Skip to comments.(Another) Chilstrom Open Letter
Posted on 07/30/2009 6:47:44 PM PDT by lightman
Maybe you don't care what former bishop Herb Chilstrom thinks. Maybe you think he keeps saying things when he should gracefully keep his mouth shut. But he does keep making his opinion known, and he does have some kind of following I suppose. The following letter was directed to a dozen or so people who signed the CORE open letter (not to me; guess my name "didn't surprise him" Grin ), but it is circulating around the church. Thought maybe you'd like a chance to reflect on it. I'm omitting the names of the persons to whom he actually directed it (several of them, however, are retired bishops of one sort or another).
HERBERT W CHILSTROM 1211 Pine Pointe Curve St. Peter, MN 56082
An Open Letter Response to the CORE Open Letter
When a friend sent a copy of the Coalition for Reform (CORE) Open Letter I was not surprised to see many of the signatories. A few, however, caught my attention those of you to whom I am sending my own open letter response.
Id like to share my perspective on the fundamental issues that are raised in the CORE Letter and invite you -- if you wish -- to reply. Im open to seeing things from a perspective that may not have occurred to me.
The CORE Letter focuses on five basic issues that touch on far more than human sexuality. They are:
How we use the Bible in dealing with complex social issues; How a church body makes decisions on divisive questions; How those decisions impact our relationship with other Christian churches; How we maintain honest rosters of ordained ministers; How church membership is affected by decisions we make.
First, the biblical issue. Critical in this area is consistency. I find major problems with the CORE Letter when it speaks about the Word of God. At best, this section is confusing; at worst, misleading. What is meant by Word of God? Jesus Christ, the living Word? The Bible, the written Word? Preaching and witness, the spoken Word? What did you understand Word of God to mean when you signed the letter?
When our church was born the constitutional language regarding Word of God was hammered out very carefully. The framers made certain to avoid any confusion between our various understandings of that term.
It was those important distinctions that helped me in my own wrestling with the sexuality questions. Like you, I knew that our decision to ordain woman and retain some divorced pastors on our rosters were not decided exclusively on the basis of a few biblical texts or our long-standing tradition in either area. We believed there were deeper streams in the Holy Scriptures that we needed to listen to. Furthermore, plain reason and our experience with the work of some women and some divorced pastors led us to include both on our rosters.
When I came to sexuality issues, I knew that I could not employ a method that differed from what I had used to deal with those two issues. When I saw the kinds of ministry being done by gay and lesbian persons, including those in faithful relationships, my reason and experience convinced me that I must change my stance.
Some of you, like Corinne and me, may use For All the Saints for your daily devotional readings. Edited by Frederick Schumacher, a signatory with you of the CORE Letter, the book has been our companion for many years. On Tuesday of Pentecost 6 there is an insightful reading from Gerhard Ebeling. one must allow the individual passage off Scripture to say what it says, writes Ebeling, but one cannot simply assert that it is the Word of God. For the Word of God is solely that which proclaims and communicates the will of God as revealed in the crucified Christ.
So we have to ask as we did with the role of women and the place of divorced persons -- if a collection of a few verses is the last word. Or is Christ saying something different to us at this moment in the history of the church?
Carl Braaten anotherr signatory of the CORE Letter has also been helpful to me. He poinnts out the important distinction between the canon of the Bible every chapteer and verse and the canon within the canon the essential message that points to Jesus Christ at its heart. In Christian Dogmatics he writes:
The ultimate authority of Christian dogmatics is not the biblical canon as such, but the gospel of Jesus Christ to which the Scriptures bear witness the canon within the canon. Jesus Christ himself is the Lord of the Scriptures, the source and scope of its authority. (Vol. 1, p. 64)
Failure to pay attention to this important distinction, writes Braaten,
finnally triumphed and today survives in Protestant fundamentalism. The canon which was open and flexible in Luthers thinking became closed and rigid (Ibid.)
Here again one must ask, After all those years of certainty that neither Scripture nor tradition allows us to ordain women or retain divorced clergy on the roster, can we change our mind? We did. And who wants to turn back the clock on those decisions?
From this perspective, I dont believe it is as radical as some would have us believe, that we should change our minds about the ordination of gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in Christ in faithful relationships.
Second, what majority is needed on issues that are divisive? You are calling for 2/3. But if you are as deeply convinced that the church is headed in the wrong direction if it approves the Statement and Recommendation, is it not for you an unacceptable outcome if the vote is 2/3 plus one? Or even 90% plus one? And why does 2/3 plus one make us more certain the Holy Spirit is guiding us?
Third, Im guessing, given the deep commitment all of us have to ecumenism, that this may be a major reason for many of you to oppose the Statement and Recommendation. I must ask: Do you favor (and did you possibly even once vote for) the ordination of women? If so, why? Do you not realize that it was the first nail in the coffin of further ecumenical progress with certain churches? Do you therefore regret our decision to ordain women? Would you support revisiting that decision in order to foster better ties with the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches?
As you must know, neither of those churches has yielded one iota on this important issue. If anything, their stance has hardened. How long are we going to live with the illusion that Vatican II is alive and well in Roman Catholicism? Bishops removed from office because of their resistance to Vatican II have been reinstated. In spite of our agreement on justification, the practice of permitting indulgences to shorten time in purgatory has been restored in some parishes, with no objection from the Vatican. And now in recent weeks we have learned that the Vatican has launched an investigation of American nuns, probing three areas: their failure to promote a male-only priesthood, their reluctance to teach that membership in the Roman Catholic Church is the means to salvation, and their stances on homosexuality. Should we hold up ecumenical relationships as a reason to back away from a vigorous discussion and decision on the justice of giving full rights to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in Christ?
Like you, I am troubled by the prospect that a favorable decision could seriously disrupt our communion with sister churches in the Lutheran World Federation. I have been to these churches. I know what a price some pay to remain faithful. But I also know that in the end they know, as we do, that we are held together by something more fundamental than either their or our stance on a given social issue. I fully expect that after some initial pain, we will continue to be in solid unity with them.
Fourth, the CORE piece worries about a double roster, gay and straight. I fail to see the issue. We have always had multiple rosters if differences are taken into account. In the early years after the ordination of women I was a synod bishop. Though we tried to deny it, we surely had at least two rosters male and female. Congregations were keenly aware of the distinction. At times they rejected excellent candidates for no other reason than that they were women. The same could be said for other distinctions: Black and Caucasian; Hispanic and non-Hispanic. Go back far enough and there were congregations where believe it or not --- just being a Norwegian or a Swede put one into a separate category! Yet, in spite of those multiple lists we never forced a congregation to call someone it did not vote to call. It will be no different if we agree to ordain persons in same-gender relationships. It will still be, as it has always been, local option.
Fifth, there is the numbers game. Pointing to the Episcopal Church and the United Church of Christ just doesnt work. In spite of their resistance to change on the gay/lesbian issue, the Presbyterians and Methodists have also lost many members. If the Lutheran Church Missouri Synood and other conservative churches were growing as we shrink in size, one might believe that there is a direct link between declining membership and our stance on an issue like this. I dont believe it. At our church here in St. Peter, Minn only the second congregation in Minnesota outside the Twin Cities to become a Reconciled in Christ (RIC) church we lost two families from a conngregation of well over 1,100. Both joined another ELCA congregation. Gay and lesbian members, even in this non-metropolitan setting, now feel at ease in our church. It has quickly become a non-issue.
Like you, I work hard to build the membership of our local church. I regularly invite people to come to our church. The results are not encouraging. Much as I would like our ELCA to be a growing church, I have come to believe that the core issue is much deeper. It is rooted in our increasingly diverse and materialistic society.
Let me illustrate. One day I sat down with a blank piece of paper. I started with Corinnes and my parents pious, ordinary and very faithful members of Lutheran congregations. Their children a total of 13 have all been members of Lutheran congregations, with two exceptions, one sister who became Evangelical Covenant and another who became Presbyterian.
It was when I counted the next generation -- our children and our nephews and nieces 34 in number that I was in for a shock. Among these 34 in this generation I found:
10 are members of ELCA churches. 14 are members of denominations ranging from Presbyterian to Southern Baptist to Assemblies of God to Missouri Synod to Roman Catholic to Evangelical Covenant to Free Lutheran to Quaker to independent.
But heres the kicker 10, in spite of having been raised in faithful church-going families -- have no church affiliation whatever. As the wife of one of my unchurched nephews said to me at a wedding a few weeks ago, Were very spiritual. We just dont care for the organized church. Another told me she arrives at her desk a half-hour early every morning so that she can have time to read her Bible and pray. But she has no interest in belonging to a congregation. That makes me very sad. Incredibly sad.
If you asked those in this generation if our stance on homosexuality kept them away or drove them to another denomination they would probably look at you and wonder where youve been in the last couple of decades. For them, given their acquaintance with many respectable and responsible gay and lesbian friends and work associates, its a non-issue.
I hope your family looks different. But I suspect that in most cases it doesnt.
Are we in the ELCA on our way to becoming a minority people in an alien culture? Possibly so. That makes me sad, too. But I also believe that it may be the gateway to becoming a stronger and more spiritual and more just church.
Did you happen to catch Bill Moyers on PBS on July 3rd when he interviewed Serene Jones, president of Union Seminary (NYC), Gary Dorrien, Reinhold Niebuhr professor of social ethics at Union, and Cornel West from Princeton? It was one of the most riveting telecasts Ive seen in years. Their collective opinion is that we in the so-called mainline churches are moving into a time when only a new reformation will save us a reformation that focuses on the offense of the Gospel of the crucifixion and resurrection and advocates unapologetically for justice for the poor and the disenfranchised. I think theyre right on target.
And thats why I strongly favor the Statement on Sexuality and the Recommendation coming to the Assembly.
I pray for its passage. I pray it will be a strong message to the world that we are a church that includes rather than excludes those who love our Jesus as intensely as I do--and as you do. Yes, and a church that welcomes as pastors those whose only difference is that they are gay or lesbian and long for a faithful relationship.
Thanks for your time. Knowing you as I do, I also know that we are one in our prayerful concern for the church we all love.
The Lutheran Core letter to which he refers may be read here:
Be sure also to read:
Way to go ELCA.
Notice how former PBp Chilstrom refuses to acknowledge the existence of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, much less to regret the wedge that his agenda places within North American Lutheranism.
The FIRST ecumenical priority of the ELCA should have been intra-Lutheran unity, not a myriad of “full communion” partnerships with liberal Zwinglian and Calvanist Protestants.
Calvanist = Calvinist
I am very pleased to see one of my former pastors on the CORE letter.
A pathetic apologist for the death of a church synod.
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