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.
True, but it is rather interesting how it seems that there are similar attacks across the board.
Therefore, you honestly concluded that I might regard women and homos as "equals." Wow. It still seems like a wildly crass conclusion.
Also, that is not sarcasm and that is not condescending.
Therefore, when you said, "I'm fully aware that I may burn in hell for believing what I do," you really meant it. Double wow. I have zero doubt and 100% surety that I'm going to heaven. Of course, that also comes right out of the Bible, which I believe to be the inerrant Word of God. If it's not, I'm in deep doo-doo.
Sola Fide - Sola Gratia - Sola Scriptura
And second back to the mainpoint:
The Spirit prob doesnt convict me on many things that it does with you. Come on...you must know Romans 14.
Again, you need to stop with this gay linking...you continue to insert that crap into my "views". It is extremely inaccurate to assume so much and make that leap. It is actually offensive to me that you would even try.
I cant believe I need to state this.
gays can be in the church, I'd suggest they remain celibate
gay pastors are a no no
pastors should not be divorced, elders should not be divorced either. if they are then I'll have to review the situation
the abortion one...you got to be kidding me that you'd even ask it.
Christians should know why they are saved, I hope they can learn to have a respectful/honoring fear of the Lord. The Lord knows we need it. Until Christians understand why they are saved and recognize God judgement over their lives and appreciate the sacrifice shed for them....well, I fear that the road is even more narrow than we realize.
I posed a question because I wasn't sure it was ELCA. May be PCUSA instead. But one of the liberal mainline denominations has been criticized for including abortion coverage in employees' insurance policies, and I was wondering if this was the one.
Like polymuser said.
I got to end this with you newg.
You came at me out of nowhere with this stuff and its not edifying. I can handle criticism but I will not accept being beaten over the head with your interpretation of scripture on this point.
I have the feeling we are in complete agreement with 98% of stuff. 1% this girl issue and maybe 1% a baptism issue. We should leave with that.
People are different, Christians are different.
ok, Ill look into that because I certainly want clarity on that issue.
I responded to you before I had read the rest of the thread. Now I see that polymuser cited the information about the insurance policies in post #50, and (amazingly) my memory was correct.
Well hmmmm. Our family is Eastern Orthodox and there are other Orthodox families in our troop. We have a great relationship with the Lutherans, who are awesome Christians. I don't know much about Episcopalians - do you? - but we surely have come to love the Lutherans in our troop.
It's going to be great to have them home again.
I think this is where our ethnic flavor has been a plus.
What denomination is it? ELCA, LCMS, WELS, ELS, other? BIG differences between them. A little background at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lutheran
oh yeah...I see that now.
And you know what...after reading about that now I remember hearing about it back then.
To even "examine the implications" as that report stated is disgusting to me.
"You may see homos and women as equal but I don't."
True. Being a woman is obviously not a sin, but living in a sexually active gay relationship is a sin.
However, there is a nexus between the two issues. Like gay sex, the ordination of women is Bibilically forbidden, both explicitly and implicitly. And like gay sex, women's ordination works to undermine the presupposition that God created two equal, but differing, sexes with different roles.
I know that there are women pastors in the mainline denominations who have opposed gay lib theology. However, if you look at the recent history of the mainline Protestant denominations, it is those which have ordained women which now have organized movements promoting gay ordination, pantheism, etc. This is not just a coincidence. The denominations which have been orthodox enough to reject women's ordination (the Southern Baptists, Wisconsin and Missouri Synod Lutherans, the PCA, etc) do not have internal gay or pantheistic movements.
How come the Orthodox get a free pass all the time? Almost everything that the liberal press like the Boston Globe here complains about in the Catholic Church nearly every day is also present in the Orthodox Church, but they don't get the constant bad press and hate-filled invective the Catholics do. If the press were consistent, they would criticize the Orthodox as much as the Catholics on the same social issues.
Yep, thats what I see too. Most churchs that accept woman pastors are liberal. Cant disagree with you at all.
But then I think...is that the fault of the woman or the church.
You see, I am not going to discredit the good women that Ive had experience with. To me its not an easy blanket judgement. Yes, I know what scripture says but I can not condemn the work Ive seen done. Its not just a girl thing to me. Maybe God will condem my friends and the work they do...but I wont.
So like my earlier post to my buddie newg, to continue "beating me over the head" with it will not work. The Spirit has not convicted me on what Ive seen. Not all women pastors are "Bad".
My interpretation? The Scriptures clearly say what they say; there is no "interpretation" necessary. You previously so much as implied that the Bible says women should not be in the position of church leadership. So, you must admit that I'm not "interpreting" anything. Doesn't it really come down to whether we believe what it says? If so, please don't presume to be taking the high road when you go off and hide behind that "your interpretation" stuff when it's clearly not a matter of interpretation. Don't point that finger at me.
People are different, Christians are different.
The Bible is the same. Does it or should it say something different to our culture and our time than it did when it was first written? Have we evolved sufficiently as a culture to render certain portions of God's Word invalid?
I guess the real, basic issue here is what you think of the Bible, how it came to be here. If you do not believe that God Himself exercises sovereign responsibility for every detail, you must instead believe that it is subject to the errors of fallible men. If so, you're right in saying there is no point to taking this discussion any further.
Because, if the Bible is anything but the complete and inerrant Word of God, we have nothing but our own "interpretations" on which to base our beliefs, and we might as well be arguing about how many angels fit on the head of a pin or how many miles to go between oil changes.
FYI, the reason I left the ELCA church less than a year after becoming a believer (no thanks to that group, btw) is that it became crystal clear that the ELCA church regards the Bible as an outdated relic more suited to another culture and another time; some parts -- e.g. women being different from (but nonetheless equal to) men -- just don't apply to us today. Don't like it? No problem; simply call it "cultural" and leave it behind. When an ordained, female minister presumed to change the liturgy by editing out every reference to God's gender, I took it as a sign that I was in the wrong place.
Admittedly, I have made the mistake in the past of assuming every professing, born-again Christian believes the Bible is complete and inerrant and entirely under God's sovereignty. It is rare that I find one who doesn't. If I was wrong to make the assumption with you today, I admit the mistake and I apologize. Rest assured, I will endeavor in the future to lay that groundwork before presuming to argue Biblical points with a believer.