Monday, May 16, 2005

two groups are fighting for sanity: WordAlone and Solid Rock Lutherans. From Solid Rock:

The following letter was sent to Churchwide Assembly Voting Members last week. It is the third letter that they have received from Solid Rock Lutherans. The first letter was sent last September and the second was sent in February of this year. Only through the prayers, hard work, and generous contributions of our supporters can we reach so many people.
Thank you!
Roy Harrisville III

May 4, 2005

Dear (first name),

As a Churchwide Assembly Voting Member you have a responsibility to understand all sides of the issues facing the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and their practical effect upon our church. We write with the hope that you will consider our views - the views of a solid majority of ELCA members - as you decide how to vote on a potentially momentous change in our church's understanding of sexual conduct.

Our organization, Solid Rock Lutherans, is an umbrella group representing the many individuals and groups within the ELCA that uphold our current biblical and confessional standards on sexual conduct and ordination. We believe that the Word of God affirms the union of woman and man in the bonds of marriage and that only those who are guided by this Word should be considered for ordination.

A little while ago, the ELCA Church Council approved three recommendations for consideration in Orlando that would "permit exceptions to the expectations regarding sexual conduct for gay and lesbian candidates [for the ordained ministry]." (We've enclosed copies of these recommendations for your review.) A vote at the Churchwide Assembly in favor of these recommendations would be a vote to polarize the ELCA, belittle marriage, and mislead ourselves about what we are doing.

Granting exceptions to biblical moral standards that have received approval for over 2,000 years would confuse believers and create division. Adoption of these recommendations would split the ELCA into two different moral camps. Most of us are aware of the teaching of Matthew 12:25: "No city or house divided against itself will stand." And yet we're being asked to believe that a church that embraces two diametrically opposing views of sexual behavior will endure.If the Churchwide Assembly voted to pass these recommendations, it would mean that marriage is of no importance when considering a person for ordination in the ELCA. We would be sanctioning common law relationships for homosexuals. But the Church Council did not talk about changing any policies for heterosexuals, which state that "This church is committed to the sanctity of marriage and the enhancement of family life. Ordained ministers of this church, whether married or single, are expected to uphold Christian ideals of marriage in their public ministry as well as in their private life.

Any departure from this normative behavior may be considered conduct incompatible with the character of the ministerial office." (Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline, p. 4) "Ordained ministers, whether married or single, are expected to uphold an understanding of marriage in their public ministry as well as in private life that is biblically informed and consistent with the teachings of this church.

Single ordained ministers are expected to live a chaste life." (Vision and Expectations: Ordained Ministers in the ELCA, III. The Ordained Minister as Person and Example)Unless we completely change these policies and allowed all ordained ministers to live in common law relationships without the benefit of marriage, passage of these ELCA Church Council recommendations would create an unacceptable double standard.

And then there's the matter of misleading information. These recommendations attempt to present this drastic change in policy as a matter of small compromise, going so far as to claim that these recommendations actually "affirm Vision & Expectations (V&E)." This is wrong and misleading. Adopting these recommendations would allow for unlimited exceptions for practicing "partnered" gay clergy and would quickly be followed by unlimited transfers between congregations and synods once they are on the clergy roster. These recommendations do not affirm V&E; they overturn the policies that are quoted above.

What was most troubling to us was the manner in which the Church Council debated this issue. We were in the room during the two and a half days that our ELCA Church Council debated what recommendations to put forward to the Assembly on this topic. Not once did the Council discuss maintaining the current standards. Not once did any council member ask the question, "Is there biblical justification for such a change?" No biblical or theological justification is being made for such a drastic change in church doctrine - and there certainly isn't one in the language of the recommendations you now have in front of you. There are many references in this debate to studies of the Bible ("Journey Together Faithfully: Part Two" for example), but only silence as to what those studies reveal. That's because no one can find any biblical support for this change.

Do not let a small group of people who are out of touch with the church polarize the ELCA, belittle marriage, and then tell us that none of this is really happening. We believe that we can compassionately minister to those with alternative sexual lifestyles with no changes to our current polices and practices. We pray that you believe this too.

In faith,
Rev. Roy A. Harrisville III, Ph.D.
Executive Director

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