Sunday, July 31, 2005

"Opposition to ELCA Proposals
Since the release of the church council report, many ELCA members have been vocal in their opposition to the three recommendations. Almost all of the objections spring from a sense of the subterfuge in the recommendations. A few of the more militant pro-homosex advocates have complained that the recommendations leave the church's traditional teachings on paper, thus denying Lutheran homosexuals the full "equality" that they seek. The ambiguous language gives no guarantee that a person "coming out" as a practicing homosexual would be protected from church discipline.

Far more complaints, however, have come from the more orthodox, traditionalist side of the denomination. Dr. Robert Benne, professor of religion and philosophy at Roanoke College (an ELCA institution) and director of the Center for Religion and Society, challenges the value of the Recommendation #1, saying, "A church that stands on Biblical and confessional authority cannot maintain its identity and mission with two opposing views on an issue of such importance."

Pastor Jaynan Clark England, president of the WordAlone network, shares Dr. Benne's concern. "When unity becomes the trump card at every table," she says, "then we 'fold' on the truth and idolatry becomes the name of the game."

Objections to Recommendation #2 focus on its ambiguity. While the 1993 bishops' statement on its face would appear to oppose the blessing of same-sex unions, many persons have interpreted the third sentence of the statement (the expression of "trust" in those "explor[ing] the best ways to provide pastoral care" to homosexuals) in a way that allows them to perform same-sex blessings-usually without any repercussions-as a means of "pastoral care."

The second recommendation further obfuscates any clear meaning of the original 1993 statement when it resolves to "trust pastors and congregations to discern ways to provide faithful pastoral care to same-sex couples." Critics claim that the ambiguity is intentional, allowing the proposal to appeal to supporters of the current standards, while providing proponents of same-sex unions the latitude to perform such ceremonies.

The most critical responses have been directed at Recommendation #3. Opponents have expressed concern that these "exceptional ordinations" will prove to be anything but exceptional. "Once the ELCA provides for this process, few bishops are likely to resist pastors and congregations who request such ordinations," says Benne. By creating the machinery to acknowledge "exceptional ordinations," say critics, the ELCA would implicitly be endorsing the process. The ultimate result would be to make such ordinations commonplace, not "exceptional."

A coalition of Lutheran reform groups named Solid Rock Lutherans has expressed opposition to the three recommendations. It plans to be present at the upcoming Churchwide Assembly in an attempt to defeat them.

"Solid Rock Lutherans is trying to accomplish several important goals," says the Rev. Roy A. Harrisville III, executive director of the organization. "One goal is to establish a national media presence. This vote in Orlando is a critical vote, not just for ELCA Lutherans, but for the Christian church as a whole."

"We also want to establish clearly what is going on," Harrisville adds. "The three recommendations from the Church Council are masterpieces of obfuscation. None of them really means what it says. Recommendation #3, for example, claims that it is continuing 'Vision and Expectations,' when in fact it is completely overturning it. It is important that we help voting members see through this smokescreen. Similarly, Recommendation #2 sounds as if it intends to continue the Conference of Bishops position against the blessing of same-sex unions, when it is actually designed to achieve the opposite. In fact, Recommendation #2 provides complete and total 'Local Option' for the blessing of same-sex unions by any pastor or congregation that wants to."

Prospects for Change
Historically speaking, Churchwide Assemblies are difficult to predict. The ELCA makes a concerted effort to refer to those voting at the assembly as "voting members," rather than "delegates." The implication is that the "voting members" may feel free to vote however they see fit, unfettered by the positions or opinions of their various synods. Because of this factor, it is hard to anticipate voting outcomes.

Insofar as the individual synod assemblies can be used as a barometer, however, opponents of the three recommendations can feel somewhat optimistic. Recommendation #3, which requires a two-thirds majority for passage, fared poorly in many of the synod assemblies. Among the 65 synods in the ELCA, 25 are known to have rejected the recommendation, while only 16 endorsed it. (Many synods took no position.) Of those 16 synods endorsing the recommendation, many failed to do so by the two-thirds majority that would be required to pass it at the Churchwide Assembly.

Another source of encouragement for opponents of the proposed changes can be found in the report of the sexuality task force itself. Nearly 22,000 church members returned a response form included in Journey Together Faithfully, Part Two, a study guide produced by the task force early in 2004. From that number, a representative sample of 4,000 was extracted. Among that number, those supporting the current standards against same-sex unions and ordination of practicing homosexuals outnumbered those wishing to change the standards by greater than a two-to-one margin. Only 23.2 percent favored a new denomination-wide policy that would confer blessings upon same-sex unions and ordination upon active, unrepentant homosexuals. A demographic breakdown of the respondents indicated that virtually all age groups and geographic regions favored maintaining the current ELCA standards.

The additional comments tendered by respondents were also telling. A full 12.7 percent of responses included the comment "homosexuality is a sin." The second-most-common comment (7.4 percent of respondents) stated, "If blessing and/or rostering [ordination] is approved, the ELCA will be divided." The third-most-common response (4.0 percent) said, "If blessing and/or rostering is approved, I will transfer my membership from the ELCA." The only recorded comment explicitly in favor of changing the standards ("the majority of the church wishes to have blessing and rostering changed") registered a mere 0.1 percent.

"The leadership of the ELCA has demonstrated it is out of touch with the people in the pew," says Harrisville. "It has taken a minority view and elevated it to the status of policy, regardless of the responses given to the survey, which indicated a majority is in favor of the current policies and practices. It is as if the church council is deaf to the voice of the church."

The entire article here.


Mwalimu Daudi said...

Thanks for the info, Shrimp!

Shrimp said...

You betcha, Mwalimu. I hope you are sharing it with people.

Katie Kilcrease said...

Thanks Shrimp! Are you going to be at CWA???

Norsk said...

The last paragraph here bears some reflection. Given that the responses from all comprehensive "surveys" of the ELCA (the Task Force survey, the Synod Assemblies, even the Synod Council actions) have favored reasserting our traditional teachings, by quite substantial margins, shouldn't our framing of the discussion change? Why are we still talking about these issues on the merits? The ELCA has spoken, several times, and by a substantial majority favors reasserting our teachings. Now, we should be discussing the obligation of a Churchwide Assembly to listen to the clear voice of the church as a whole. And perhaps we should be discussing what happens to a denomination that disregards the views of its members. Aren't we shooting ourselves in our collective feet by still discussing the substance of the issues, as if the ELCA has not made up its collective mind on them? It has, and the answer, consistently, has been: no change.

Shrimp said...

Katie, I can't come after all, which is fine because I would have stroked out anyway probably. You go and have a non-violent protest for me though, OK?

List Norsk is right. Norsk you ought to tell some others this. The talking point is we already know wha tthe will of th echurch is and it doen't matter how the multimedia machine and the spin machine and here have a nother piece of cheesecake machine spins the "delegates."

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