Saturday, December 06, 2008

CORE Connection - December 2008

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Lutheran CORE opposes different standards in each synod

Leaders of Lutheran CORE have drafted an Open Letter calling on ELCA leaders to affirm and to maintain current standards for pastors and other rostered leaders limiting intimate sexual relations to the marriage relationship of one man and one woman.

The Open Letter - addressed to the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality, the ELCA Church Council, and the ELCA Conference of Bishops - specifically rejects changing ELCA structure to allow individual synods or congregations to have separate standards for clergy. Some consider this type of proposal - usually called "synodical option" - the most likely recommendation to come from the task force.

The task force issued a similar recommendation in 2005 which would have allowed a synod bishop to grant an exception to ELCA standards to permit a pastor to be in a committed same-sex relationship. That recommendation was rejected by the 2005 Churchwide Assembly.

The 2007 ELCA Churchwide Assembly voted "to direct the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality specifically to address and to make recommendations to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly on changes to any church policies that preclude practicing homosexual persons from the rosters of this church."

The task force is scheduled to release its recommendations on whether the ELCA should change its teaching and policy to allow pastors and other rostered leaders to be in same-sex sexual relationships on Thursday, Feb. 19. Its proposed text of an ELCA social statement on human sexuality will also be released that day.

The Open Letter is signed by the 11 members of the Lutheran CORE Steering Committee and the 18 members of the Lutheran CORE Advisory Council. These groups include ELCA pastors, prominent theologians, and retired bishops. The open letter with the list of signers and is online at

Following is the text of the Open Letter:

An Open Letter on Synodical Option
to the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality
and the ELCA Church Council
and Conference of Bishops

A debate continues in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America about whether to change church teaching and policy to allow pastors and other rostered leaders to be in same-sex sexual relationships. The 2007 ELCA Churchwide Assembly voted "to direct the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality specifically to address and to make recommendations to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly on changes to any church policies that preclude practicing homosexual persons from the rosters of this church."

As members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America - both pastors and lay people - we care deeply about the life and ministry of the ELCA. Because of our commitment to Christ, the Word of God, and the Church, we call on the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality, the ELCA Church Council, and the ELCA Conference of Bishops to affirm and to maintain the clear standard that the ELCA and its predecessor churches have held for the sexual behavior of pastors - that intimate sexual relations are to be reserved for the marriage of one man and one woman. This is the standard that has characterized Christian teaching on marriage from apostolic times and is maintained today by the overwhelming majority of Christians worldwide.

Some have suggested allowing synods or congregations to set their own standards for pastors. Such an approach - usually called synodical option - would effectively dissolve the ELCA. The chaos described in the book of Judges could then describe the ELCA - "all the people did what was right in their own eyes" (Judges 17:6). A similar recommendation, which would have allowed synod bishops to grant exceptions to ELCA behavior standards to permit pastors to be in committed same-sex relationships, was defeated by the 2005 Churchwide Assembly. The ELCA must reject such an approach.

Synodical option is not a real compromise at all. Its adoption would force synods and congregations to agree that there are multiple biblical teachings on these matters. Synodical option would represent a real change in the teaching of our church. Even those synods and congregations that might not agree with this change would be forced by synodical option implicitly to accept the notion that Scripture is not clear on this subject.

If the ELCA is to continue as one church, it must have one Office of Ministry, one roster of pastors, and one set of expectations for pastors and other rostered leaders throughout the ELCA. Without a common roster of pastors and common expectations for pastors and other rostered leaders, it would be very difficult for pastors to move from one synod to another. Such an approach would effectively divide the ELCA into 65 separate church bodies - each with its own standards for clergy and its own clergy roster.

The interdependent relationship between the churchwide, synod, and congregational expressions of the ELCA requires one standard for clergy throughout the ELCA. Vision and Expectations: Ordained Ministers in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America correctly states that "Pastoral identity carries with it expectations and accountabilities that are determined by the whole church and not simply by a given congregation, synod, institution, or agency served by the ordained minister."

Vision and Expectations also states that "the ordained minister is to be an example of holy living, so that the ordained minister's life does not become an impediment to the hearing of the gospel or a scandal to the community of faith. . . . 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." We affirm this commitment of the ELCA.

We understand the desire of some ELCA members for a compromise on same-sex sexual relationships given the debates raging in some ELCA synods. However, given the Bible's clear affirmation of marriage as between a man and a woman and its clear rejection of homosexual behavior, it is not possible for the ELCA to allow its pastors to be in same-sex sexual relationships without rejecting biblical teaching on sexuality and thus rejecting Scripture as "the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith, and life" (ELCA Confession of Faith - ELCA Constitution 2.03). The question of the authority of the Bible in the Church is not something on which a compromise can be reached. The ELCA either remains committed to Scripture as "the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith, and life" or the ELCA will have chosen to deny its Confession of Faith and chosen to function with a different source and norm for its faith and life.

It is also important to note that a significant majority of ELCA members (57 percent) opposed the ordination of those in same-sex sexual relationships and the blessing of same-sex relationships, according to responses to the 2004 Journey Together Faithfully study on homosexuality. Only 22 percent favored the blessing of homosexual relationships or the rostering of people in those relationships, according to the study's responses. While popular opinion is not a reason to make decisions in a confessional church committed to Scripture as "the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith, and life," the faithful confession of such a significant majority of ELCA members should not be ignored or rejected.

The words of Jesus are an important reminder for those who suggest that we celebrate the divisions in the ELCA regarding homosexual behavior: "Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand" (Matthew 12:25). We have seen the truth of Jesus' words in the divisions taking place in The Episcopal Church and in other church bodies that have adopted, in effect, a synodical option. The teaching of Scripture and of the Christian Church throughout the ages is clear on these matters. The only question is whether the ELCA will acknowledge this reality.

We offer this letter because of our commitment to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. We will continue to pray for the ELCA and for all those entrusted with leadership in the Church.

Lutheran CORE
Steering Committee

Lutheran CORE
Advisory Council

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ELCA council says majority enough to change sexuality standards

By Mark C. Chavez
Director of Lutheran CORE

The ELCA Church Council decided at its meeting Nov. 15-17 in Chicago to recommend a simple majority vote at the 2009 Churchwide Assembly on recommendations from the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality and the ELCA Church Council regarding the rostering of practicing homosexuals as pastors and ministers.

The Constitutional and Legal Committee of the Church Council had voted unanimously prior to the meeting, with some abstentions, to recommend a two-thirds vote on all resolutions or memorials that relate to the subject of the social statement on sexuality, including the rostering proposals. The committee gave four reasons for recommending a two-thirds vote:

1. It sets a clear rule for all matters and heads off potential confusion and ambiguity.

2. Since the social statement needs a two-thirds vote all matters relating to it should also require a two-thirds vote.

3. If the council wants the Churchwide Assembly to move toward communal discernment, then a two-thirds vote helps move the Churchwide Assembly in that direction.

4. The Church Council (and Churchwide Assembly) will have to deal with the rules anyway, so the committee's recommendation was a starting point for discussion.

During the council's discussion of the committee's recommendation, an amendment was offered to lower the bar from two-thirds to 60 percent, but that amendment was overwhelmingly defeated.

Next an amendment was offered to delete the two-thirds rule, thereby making it a simple majority decision. After much discussion the council approved the amendment 19-10, with one abstention.

Council member Mark Helmke, from San Antonio, Texas, then offered an amendment to restore the 2005 Churchwide Assembly two-thirds rule, which applied to changes in existing ELCA policies (the 2005 rule was narrower in scope than the two-thirds rule recommended by the Constitutional and Legal Committee).

A council member requested a written ballot (not normally used) for the vote on the Helmke amendment. The amendment was defeated 18-14 with two abstentions.

The Constitutional and Legal Committee did very good work. The committee's arguments for the two-thirds rule were articulate and logical, and the committee demonstrated great care for the well being of the ELCA.

However, a clear majority of the council wants the ELCA to approve of rostering practicing homosexuals as soon as possible - this was stated in the discussion - and voted for a simple majority rule even though the decision flies in the face of all the council's other priorities.

Most of the council meeting was taken up with serious matters - how to reverse the steady decline in benevolence from congregations to the synods and churchwide organization; how to reverse the steady and accelerating loss of ELCA members; what to do about the worst ever drop in average worship attendance; how to increase the multiracial and multicultural composition of the ELCA; how to move toward communal discernment at Churchwide Assemblies so there is less vying for votes and outcomes with winners and losers; and how to strengthen ecumenical relationships.

The majority on the council that is dead set to get the ELCA to change its standards for ministry is apparently willing to sacrifice just about everything to attain its goal.

The ELCA suffered a big loss in benevolence after the fiasco in 1993 with the first draft of a social statement on human sexuality and ELCA leaders know it could happen again if the 2009 assembly approves ordaining practicing homosexuals.

The council heard a report from churchwide staff and a consultant about a possible five-year major initiative (appeal for funds) in conjunction with the ELCA's 25th anniversary. The consultant said that in working with the churchwide staff it was clear that the major initiative would need contingency plans for the possible outcomes of the 2009 assembly. He said the ELCA could be a very different church after next August, a clear reference to the decision on rostering practicing homosexuals.

Does the majority on the council not realize that by pushing its homosexual agenda it could lead the ELCA into deeper financial troubles?

Every other denomination in North America that has approved of practicing homosexuals as ministers has suffered huge membership losses - 30 to 50 percent. Most have done nothing more than approve of the equivalent of a local or synodical option. Does the majority on the church council think that the ELCA will be the exception and not suffer a huge membership loss?

The Rev. Stephen Bouman, executive director of the Evangelical Outreach and Congregational Mission churchwide unit, told the council that the ELCA's new mission congregations have not thrived, especially those connected with ethnic strategies. He said that thus far "ethnic strategies are just words" in the ELCA. Action and results are needed.

ELCA Secretary David Swartling reported that most of the increase in the multi-racial composition of the ELCA is the result of marriages - in other words, not drawing in new members and families who are not Caucasian.

Does the majority on the church council not know that non-Caucasian people - Christians and people of other faiths - overwhelmingly disapprove of homosexual behavior?

If the ELCA changes its standards for ministry it will make it all the more difficult for ELCA congregations to reach Latinos, Asians and African Americans, not to mention immigrants from Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. Is the majority on the council willing to sacrifice its multicultural and multiracial goals for the sake of one narrow goal?

The Church Council is disturbed by the divisive votes of recent Churchwide Assemblies, but the surest way to increase the divisiveness is to lower the bar to a simple majority for very important decisions. The Legal and Constitutional Committee had it right - raise the bar higher, not lower. Is the majority on the council unable to see that its decision will make assemblies even more contentious and divisive?

The Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox churches have made it very clear that their relationship with The Episcopal Church is severely ruptured because of the local option by diocese that exists in The Episcopal Church.

Lutheran churches in the Lutheran World Federation in Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America have made it very clear that if the ELCA and other Lutheran churches approve of homosexual behavior, the unity of the Lutheran World Federation is at stake.

Does the majority of the council not know that its single-minded focus on homosexuality may well undermine more than 50 years of ecumenical work and cut off the ELCA from most of the Christian churches in the world?

Perhaps the most tragic dimension of the majority's decision is the certain damage that will be done to ELCA congregations should the ELCA change its ministry standards. Many congregations will lose members and many will be deeply divided - some already are.

The majority on the council is concerned about pastoral care for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people, but seemingly oblivious to the overwhelming pastoral care that will be needed for millions of members and thousands of congregations should the majority on the council have its way.

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What's next for the ELCA sexuality social statement?

ELCA members still have two opportunities to shape the social statement that will be considered by the 2009 Churchwide Assembly.

On Thursday, Feb. 19, the Task Force will release its proposed text of an ELCA social statement on human sexuality and its recommendations on whether the ELCA should change its teaching and policy to allow pastors and other rostered leaders to be in same-sex sexual relationships.

Synod Councils may respond to the Task Force recommendations and offer advice to the ELCA Church Council through resolutions prior to the council's March 27-29 meeting.

2009 ELCA Synod Assemblies may respond to the church council's recommended social statement text and to its recommendations regarding standards for pastors and other rostered leaders through memorials and resolutions.

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Lutheran CORE planning tables for 2009 Synod Assemblies

Lutheran CORE is planning to have information tables at 2009 ELCA Synod Assemblies.

In order to make this possible, Lutheran CORE is seeking volunteers in each of the ELCA's 65 synods to request and to set up a display table for their synod assembly.

"It should be a great way to publicize the work in the reform movement, get information out to key church leaders, and to put a warm, human face on our work," explained the Rev. Mark Braaten, pastor of Our Saviour's Lutheran Church in Tyler, Texas, who is coordinating the project. Pastor Braaten is also chair of Lutheran CORE Congregations also known as LC3 - Lutheran Churches of the Common Confession.

Lutheran CORE will provide the resources for the table and will cover any charge for the table by synods.

"We are in the process of assembling everything needed for the display tables. We are getting brochures, posters, articles, handouts, etc. We will mail these items to people who host the display tables," Pastor Braaten said.

"I'm excited about this possibility. I see this as a great opportunity to publicize our work, and to connect with more people and congregations. We do have a number of synods where we already have volunteers to do this," he added.

If you have questions, or would like to volunteer, please contact Pastor Braaten at or 903-561-1865.

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"A Different Gospel Christianity at Risk"

"A Different Gospel - Christianity at Risk" was the theme of the 2008 WordAlone Network Fall Theological Conference Nov. 9-11 at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Fridley, Minn. The conference addressed the depth of the theological crises within the ELCA and other Protestant denominations in North America.

The Rev. C. FitzSimons Allison, retired Episcopal Bishop of South Carolina, made two presentations: "The Episcopal Church: The Canary in the Culture's Coal Mine" and "Free Will: The Human Pretension to Autonomy." The Rev. Scott Grorud, an ELCA pastor and Lutheran CORE Steering Committee member, presented "Wresting the Wheel from God: Theological Roots of the Current Crisis in Christianity."

The WordAlone Network is one of the renewal movements that are a part of Lutheran CORE. The papers are online at

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Please support the work of Lutheran CORE

Lutheran CORE (Coalition for Reform) is a coalition of individuals, congregations and reform movements in the ELCA.

Lutheran CORE seeks to be a voice for the solid, faithful core that is the majority of ELCA members, pastors, and congregations.

Lutheran CORE is grateful for your prayers and support. As a grassroots organization, we are constantly looking to partner with those who wish to work together for positive reform in the ELCA. Lutheran CORE is a way for us to work together toward our common goals.

Please join us and work with us in your congregation and synod. We can provide resources and help connect you with others in your synod who share our goals.

We are grateful for the number of ELCA congregations that are including Lutheran CORE in their budgets or taking special offerings for Lutheran CORE as a way to support the ELCA by working to keep it faithful to Christ and to biblical teaching.

Lutheran CORE depends on financial support from those who share our commitment to work for positive reform in the ELCA. You may give online at or send gifts to:

      Lutheran CORE
      c/o WordAlone Network
      2299 Palmer Drive, Suite 220
      New Brighton, MN 55112-2202

Please make checks payable to WordAlone Network and indicate Lutheran CORE on the memo line.

Brochures and information for sharing the work of Lutheran CORE with your congregation are available at Lutheran CORE's brochure was reformatted to provide a possible page for congregations to include in their annual reports.

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Canadian Lutheran congregation suspended for illegal call

Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Newmarket, Ontario, was suspended by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada's Eastern Synod Nov. 17 for calling a man in a committed same-sex relationship as its pastor.

The congregation ordained Lionel Ketola May 16. The ordination was "approved" by Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. ELM is an organization that "approves" the ordinations of individuals who refuse to abide by the ELCA's standards for the sexual conduct of pastors.

This was the first time ELM had "approved" an ordination in Canada.

The letter of suspension from Eastern Synod Bishop Michael J. Pryse notes that the suspension came because of actions by the congregation "which are contrary to the constitutional requirement that congregations 'assure that only those on the roster of this church serve it in a pastoral capacity.'"

Bishop Pryse sent a letter May 9 reminding the pastors of his synod that participation in Ketola's ordination would violate their responsibilities as Lutheran pastors.

Bishop Pryse noted that participating in an unauthorized ordination "requires participants to abandon several foundational and confessional principles which inform our church's understanding of ecclesiastical polity and the role, identity and functioning 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.

"Our individual belief in the justness of any individual cause does not in itself justify the use of any and all means to achieve a particular end. At some point there needs to be a measured deliberation concerning the potential harm or benefit of a particular course of action. In this regard, it particularly distresses me to consider what it would mean if others - as is presently happening in partner churches both here in Canada and around the world - were to follow a similar path to achieve any number of alternate reforms in the life of our church."

Bishop Pryse's decision to exercise his role as bishop stands in contrast to some ELCA bishops who have chosen to ignore the actions of ELCA pastors who have participated in unauthorized ordinations and of congregations that have chosen to call unapproved persons as pastor.

The 2007 ELCA Churchwide Assembly voted to "request the Conference of Bishops to enter into discussion and consideration of the matter of the accountability of bishops to the adopted policies, practices, and procedures of the ELCA and to formulate a clear statement of such accountability for consideration and adoption by the 2009 assembly of this church."

This request came, in part, because some synod bishops have refused to enforce ELCA policies including policies regarding pastors in same-sex sexual relationships.

It is noteworthy that Bishop Pryse personally supports change in church policy regarding pastors in same-sex sexual relationships, but he recognizes his role as bishop.

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Philadelphia congregation defies ELCA constitution

Jay Wiesner - a gay man who was ordained in 2004 in defiance of ELCA teaching and standards for pastors - was installed Sept. 27 as pastor of University Lutheran Church of the Incarnation, an ELCA congregation in Philadelphia.

The Rev. Louise Johnson, an ELCA pastor and the director of admissions for the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, preached for the service.

According to the ELCA constitution, ELCA congregations must "agree to call pastoral leadership from the clergy roster of this church in accordance with the call procedures of this church except in special circumstances and with the approval of the synodical bishop.

"A congregation . . . that calls as its pastor one who has not been approved for the roster of ordained ministers may be removed from the roster of congregations of this church."

"Congregations shall be subject to discipline for . . . willfully disregarding or violating the provisions of the constitution or bylaws of this church. (ELCA Constitution 9.21.d; 9.23; 20.31.01).

It is unknown what action Southeast Pennsylvania Synod Bishop Claire S. Burkat will take in response to the congregation's action.

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Anglicans organize alternative church in North America

Four dioceses that have left The Episcopal Church will join with other traditional Anglicans to form a new Anglican church in North America. The new denomination will be an alternative to The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in Canada.

The Common Cause Partnership - a federation of more than 100,000 Anglican Christians in North America - has scheduled a constitutional convention in Wheaton, Ill., Wednesday, Dec. 3, to form a new Anglican province in North America.

"One conclusion of the Global Anglican Future Conference held in Jerusalem last June was that the time for the recognition of a new Anglican body in North America had arrived," said Bishop Robert Duncan of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, Pa., and moderator of Common Cause Partnership. "The public release of our draft constitution is an important concrete step toward the goal of a biblical, missionary and united Anglican Church in North America."

By overwhelming margins, two dioceses voted in November to leave The Episcopal Church. Four Episcopal dioceses have now voted to leave The Episcopal Church in the last 12 months.

The dioceses are amending their constitutions to affiliate with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone in South America until an alternative North American Anglican province is formed and recognized.

The Diocese of Fort Worth, Texas, voted to end its affiliation with The Episcopal Church by 78 percent Nov. 15. Clergy voted 73-20 and lay delegates voted 98-28.

The Diocese of Quincy in west central Illinois voted Nov. 7 to leave The Episcopal Church. The clergy vote was 41-14 (75 percent); the lay vote was 54-12 (82 percent).

"The time has come for a new path," said the Rev. Jack Iker, bishop of Forth Worth. "The Episcopal Church we once knew no longer exists. To contend for the faith as traditional Episcopalians has brought us to this time of realignment in the Body of Christ."

"This diocese has not deviated from the historic faith and order of the catholic church. We are not the cause of division or schism; we are a part of the solution. We are a part of the realignment that is shaking up and reshaping the Anglican world. We are for preserving the unity of the church and for mending the tear in the fabric of our beloved communion," Bishop Iker told convention attendees.

"We feel the Episcopal Church has been on a fast, major drift away from scriptural authority and historic Christian teaching," said the Rev. John Spencer, spokesman for the Quincy diocese and vicar of St. Francis Church in Dunlap, Ill. "We could not continue to drift away with them and go in the direction that they've gone theologically."

On Dec. 8, 2007, the Diocese of San Joaquin in central California became the first diocese to leave The Episcopal Church and to affiliate with the Province of the Southern Cone. The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, Pa., voted to do so Oct. 4.

The Episcopal Church has taken a hostile stance toward departing dioceses, congregations, and clergy. The denomination has filed lawsuits to try to claim church property and taken actions to depose clergy.

"There is something deeply disturbing about a church that would prefer to litigate and depose rather than to negotiate a peaceful, amicable separation among brothers and sisters in Christ who can no longer walk together," Bishop Iker said.

"I call upon the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church and her colleagues to halt the litigation, to stop the depositions, and to cease the intimidation of traditional believers. Instead, let us pursue a mediated settlement, a negotiated agreement that provides for a fair and equitable solution for all parties, and let us resist taking punitive actions against our opponents. Christians are called to work out our differences with one another, not sue one another in secular courts."

Information on the Common Cause Partnership is available online at

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