Saturday, February 28, 2009

Upper Susquehanna Synod Bishop Driesen's Letter

Pastoral Letter from Bishop Robert Driesen

The First Week in Lent,
February 26, 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

This is a difficult letter to write, because I realize that it touches the lives of so many, all of whom are seeking to be faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ. Despite our differences, however, all of us should be able to agree that questions related to human sexuality, while going to the core of what it means to be a human creature, are transformed, like every aspect of our lives, by our baptism into Christ. The sciences and other human disciplines, while informative, are not determinative, as we wrestle with what God’s intention is for us, having created us as sexual beings.

The ELCA Social Statement, Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust, is the result of a long process that had its beginning in a request made by the voting members of the 2001 Churchwide Assembly, with an additional mandate provided in 2007 related to the rostering of homosexual persons in committed and faithful relationships. In many ways, it is unfortunate that this statement will be overshadowed by the rush to focus on the single issue of homosexuality, and, in particular, the ministry standards of this church.

I find the statement’'s starting place a good one. The gift of sexuality is seen within the context of the two great commandments: love of God, love of neighbor. Since human sexuality is an expression of human love, it should reflect God'’s love, including God'’s faithfulness and trustworthiness. Trust in relationships is a significant theme throughout the document.

While much more can be said about human sexuality from a theological perspective, there is little (but some things) in the statement with which I can disagree. Clearly, however, on matters related to rostering, the task force recognizes no consensus in this church, nor does it see a consensus building. Instead, the task force, in response to the mandate given it by the 2007 Churchwide Assembly, returns the question to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly, providing it with several resolutions that propose that this church engage in a process of clarifying its intent and agreeing to principles before moving on to practice.

If the Assembly answers the questions posed by the task force in the affirmative, this church would move in the direction of providing what many describe as a “local option.” Bishops, synods, synodical candidacy committees, congregations, congregation councils, and call committees would decide whether they believe that God is calling a particular person to rostered ministry who is in a faithful, committed same-sex relationship. If so, this church would add its assent in this particular instance and in this particular place.

I appreciate the skill with which the task force seeks to move our discussion of this question away from the usual way of suggesting that there are but two mutually exclusive, competing answers. That is, most who argue that we must maintain our present policy (unmarried persons regardless of their sexual orientation are called to a life of celibacy) do so by insisting that this is simply a matter of fidelity to Scripture. Those, on the other hand, who seek to change the policy often argue that this is a matter of justice. Both arguments, in my humble estimation, are overly simplistic.

Utilizing the notion of “bound consciences,” the task force seeks to end the tug-of-war between the two extremes, asking whether we can accept the bound consciences of others as also binding on us, by our giving honor to those whose convictions lead them to a different conclusion that our own.

I believe this is an interesting, respectful approach, and far better than what I so often hear. Nonetheless, I share with you my personal concerns about what this proposal would mean for this church, its place in the one, holy catholic and apostolic church, and the potential insurmountable challenges it would present to good order.

As I have often jokingly suggested, if this church elected me pope (God forbid!), the issue would be decided for good or ill, once and for all. But, for the reasons offered by Martin Luther and the confessors, this would be unwise—--even disastrous. It is also true, however, that just as threatening to the Church as it would be for one person to bind the consciences of all Christians, an equally disastrous and opposite danger would be for all Christians to be their own popes. While this is not what the task force is suggesting--it insists upon the community’'s assent--I worry, nonetheless, about what would happen, in practice, if I reached a conclusion that was completely opposed to all those referenced above. While I would hope that the synod council and everyone else--including call committees and congregations--would willingly be bound by my bound conscience, is this what is truly best for this church, and is this what actually would happen in every case? After all, we are also in bondage to sin. Sin will always enter our discussions, and even our decisions. Therefore, will not “structured flexibility” be chaos in the end? Frankly, I do not know, but it deeply concerns me. Even more so, I worry about what this means for us as we seek to be this expression of the Church in the world.

While I know that this ongoing discussion has become tiresome, I much prefer continuing the discussion until, at last, we can say, “It seems good to us and the Holy Spirit.” This is Christ’'s Church, not mine, and not yours. While I felt compelled as your bishop to share some of my thoughts, I recognize that others may have far more thoughtful responses than I. Whatever your views, may it be Christ who guides your thinking, not in isolation, but wherever two or three gather together in his Name.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Benne: No Grounds to Change? Then Don't

Prof. Robert Benne responds to the Task Force's reports, courtesy Lutheran CORE (click here for pdf copy). Hat tip to Pastor Zip, who gave us a nice title to use.

When There Are No Biblical or Theological Grounds to Change, Don’t

The Statement and Recommendations of the Sexuality Task Force have been released, and they are as disappointing as I expected them to be, though the statement itself is much improved in some ways. It moves closer to the Lutheran way of doing Christian ethics as well as to the church’s rich understanding of the centrality of marriage. Yet, the key problems remain: the statement avoids making normative judgments about homosexual conduct by neglecting the testimony of the Bible and the Christian moral tradition on that issue. In doing so it departs from the moral consensus that the church has held for millennia, a consensus that was reflected in the social statements of the predecessor Lutheran churches. We essentially will have no teaching at all on this matter. Yet, the Task Force moves forward anyway, violating the settled prudent conviction that there should be overwhelming evidence against a moral teaching and practice of long standing before it is changed. The two documents admit we have no consensus on that key issue but yet propose major changes in teaching and policies anyway. This is “journeying together faithfully?” This is more like “we respect your bound conscience by adapting those policies to which you are opposed.”

The “Bound-conscience” Doctrine

There are two erroneous judgments that anchor the statement. The first has to do with the “bound-conscience” doctrine that is so central to the documents. Both documents argue that we can have major differences in our convictions about central matters of faith and life and live with them as long as we sincerely hold different views of biblical interpretation and Christian doctrine. This relativizes Christian teaching by appeal to sincerity. Luther did not doubt that his opponents were sincere at Worms, or that they held different views of biblical interpretation and church teaching. He thought they were wrong and he was right, on the basis of the Word of God and clear reason. Further, he appealed to the teachings of earlier authorities in the church in his debates with the Church of Rome at that time. He thought the weight of Scripture and authentic Church tradition was on his side of the tough issues of that day.

Likewise, I believe it is incontestable that the Scriptures and the moral teaching of the Christian church throughout the ages—and presently that of the ecumenical church—proscribe homosexual relations of any sort.[1] (Conversely, I am quite certain that the revisionist side believes it is right and I am wrong.) Thus, I am not satisfied with appeals to sincerity and tolerance, especially since I think Christian teaching is clear. And I am certainly not satisfied with those appeals when the recommendations of the Task Force lead to no teachings at all on the subject, but yet lead to sharp changes in practice. Appeals to sincerity will not do. We may have to separate amicably rather than journey faithfully, since the right construal of the faith is at stake.

Another dubious facet of the “bound-conscience” doctrine is the claim that the revisionist side will respect the convictions of the orthodox or traditionalist side over time. Richard Neuhaus famously opined: “Where orthodoxy is optional, in time it will be proscribed.” He hit the nail on the head. The revisionists already control the “commanding heights” of the ELCA—the headquarters, the Church Council, the majority of the Sexuality Task Force, most of the seminaries and colleges, the publishing house, and many Synods. They make sure that outspoken proponents of orthodox teaching on these matters do not disturb the near consensus they have forged. (If you keep quiet about these things, you may get hired or appointed, but you must remain quiet in order not to be shunned.) I have been in so many ELCA contexts where this process of selection has been at work that I don’t have space to enumerate them. Let’s just say that the most of the cards are held by those in the “commanding heights” and they will not respect those with orthodox convictions who might threaten their hand. And in time those orthodox convictions will not even be allowed to surface. This, by the way, has been the trajectory of those orthodox voices in the Episcopal Church. Finally, orthodox voices were so marginalized that they began another church.

A cynic might charge that the appeal to respect consciences is a convenient instrument to mollify those orthodox among the laity who are very upset by the moves being made. The revisionists do not want those laity to bolt the ELCA or send their money elsewhere. So the statements promise that their consciences will be respected. But beyond the congregational level, such respect will be hard to come by in a few years. Indeed, it already is.

The Demotion of the Law

While this draft definitely bolsters the role and evaluation of the Law of God—his commandments—in the first part of the draft, it forgets about them theologically and practically when the chips are down. First, Lutherans have always believed that the Word of God includes both the Law and the Gospel. Indeed, one could say that the full meaning of the Gospel includes the Trinitarian faith—the revelation of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Without the first and third persons of the Trinity, the Gospel of justification is either unintelligible or leads to cheap grace. The first part of the new draft does affirm the Law in principle, but when it comes to disagreement over what the Law commands, it says that such disagreement is not church-dividing. This reduces the importance of the Law and makes agreement on justification the sole source and sum of our unity. “Thus, we recognize that this church’s deliberations related to human sexuality do not threaten the center of our faith, but rather require our best moral discernment and practical wisdom in the worldly (left-hand kingdom) realm.” (10:326) Likewise, Task Force Chairman Peter Strommen states that “This ought not to be church-dividing, even if there are differences.” Stanley Olson, representing the ELCA , follows this line of thinking: “…Our Christian unity does not depend on agreement about ethical matters.”

This is quite a novel teaching. Would it be church-dividing if the ELCA suggested we alter the Sixth Commandment to allow adultery if the two spouses agreed upon the practice? Did the Lutheran World Federation allow the Apartheid-supporting Lutheran Church in South Africa “to journey together faithfully” with the rest of the Lutheran churches? If I remember correctly, denouncing Apartheid became a matter of status confessionis, and that little church was tossed out of the LWF. Did the Christians of the Barmen Declaration resist the Nazis because they attacked the doctrine of justification? Hardly. Rather, they resisted because the Nazis demanded that they violate the First Commandment by recognizing the Nazi regime as a higher authority than God. Did the southern and northern branches of the Lutheran Church divide over the doctrine of justification during the Civil War? Indeed, did not the Episcopal Church split over violations of Christian moral teaching, something we Lutherans seem eager to imitate?

There definitely is a sense in which we can live with our differences when it comes to public policy. Lutherans live with all sorts of differences in social and political ethics. The left-leaning pronouncements of our Bishop and the ELCA in this realm are merely irritating, not church-dividing. Most agree that Christians of good will and intelligence can come down differently on the issue of recognizing civil unions in society. But the sexuality issues under discussion have to do with the teaching and practice of the church. They strike much closer to the core of Christian life and teaching—what does it mean to love the neighbor in sexual matters? What does it mean to confess Jesus as Lord in our personal life? Are the Commandments a guide in these matters, two of which assume the heterosexual nature of the marriage?

The demotion of the Law and the isolation of justification from repentance and amendment of life will not do. These disagreements are far more serious than the statement suggests. Further, as in the case of the Episcopalians, disagreement on the matter of the Law reveals other differences, especially on the authority of Scripture and the church’s tradition of moral teaching. The Episcopal shipwreck had little to do with disagreements about justification.

A Continuing Problem: Aversion to Form in Christian Ethics

I complained about the formlessness of the first draft of this document. I called it an “Ethic for Tele-tubbies” because it refused to recognize formal principles in ethics: male and female forms, ethical rules, the Commandments, different forms of love, the created forms in which those different forms of love are properly expressed, and the God-intended forms of marriage and family. This statement bolsters that formal element by recognizing and explicating the Commandments of God as a guide for the Christian life (6: 204ff. and the footnote on 6) and extolling marriage as an institution established by God.

But, oddly, I believe, it relies on the concept of “trust” to make the case for right relationships in personal and social life. However, “trust” is not really a principle of moral guidance; rather, it is the quality in a relationship that arises when moral actions elicit trust. It is the proper actions and the guiding principles and intentions lying behind them that elicit trust. Trust is not the active principle but rather the response. Thus, love in its various forms elicits trust—the love of God for each sinner, loving actions among friends, between husband and wife, between parents and children, and so forth. But it is very clear in Christian ethics that different forms of love are appropriate to different forms of relationship. Erotic love does not and should not elicit trust if it is directed from parent to child. Such love is also forbidden for those outside the marriage bond. Filial love is directed toward parents but does not include erotic love. The love of friends is of yet another sort. Agape love, the crown of Christian ethics, seems appropriate in all forms of relationships that need mending and/or mercy.

It is on this issue that the statement fails. By relying on “trust,” it avoids the Christian moral tradition’s distinctions about forms of love and their appropriate expression. The Bible and Christian sexual ethics throughout the ages prohibit sexual love with those who are too close to us (incest), those who are too different from us (bestiality), those who are too different in age and maturity (pederasty), and those who are too much like us (homosexuality). One part of that settled Christian moral consensus is now being challenged and that is a very serious matter, one that is likely to be church-dividing. (Logically, once the prohibition against homosexual conduct goes it seems unlikely that other challenges can be resisted. Trust can emerge in all of those forbidden relationships. It is the actions that are morally illicit.)

Further, in the long section on family life the statement seems unable to affirm the God-intended pattern of a mother and father bearing and nurturing children. It grudgingly accepts the “nuclear” family’s ability to “foster the development of trust in children and youth,” (20: 727ff) but it cannot bring itself to hold up that triad as the ideal for Christians. (By this I do not mean that we should be uncaring or unwelcoming of other forms of family, but in this confused world we should be able to impart a normative vision of what God intends for his creation.)

The statement also shows reluctance to employ rules regarding pre-marital sex. It relies on the principle that “degrees of sexual intimacy should be carefully matched to degrees of growing affection and commitment.” (27:1005) But that convenient principle leaves it up to the individual to decide the level of commitment present in a relationship. Does sex come with a promising relationship, with “going-steady,” with engagement, with living together, none of which are “non-monogamous, promiscuous, or casual?” (27:1012) Fairly fuzzy teaching, that.[2]

Likewise, the statement is pretty fuzzy on cohabitation. While “this church does not favor” cohabitation, it offers many reasons why it might be tolerated or even allowed. (28: 1045-1066) It certainly muddles the C.S. Lewis’ famous summary of the rule of Christian sexual ethics: “Complete fidelity within the marriage bond; complete abstinence outside it.”

Finally, how can a statement on sexuality avoid the issue of abortion, particularly when we will soon have legislative efforts before congress to strike down all limits on that practice? If men and women have sex, children are often the result. The classic Christian understanding of marriage is that it is a one-flesh union of complementary beings (man and woman); oriented toward new life; and a protection against sexual sin. This would have been a perfect time to offer a strong endorsement of the sacrality of all nascent human life, which should be taken only for the weightiest of reasons.

Robert Benne
Professor Emeritus Roanoke College, Virginia, and Director of the Center for Religion and Society


[1] I want to make it clear that clear public teaching on these matters does not preclude compassionate and even flexible pastoral care in private. The issue at stake is what the teaching of the church should be. The revisionists in the ELCA aim at changing our teaching and public practice, not primarily at deepening and enriching its pastoral care.

[2] I offer a course in Christian sexual ethics at the end of which I survey student opinion on the issues discussed above. The students often turn out to be more “traditional” than I expect. I also ask them if the church’s teaching should be more “realistic,” more accommodated to their opinions. To a person they say “no,” they want the Christian sexual ethic in all its challenging grandeur to be taught and encouraged. They want something clear to aspire to and, if they fail, something before which to repent and amend their lives.

Metro New York's Bishop Rimbo's Response

Bishop Robert Rimbo of the Metropolitan New York Synod writes,

On the way together
February 24, 2009

In my conference visitations I repeatedly have told people it’s all about relationships. God, the Holy Trinity, is a relationship. And our life together in the church is about relationships, too. We need each other. This theme of mind seems to resonate with leaders of our synod congregations. I’m grateful for that. In print last week was another story of one spouse shooting the other in a rage. Recently we have heard about an 11-year old boy killing his father’s pregnant girlfriend. Violence is common and the level of rage behind these instances of conflict, miscommunication, or jealousy is almost unbelievable. Disagreement and dysfunction about sex is no small factor.

That is why I want to remind you that this life we share in the church is all about relationships. In the end human sexuality is part of that reality.

The 33-page report on human sexuality takes pains to describe our best understanding of what it means to be related to one another as the family of God. It acknowledges the intimate ways in which human beings are together as offspring, as parents, as couples. In the face of an absolute deluge of sexuality in almost every aspect of life, it holds out themes of trust, grace, fairness, mercy and God and upholds those themes.

It also tries to outline a path for us to remain on the way together despite profound disagreement across the spectrum of opinion. I think it offers us hope that we shall remain one, as Jesus prayed. We, together, will have to assess whether it succeeds.

While this makes for a long message to you, I wanted to outline my understanding of what this message from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is saying. There has been a range of emotions – from anticipation to anxiety – surrounding the release of the Social Statement on Human Sexuality. Now that it is here, it is important to familiarize ourselves with its contents. Most of the statement is a non-controversial, comprehensive, Biblically-based understanding of human sexuality. As mentioned above, theological themes like trust, hope, joy, grace and faith are extraordinarily helpful in our efforts to reflect on healthy human sexual response and behavior.

In addition to the social statement, the task force was given the charge to bring forward possible changes in policies on rostered ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The simple question is "Can persons with homosexual orientations who are in publically committed relationships serve in the rostered leadership of our Church?"

The report includes recommendations for action by the Churchwide Assembly in a process. The Assembly will vote on the following four steps as separate, one-by-one resolutions. If step one passes, step two would be considered, and so on.

This is, again, how to understand the proposal:

Step one asks the Churchwide Assembly whether, in principle, it is committed to finding ways to allow congregations and synods that choose to do so to recognize, support, and hold publicly accountable life-long, monogamous, same-gender relationships.

Step two asks the Churchwide Assembly whether, in principle, this church is committed to finding a way for people in such publicly accountable, life-long, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as rostered leaders of this church.

Step three asks this Church whether, in the future implementation of these commitments, it will make decisions so that all in this church bear the burdens of the other, and respect the bound consciences of all. This means that any solution that serves only the conscience-bound positions of one or another part of this church will not be acceptable.

Step four proposes how this Church can move toward change in a way that respects the bound consciences of all. It recognizes that such respect will lead to diversity of practice. However, the majority of the task force believes that the conscience-bound lack of consensus will be respected most faithfully by providing some structured flexibility in decision-making so that congregations and synods may choose whether or not to approve or call people in publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve in rostered ministry in the ELCA.

In brief, the Churchwide Assembly this coming August will decide whether to create "space" for congregations and synods to publically recognize and hold accountable the relationship of same-gendered couples (step one), and (step two) whether our Church ought to find ways to allow the rostered ministry of such persons. The task force acknowledges that conscience-bound faithful Christians find themselves on different sides of this issue. The task force also acknowledges that we are bound not only in our own consciences but in love to the conscience of the other. Because of the lack of consensus in the church, the task force believes that we need to respect our differences and accept the different places in which the baptized find themselves. The recommendation affirms that our distinctive positions on this issue should not be church-dividing. No congregation or institution will be forced to call a leader they do not wish to call.

The documents will be reviewed by the Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America at their meeting, March 27-30. The Council may choose to amend the proposed social statement and will recommend action on it for consideration by the Churchwide Assembly, August 17-23, 2009, in Minneapolis.

On the way together in this great Metropolitan New York Synod we will continue to seek to remain together. It may be like a family with some “issues.” I ask for your prayers, conversation and support for our church during this critical period.

Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo

Remember John Pless's article which appeared in Lutheran Forum in 2005?

The Old Pietist says he gets letters, lots of them, from crazed lay people who are looking for direction from the pastors of the Church of their youth about this crazy new direction of the ELCA. They look at the things coming out of Chicago and it sounds like New Age, pagan stuff. He got a letter this morning that said the fellow read something recently that made him think about something he read before on the Pietist blog and it seems to him that if someone would use this they could completely discredit the new statement and the recommendations. They are located at.

"The excerpts below are what I think should be reviewed:"

The Use and Misuse of Luther in Contemporary Debates on Homosexuality: A Look at Two Theologians (2004) By John T. Pless

Pless on Schroeder and Luther (excerpt)

Schroeder overlooks the fact that "the perpetual aim of the Gospel" is the forgiveness of sins, not the overthrow of natural orders. Article XVI of the Augsburg Confession declares "The gospel does not overthrow secular government, public order, and marriage, but instead intends that a person keep all this as a true order of God and demonstrate in these walks of life Christian love and true good works according to each person's calling."[34] Rather than rightly distinguishing law from Gospel, Schroeder has done exactly what he accuses those who support the traditional Christian teaching on homosexuality of doing - he offers another gospel, a gospel unlike the gospel confessed in Augsburg XVI, that seeks to overthrow the good orders created and instituted by God to preserve His world. Underneath Schroeder's deeply flawed law/promise hermeneutic lies an understanding of creation that is foreign to Luther and the Lutheran Confessions. Others have identified the gnostic character in an approach that parades itself as relevant to current challenges for inclusiveness and tolerance[35]. Such a "serach for relevance" writes Christoph Schwoebel "comes into conflict with fundamental dogmatic tenets of a Christian theology of creation. What seems to be needed in not an ethics of creation, but an ethic of createdness which is informed by a theology of creation."[36] An ethic of createdness so prominent in Luther cannot be sustained by the shallow reductionism of Schroeder's approach.

[34] AC XVIII:5-6, Kolb and Wengert, 49-50.

[35] See, for example, Philip Lee, Against the Protestant Gnostics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987) and David Yeago, "Gnosticism, Antinomianism, and Reformation Theology: Reflections on the Cost Of A Construal" II Pro Ecclesia (Winter 1993), 37-49. Also note B. Wannenwetsch's critique of the "docetic" turn taken by advocates of homosexual unions in B. Wannenwetsch, "Old Docetism-New Moralism? Questioning a New Direction in the Homosexuality Debate" Modern Theology XVI (July 2000), 353-364.

[36] Christoph Schwoebel, "God, Creation, and the Christian Community: The Dogmatic Basis of a Christian Ethic of Createdness" in The Doctrine of Creation: Essays in Dogmatics, History, and Philosophy, edited by Colin Gunton (Edinburgh: T & T. Clark, 1997), 150.

Pless on Forde & Luther (excerpt)

The law, Forde argues, has two uses or functions.[41] In its civil or political use it regulates human behavior. Here the law works horizontally to protect and preserve life. It curbs chaos and reigns in outbursts of immorality that would destroy the fabric of human community. The law, in its second use, unmasks sin coram deo and reveals the wrath of God against every idol. In its civil function, Forde notes that the law does not have to do with so-called "orientation"-which he deems a rather "modern invention that seems particularly pernicious." [42] Here the law has to do with human actions, with behavior. Yet ultimately the law accuses the sinner before God. But these two uses cannot be so easily segregated. "The doctrine of the uses of the law is simply an attempt analytically to discern what the law actually does. Law does two things to us, come what may. It sets limits to sinful and destructive behavior, usually by some sort of persuasion or coercion -ultimately by death itself; and it accuses of sin. That is simply what it does. We have no choice in the matter."[43]

Forde sees antinomianism, in whatever form it takes, as an attempt to find some other end for the law other than Christ crucified. So, for example, in the current debate on homosexuality, he observes that there are those who attempt to change the content of the law. He writes "...when we come up against laws that call our behavior into question we usually attempt by one means or another to erase, discredit, or change the laws. We become antinomians. If we don't like the law we seek to remove or abolish it by exgetical circumlocution, appeals to progress, to genetics, to the authority of ecclesiastical-task force pronouncements, or perhaps just to the assurance that 'things have changed."[44] But the law will not disappear by exegetical attempts to expunge difficult texts from our hearing, or invocation of the latest scientific research to lessen the claim of Scripture, nor will it be house broken in the name of compassion or tolerance. The law cannot be so easily silenced. We cannot bring and end to the law. Only Christ is the end of the law for faith. Forde then proceeds to take up Paul's rhetorical question and answer in Romans 3:31-"Do we then overthrow the law by faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law." Faith does not set the law aside but rather lives with trust in Christ alone. Faith does not overthrow the law but establishes "it in its rightful place."[45]

The "rightful place" of the law then continues as it orders human community and as it accuses of sin, driving broken sinners to Christ alone. It is a pernicious misuse of the law/gospel distinction to legitimize homosexual unions or ordinations. Forde writes "The idea that law could be so altered in content that the civil use would be somehow milder or even contrary to the theological use is quite contrary to the doctrine. Law may indeed be applied variously according to the situation but the basic content remains the same".[46] This point can be demonstrated from Luther's treatise, "How Christian's Should Regard Moses." In this writing Luther develops the distinction between the laws of Moses that pertain only to the political entity of Old Testament Israel (ceremonial and civic ordinances) and the commandments of God which are also inscribed in the heart. "Nature also has these laws"[47]says Luther and they are reflected the Ten Commandments.

"It is not enough" says Luther "simply to look and see whether this is God's word, whether God has said it; rather we must look and see to whom it has been spoken, whether it fits us".[48] One may not simply place the Old Testament prohibition against the eating of pork alongside of the sixth commandment. Forde's argument, consistent with Luther, is that the law of God in creation itself orders human existence in the bi-polarity of male and female. Creation itself is structured heterosexually. The nature of sexual intercourse as a one flesh union of two who are other, who are biologically different demonstrates this. "The two become one flesh, a substantial unity in difference".[49] Civil law rightly has a stake in regulating and protecting marriage for the good of the human race.

[41] I will forgo the question of the law's third use in this discussion of Forde. This issue of the third use of law in recent American Lutheranism is well-treated by Scott Murray, Law, Life, and the Living God: The Third Use of the Law in Modern American Lutheranism (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2002.

[42] Forde, "Law and Sexual Behavior," 4.

[43] Ibid. 7.

[44] Ibid. 5. Also see Forde's description of antinomianism as a "fake theology" in his article, "Fake Theology: Reflections on Antinomianism Past and Present" 22 (Fall 1983), 246-251 and "The Normative Character of Scripture for Matters of Faith and Life: Human Sexuality in Light of Romans 1:16-32" XIV (Summer 1994), 305-314; Also Gerhard Forde, A More Radical Gospel: Essays on Eschatology, Authority, Atonement, and Ecumenism, edited by Mark Mattes and Steven Paulson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004), 33-49 , 137-155.

[45] Ibid.6.

[46] Ibid.8.

[47] LW 35:168.

[48] LW 35:170.

[49] Forde, "Law and Sexual Behavior," 10. On this "unity in difference" note Meilaender: "The mutuality for which we are destined is a loving union of those who are other. And for creatures who are finite, historical, and earthly-for embodied human beings-that otherness has a biological grounding. Homosexual acts are forbidden precisely because lover and beloved are biologically, not sufficiently other. The relationship approaches too closely the forbidden love of self" Gilbert Meilaender, The Limits of Love (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1987), 129.

Lower Susquehanna Synod Bishop's Statement

Lower Susquehanna Synod Bishop B. Penrose Hoover writes:

Bishop’s Letter to Rostered Leaders related to proposed Social Statement on Human Sexuality and Recommendations on Policy for Ministry

February 19, 2009

Dear Pastors and Lay Rostered Leaders,

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son Jesus, the Christ.

Today at 1:00 p.m. the proposed social statement on human sexuality and the recommendations on policy for ministry will be available to the general public at on the ELCA web site. I hope that you have had the opportunity to carefully read and prayerfully consider these documents.

As you read them, and discuss them with your people, I would like to draw your attention to a few things to keep in mind:
  1. The proposed social statement and the report and recommendation are two separate documents, and will be considered by the Churchwide Assembly as two separate matters for debate and action.
  2. There are implementing resolutions attached to the proposed social statement that are distinct from the recommendation on ministry policy.

  3. The proposed social statement and recommendation (but not the report) may be amended by Church Council. Both also may be amended by the Churchwide Assembly. The assembly may approve or reject either or both of these documents.
  4. The proposed social statement has been changed from the draft version (shortened by 1,000 words), so please read it to know for yourself what it now says.
  5. The report and recommendations contain two dissenting positions.

I appreciate the faithful work of the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality. The members of that task force, including Bishop Carol Hendrix, have spent countless hours in study, prayer, listening, discussion, and writing. I give thanks to God for their dedicated service. The documents are intended to be a faithful reflection of the ELCA’s study, prayer, and discussion process about human sexuality.

The process is far from over. The ELCA Church Council will review the documents March 27-30 and may choose to make amendments. Many synods will respond to the documents by adopting memorials at synod assemblies to be considered at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly August 17-23, 2009. Of course, there will be many amendments offered at the August assembly. I believe and affirm that, in the midst of all disagreements and difficulties, God does not abandon God’s church and the Holy Spirit is still at work in our process of deliberation and discernment.

As the process continues, I ask that you will join with me in prayer: Gracious Father, we pray for your holy catholic Church. Fill it with all truth and peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in anything it is amiss, reform it; where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in need, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ, your Son our Savior. Amen.

Faithfully, your bishop,

+ B. Penrose Hoover

Rocky Mountain Synod Bishop's Letter

Rocky Mountain Synod Bishop Allan Bjornberg writes,

Dear Partners in ministry,

I trust that you have had the opportunity to read through Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust: A proposed social statement from the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality. Today the statement is released to the public. You may be receiving calls, as I have, from local media. I have no doubt that many members of our congregations will be reading it.

I also know that others will be unaware of the statement, and/or the process for consideration of the document by the Churchwide Assembly. In addition to reading the proposed social statement, which has been significantly revised, I encourage you to pay attention to the executive summary and the talking points made available to you. Of course, the Report and Recommendations on Ministry Policies will be of great interest to many, and perhaps the first place to which they will turn. I do urge you to read through both documents.

Note that the documents now move to the Program Committee of the Church in Society Unit, the Conference of Bishops, and the ELCA Church Council. It is the council, meeting at the end of March, which will send the proposed statement and the report and recommendations document on to the Assembly, and which may amend the work of the Task Force.

Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust is the result of much conversation throughout this church. Every member and congregation of the ELCA has had multiple opportunities over the last eight years to respond and contribute to the evolving document. This version may yet be amended by the Assembly. You will find it to be shorter and less technical than the first version. The central themes of relationship and trust are still prominent throughout the document. Note the helpful footnotes on trust (#2), the left hand of God (#14 and #15), and the careful explanation of bound conscience (#26).

The social statement names the complexity and variety of positions among us on these issues. At the same time, it reminds us "...we believe that the way we order our lives in matters of human sexuality, although important for us as people of faith, is not central to the gospel itself." (Lines 299-301) The text also boldly names both the life-giving creativity of our sexuality, as well as the destructiveness of the commercial and cultural perversions of God's gifts. In the context of an individualistic, even self-serving culture, the statement strongly affirms the necessities of strong social fabric and community.

There is much here for congregations to talk through, not the least of which are the concerns about guiding our children toward a healthy, mature sexuality. And there is a great deal to consider about fidelity in marriage.

At the 2007 Churchwide Assembly, the Task Force was charged with providing a Report and Recommendations on Ministry Policies. Reading this report reminds me again that the Task Force, throughout its work, represented the broad spectrum of opinion in this church. The Social Statement does not compel the course proposed in the recommendations, but is congruent with them. If the Assembly were to move toward resolution four, it would add a new element of flexibility to the existing structure of decision-making which this church employs in affirming and guiding ministry candidates. The document lays out a potential way in which the usual decision-makers, candidacy committees, seminaries, bishops, call-committees, and congregations might consistently and locally move forward with candidates, according to church-wide standards.

Nothing has yet changed. Of course the Churchwide Assembly will prayerfully grapple with and discern these issues. As a church, we have been at these conversations for fifteen years. They have sometimes been quite difficult, even divisive and volatile. But I have been grateful for this church's growing maturity and deepening ability to engage these difficult conversations. I deeply believe the Holy Spirit is in the midst of our struggles for clarity and compassion. I am hopeful.

I pray for continuing blessings on your ministry and on your faith community.

Bishop Allan Bjornberg

Central/Southern Illinois Synod Bishop's Reflection

Bishop Warren Freiheit of the Central/Southern Illinois Synod writes a...


Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

I regret that my schedule has kept me from sending this e-mail until this time on a Friday, but I did want to express my appreciation for your partnership in ministry, and concern for the comments you may be facing through the coming days in light of the report and recommendations from the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality.

We may have a variety of reactions to the report and recommendations, and yet I truly commend the Task Force that was given a challenging task and which has faithfully responded to that challenge. We have received a proposed Social Statement and implementing resolutions, which is in response to a Resolution from the 2001 Churchwide Assembly in Indianapolis, as well as recommendations on rostering which is in response to a resolution from the 2007 Churchwide Assembly in Chicago. The two documents are independent of each other except for the fact they are the products of the same Task Force.

My colleague, Bishop Peter Rogenss of the St. Paul Area Synod, makes a good point when he writes, "it's unfortunate that this social statement – Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust - - will get lost in the public rush to talk about the policy recommendations. Sexuality is a powerful dimension in our lives and badly misunderstood in this culture. We would do well to think long and hard about how to receive it as the gift it is, with the potential to ennoble rather than damage life." My hope is that we can see in this social statement a meaningful document that has taken Scripture, our confessions, and faithful dialogue seriously in an attempt to address the many aspects of human sexuality in a way that will be helpful to God's people.

The responsibilities of the Task Force have now concluded. Synod Councils can still adopt and forward resolutions to the ELCA Church council for consideration by March 11. Memorials passed by Synod Assemblies will be considered by the Memorials Committee and passed on to the Churchwide Assembly which will meet August 17-23, in Minneapolis. May we bathe all these actions in prayer as we seek God's guidance for our Church.

Many in our Synod have indicated that there is little desire for further conversation on the topic of human sexuality, and yet a forum will be available at the Synod Assembly in June to discuss concerns that still may need to be discussed. I will make myself available, as schedule allows, for discussions in congregations or clusters of conversations as we approach the Churchwide Assembly. I will also make myself available for conversation if rostered leaders seek clarification on procedures or possible outcomes. I may not have all the answers, but I am certainly willing to walk together with this synod as we face our concerns together.

May God continue to bless you as you are a blessing to this Church.

Bishop Warren D. Freiheit

South Dakota Bishop Quotes St. Paul Area Bishop

South Dakota Synod Bishop David Zellmer's comments on the South Dakota Synod News Blog are largely a quote from a e-letter from St. Paul Area Synod Bishop Peter Rogness.

Some Thoughts on Recent ELCA Documents

Dear Rostered Leaders,

The ELCA bishops have been sharing with one another letters and e-mails they have sent to their rostered leaders regarding the two documents released this week by the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality, Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust and Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies. I found a letter from Bishop Peter Rogness, St. Paul Area Synod, to be logical and clear in its history and review of the statement and proposal, and with his permission am attaching an excerpt from it. I encourage you to read both the Sexuality Statement and the proposal, and I believe you will find Bishop Rogness's letter to be helpful in framing the process, discussion, and questions that are before us.

In Christ's Service,

Bishop David B. Zellmer
Testing the Water: Can we move beyond the two poles
to be church together?

Excerpted with permission from an e-letter by Bishop Peter Rogness, St. Paul Area Synod, ELCA, 2/19/09

The process
Our church is participatory in how it makes decisions about our life together. This process was set in motion by action of a Churchwide Assembly in 2001, with additional mandate given in 2007. A diverse task force was formed to give its best effort --in listening, understanding, and recommending. These documents represent a monumental effort, and, I believe, a fine work product. Whether you agree or disagree with their substance, the effort deserves our thanks and our study.

These documents now belong to the church. The Conference of Bishops will discuss them in early March (we're a non-legislative body and as such, are unable to make any changes to the documents). The church council will receive them and transmit them with proposed actions to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis, August 17-23. In the meantime forums … and synod assemblies … will discuss and, in all likelihood, pass on memorials to the Churchwide Assembly. Then the 1,050 voting members of the assembly will make their decision on behalf of the whole church.

So the first thing to help your people understand is that this is in process, and this process is designed to bring the church's full participation into the final decision. This isn't something they are doing. The they is us, and it's a very broad "us."

The proposed social statement
It's unfortunate that this fine social statement--Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust--will get lost in the public rush to talk about the policy recommendations. Sexuality is a powerful dimension of our lives and badly misunderstood in this culture. We would do well to think long and hard about how to receive it as the gift it is, with the potential to ennoble rather than damage life.

The statement begins by placing matters of sexuality within the two greatest commandments: love of God and love of neighbor. If human sexuality is to be an expression of human love, it ought to mirror God's faithfulness and trustworthiness. Trust in relationships becomes a key theme throughout, and marriage and family are the vehicles God gives us for building trust in relationships.

I hope you use this statement in discussion groups. Because of responses from people throughout the church to last year's first draft, the social statement is substantially shorter and reflects greater clarity in certain portions. The Churchwide Assembly will consider not only the substance of the statement itself, but the 15 implementing resolutions (pages 32-33) that encourage further consideration and action flowing from this statement.

The report and recommendations on ministry standards
I hope we can reframe the conversation about ministry standards from the way it has been traditionally framed and the way the media will surely frame it. Framing the question in the typical way describes two competing poles, which can be summarized this way:

Argument for retaining the present policy (i.e., gay and lesbian clergy must be celibate): "This is fundamentally a matter of fidelity to Scripture. The Bible in several places is clear that homosexuality is sinful, contrary to God's creative design. Those in public leadership ought not be in a relationship the Bible clearly states is sinful. Just because the culture has moved away from this biblical truth is no reason for us to do so."

Argument for changing policy, allowing gay and lesbian clergy in committed relationships to be rostered ministers: "This is fundamentally a matter of justice. The Bible passages cited are not directed to persons whom we now understand to have a same-gender orientation. We now know this is part of who these people are, and we have come to see that there are wonderful gifts for ministry that this church should allow to be claimed."

The task force recognizes again, as it did in 2005, that this is a church with no consensus on these fundamental issues. That might mean--if we are drawn into the polarization of this matter--that we now launch into a tug-of-war to see who wins.

But the task force suggests another way. My first reaction is twofold: I think it borders on brilliant, and I think it's deeply Lutheran.

Lutherans have always held to the importance of conscience--based in relationship with God, grounded in Scripture, guided by our theological heritage (see lines 384 ff for references beginning with Luther himself). But the task force turns our more typical use of "conscience" on its head and gives it back to us to deal with. Typically one asserts "conscience" as a trump card. For example, "If my conscience tells me so-and-so, I get my way; you can't make me go against my conscience." But the task force calls us to receive each others' conscience as similarly binding and then challenges us to find a way to be church together, giving honor to the bound conscience of those whose convictions lead them to differing conclusions than our own. The tug of war is ended, in this approach. Rather, we are called to find a way that grants integrity and respect to differing, faithful, conscience-bound positions.

I think we're being challenged to find a way to be church together. We don't have to have one side lose so the other can win. But both sides--all sides--need to decide if we can respect the other sufficiently so as to allow them to shape the life of the church in their place in that way that they believe God is leading.

So what does this mean?
So how does all this work? What specifically would it mean? Rather than propose constitutional changes (as was proposed and defeated in 2005), the task force recommends letting those structures that already make judgments about suitability for ministry continue to do so. These structures include synod candidacy committees, seminary faculties, bishops, congregational councils, and call committees. All of these entities now guide the church's decisions and would continue to do so.

If this church decides to allow for these processes to consider a gay or lesbian person in a committed relationship as the person whose gifts for ministry seem well-suited for a particular setting, then we would put in place "structured flexibility" to guide such decisions. The blanket preclusions to their ministry would be eliminated. But also, consistent with respect for bound conscience, those places in the church that do not believe in such suitability would also be respected.

The task force lays these matters before the church in a logical four-step progression, and my previous paragraph describing how the process would work is step four. Since we place great importance on accountability to ministry standards, the church would first have to decide whether it was willing to allow congregations and synods that choose to do so to "find ways" to recognize lifelong, committed, monogamous, same-gender relationships. In other words, the same rigorous standard for conduct that we hold for heterosexual clergy in marriage would need to find parallel for same-gender couples. The question is this: Driven by respect for the conscience-bound convictions of some, is this church willing to allow those persons and congregations to be led in that direction, even if others are led in another direction?

"For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us...."
In the 15th chapter of Acts, when a deeply divided early church came together to consider how to proceed as the gospel moved beyond the Jewish world to be embraced by Jew and Gentile alike, the apostles and the elders announced their decision: "For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us..." (Acts 15:28) In the Smalcald Articles Luther spoke in almost sacramental terms of "the mutual conversation and consolation of the saints." The task force has put squarely before us the question of how seriously we can take the "us" in the apostles' words.
More information and resources may be found at Human Sexuality on the ELCA website.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Now, the reaction from former Sexuality Task Force member Lou Hesse

Cap'n Bill here mateys, writing you from one of the Seven Seas, uh, I forget which one, they all look alike, you know. Well, I got me trusty satellite and I be listening in on the Internet. I read the following and asked Mr Hesse if we could share this bit of testimony and evidence with ye. I share it with ye because 1) it is as brief and succinct reasoning on why the Social Statement and the Recommendations should be turned down as I've read so far and 2) it shows that the Task Force's own experts told them that they anthropological views they are choosing to act on are flawed!

In response to the statement:

"Only one of these really matters to me… Scriptural condemnations of homosexual behavior are not binding on Christian homosexuals. I suggest that the traditionalist position must engage this argument. What would such engagement look like? It must produce an observable proof that homosexual relationships under the same conditions as heterosexual relationships produce “bad fruit” spiritually, communally, and personally."

Lou writes:

I'm late to answering this but I've been busy.This very worthy question deserves a confessional answer. I too am not impressed with the argument that something must be some way because "mom said so." That works with some children, and perhaps it is sufficient in some cases because we were all called to have a childlike faith, but I no longer think like a child (haven't for a long time). So I think we need to rely on Dr. Luther's conscience in bondage to the Word of God -- unless I be convinced by scripture and clear reason I cannot recant.

I also resonate with ____'s comment that the proof is on the side of those desiring change, not the other way around. Paul, in several places, admonishes people to be faithful to what has been handed down, so as one of my ordained friends says, ordained people in particular should be the last to adopt or promote change. By the way, this is also the position that Jim Childs stated clearly to me on the task force -- the burden of proof resides with those desiring change. With that as an introductory, here is why I cannot support these changes:

1. The witness of gay folks themselves. One of the most common phrases I heard and continue to hear is "no one would choose to be gay." This is often offered as a response to free will oriented folks who say gay expression is simply a choice. A position I reject. But embedded within the statement is an implicit conclusion even among gay folks that if they had a choice, they wouldn't be gay. There is a recognition in that statement that gayness is "less" than straightness. This is, finally, a recognition there is such a thing as natural law. My 20-mo. old grandson is currently learning a lot about gravity. He does not choose to fall down but he's learning about gravity.

2. Gay folks have also told me in no uncertain terms that I (meaning me, Lou) have no idea what it means to be gay. This statement, I must admit, is finally true. I truly have no concept of what it must be like to have gay desires and try and function in the world with those desires. But it seems to me that a corollary to this conclusion is also true: namely, that gay folks have no idea what it's like to be straight or have any idea what male-female marriage is all about. So for someone to say that a gay relationship is the "same" as marriage is to make a statement that simply cannot be made, given the inability of either side to fully know what's involved in the opposite. Shoot, most days I don't even know how my beloved can think some of the things that come up. The 'otherness' of marriage is, indeed, a great mystery. So far what I have said would lead one, perhaps, to a position of 'can't we all just get along?' You go your way, I'll go mine, peaceful coexistence... But --

3. Some things we learned on the task force point to that not being appropriate. We had a specialist in sexual expression come in and share a number of things. He said that the concept of inborn orientation is deeply flawed. Identical twin studies have shown that there is no such thing as an inherited orientation and most people are finally located on some sort of bell curve with the vast majority of people being to one degree or another born either indifferent or 'bisexual.' He also stated that cultures that are homophilic experience higher rates of same-sex expression than cultures which are homophobic. The implication of that statement is that while individuals may not choose, cultures may choose in ways unrecognizable to encourage wider same-sex behavior. And as I pointed out in #1 above, even gay folks would say that is not a good choice.

4. The consistent witness of scripture is that in humility we should advocate for the poor. This does not mean just economically, but rather we should advocate for those who are weak, powerless, voiceless, marginalized. And in this discussion, that is about young children. Numerous sociological and anecdotal scenarios indicate that heterosexual marriage is the best place for the nurture of children. Any move away from that is a move against the best interests of my neighbor. The culture of the family is finally what creates the bondages most of us can admit to. The closer the family comes to honoring the ABCs of the cosmos, as Paul calls it in Galatians, the less trouble we will have. Conclusion: So I call on my gay neighbors to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the weak. And that call is not limited to my gay neighbors. I see through the glass darkly, I could be wrong, but this is what I confess today.


Florida-Bahamas Synod Bishop Benoway's Statement

Bishop Benoway Speaks on Sexuality Taskforce Recommendations in an Open Letter to Synod Leaders.

This week, Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust, the proposed ELCA social statement on human sexuality, was released to our rostered leaders, the church and the public. I encourage each of you to carefully read and reflect on this statement and the accompanying documents available at the ELCA website: This social statement, prepared after many years of deliberation and study remains open to revision by both the ELCA Church Council and the 2009 Churchwide Assembly that meets in Minneapolis, Aug. 17-23.

The document, Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies, was also released this week. This report and its recommendations fulfill the 2007 Churchwide Assembly mandate to the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality to “address and make recommendations on changes to any policies that preclude practicing homosexual persons from the rosters of this church.” (CA07.06.27) This report, along with its accompanying documents, is also available at the ELCA website:

I have read all the documents and certainly commend them to you for careful consideration as rostered leaders of this church. I am confident that most people will appreciate the faithful work of this task force that has spent countless hours in prayer, reading, study, listening, discussion and writing. As a people of God, we may and probably will disagree on the wording, conclusions and recommendations of these documents. However, as the members of the task force point out, “we also have discovered again that our Lutheran heritage equips us well as we wrestle with questions of faithful discernment amid conflicts and complexities.” I am encouraged that the recommendations urge us in the direction of clarifying our principles of being church together before attempting to change practice. We need to deeply respect that fact that while worshiping one Lord, and claiming one faith and one baptism into Christ, we are not of one mind on these important issues facing our church and our world.

It is my sincere hope and prayer that the Florida-Bahamas Synod, which celebrates and honors diversity, will be a model for dialog and mutual respect of those who differ from us. I remain absolutely confident that the unity that we have in Christ Jesus as the center of our lives and faith will hold us together as family of God.

May God bless you and your ministry as we prepare to enter the Lenten season! I look forward to our time together.

Pacifica Synod Bishop Finck's Statement

The Pacifica Synod is in Southern California. Here is Bishop Murray Finck's statement on the proposed social statement.

February 19, 2009

Dear Pastors and People of the Pacifica Synod,

God's grace and peace be with you.

The second draft of the ELCA Social Statement, now titled Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust is being released and distributed February 18, 2009 to all rostered leaders, and will be available for all congregations and to the public on February 19. It is being accompanied by The Report and Recommendations for Ministry Policies from the ELCA Task Force for Studies on Sexuality. I hope you all have an opportunity to download and receive these documents. The members of the task force and many others have worked many, many long hours, days, and years to bring these documents to the church. Those who worked on this since the 2001 Churchwide Assembly resolution that called for this study and social statement have written several study documents, read thousands of responses, crafted drafts of documents for preview and comment, and now have given their work and their opinion to the whole church to make some very important decisions in 2009.

Here is the sequence that now follows. The documents are for our reading and review at this time. They will go before the ELCA Conference of Bishops in early March. The bishops may make recommendations, but not changes, to the documents. If there are recommendations from the Conference of Bishops, they will go with the documents to the ELCA Church Council as it meets the last week of March. Between now and that ELCA Church Council meeting, Synod Councils may send resolutions to the ELCA Church Council for consideration at their March meeting. So far, one congregation of the Pacifica Synod has requested that our Synod Council send a resolution to the ELCA Church Council regarding the voting percentages at the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly. At the end of March, the ELCA Church Council will offer the final wording for the Social Statement and the Recommendations for Ministry Policies. The ELCA Church Council has the responsibility to accept, or amend, or edit, or reject the language of both of those two documents. On April 2, 2009, the final proposed versions of these two documents will be ready and released to the whole church. Please note, that between now and the end of March, the language and content of these two documents may indeed change again. Of course, it is also possible that the ELCA Church Council will send the documents on as they are now presented.

After April 2, the documents will go to the 65 synods and possibly be addressed at the synod assemblies, if they so choose. Synod Assemblies may memorialize the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, scheduled to meet in August 2009 in Minneapolis. Through memorials, Synod Assemblies may recommendation amendments to both documents. The Pacifica Synod Assembly is May 21-23, 2009 at the Riverside Convention Center.

I hope you will read the documents in their entirety. A wide spectrum of concerns regarding human sexuality are addressed. A thorough treatise on how ELCA Lutherans tackle difficult ethical issues is offered. It is the work of knowledgeable lay members, congregation pastors, teaching theologians, and others who sat together many hours, in all their diversity, and came together with the thoughts expressed in the two documents and the report. There are, as we expected, areas where we will almost all agree, and other parts of the documents that will continue to be controversial in the ELCA and in this synod. As you have or will read in the documents, the Task Force recognizes what we all know to be so very true in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America today, that “this church is not of one mind” about certain aspects of human sexuality, in particular, about the way we as a church will view homosexuality. There continues to be great diversity in thought and belief about this in society, in our local communities, in families, and in the church and other religious communities, both near and globally, too. The language of the documents before us now recognizes this wide range of thought, belief, and biblical understanding within the church of which we are a part. Rather than only one way to address this diversity, the documents suggest a range of possibilities and make room for the bound conscience of all members and leaders of the church.

Another message will be sent to you in the next 24 hours reminding you of the March 12th Day of Theological Reflection and Dialogue with The Rev. Dr. (Professor) Terrance Fretheim, who sat on the Task Force for the Study of Sexuality for several years. We will also remind you of the two Hein-Fry lectures on Biblical Authority that are being held this spring in California. I will also offer several times and places between now and the Conference of Bishops where I will be available to meet with rostered leader and the laity of the church to discuss any and all aspects of these two draft documents.

Let us remain in prayer for one another as we read these documents through different lenses and biblical understanding. Let us pray for those who will continue to make important decisions and recommendations in the days ahead, namely the 65 Synod Councils, the ELCA Conference of Bishops, the ELCA Church Council, the Pacifica Synod Assembly voting members, and finally the voting members of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly. Please join with me in continuing to pray for the unity of the church in the midst of its challenges.

Saint Paul urged us with these words, “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ's gift.”

In the Light of Christ,

The Rev. Murray D. Finck

Pacifica Synod—ELCA

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

ELCA Synod Bishops Respond to Task Force Recommendation, Social Statement

Shrimp here, with the second of Ash Wednesday's ELCA News releases. Well, the thought had crossed our tiny mind that we should go checking around for messages from ELCA Bishops. Frankly, we don't find the following encouraging in the least. Shrimp out...

ELCA Synod Bishops Respond to Task Force Recommendation, Social Statement

CHICAGO (ELCA) -- In pastoral letters to members of their respective synods, bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) encouraged pastors, lay leaders and others to become familiar with two documents released Feb. 19 by the Task Force for the ELCA Studies on Sexuality. Some bishops also commented on the contents of the documents.

The task force released a "Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies," which focuses on changing the standard that "ordained ministers who are homosexual in their self-understanding are expected to abstain from homosexual sexual relationships" -- as stated in the ELCA's "Vision and Expectations" for ordained ministries. The same expectation applies to associates in ministry, diaconal ministers and deaconesses.

The task force also released "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust," a proposed social statement that addresses a spectrum of topics relevant to human sexuality from a Lutheran perspective.

Both documents will be considered by voting members at the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly -- the church's chief legislative body -- Aug. 17-23 in Minneapolis.

In their letters, some of the 65 bishops extended their appreciation to the task force for its "faithful work" and outlined the church's work leading up to the assembly. In the coming months some bishops will host open forums to discuss and receive comments about the documents.

The Rev. Jessica R. Crist, bishop, ELCA Montana Synod, Great Falls, urged synod members "to read (the documents) for yourself, and not to base conclusions on what someone writes." She said, "I have already read and heard oversimplified and just plain inaccurate accounts floating about in the public media."

"The task force recommendation, in my reading of it, strives to take a different route from creating winners and losers in this matter," Crist said.

The Rev. Jon V. Anderson, bishop, ELCA Southwestern Minnesota Synod, Redwood Falls, also encouraged synod members to read the documents. "Too often we let other people frame our own reflection and thoughts by how they see things."

"These documents now belong to the church," said the Rev. Peter Rogness, bishop, ELCA Saint Paul Area Synod, St. Paul, Minn. "Our church is participatory in how it makes decisions about our life together," he said. "This is in process, and this process is designed to bring the church's full participation into the final decision."

The Rev. Michael L. Burk, bishop, ELCA Southeastern Iowa Synod, Iowa City, said, "We have entered the next phase of what has been a long and thoughtful conversation through the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. In a church like ours, where decisions about life together are participatory, we will all benefit from your careful reading of these pieces and from your willingness to engage others in honest and respectful dialog."

"The documents are intended to be a faithful reflection of the ELCA's study, prayer and discussion process about human sexuality," said the Rev. B. Penrose Hoover, bishop, ELCA Lower Susquehanna Synod, Harrisburg, Pa.

The Rev. Callon W. Holloway Jr., bishop, ELCA Southern Ohio Synod, Columbus, said, "I have been more than a little concerned about the release of the draft social statement on human sexuality. The subject is not the centerpiece of our mission, witness, and life together, although it is important."

"Some feel that the recommendation could strengthen the church in regards to our mission in ecclesiastical and social justice, while others feel that it could threaten our unity and identity. Still others wish that it would just go away. Whatever your position, please carefully re-study the whole document before interpreting highlights to others," said Holloway.

The Rev. Edward R. Benoway, bishop, ELCA Florida-Bahamas Synod, Tampa, Fla., said, "I am encouraged that the recommendation urges us in the direction of clarifying our principles of being church together before attempting to change practice. We need to deeply respect (the) fact that while worshiping one Lord, and claiming one faith and one baptism into Christ, we are not of one mind on these important issues facing our church and our world."

According to the Rev. Allan C. Bjornberg, bishop, ELCA Rocky Mountain Synod, Denver, "As a church, we have been at these conversations for 15 years. They have sometimes been quite difficult, even divisive and volatile. But I have been grateful for this church's growing maturity and deepening ability to engage these difficult conversations."

The Rev. Margaret G. Payne, bishop, ELCA New England Synod, Worcester, Mass., said, "Although admittedly biased from my former life as chair of the task force, and witness to its wisdom and abilities of discernment, I believe that the (report and recommendation) document captures the true place in which the church finds itself -- no consensus in these matters -- and suggests a very Lutheran and wise way to use mutual respect and love for the gospel, and a patient four-step process, as the way to continue to navigate this difficult issue in our life together."

According to the Rev. Claire S. Burkat, bishop, ELCA Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod, Norristown, the recommendation "offers us a way forward to carry out our mission and ministry while respecting that Christians disagree on this issue for deep-seated reasons of conscience and interpretation of Scripture." If the recommendation is approved, "I will welcome the gifts and abilities of the many faithful, devout and talented gay and lesbian pastors to this church," she said.

"As one of the first women ordained in the Lutheran church in the 1970s, I know what it is like to be excluded from opportunities for ministry. I also know that change in culture and acceptance takes time, patience and openness to new expressions of ministry," Burkat said.

- - -
Information about the 65 synods of the ELCA is at on the ELCA Web site.

For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or
ELCA News Blog:

Monday, February 23, 2009

Why ELCA Worship Is Plummeting

Shrimp here, with some help from The Lutheran magazine.

The current issue (March 2009) includes this feature story, "Downside of worship. We were particularly struck by the subhead:
Average worship attendance plummets — here's a glimpse why
Writes Associte Editor Julie Sevig
Since 2002 average worship attendance at ELCA congregations has taken an Olympic-size dive. In 2001 average attendance was up slightly. But it took a downward turn the following year, and figures compiled by ELCA Research and Evaluation last fall say average attendance is down 45,000 (from 144 per congregation to 131).
That's a 9% drop.
The figures aren't much different from those of other mainline denominations, said Kenneth Inskeep, executive for Research and Evaluation. And they're a sign of weak ties to the church and a church that's not evangelizing. Many nonattenders are young adults or retirees whose attendance lapsed after their children were confirmed, he said.

Stephen P. Bouman, executive director of Evangelical Outreach and Congregational Mission, notes a shift in the culture that once supported the churchgoing of emerging generations. "We've also lost our evangelizing power [and] that effort to instill the faith and practices of discipleship in our children and today's emerging generation," he added.

Bouman said the downward trend is a call to renew efforts to teach and model the faith. "There is a particular connection between vitality and attendance at worship and the connection a congregation has in mission to its community."
Then the article gets really interesting.
The Lutheran asked, "If you used to be a regular worshiper, what made you stop?" on Facebook and Twitter — realizing the sought-after constituents might not be regular readers of The Lutheran.

Non-churchgoers from Washington, California, Indiana, Illinois, Texas, Ohio, Iowa, Minnesota, Arizona and Florida also told us what they miss, how they tend to their spiritual needs and what might bring them back.
Ready or not, here they come! Er, here they stay home.
A variety of reasons
Jeff Yoder, Fort Wayne, Ind., said his family stopped attending worship because they weren't being spiritually fed. "Our congregation seems to be controlled by
long-standing, wealthy members who don't want change," he said. "We need to modernize a bit if we're going to survive."

Shelly Coonrod, Findlay, Ohio, said she feels obligated to occasionally attend. But she gets more out of gathering with friends in a home they call "The Curry House."

"We talk about the Bible, what's going on in our lives, what we feel God is doing and a variety of nonreligious topics," she said. "We do everything from deep prayer to dancing. It's relaxed, entertaining and full of serious worship. Amazingly, non-Christians have shown up, and they have been introduced to God. Of course, this is all done in the presence of authentic Indian curry. We help each other, without anger or judgment. Not that we don't correct one another, but we do so in a kinder way than church would. It's ... amazing."

Coonrod said church pretentiousness ("Everyone tries to act so perfect"), and a lack of Bible study and friendliness drove her away. "I can be a child, a teen, a middle-aged adult, but I can't be a young, single person," she said. "It's very annoying. It excludes me from so much."

Danielle Robinson, Lake Stevens, Wash., stopped worshiping when her much-loved pastor left. She was a liberal at a conservative Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod congregation and the pastor respected her beliefs. Since then she's stayed away because churches were too far away — logistically and politically/theologically. "I would go to worship easily if I knew it would be just like Holden Village [in Chelan, Wash.] — colorful, artsy, interactive and slightly unpredictable," she said.

George Roberts, Mesa, Ariz., said he's been a card-carrying Lutheran 56 of his 58 years. "But I can't be sure I'll ever get back," he wrote, adding his gratitude for the chance to respond to such a question. "There doesn't seem to be a forum for this kind of discussion in our churches."

Roberts wrestles with the virgin birth and the substitutionary blood atonement of Christ. "We have forgotten to ask questions, or are afraid to, in regard to our faith, belief systems, creeds, etc. ... It was difficult for me to face my early fears of questioning my orthodox theological system, but I have found it to be an enlightening, learning and freeing experience," he said. "God is big enough to handle our fear, anger and questions. Too many of us aren't."

Carolyn Morrow said her family moved to Florida and simply didn't connect with the local church. "After awhile we quit trying," she said. Morrow misses the liturgy and music, adding, "I'd return to the church to participate in Bible study and worship if there was no expectation for more commitment from me. We are involved in helping others—those of our own choosing—and we do that freely and regularly."
So, what have we learned so far?

If your congregation honks off someone, not only is he leaving your church, he's leaving all of them in town.

Duty-bound folks'll show up now and again, but they want a comfortable place with an informal and unstructured atmosphere (an Indian spice seems to be key) and with no negative vibes.

A snooty church teaches the young to be snooty—elsewhere on Sunday mornings.

Two examples of people who stopped going because they actually believed something other than what the church taught.

Someone who misses the church in their old town, and would come back as long as no commitment was expected.

Incidentally, we just noticed that we are writing this on the commemoration of Polycarp, one of the martyrs of the very ancient church. Proving that someone has a sense of irony.

The final two reasons are genuinely sad. A man "who once loved and participated in church life, descended into alcoholism and no longer feels worthy to attend."
...when I've gone to service, the hymns and the liturgy bring me to tears, and I can't bear the guilt and shame. ... I now attend only when my sons have a role — as acolyte or in the handbell choir. At those times, I am happy and proud of them, and fearful for myself. I wish I could go and accept God's forgiveness and love.
And a family that left because
Churches have become businesses, more interested in increasing membership and offerings than in being the warm, safe, friendly environments of the churches I grew up attending. ... We have probably been to our [current] church four times since [last spring] and not once has anyone called to inquire as to whether we're OK," she said. ... A return to tradition and a feeling that I actually mattered and wasn't just a number or a wallet [would bring me back]," she said.
The article closes with the stories of two who appear to have come back. The wife of a seminarian who figures that as a pastor's wife she'll be expected to attend. And a woman who "found her way back after a two-year lapse" to a church that was two congregations merging together and in the process of calling a new pastor.

And thus ends the article.

Shrimp hopes you've been enlightened by this glimpse from the latest issue of The Lutheran and you are now better armed to reverse this trend. And, as you are reading the other blog entries we've made the last few days, you might want to recall that we've written about the author before. Of course, that's a completely unrelated matter.

Of course.

Shrimp out.

LCMS President's Response

President Kieschnick of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod sent the following message Sunday evening (thanks to Dave Benke (President of the LCMS Atlantic District) at ALPB Forum Online.

[Update: see it here on the LCMS site]

To: The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
From: Gerald B. Kieschnick, President
Subject: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Document “Report and Recommendations on Ministry Policies”
Date: February 22, 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Grace and peace be with you, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

It is with great disappointment and deep sadness that I share with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod these brief comments on the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Task Force on Sexuality document “Gift and Trust” and the “Report and Recommendations on Ministry Policies.” The “Report and Recommendations” document recommends that the ELCA undertake a process that would result in the incorporation of “structured flexibility in decision making to allow, in appropriate situations, people in publicly accountable, monogamous, lifelong, same-gendered relationships to be approved for the rosters of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.” The two documents were released February 19 by an ELCA task force and are expected to be considered by the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in August.

If this recommendation should be adopted by the Churchwide Assembly, it would constitute a change in the ELCA’s present position, which precludes “practicing homosexuals” from being included on its rosters. More importantly, it would constitute a radical departure from the 2,000-year-long teaching of the Christian tradition that homosexual activity, whether inside or outside of a committed relationship, is contrary to Holy Scripture.

As the ELCA Task Force Report itself states, “This church [the ELCA] does not have biblical and theological consensus on this matter.” It therefore concludes that the ELCA “must seek a common way to live and serve in the midst of disagreements” such as “the understanding of the nature of sin,” “the interpretation of the Bible,” “how the Bible guides our lives,” and “the level of disagreement the ELCA can bear.”

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has repeatedly affirmed the biblical truth and historical understanding of the Christian church that the Bible condemns homosexual behavior as “intrinsically sinful” and is therefore contrary to the will of the Creator and constitutes sin against the commandments of God (Lev. 18:22, 24,20:13; 1 Cor. 6:9-20; 1 Tim 1:9-10; and Rom. 1:26, 27).

Our prayer in the LCMS is that our gracious God will penetrate the lives and hearts of the leaders and members of the ELCA in the coming months as they discuss, debate, and determine the outcome of the task force report and its recommendations.

In the meantime, it behooves us in the LCMS, in a spirit of sincere humility, love, care, and concern, to continue to endeavor faithfully to honor Resolution 3-21A of the 2001 Convention of our Synod that while “we cannot consider [the ELCA] to be an orthodox Lutheran church body … we of the LCMS recognize that many of our brothers and sisters of the ELCA remain faithful to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and we resolve to reach out to them in love and support …”

God’s grace, mercy, and peace be with us all.

Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick, President
The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The main mover of "bound-consciences"?

Cap'n Bill here. We took up anchor and set sail. We wish ye well. We cannot help but look over our shoulder at the ELCA with sadness. All this effort, and for what? The decision to spend eight years on the issue of human sexuality will be seen to be the key decision which led to not only to anger and demoralization for so many, but truly turned our eyes from Jesus toward ourselves. ELCA leaders became blind leaders of the blind.

When did I know that the ELCA was heading off course for sure? It was the following ELCA Press Release. If this "bound conscience" rationale of the Task Force did not come from Hanson himself it was inspired by this kind of thinking. Here it is in its rough form:

March 11, 2005

ELCA Bishops Hear Concerns, Surplus News From Presiding Bishop 05-042-JB

DALLAS (ELCA) -- While expressing gratitude for leaders in the church who prepared the report and recommendations on homosexuality released Jan. 13, the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) raised some concerns about the recommendations in his report to the ELCA Conference of Bishops. The Rev. Mark S. Hanson also told the conference that the ELCA churchwide organization finished the 2004 fiscal year with a net surplus. The ELCA Conference of Bishops is an advisory body of the church, consisting of the 65 ELCA synod bishops, ELCA secretary and ELCA presiding bishop. It met here March 3-7. A key part of the conference's work at this meeting was developing a response to the report for the church, as the ELCA prepares to discuss homosexuality issues at the 2005 Churchwide Assembly in Orlando, Fla., Aug. 8-14.

The report, the result of three years' work by a task force, included three recommendations for the assembly to consider when it is expected to answer two key questions on homosexuality: Should the church bless same-gender relationships? Should the church allow people in such relationships to serve as professional lay and ordained ministers? The task force recommended that the ELCA:

+ concentrate on finding ways to live together faithfully in the midst of disagreements.

+ continue to respect the pastoral guidance of a 1993 statement of the ELCA Conference of Bishops opposing the blessing of homosexual relationships but remaining open to pastors wanting to provide pastoral care for gay and lesbian Lutherans.

+ continue under current standards that expect unmarried ministers to abstain from sexual relations, defining marriage as being between a man and a woman; but, respecting the consciences of those who find these standards in conflict with the mission of the church, the ELCA may choose to refrain from disciplining gay and lesbian ministers in committed relationships and from disciplining those who call or approve partnered gay or lesbian people for ministry. In his report, Hanson offered his first public comments on the task force report and recommendations. Hanson said:

+ Two "hermeneutics" or paradigms are at work among the members of the ELCA that make agreement difficult on scriptural and theological matters. The Rev. Craig L. Nessan, academic dean and professor of contextual theology, Wartburg Theological Seminary, an ELCA seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, writes that there is a "traditional approach" and a "contextual approach" in interpreting Scripture, both of which are valid and irreconcilable, Hanson told the bishops. Similarly, Dr. Marcus J. Borg, Department of Philosophy, Oregon State University, Corvallis, writes that there are two irreconcilable "paradigms" in which Christians differ in their understandings of the Christian tradition and their interpretation of Scripture, creeds and the confessions, he said. Hanson said he's heard people with different understandings of Scripture and theology seeking to find a place for their views in the sexuality recommendations. "Do we expect a resolution to provide a bridge between two extremes?" Hanson asked the bishops. "We Lutherans have come to say that when something is 'paradoxical' that we're going to live in the paradox at the foot of the cross and not force ourselves to decide it with a vote."

+ Hanson said he has "increasing concerns" about Recommendation 1, which calls on the ELCA to concentrate on finding ways to live together faithfully in the midst of disagreements. The recommendation seems to be causing some confusion for some, and the conversation seems to be about much more than the task force intended, he said. For example, Hanson said some have "perceived" that what is at stake is the unity of the "Church catholic," not just the ELCA.

"I have great concerns about a church body voting on the unity of the Church," he said. "The unity of the Church is God's gift to us. We are not to create the unity of the Church. Wouldn't it be better to remind ourselves of the unity we are given but not to ask us to vote on the unity of the Church?" Hanson also said he hopes no one will leave the ELCA over decisions on homosexuality. He reminded the bishops that if some members do leave "we are still brothers and sisters in Christ. There's where I think Craig Nessan is helpful in trying to say, 'let's not go the secular route of schism but let's look at the continuum of the way we relate,'" he said in an interview with the ELCA News Service.

Finally, Hanson said he is concerned that a vote on church unity could become a "church-defining, church-dividing" issue, and a conversation about that should take place in the "context of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF)." The LWF is a global communion of 138 member churches in 77 countries, representing 66 million Christians worldwide. Hanson -- who is also LWF president -- suggested concepts used in ecumenical discussions such as "reconciled diversity" and "differentiated consensus" might be helpful in such discussions. + Hanson said he has heard many concerns about Recommendation 3, which suggests that for reasons of conscience the ELCA may choose to refrain from disciplining gay and lesbian ministers in committed relationships and from disciplining those who call or approve partnered gay or lesbian people for ministry. "For many people [this] is not only confusing but seems to lack integrity because it is read as at least a change in practice if not in policy," he said in an interview.

As an alternative Hanson said it may be helpful to "test" some language that could provide for a special roster, ordination to a specific place or synodically authorized ministry to allow people who are gay and lesbian and in committed relationships to serve as professional church leaders. The presiding bishop suggested the possibility of a six-year testing period. If the church wanted to test such a system, it would require a "significant standing down" from people who are gay and lesbian, many of whom view such a system as "second class" and unjust, he said. People who view Scripture traditionally would also have to stand down to allow "space," he said.

Presiding Bishop Addresses Budget Surplus, Jerusalem Hospital Situation Hanson said the ELCA churchwide organization finished the 2004 fiscal year with a $4.5 million net surplus. Hanson credited the Conference of Bishops for "making tough decisions" and the churchwide staff for significant underspending in creating the surplus. He said he will likely have a specific proposal for use of the funds for the ELCA Church Council to consider when it meets in Chicago next month.

The conference heard details of a proposed ELCA strategy on the Middle East, tentatively called "Hope in the Holy Land: Pray, Tell, Act for Peace With Justice." In 2004 the ELCA Church Council asked the ELCA Division for Church in Society and ELCA Division for Global Mission to develop the strategy. One component of the proposal addresses concern for Augusta Victoria Hospital, an LWF-operated hospital on the Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem, which serves Palestinians. The hospital has been involved in a longstanding tax case brought by the State of Israel that could require it to pay an employer's tax. The cost of such a tax may force the hospital to curtail operations. "It's time to turn up the heat," Hanson told the bishops, saying Lutherans need to press the U.S. government to intervene with Israel on the hospital's behalf. He proposed sending an "e-letter" to professional church leaders asking them to write to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and members of Congress to "exert pressure" on the State of Israel. "This is clearly a humanitarian issue," he said.

You can find it here:

The good ship ELCA...

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