Skip to comments.Decision Time for Mainline Lutherans
Posted on 08/02/2005 10:54:57 AM PDT by wallcrawlr
The nation's largest Lutheran denomination will finally speak with a collective voice this month on whether to allow gay and lesbian pastors and on whether same-sex couples may receive rites of blessing. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, whose biennial Churchwide Assembly meets August 8-14 in Orlando, is one of the last mainline church bodies to act on the controversies. Few figure that the ELCA's debates will end in Orlando.
Preconvention estimates are that it is unlikely two-thirds of the 1,000 delegatesthe required margin for approvalwill vote to open pulpits to gay pastors, despite a proposal by ELCA leaders that "exceptions" could be created "for the sake of outreach, ministry and the commitment to continuing dialogue."
A second proposal, which needs only a bare majority to pass, says that ELCA policy should bar blessings for couples in same-sex relationships in keeping with a 1993 pastoral letter from ELCA bishops saying that no basis can be found in scripture for such rites.
However, some conservatives complain that the rest of that resolution could be viewed as permitting informal blessings. The proposal asks members to "trust pastors and congregations to discern ways to provide faithful pastoral care to same-sex couples."
The efforts by ELCA leaders to address gay issues falls short of what legions of Lutherans on the left and right say they expect of the denomination. Traditionalists are looking for policies that clamp down on sporadic, unauthorized ordinations of openly gay clergy. Progressives contend that faithful, nonheterosexual Christians are discriminated against when they are denied full and equal opportunities in the church.
The nearly 5-million-member ELCA, created in 1987 from a three-way church merger, has eluded convention showdowns over homosexuality that have occupied its mainline counterparts for years. The United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have repeatedly declined over decades to allow ordination of noncelibate homosexuals. Gay activists and their supporters in those churches vow not to abandon the fight.
Meanwhile, the more liberal Episcopal Church and United Church of Christ have made some bold changes. Many in those churches put today's churchgoing gays and lesbians in a different category from the people condemned in biblical texts. However, Episcopal traditionalists look to overseas Anglicans for support in resisting the changes, and UCC conservatives find succor in congregational autonomy and "renewal" movements.
The mainline convention disputes over homosexuality typically feature demonstrations or picketing and conservative threats to withhold funds or exit the churchbut also, at times, cordial discussion and prayerful reconciliation.
So what's next for the ELCA?
"Lutherans are traditionally shy, but when push comes to shove they value healthy relationships above all," says the hot-selling Lutheran Handbook, a sometimes whimsical guide published by Augsburg Fortress this year. "Conflict should be viewed as an opportunity to grow, not a contest for domination," advises the handbook, which went into its fifth printing last month.
When the ELCA Task Force on Human Sexuality announced its findings in January, the panel emphasized that it took a "pastoral approach" for the sake of outreach and ongoing dialogue. But the task force was criticized for recommending that the church may "choose to refrain" from punishing congregations for calling as pastors otherwise qualified gay or lesbian candidates.
"It was not well-received," said Stanley Olson, executive director of the ELCA Division for Ministry. "It was perceived as too nebulous."
The approach was recast in April by the 37-member Church Council, which acts as a board of directors between biennial assemblies. The council proposed that instead of withholding disciplinary actions, the church "may permit exceptions to the expectations regarding sexual conduct for gay or lesbian candidates . . . in life-long, committed and faithful same-sex relationships."
The ELCA standard says pastors must be married to someone of the opposite sex or be celibate if single. Under the exception, a premium would be placed on a homosexual minister's "evidence of intent" to live in a faithful partnership.
The ELCA already makes occasional exceptions on ordinations. Normally, a seminary graduate cannot be ordained unless a congregation invites him or her to be a pastor and the minister serves at least three years in pastoral ministry. Exceptions are sometimes made for graduates who have special opportunities in missions, teaching or administration, officials say.
Barbara R. Rossing, associate professor of New Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, said that the "exceptions" route "was a brilliant way to go because I think it claims the middle."
In April, Rossing and faculty colleague Ralph W. Klein coauthored a short statement supporting the task force recommendations and getting 63 signatures from those they called "teaching theologians." The statement, now endorsed by more than 100 signers, said the task force recommendations "represent a much-needed and faithful compromise for this moment in the life of the church."
The Klein-Rossing statement took issue with an earlier statement signed by 17 theologiansincluding Carl E. Braaten, William G. Rusch, William H. Lazareth and Robert W. Jensonwho rejected the task force recommendations on ecclesiastical, pastoral and theological grounds.
The 17 said the task force "advocates a fundamental shift in policy" that would harm the church as "an effective collaborator" with the Lutheran World Federation and would sow "division and disunity at the local level."
One of the 17, Robert Benne of Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia, writing in the July issue of The Lutheran magazine, criticized the recommendation as rewritten by the Church Council.
By allowing exceptions, the proposal "bows to those who believe traditional teaching should be revised," wrote Benne. "It uses the acceptance of divorced and remarried clergy as a parallel to the acceptance of partnered gay clergy . . . a dubious analogy because divorced clergy don't argue that divorce is right and therefore keep divorcing."
Proponents of accepting gays in ministry commonly note that while the churches have found ways to allow divorce and remarriage, despite Jesus' words to the contrary, the same churches resist change on homosexuality, an issue not addressed by Jesus.
Some of the rationale used in April by the Church Council resembled arguments in a joint proposal issued in March by bishops Paul Rogness of St. Paul, Minnesota, and Steven L. Ullestad of Iowa. While there are many in the ELCA, perhaps a majority, who believe homosexual activity is always a sin, the two bishops wrote, there are Lutherans, lay and ordained, "who believe we are at a time in history where we have come to know that homosexuality is a condition, not a choice, but simply a given that is often discovered as a person grows."
To Jeff Johnson, the openly gay pastor of the University Lutheran Chapel at the University of California at Berkeley, "the trajectory of the church is clearly moving in a progressive direction."
His bishop, David G. Mullen, has chosen not to remove at least 13 openly gay, lesbian or bisexual pastors serving in the Sierra Pacific Synod, said Johnson, who cochairs Good Soil, a Lutheran gay alliance. "The current policy of the church really serves no one," Johnson said.
"The progressive wing is frustrated and unsatisfied because the policies intimidate a class of people unjustly," he said. "The conservative wing is frustrated because the policies are inconsistently followed or ignored."
The seven-day assembly in Florida "will decide whether the ELCA fragments in a serious fashion or not," said Roy A. Harrisville III of St. Paul, executive director of the conservative Solid Rock Lutherans group.
"This is our Gene Robinson moment," said Harrisville, referring to turmoil in Anglican churches created in 2003 by the Episcopal Church's approval of the election of a gay man as Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire.
What about it was incorrect?
Have you ever mentioned a doctrine or even a lifestyle rule to a person and had them reply with "Don't put God in a box?". I hate it when people do that. What they are doing is inventing their own Gods when they disregard what the bible says and make God be what they want Him to be.
I'm not even sure I know what it means to not "put God in a box".
It's mostly just a manipulative buzz phrase implying that your God is lesser than the person saying it.
Its something you should ask your Pastor.
We limit the working of God in our lives by what we think He won't do, or by trying too hard to figure out what He will do.
We limit how God can use us in the lives of others.
In our pride, we presume that we can know what God will and will not do.
In our pride, we presume to know exactly what God has in mind.
How you dare to judge the work of the woman preacher that I know is beyond me.
Discrediting Gods work is the height of arrogance and pride.
Thinking that your knowledge of Gods will is greater than what Gods will is doing is legalism beyond comparison. Its a demonstration by you of your ignorance for the Grace of God.
I suggest humbling yourself before God before that box closes.
I cant believe this thread. Its still my contention that we probably agree on 98% of stuff. The attitude here is disgusting towards fellow Christians, obviously me in particular. And if you are a member of the LCMS Roos...well I'll leave my comments offline on that one.
I'm looking fwd to see what you pick and choose to reply on from my post. It says alot about you. Look at yourselves, you come back to this thread just to build yourself up and chastise other believers. Again, its disgusting.
The same way I'd dare to judge Sauls offering to God. Do you even know the reference?
I've never said anything good or bad about the work your pastor is doing. I never said anything good or bad about your church having a female pastor. I don't know if she's doing God's work, I've never MET her. I've never discredited you or her. I simply asked a question regarding a quote you made, and I have yet to get an answer to the question. While you're making accusations, why don't you tell me exactly what I posted that did any of the things you accuse me of?
You can make any comment you like about LCMS, yes I am a member, I find them to have a Biblically based doctrine, and quite frankly, I don't care if you do or don't agree with them, it won't change my membership status. I would however, welcome an honest discussion of doctrine you believe isn't Biblically based and your reasons for believing so.
Other than that, if you don't know the answer to my inquiry regarding your quote, simply say you don't know. If it's just a "feeling" you have, then say so. You don't have to try and lash back at someone because, so far, you're unable to explain. Did I miss something? Did you tell us why you feel comfortable disregarding what the Bible says on the subject?
I'm not really sure how I've managed to build myself up or chastise you in my previous posts. It really was a simple request to explain yourself and why you thought your beliefs were okay.
Hopefully I've sufficiently replied to all your comments so you won't have to make judgements about my character!
When can we hope to see your contribution?
Because we do not condemn all the world thru the Papal decree that anyone who is not subject to the Roman Pontiff. That kinda brings with it a bit of contempt for the arrogance of a man to claim you must be subject to him to receive the gift of salvation Christ freely gives to those who are brought to believe by the Holy Spirit, no?
Check out a Wisconsin Synod church. I think you would be glad you did.
Check out a Wisconsin Synod church. I think you would be glad you did.
Amen to that beautiful prayer.
Thank my good colleague Pr. Sara Gausman and pray for her as she (and other faithful ones) stand in the eye of the hurricane beginning Sunday.
When does the famous vote come down?
It's a lively and intriguing thread over there.
Were you still intending to give it your all at some point? Or, should we be satisfied that, in this case at least, all equals nothing?
As one example, I think Christians who believe women shouldn't vote are very nutty! :-)
Please add me to the Lutheran Ping List. Thanks!!!
I know quite a few Christians -- men and women -- who believe women shouldn't have the vote. Even the women will tell you they believe a good many of the problems we have in our culture can and should be blamed on the 19th Amendment, and that cowardly, self-serving men are ultimately to blame for its passage.
But, since women have the vote, my wife is always eager to vote exactly as I do.