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:

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