Saturday, August 09, 2008

Bishop Reveals Own Spine!!!

Shrimp here, with a nod toward the Episcopal Spine Alert! blog ("Charting the evolution & evidence of backbones among contemporary Catholic clergy).

Bishop Michael Pryse (more on him here, and do read the comments, too) revealed in his report to the Convention to the Eastern Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), last month that he has a spine by publicly censuring the congregation that "ordained" Lionel Ketola (a gay man "married" to another gay man) as well as all of the ELCIC clergy who participated in Mr. Ketola's "ordination" last May 16. This despite Bishop Pryse's own expressed desire that GLBT persons not be barred from ordination for being in a same-sex relationship, as well as the Eastern Synod's own "progressive" (on such matters) nature.

No one seemed to be more surprised by this development than Lutherans Concerned/North America, given the extreme spin of its own press release on the censures.
So when Bishop Michael Pryse of the Eastern Synod of the ELCIC publicly censured the congregation at the synod's July 9–13 assembly in London, Ontario, it was not a surprise. But what was surprising was that the synod assembly, which meets every two years, also passed resolutions that encourage the bishop and synod council to exercise restraint in disciplining pastors and congregations who in good conscience call pastors like Lionel Ketola, and those who in good conscience bless or marry same-gender couples.
Yeah, big surprise that in a synod that "has advanced the cause of full ecclesial inclusivity for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered (GLBT) persons in a number of ways" (see Bishop Pryse's report below). with the Bible Study led by Tana Kjos. Yes, that Tana Kjos -- life partner of Augsburg Fortress' star writer Kelly Fryer, with whom she is also partner in A Renewal Enterprise (A.R.E) and as the synodically blessed "pastoral leaders" at Christ the King Lutheran Church in the Chicago Loop.

Here is the entire section of Bishop Pryse's Report dealing with this censure -- the boldface in certain sentences and clauses has been, except for the section subtitle, added by Shrimp for emphasis (For the Convention's response, see further below.)
We want to be a synod that is engaged by challenging questions.

Our synod continues to engage significant issues of social policy through the Public Policy Advisory Committee, the Service working group and the work of numerous volunteers who represent us in a variant of church relation social justice collations. We have addressed questions of aboriginal rights, social housing, health care and poverty. The question we face that stirs the most controversy, however, concerns theological struggles around questions of inclusivity and the place of gay and lesbian persons in the church.

On April 20, 2008, Holy Cross Evangelical Lutheran Church in Newmarket, ON voted to issue a call to a candidate who has not been approved for ordination through the candidacy processes of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC). This action marked a serious breach of the constitutional obligation of all congregations and rostered persons to “abide loyally by the constitution, administrative bylaws and enactments of this church and those of the synod of which it becomes a part.” ELCIC Constitution Article VI, Section 3. Specifically, by issuing this call, Holy Cross congregation has chosen to disregard its obligation to “assure that only those on the roster of this church serve it in a pastoral capacity, except as this principle is waived in a specific instance with the approval of the bishop of the synod, subject to review by the synod council.” ELCIC Administrative Bylaws, Part II, Section 2h. Since that time, I understand that an irregular service of ordination occurred and that several of our synodical pastors participated in the service by vesting and/or participating in the rite of laying on of hands. I am aware of some, but not all, of those who participated in this way. Regardless, neither the ELCIC nor any of our Full Communion partners will recognize the validity of this irregular rite and Mr. Ketola is not recognized as being a rostered minister of this church.

After much soul searching, conversation and considered reflection, I have come to the conclusion that any rostered person who vested for this service and/or participated in a rite of laying on of hands will have chosen to publicly participate in an action that our church prohibits and, as such, is subject to subsequent disciplinary action.

The ELCIC Manual on Discipline for Rostered Ministers specifies a series of disciplinary consequences, one of which constitutes public censure and admonition. Given the circumstances and present context, I have concluded that this is an appropriate response. As such, I am today, in the presence of this synod, publicly censuring and admonishing those clerics who participated in this unauthorized act.

I am also publicly censuring and admonishing Holy Cross congregation and have concluded that I am obliged to, in due time, appoint an investigative committee to examine this situation as per ELCIC Administrative Bylaws, Part II, Section 6c. This committee will then report and bring recommendations to the Synod Council at their November 2008 meeting. While the constitution does not specify a range of discipline for congregations in such circumstances, it does say that the Synod Council may, upon recommendation of the committee, suspend or exclude the congregation from this church.

As noted in previous communication with Holy Cross congregation and the Eastern Synod clergy roster, “I am committed to working toward ending practices that preclude the full participation of all God’s people in the life of the church, regardless of sexual orientation. I realize that many ... share a similar commitment and might see participation in this service as a way of giving public expression to this position. Indeed, when viewed from a very local perspective, some may be tempted to think this is an appropriate way to proceed. However, when viewed from a wider perspective, I believe that this action required participants to abandon several foundational and confessional principles which inform our church’s understanding of ecclesiastical polity and the role, identity and functioning of its rostered leaders. In short, these are principles whose affirmation we owe to one another as we engage important questions as a wider community of faith.”

In recent years, our synod has advanced the cause of full ecclesial inclusivity for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered (GLBT) persons in a number of ways. We have done so honestly and with integrity in a way that is respectful of the opinions of our partners in the life of the wider church. I am not unmindful of the appropriate role that acts of civil disobedience can play in significant process of political change. I do, however, believe that such actions are only warranted under conditions where legislative mechanisms to achieve change are either unavailable or so corrupted as to be ineffective. I do not believe that either of these scenarios is the case within the ELCIC.

Such mechanisms are available to us, and while not without fault or frustration, are ultimately the only effective means of achieving the reform that some of us might seek. Change is possible and I believe it will happen.I believe that we will soon experience a day when individuals in circumstances such as Mr. Ketola will be regularly ordained by the whole church and not irregularly ordained by a small segment of the church. This is the goal I seek.

However, I am also mindful of the pain, suffering and violence which is daily visited upon GLBT persons throughout the world. This is more than just an arcane church fight. This is an issue which affects a great many people in very real and tangible ways. As such, our church’s inability to address this situation in a way that acknowledges the legitimate differences that Christian people can experience with regard to this question is deeply distressing to me. It troubles me even more, that good, faithful members and leaders of our church have come to the conclusion that disobedience is the only way this cause can be advanced. The status quo cannot be allowed to continue.

I have made my case in a variety of other forums and won’t repeat my arguments here except to say that the so-called “local option” is the only way forward. I intend to continue to advance this cause within the ELCIC and encourage our synod to do likewise. We need to agree to disagree. Let’s get on with it!
Okay, so Bishop Pryse was not particularly happy to discover this spine. Neither was the Convention, of which LC/NA reports:
On encouraging restraint in discipline of congregations and pastors:
  • The Eastern Synod Assembly encourage our Bishop and Synod Council to exercise restraint in disciplining those congregations, pastors and members who, as a matter of conscience, call individuals who are "self-declared and practicing homosexuals."

  • That the Eastern Synod Assembly encourage our Bishop and Synod council to exercise restraint in disciplining those pastors who as a matter of conscience bless or marry same-gendered couples in compliance with provincial law.
It must be noted with slight surprise that the second resolution, on blessings and marriages, was contained in a single motion with the restraint resolution and passed with without a single comment having been offered during the debate and discussion.
So perhaps the spine that no one seems to want will be dissolving pretty soon. But at least for a brief moment....

Shrimp out.

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