Monday, July 28, 2008

The Eyes of Texas Are Upon Us

Shrimp here. The eyes of Texas -- or at least (according to Lutheran (True!) Confessions) the eyes of Houston -- were upon Grace Lutheran Church which demonstrated that, indeed, it "is not your average Lutheran church" (you did click the link to its website, didn't you?) by providing for the out-of-the-ordinary ordination of Lura Groen, about whom we have previously written here and here, last Saturday afternoon.

Houston's City Controller and City Councilwoman, both out-and-proud lesbians, were co-chairladies of the post-ordination, $100 per plate, fund-raising dinner gala where apparently a proclamation by Houston's Mayor declaring July 26 "Pastor Lura Groen Day" was read. Pretty heady way to begin one's ministry, no?

Meanwhile OutSmart, "Houston's gay, lesbian, bi, and trans magazine," reports that Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod Bishop Michael Rinehart "says he will take advantage of the 2007 call for restraint until [the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly]."

"I have been very pleased to receive the welcome of the bishop," Groen tells OutSmart. "I understand that the bishop is under many pressures and needs to do his job to be the bishop, so I have been very pleased that he has been personally welcoming to me."

Shrimp -- now awaiting confirmation that either Miss Groen is providing positive spin or Bishop Rinehart was earlier engaging in a little ecclesial sabre rattling (but not holding our breath waiting -- out.

Monday, July 21, 2008

A New Wave of Gay Seminarians...

Shrimp here. Minneapolis' City Pages, part of the chain of progressive newspapers that includes the Village Voice, is currently featuring the story headlined "A new wave of gay seminarians prepares to take the pulpit".

Subheaded "The Lutheran church struggles with its policy on homosexuality and the meaning of 'all God's children,'" reporter Bradley Campbell tells the story of three current Luther Seminary students -- Lauren Wendt, Margaret Kelly, and Dustin Nelson -- and one recent graduate, Brenda Froisland, whose approval for ordination has been "postponed indefinitely" while awaiting the ELCA to change it policy regarding the ordination of practicing gay and lesbian persons.

Also included, at least on the website, are extended sidebar interviews on Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and WordAlone. All are well-written and worth reading, though you'll note a certain inability to comprehend the Bible's and Church's opposition to homosexual relations, most tellingly illustrated by Campbell's description where WordAlone's Executive Director Pastor Mark Chavez "has the soft voice of kindergarten teacher. It belies his fire and brimstone rhetoric…"

Read it all and weep. It's important. Tip of the claw to Lutheran (True!) Confessions. Shrimp out.

Monday, July 14, 2008

CORE Connection - July 2008

CORE Connection - News from Lutheran CORE - July 2008

A PDF version of this newsletter is available online at
http://www.lutherancore.org/newsletters.shtml
You are encouraged to copy this newsletter and to share it widely.


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CORE offers Open Letter on Sexuality Draft

Lutheran CORE has drafted an Open Letter to the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality and the ELCA Church Council and Conference of Bishops in response to the Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality.

Lutheran CORE (Coalition for Reform) is a coalition of individuals, congregations and reform movements in the ELCA that seeks to preserve within the ELCA the authority of Scripture according to the Lutheran Confessions.

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

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. ELCA members are invited to add their names to this Open Letter as a part of their response to the draft social statement. You may request that your name be added to this open letter by sending your request to Lutheran CORE.

Lutheran CORE also encourages ELCA members to submit a response to Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality by the November 1, 2008, deadline. A response form is provided in the draft document. A link to the ELCA's online response form is available at www.lutherancore.org.

Links to detailed reviews of the draft statement and to other helpful documents on human sexuality are available at www.lutherancore.org in the marriage and family educational resources section.

Following is the text of the Open Letter:

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

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 and the Church, we cannot support the adoption of Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality in its current form. We respectfully request that the social statement that you recommend to the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly be significantly different from the current text.

We are grateful for the members of the Task Force who have given themselves to this difficult work for the sake of the Church. We realize that very different theological perspectives on human sexuality are represented on the Task Force and are present in the ELCA. Coming to agreement on language that would be acceptable to all must have been difficult. However, as a document that will provide teaching and policy for the ELCA for years to come, a social statement on human sexuality must be more than acceptable, it must be faithful to the consistent witness of Scripture on human sexuality.

We are very supportive of portions of Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality. We support the affirmation of marriage as a lifelong covenant of faithfulness between one man and one woman and as the most appropriate place for physical intimacy. We appreciate the concern expressed about cohabitation, promiscuity, premarital sex, and our sexualized society and its many victims. We support the call for pastoral care and compassion for all people.

The ELCA Confession of Faith states: "This church accepts the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith, and life" (ELCA Constitution 2.03). However, Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality distances us from our biblical heritage. We ask that you allow Scripture to be the source of the statement's teaching on sexuality by moving clearly from biblical interpretation to practical application in dealing with issues of marriage, family, and sexuality. We also ask that you allow Scripture to be the norm of the statement's teaching on sexuality by clearly affirming biblical norms for sexuality and sexual behavior.

Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality confuses the role of Law and Gospel in addressing human sexuality. A social statement naturally flows from the Law. It describes God's intention for us and for society. God uses the Law both to order the world and to reveal our sinfulness. The Lutheran tradition places sexuality within the doctrines of creation and the Law. The draft attempts to place sexuality within the saving work of Christ, the Gospel. Incarnation and justification are key to understanding salvation, but creation and God's Law shape Christian understandings of sexuality and ethics. God uses Christ's birth, death and resurrection to provide salvation, but God uses creation and the Law — including Jesus' own teaching — to reveal God's intentions for sexual morality. We ask that you affirm human sexuality as a part of God's created order for the world and affirm marriage as God's intention for humanity "from the beginning of creation" (Mark 10:6-9, Genesis 2:24). We also ask that you affirm the role of the Ten Commandments in sexual ethics, especially the Sixth Commandment. We recommend that you rewrite the theological foundation for discussing sexuality in a way that acknowledges the role of God in shaping creation and the role of God's law in ordering society.

Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality rightly affirms that we are justified by grace through faith. We ask that the social statement you present in 2009 affirm that all are sinners who are justified by grace through faith but also recognize that God justifies sinners rather than justifying sins. We also request that you note the difference between forgiveness and acceptance. God forgives sinners and accepts them, but God's acceptance of sinners does not mean that God accepts sins. We request that you maintain the relationship and order of the two great commandments from Jesus: love for God and love for neighbor (Mark 12:29-31).

Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality fails to acknowledge the Scriptural prohibitions of homosexual behavior in both Old Testament and New Testament. It also fails to recognize the 2005 ELCA Churchwide Assembly decision to "continue to respect the guidance of the 1993 statement of the Conference of Bishops" which clearly stated that "there is basis neither in Scripture nor tradition for the establishment of an official ceremony by this church for the blessing of a homosexual relationship." We respectfully request that you acknowledge both the teaching of Scripture and the content of Christian tradition regarding homosexual behavior.

Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality does not provide a helpful framework for members of the ELCA to consider areas of human sexuality. ELCA social statements are to provide a framework for ethical decision making by ELCA members. They must be written in a way that most church members can understand and apply to their lives. The 1996 ELCA Church Council Message Sexuality: Some Common Convictions is much more helpful. The 1996 Message and the social statements of the ELCA's predecessor churches explain matters of sexuality in a way that is both easy to understand and faithful. The ELCA would do better to continue to rely on these existing documents than to adopt the current draft. We suggest that you draw on these documents in significant ways in drafting the social statement that you will recommend in 2009. We ask that you draw content for the statement more directly from traditional Christian interpretation of Scripture and the Christian moral tradition.

We offer this response to Draft Statement on Human Sexuality because of our commitment to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. We will continue to pray for the ELCA and for you as you work to draft a social statement on human sexuality that is faithful to Scripture and to traditional Christian interpretations of Scripture and that will guide the ELCA and its members for years to come.

Lutheran CORE Steering Committee
Lutheran CORE Advisory Council


ELCA members are invited to add their names to this open letter.

You may request that your name be added to this open letter by sending an e-mail with your name and address to info@lutherancore.org.

You may also send your request to: Lutheran CORE; 2299 Palmer Drive, Suite 220; New Brighton, MN 55112.



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Indiana-Kentucky Renewal Network reports progress

Members of Lutheran CORE are working for renewal throughout the ELCA. The Indiana - Kentucky Renewal Network — one of the member organizations of Lutheran CORE — has been making significant strides in its ministry in the Indiana-Kentucky Synod. Pastor Larry Gember reports on recent activity:

Bishop James Stuck and the Indiana-Kentucky Synod staff have been very fair to the newly-formed Indiana-Kentucky Renewal Network, which is under the Lutheran CORE umbrella.

One of our members, Pastor Tim Kraemer, is on the Synod Council. While those who share his views on reform seem to be in the minority, he was not afraid to ask the Council for permission to advertise the I-K Renewal Network at the June Synod Assembly.

We asked for "the works" — a booth outside the gathering room, a break-out session on the agenda, and the insertion of our brochure into the packet of ministry brochures.

We were told that we couldn't have a booth because of the synod's new policy, but this same policy also prevented groups like Lutherans Concerned from having a booth.

We were immediately granted permission to have our brochure in the packet. A week before the Assembly, we were informed that we could have one of the four breakout sessions scheduled during the lunch hour, which they advertised in print using our own description of who we are.

We scrambled to bring in a speaker and were graciously accommodated by Pastor Mark Chavez, who represented Lutheran CORE at the session. Mark did a terrific job of explaining the issues clearly and succinctly.

There were about 30 in attendance, and many expressed how happy they were to learn that there was a group out there trying to address their deeply held concerns about the future of the ELCA.

Subsequently, we have been receiving new members from the printed material we were allowed to distribute at the Assembly.

We are grateful to the Indiana-Kentucky Synod for allowing our voice to be heard. Bishop Stuck has not taken a public position, but he is not afraid to let everyone have their say on the matter.

Speaking personally, I know that some pastors in our network are afraid that their involvement with our group will result in some subtle retribution from the synod, especially in seeking calls. I can say, however, that I have just accepted a call after going through the process and experienced absolutely no discrimination from the synod. In fact, when a member of the church I was interviewing at called the synod, alarmed over my participation in Lutheran CORE, she was reassured that I was a very good pastor and that they wouldn't have submitted my name if they weren't confident in my abilities.


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What is Lutheran CORE?

Lutheran CORE (Coalition for Reform) is a coalition of individuals, congregations and reform movements in the ELCA. We seek to preserve within the ELCA the authority of Scripture according to the Lutheran Confessions.

Lutheran CORE's members and participants represent the vast middle of American Lutheranism, spanning geographical regions, vocations, and political and theological viewpoints.

We are united by our common commitment to the authority of Scripture in the life of the ELCA.

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

We are a way for those who care about the ELCA to work together for the good of the church and for the sake of its future.

Learn more about Lutheran CORE at www.lutherancore.org.


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Support the work of Lutheran CORE

You may support our efforts to work for positive renewal in the ELCA by sending your gifts to:
Lutheran CORE
c/o WordAlone Network
2299 Palmer Drive, Suite 220
New Brighton, MN 55112
Make checks payable to WordAlone Network and write Lutheran CORE on the memo line. You may give online at www.lutherancore.org.


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ELCA churches, pastors offer same-sex marriages

Some ELCA congregations and pastors in California began offering same-sex marriage services in June.

Lutherans Concerned / Los Angeles posted a list of nine congregations and pastors willing to offer same-sex marriage services to its web site, www.lutheranslove.com. The site also offers an e-mail address for same-sex couples wanting "a church wedding."

Lutherans Concerned is one of the organizations asking for change in ELCA teaching and policy on same-sex sexual relationships.

The actions of these pastors and congregations are contrary to the official teaching and policy of the ELCA.

ELCA Secretary David Swartling responded to a request by California bishops for guidance on same-sex marriages with the following counsel in a May 27 memo:

"The constitution and bylaws, as well as related policy documents of the ELCA, do not provide a basis for pastors of this church to officiate at a same-sex marriage. Under ELCA policy, marriage is defined as a covenantal relationship between a man and a woman. The Churchwide Assembly has had opportunities to change this policy, both to make it less restrictive and to make it more restrictive. It has declined to do so.

"In light of ELCA policy, pastors, synodically authorized ministers, and congregations may be subject to discipline if they officiate at same-sex marriages and allow them to take place in their buildings."

Lutheran CORE appreciates Secretary Swartling's faithful interpretation of the teaching and policy of the ELCA. We lament that some pastors and bishops have been unable to uphold the clear teaching of Scripture and the teaching and policy of the ELCA.

The ELCA teaches that "marriage is a lifelong covenant of faithfulness between a man and a woman" (Sexuality: Some Common Convictions, 1996 ELCA Message).

The 2005 ELCA Churchwide Assembly approved by more than a two-thirds majority a resolution "that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America continue to respect the guidance of the 1993 statement of the Conference of Bishops."

The 1993 Statement of the ELCA Conference of Bishops reads: "We, as the Conference of Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, recognize that there is basis neither in Scripture nor tradition for the establishment of an official ceremony by this church for the blessing of a homosexual relationship. We, therefore, do not approve such a ceremony as an official action of this church's ministry. Nevertheless, we express trust in and will continue dialogue with those pastors and congregations who are in ministry with gay and lesbian persons, and affirm their desire to explore the best ways to provide pastoral care for all to whom they minister."

In spite of its clear rejection of the blessing of same-sex unions, some pastors and bishops have interpreted the last sentence of the 1993 bishops' statement as permission to preside at the blessing of same-sex unions.
In a June 13 letter, Bishop David G. Mullen and Bishop-elect Mark W. Holmerud offer this advice to Sierra Pacific Synod pastors regarding presiding at same-sex marriages:

"As pastors in the ELCA, we are expected to abide by the standards and policies of this church, and are not, therefore, constitutionally permitted to solemnize same-gender marriages. This does not mean, however, that you are prohibited from offering pastoral care to same-gender couples who seek the blessing of the church in their lives, a position that was affirmed in a 1993 statement by the Conference of Bishops."

The synod encourages pastors to consult with the bishop prior to presiding at "covenant blessings." Mullen and Holmerud counsel pastors "that, while neither of us may have intentions to bring charges for discipline against a pastor who chooses to solemnize a same-gender marriage, we cannot guarantee that other pastors or congregations will not choose to do so."

Same-sex civil marriage became legal in California as the result of a May 15 decision by the state's Supreme Court. In November, voters will decide whether to amend the state's constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

In 2006, the New England Synod Council approved "Guidance for Pastors and Congregations . . . Regarding the Blessing of Unions of Same-Sex Couples," authorizing the synod's pastors to preside at the blessing of same-sex relationships.


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Anglican Communion leaders attempt 'rescue mission'

More than 1,100 Anglican Church leaders, including 291 bishops, representing 35 million Anglicans, gathered June 22-29 in Jerusalem for the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON).

In his opening address, Archbishop Peter Akinola of the Anglican Church in Nigeria described the conference as a "rescue mission."

A "Statement on the Global Anglican Future" was issued by those attending the conference. The statement analyzes the global Anglican context and outlines plans for the future.

"The Global Anglican Future Conference emerged in response to a crisis within the Anglican Communion, a crisis involving three undeniable facts concerning world Anglicanism," the statement says.

* "The first fact is the acceptance and promotion within the provinces of the Anglican Communion of a different 'gospel' (cf. Galatians 1:6-8) which is contrary to the apostolic gospel. This false gospel undermines the authority of God's Word written and the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the author of salvation from sin, death and judgement. Many of its proponents claim that all religions offer equal access to God and that Jesus is only a way, not the way, the truth and the life. It promotes a variety of sexual preferences and immoral behavior as a universal human right. It claims God's blessing for same-sex unions over against the biblical teaching on holy matrimony. In 2003 this false gospel led to the consecration of a bishop living in a homosexual relationship."

* "The second fact is the declaration by provincial bodies in the Global South that they are out of communion with bishops and churches that promote this false gospel."

* "The third fact is the manifest failure of the Communion Instruments to exercise discipline in the face of overt heterodoxy. The Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada, in proclaiming this false gospel, have consistently defied the 1998 Lambeth statement of biblical moral principle (Resolution 1.10). Despite numerous meetings and reports . . . no effective action has been taken."

In response to this situation, GAFCON participants formed "a fellowship of confessing Anglicans for the benefit of the Church and the furtherance of its mission."

"Our fellowship is not breaking away from the Anglican Communion. We, together with many other faithful Anglicans throughout the world, believe the doctrinal foundation of Anglicanism, which defines our core identity as Anglicans, is expressed in these words: The doctrine of the Church is grounded in the Holy Scriptures and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular, such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal. We intend to remain faithful to this standard, and we call on others in the Communion to reaffirm and return to it."

A 14-point "Jerusalem Declaration" states the basic faith position of the fellowship. Most of the points affirm traditional Anglican teaching.

The statement also calls for a "Primates' Council" to offer "orthodox oversight to churches under false leadership, especially in North and South America."

This is the first of two major Anglican meetings this summer. Anglican bishops from throughout the world will meet July 20 - Aug. 4 in Canterbury, England, for the Lambeth Conference, an Anglican summit held once every 10 years.

More details on GAFCON are available online at www.gafcon.org.


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Tanzanian bishop reminds LWF of sexuality statement

Bishop Thomas O. Laiser of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania told Lutheran leaders from throughout the world that African Lutherans oppose change to Christian teaching on homosexual behavior.

Bishop Laiser reminded those gathered in Arusha, Tanzania, June 25-30 for a meeting of the Lutheran World Federation Council that in 2004 Tanzanian Lutheran bishops issued The Bukoba Statement which affirmed traditional Scriptural teaching on sexuality and challenged those who would change Christian teaching on homosexual behavior.

There are more than 17 million Lutherans in Africa. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania has 4.6 million members — about the same number of members as the ELCA.


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Biblical scholar reviews draft sexuality statement

A Lutheran biblical scholar has provided two important resources that will help ELCA members as they consider the Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality.

The Rev. Dr. Stephen Hultgren, an ELCA pastor and Assistant Professor of Theology at Fordham University in New York City, has written an Open Letter about the draft statement to the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality and to ELCA bishops. He has also written a review of the use of Scripture in the draft.

Both of the documents by Dr. Hultgren and links to other reviews of the draft statement and to other helpful documents on human sexuality are available in the marriage and family educational resources section at www.lutherancore.org. Following are portions of Dr. Hultgren's Open Letter:

* On the whole I find the statement flawed and disappointing. I believe that if the ELCA adopts the statement in its current form or in a similar form, the church will have missed an opportunity to speak a word of clarity to a church and a society that are deeply confused about human sexuality. More troubling, adoption of the statement will contribute to the continuing erosion of biblical authority that already endangers our church.

* The theological and ethical framework of the document is problematic. . . . The statement admirably affirms that what happens in and to the body matters for Christians, because it matters to God. . . . One misses, however, a clear affirmation of Scripture's grounding of sexuality (and specifically of marriage) in God's creational intentions. Footnote 6 dismisses the idea of orders of creation and, amazingly, rejects creation as a framework for understanding human sexuality at all. Thereby it rejects explicit biblical teaching. . . . This use of Scripture is troubling, because it sacrifices Scripture's clarity on the matter of marriage for the sake of an unclear, abstract celebration of human sexuality in general.

* The document repeatedly emphasizes that a Lutheran ethic of human sexuality will seek what is good for the neighbor. Yet before I can do what is good for my neighbor, I need to know what is good for my neighbor.

* A properly Lutheran framework for human sexuality would begin by dwelling deeply in Scripture. It would present to the reader what Scripture has to say about sexuality specifically, that is, what it has to say about marriage, divorce, adultery, incest, prostitution, fornication, homosexuality, and so forth.

* The statement correctly upholds the biblical understanding of marriage, defined as a union between one man and one woman. Yet the statement would be significantly strengthened by showing that this is not just an isolated opinion in Scripture, nor is it mere custom, far less is it 'discrimination' against other ways of ordering human sexuality. It is rather the witness of Scripture as a whole, when Scripture is taken in its canonical coherence. Jesus affirmed the Old Testament understanding of creation and marriage, but he also clarified it. Jesus' teaching on marriage sets the norm of monogamous, lifelong, heterosexual marriage, and so he brought clarity to what had been left unclear in the Law. . . . The Old and New Testaments together render a coherent understanding of marriage. (It must also be said that to reject the biblical understanding of marriage as rooted in God's creational intentions is to reject the words of Jesus himself.)

* In view of the statement's neglect of what Scripture has to say on specific matters of sexuality and in view of its focus on justification and love of the neighbor, it is hard to avoid the impression that the statement has been written in such a way as to exclude from the outset what Scripture has to say about specific aspects of human sexuality.

* If this statement will really set policy for the church, then it will commit the church, its pastors, and its bishops to policies on human sexuality that stand against Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, which the pastors and bishops have pledged in their ordination vows to uphold. That is unacceptable.

* It is my hope that the Task Force will rewrite the statement in such a way as to meet the criticisms made above. . . . The changes that would be necessary to bring the statement into closer conformity with Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions would require nearly a complete rethinking and rewriting of the theological and ethical framework of the document. . . . If the Task Force is unwilling or unable to make such changes, I call upon the bishops of the church, as teachers and guardians of the faith, to urge rejection of the statement.


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Ethics expert evaluates draft statement on sexuality

Dr. Robert Benne, a Lutheran ethics scholar, has written a review of Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality.

Professor Benne is the Director of the Center for Religion and Society at Roanoke College, Salem, Va. He is the author of several books including Reasonable Ethics: A Christian Approach to Social, Economic, and Political Concerns and Ordinary Saints: An Introduction to the Christian Life. He also serves on the Lutheran CORE Advisory Council.

Benne's review, "A Sexual Ethic for Teletubbies, or Lutherans Embrace a Formless World," was published on the "On the Square" Blog of the theological journal First Things.

A link to his article and links to other documents on human sexuality are available in the marriage and family.educational resources section at www.lutherancore.org. Following are portions of Dr. Benne's review:

* The kind of theological/ethical argument in this current document . . . is precisely the kind that will set the stage for a revision of Lutheran teaching on sexual ethics in the future. Such a revision would mean that the ELCA is no longer a church following in the footsteps of the Lutheran Reformation.

* One of the noticeably odd features of the new draft is its absence of "males and females," "women and men," "husbands and wives," "boys and girls," and "mothers and fathers." Instead, one reads of "couples," "partners," "engendered persons," "parents," and "children." The subjects of the statement seem to have no distinct features, a bit like the amorphous Teletubbies of children's television. This reluctance to affirm definite forms extends to the statement's posture toward marriage and the family, commandments and law, guiding principles, and especially toward rules. In fact, this aversion to specific forms seems to be the fatal flaw of the document, leading to a vagueness and fluidity that undermines its capacity for genuine guidance in the church.

* This formlessness appears immediately in the statement's theological and ethical foundations. The law, though affirmed, remains a ghostly, abstract, and empty category. No commandments are mentioned. No covenantal structures—such as God's gift of marriage to Adam and Eve—are affirmed. Indeed, there is no explication of male and female together being created in the image of God.

* Certainly Jesus makes relevant statements about sexual ethics, but these have little to do with incarnation or justification. He reaffirms the creation account of woman and man being created in the image of God; he upholds marriage and offers very strict conditions for divorce. He condemns all sorts of sexual sins—adultery, fornication, lust, etc. But all these are built on the law of God he inherited from Jewish tradition, which gives the basic form and content to the sexual ethics he teaches and sometimes sharpens.

* This effort to derive sexual ethics from incarnation and justification is a very un-Lutheran way of making an ethical argument. Luther argued that marriage is located in the order of creation and should be guided by natural law, best summarized in the Ten Commandments.

* The statement clearly de-centers marriage as the touchstone around which Christian sexual ethics are elaborated. It takes up marriage as a topic only near the end of the document. It is even equivocal about the God-ordained status of marriage. It affirms that "Marriage is a structure of mutual promises between a man and woman blessed by God," yet later suggests that "marriage" (quotation marks in the original document) is accorded legitimacy merely by its "historic origin." It tepidly allows that this church "does not wish to alter this understanding" but then hurries on to dilute its affirmation by observing that some states already use "marriage" to refer to same-gender unions.

* The statement remains resolutely formless when it takes up family life. It grudgingly agrees that the nuclear family fosters the development of trust in children and youth, but imme-diately notes that it has not always done so effectively. Later it opts for a functional definition of the family and suggests that many arrangements can get the tasks done, not just the "conventional one." Its pastoral compassion for many in "broken" families overcomes the possibility of making a normative statement about the form of the family.

* The statement promotes an ethic of responsibility—a good thing for mature people—but distances itself from any reliance on rules, another example of aversion to form, in this case formalism in ethics. . . . A solid ethic of responsibility would employ rules, some absolute in character.

* The statement proposes a serious line of argument, a subversive one with which I sharply disagree.


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Theologian critiques draft statement on sexuality

Prominent Lutheran theologian, the Rev. Dr. Carl E. Braaten, has written "A Critique of the Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality."

Dr. Braaten is Professor Emeritus, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. He is Senior Editor of Pro Ecclesia the theological journal of the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology. He is the< author of numerous books including Principles of Lutheran Theology. He also serves on the Lutheran CORE Advisory Council.

A link to Dr. Braaten's critique and links to other helpful documents on human sexuality are available online in the marriage and family educational resources section at www.lutherancore.org. Following are portions of Dr. Braaten's review:

* This 'Draft' fails to apply traditional Lutheran principles of theology and ethics regarding human sexuality. In Lutheran doctrinal theology the articles dealing with creation and law precede the articles dealing with redemption and gospel. This is equally true of Orthodox, Catholic, Reformed, and Evangelical traditions of theology, virtually amounting to an ecumenical consensus from which this social statement departs.

* The ethics of sex is not primarily a gospel issue; it is a matter of law in the first instance.

* The common human structures of life such as marriage and the family, labor and the economic order, the nation and the state are universal dimensions of human existence. They are created by God and experienced by all human beings and societies apart from the Scriptures and outside the covenant communities of Israel and the Church. The knowledge of what is right and wrong, good and bad, is revealed by God through these structures, by means of the way God has ordered them. No Lutheran theology has ever proceeded to deal with the matters addressed by the Ten Commandments (especially the Second Table of the Law) as though only Christians are endowed with moral discernment. In spite of the universal condition of sin, reason and conscience are not so depraved as to be incapable of grasping the universal morality expressed in the Decalogue.

* This social statement virtually ignores the Old Testament, the Genesis story of creation, God's covenant with Israel, and the giving of the Mosaic law.

* This document is worried about legalism. Some Lutherans are so afraid of legalism that they have thrown the baby out with the bath water. The root of the problem is confusion about the relation between law and gospel. . . . Legalism is not much of a problem in the ELCA today; antinomianism is.

* Over against Scripture the Draft refers to "society's changing circumstances and growing knowledge" as well as to "insights of culture and human knowledge." In the balance the latter clearly outweighs the former. If Scripture is really the "primary source" of Christian teaching, one would expect that its most relevant passages on human sexuality would be exegeted with extreme care. The most important verses are not even quoted.

* The social statement drops the ball on the issue of homosexuality. . . . One does not need to read the Bible to know by reason and conscience that homosexual behavior is against the norm of God's created order. . . . The basics of what is morally right and wrong are built into human nature. There is the law that male and female are created for each other; their sexual organs match. That is no accident; God created the sexes to complement each other.

* The Draft Statement acknowledges that there is a lack of consensus in this church on this matter. If there were not, there would be no need for the study and an eventual social statement. It is the obligation of the church to teach the biblical-Christian truth about faith and life, not to take a poll of its members and base its teaching on the outcome. . . . Should the church teach only those doctrines on which there is consensus? . . . Popular consensus is irrelevant. Some pastors and congregations may not conform their teaching to the Lutheran Confessions, and many do not, what does this prove? It proves that there is a high degree of tolerance of false teaching in the church and that discipline is lacking.

* This "Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality" is not only deeply flawed from a Lutheran theological perspective, it is also so poorly written that I believe there is very little in it to salvage. This document states that "this social statement on human sexuality . . . taps the deep roots of Scripture and the Lutheran witness . . ." However, in my judgment its treatment of both Scripture and Lutheran theology is extremely superÔ¨Ācial and erroneous.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Hanson: "Spiritual Blasphemy"

Shrimp here, with a matter so important that the ELCA News Service put out two different stories in one afternoon. First,
ELCA Presiding Bishop Addresses Environmental Concerns to LWF Council
08-100-JB

ARUSHA, Tanzania (ELCA) -- It is "spiritual blasphemy" to abuse the environment, said the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, president of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). In a June 25 address here to the LWF Council, Hanson called on LWF member churches to advocate for changes in policy and practice, adding that "hope compels us to be disciplined, courageous, faithful stewards of the whole creation."

The LWF Council, which Hanson chairs, is meeting here through June 30. The LWF is a global communion of 140 churches in 78 countries, representing 68.6 million of the world's Lutherans. The ELCA is an LWF member.

Hanson addressed the theme of the council meeting, "Melting Snow on Mount Kilimanjaro: A Witness of a Suffering Creation," in his report. Environmental abuse is treating God's creation as "an adversarial wilderness, a godforsaken wasteland, a natural resources dump to be used for our own self interest rather than cared for in obedience to God for its own sake," Hanson said.

The LWF president said it is clear from the Bible's Genesis chapter 3 and from human history that humankind "has rebelliously seized and abused the creation." He cited a number of examples, including consumption of forests and farm land, water and air pollution, and climate change, which is causing snow to melt on Mount Kilimanjaro near here. These "offenses" are an assault on fellow living creatures, including "human beings who are less privileged, less powerful," Hanson said.
Read it all here. A few moments later, this story was released:
ELCA Presiding Bishop Addresses Climate Change, Other Global Concerns
08-101-JB

ARUSHA, Tanzania (ELCA) -- The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) can help create a global movement to limit or halt environmental degradation, but it must have many partners and large numbers of people to be effective, said the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, president of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

Hanson made the comment at a June 25 news conference following his report to the LWF Council, which is meeting here through June 30. The LWF is a global communion of 140 churches in 78 countries, representing 68.6 million of the world's Lutherans. The ELCA is an LWF member.

Hanson addressed the theme of the council meeting, "Melting Snow on Mount Kilimanjaro: A Witness of a Suffering Creation." In his report he said it was "spiritual blasphemy" to treat God's creation as "an adversarial wilderness, a godforsaken wasteland, a natural resources dump to be used for our own self interest rather than cared for in obedience to God for its own sake." He called on member churches to advocate for changes in policy and practice, and he said that "hope compels us to be disciplined, courageous, faithful stewards of the whole creation."
Read it all here.

Where should we begin? A contributor to ALPB Online chimed in pretty quickly on the ELCA Presiding Bishop's use of "spiritual blasphemy," wondering if Bishop Hanson had ever used such a strong word on any other topic. As frequently happens on that board, the discussion was sidetracked in several different directions, ably assisted by the wide variety of quotes by the Presiding Bishop in the press, er, news release. But his use of very strong religious language kept coming back for, after all, how often do we hear an ELCA bishop or pastor speak of "blasphemy" of any sort?

Shrimp was most taken by these comments by Pr. Jerry Kliner, STS, an ELCA pastor in West Virginia. Writes Pastor Kliner here,
It seems interesting (and troubling) that the great and grave sin of Blasphemy has been invoked in conjunction with the environment...  Blasphemy, as I understand it, is a sin against the Second Commandment (You shall not make wrongful use of the Name of the Lord, your God...).  How is this "in play" with the environment, as PB Hanson describes it?

The interesting implications of this that I see are:

1) PB Hanson either has a radically different understanding of blasphemy or misunderstands this grave sin (may it not be so!)...

2) God's name and being are being co-equated and confused with the Creation, which could be the great sin of Idolatry...

3) The true, great and grave sin of blasphemy, which should be every bit the concern of the Presiding Bishop, is being ingnored in favor this "spiritual" blasphemy that the PB lays accusation of...  Or in other words, when you have Ebenezer and "Herchurch" committing real and true BLASPHEMY, the PB chooses to ignore that and lay out a "new" blasphemy? 

Now I'm not accusing PB Hanson of being ignorant or idolatrous, but one needs to ask the question of what exactly he means by invoking the sin of blasphemy in this case...  Especially when he avoids naming that sin in other, real cases of blasphemy...
In case you've forgotten, "Ebenezer and Herchurch" can be found here. We could say a lot more about Bishop Hanson's environmental comments. (One word that comes to our mind reading the news releases, especially the second one, is "hubris;" but we'll save that for some other commentary.) But it is interesting to see what it took for the Bishop to start using a very old-fashioned word. Thank you, Pastor Kliner!

Shrimp out.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Bishop tells Lutherans how Tanzanians denounce homosexuality

"Thorny issues"? Methinks it is a thorn that is large enough to gore the ox.

Do read until the end and please leave a comment explaining how the discussion of human sexuality is providing a witness to the gospel for the world. Me also thinks that the Tanzinian bishop is right and is not being passive when he says "such things are not fit to talk about." (he's being biblical too in his Pauline reference but I am sure that will fly over Western heads as they are busy rolling their eyes at the African's uneducated-ness. Bp Laiser may be wise, everyone should, that the gay advocacy strategy is to talk the thing until it is normal. And that my friends, is talking, talking half-truths and bad science and political correctness, not the proclaiming the gospel...

Bishop tells Lutherans how Tanzanians denounce homosexuality
27 June 2008
Peter Kenny

Arusha, Tanzania (ENI). The host bishop at a global Lutheran conference in Tanzania raised the thorny issue of homosexuality when in his opening sermon at a meeting in Arusha of the main governing body of the 68-million-strong Lutheran World Federation, he said same- sex relationships are unacceptable and go against biblical teachings.

"What is the witnessing and the stand of the LWF at the moment as [far as] the whole question of homosexuality and lesbianism is concerned," asked Lutheran Bishop Thomas O. Laiser, from the Arusha region, at the 25 June opening service of the LWF Council. "It is an undeniable fact that this question is not even discussible, and therefore it is not acceptable," he said.

The LWF president, Mark Hanson, who is the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said he believed the Lutheran body has mechanisms to adequately deal with debate and divergent attitudes on the issues of human sexuality. "There are some people who would love to see us fall apart on this issue," he added.

Although Lutheran churches throughout the world hold different views about matters such as the acceptance of homosexuals in church life, and blessings for single sex relationships in some Northern countries, it has managed to avoid the type of divisions that are faced by the worldwide Anglican Communion over the issues.
Tanzanians, some of them in traditional Masai dress, danced and sang during the two-hour service, which officially opened the 25-30 June gathering of the LWF Council. The meeting is being held in Arusha, near the foot of Africa's highest mountain, and with the theme, "Melting Snow on Mount Kilimanjaro: A Witness of a Suffering Creation".
Bishop Laiser, who is himself from the Masai, a distinctive pastoralist tribe in East Africa, said, "I am not standing here to tell you how this matter should be in your respective churches and countries, I am only sharing with you a piece of information on our stand in the ELCT [Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania], your host."

The Tanzanian bishop said that homosexuality, "violates all the principles of what we know about the teachings of the word of God." He referred to St Paul's first letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 6:9), saying, "No sexual pervertswill inherit the kingdom of God."

Bishop Laiser, who studied for a master's degree in theology at Wartburg Seminary in the United States, stated, "This matter does not only violate the teachings of the Bible, but it is also against the principles of nature."
He added, however, "I am not saying there are no homosexuals and lesbians in Africa and in Tanzania. The worst thing is this strong move to make these perverts officials in the church in the guise of human rights." He said the situation should be "mended" before it is "past mending".

Questioned about this at a press conference LWF president Hanson, said the Lutheran federation is addressing the topic of sexuality in a way that does not stifle discussion. He noted that at its last council meeting in 2007 at Lund, Sweden, the governing body received a report from the LWF Task Force on Marriage, Family and Human Sexuality. The council asked LWF churches to discuss the issues in their congregations, within a biblical context and in an awareness of how these issues could have an impact on relationships with others.

Hanson said that during a visit to bishops in Tanzania and East Africa made before he came to Arusha he had listened to Tanzanian bishops discuss how to grapple with the lingering issue of polygamy in their communities and how to allow people in polygamous families share in the sacraments.

Addressing the LWF meeting's opening service, Hanson had asked for understanding of the convergent issues while these are being discussed.
"I do not think right now it's helpful for the LWF as a communion to take a stance on issues that are being discussed in the member churches - discussed in the context of Scripture, discussed in the context of our Lutheran confessions and theology, (and) discussed in the contexts of our varied (situations related to) marriage, family and human sexuality," he said.

Hanson noted that the churches belonging to the LWF would continue to discuss human sexuality "for the sake of our witness in the world and our witness to that which is core to our faith, and that is the Good News of Jesus Christ".

The good ship ELCA...

The good ship ELCA...
Or the Shellfish blog...