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.
An Evangelical Orthodox Lutheran is in no way "mainline", thank God!! However, given that the vast majority of Christians are in the orthodox catholic tradition, he or she is very much mainstream!
As I said before, I will spend the Sundays during the CWA with my Orthodox brothers and sisters, celebrating the Transfiguration and the Dormition. But I will pray for the ELCA.
It seems like those churches having the word "Bible" in their names have pretty much avoided the affliction. (This is where I'm tempted to say, "Go figure." ;)
I will repeat a posting I offered yesterday on a similar thread, as We are all deeply concerned about what may happen later this week in Orlando. To that end, one of the fine orthodox clergy Voting Members from my Synod has composed some prayers for use during these eight days of distress.
I strongly urge all who are concerned to "tithe" their rhetoric (FR and otherwise) and offer no less than 10$ of it heavenward in the days ahead:
God of grace and glory whose compassion led to the cross and the grave we pray that you would keep our eyes focused on you. By the power of your Holy Spirit fill us with humility so that we would only seek your will and not our own. Fill us with hope as we remember your triumph over sin and death and as we look forward to your final victory over suffering and evil. Lord, in your mercy....hear our prayer.
Almighty and ever living God, the wisdom of the ages lays at your command. Stir up your power and come to us that we would draw on the insight of your Word for the decisions that we make. Help us to speak the truth in love and to be on our guard against the deceivers of this world. Give us the courage and energy it takes to stand up when we are called on to be servants of your Word. Lord, in your mercy....hear our prayer.
Holy God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in you we live and move and have our being. You know what we need even before we ask, help us to walk in your ways and to lead others to the truth. Bless our leaders with wisdom and give all decision makers clarity of thought. Help us to trust in you for you live and reign one God through all ages. Lord, in your mercy....hear our prayer.
Precious Savior, you hearkened the little children to come unto you. Continue to make our congregations safe havens for children that what we teach may bring strength and direction to their lives. Bless parents and educators and all those who work with children that they may not grow weary in doing what is right but may be lifted up to be examples of righteousness and holiness for the sake of your holy name. Lord, in your mercy....hear our prayer.
Patient God, we thank you for your forgiveness and the new life that you bring. Transform our lives this day. Make us more ready to forgive and to give. Encourage husbands and wives to remain faithful to their wedding vows and to live lives of commitment and service. Lord, in your mercy....hear our prayer.
Eternal God, your wisdom spans the generations and brings stability to a changing world. Keep us steadfast in your unchanging love and bind us together with your holy Word. Bless the family dear God, that as we deal with the constant demands of this world we would not succumb to competing priorities but be diligent in our calling as your children marked by your cross in Holy Baptism. Make our lights shine before others and give glory to you Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.
Rev. Sara Gausmann, Co-pastor Saint Paul Lutheran Church,York.
Thanks for the ping, Tony. My son's health has kept me from doing much at church lately, so I really appreciate being kept informed about what the ELCA is up to.
As much as Sodomy is condemned in both Old and New Testaments, I really have trouble understanding how anyone can claim to practice the faith taught in the Bible and support such activity at the same time.
"Interesting. Is someone trying to push for a lassie fair attitude in regards to sexual morality?"
That's how it came across to me, but with a dash of clergy being considered teflon coated, i.e. untouchable by the laity. I repeat, this was patristic material, not scholastic.
"I...have yet to run across any thing that 'borders on permitting promiscuity' ".
I was quite surprised by what I read.
The situation today is no different from when Israel was told to "choose this whom you shall serve"...the sexgod Ba'al or the Lord.
For whatever reason, the Orthodox churches seem to be blissfully immune to the machinations of the gaysbians and feminazis, even though there are miscreants (i.e, the "gay" group "Axios") who are trying to undermine them. Even Roman Catholics have feminazi "theologians", as well as numerous priests who call for open "gay" ordination. But not, apparently, the Orthodox. It's so refreshing to go to my Serbian Orthodox congregation and not to have to deal with this garbage at all!!!!
###"Since they've been ordaining female pastors for so many years"###
Sorry to say that our Pro Life organization has had the most resistance from these "pastors"
A church bearing St. Paul's name has a female co-pastor. Gotta love the irony.
Ironic, especially since she and her co-pastor husband are among the staunchest traditionlists in the region. She and their daughter will be Voting Members in Orlando.
Wow. Staunch traditionalists?! She and their daughter, voting members?! The irony is immeasurably thicker than I could have possibly imagined.
I'm going to throw a bunch of questions at you. It is not meant to be personal...I am just an extremely confused former ELCA member that shakes my head in disgust at what this ELCA denomination has become. If I had the chance to ask your pastors these questions I would.
What have you been doing...why are you waiting for them to "decide"? What vested interest do you have in the ELCA? Are you not concerned with Gods judgement on man? Do you actively preach against the wishy-washy leadership? How many sheep have ben lead astray by shepards that themselves dont know which direction they walk? Are you one of those God is love pastors that likes to not condemn? What is your plan when the ELCA does not do what the Bible states so clearly? Are you ready to leave the ELCA? How much of your monthly benevolance checks to the "mother office" have been spent on the homo agenda? Who can you trust thats presently in leadership of the ELCA to do the right thing?
Ok, thats enough...I had to get it out.
If it gets more progressive, it will be considerably smaller by members and congregations.!
Let's not drag Harry into this! It is Lutheranism or Fistingism!
I would absolutely prefer to have a man lead...as the Bible states...but I will settle for whats practical and by what the pastor says and does rather than if she's wearing a skirt.
You would urinate on the very heads of those who would push you up and rescue you from the flood!
And if Saul wants to make a burnt offering to God all by himself. Well that's ok too. Who is to say Saul's worship and offering aren't OK with God? What, is Saul an lesser person or something that he can't make a burnt offering to God? /sarcasm off/
Uh, would you care to elaborate on that a bit? For instance, who do you see as rescuing me, and from what flood?
It is lost on you. Your antipithy for Lady Pastors is what I was referring to.