or is this only something that would increase misunderstanding?

My fear is that the mission to preach Christ is slowly and methodically being snuffed out in the ELCA in favor of the more preferable ecumenical dialogue. Perhaps they have already arrived at this point. Based on The Lutheran, it appears they are certainly not far away.