Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Dissenters Speak

Statement by Three Dissenting Members of the ELCA Task Force on Human Sexuality

We begin with a word of thanks and gratitude for the opportunity to serve on the ELCA Task Force for Human Sexuality. Even though the three of us often disagreed with the other 27 members and advisors of the task force on traditional biblical interpretation and theological principles, we were treated as the minority voice with great kindness, dignity and respect. Because we firmly believe the current polices of the ELCA, when enforced, are consistent with the biblical witness, Christian moral tradition, and the view of the vast majority of Christians in the world, we refused to sign off on both the social statement and the recommendations and are submitting our dissent. Changing current policies would sever the ELCA from the ecumenical church and the Christian consensus down through the ages. These policies include:

1. People who are homosexual in their orientation must live a celibate lifestyle in order to serve on the roster of the ELCA. (Visions and Expectations and Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline)

2. The 1993 Statement of the ELCA Conference of Bishops states that “there is basis neither in Scripture nor tradition for the establishment of an official ceremony by this church for the blessing of a homosexual relationship.” However, this statement by ELCA bishops acknowledged that local pastors within their contexts are to “provide pastoral care for all to whom they minister.”

Of critical importance when considering sexuality is the role of God’s commandments—his Law—in the moral ordering of the Christian life. We are convinced that God’s intention for marriage—life-long covenant of fidelity between a man and a woman—established as the First Institute in Genesis 2 and re-affirmed by Jesus in Mark 10:6-9, serves as the center around which all Christian sexual ethics are defined. That original design, echoed throughout scripture and even depicted as the ideal relationship between Jesus and his bride, the Church (Revelation), has been shattered due to human sin (the Fall; see Genesis 3). Because of sin, humans have turned away from God’s intent for their sexual lives, bringing into the world such behaviors as polygamy, divorce, abuse, adultery, homosexual acts, pornography, etc., that no longer reflect the established pattern and ideal set forth by God.

However, by focusing on trust, freedom, and love of neighbor, the social statement, Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust, strains forward to see what God might be doing anew within the community of faith, particularly in regards to conduct of persons who are homosexual, rather than building on the foundation depicted in the creation accounts of Genesis. The concept of freedom of the Christian, while helpful in our understanding of salvation by faith alone, cannot be the justification for a lifestyle and behavior contrary to the biblical witness and the moral tradition. From Galatians (5:13) we heard often, “For you were called to freedom.” However, we did not hear often enough the next line, “Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the self-indulgence.” By centering on justification by faith, the social statement minimizes the role of the Law in Christian life, contrary to Luther’s exposition of the Christian life in the catechisms, and is at odds with the Lutheran Confessions—Article VI of the Formula of Concord. Justification by faith does not nullify the commands of God; to argue thus is to fall into “antinomianism.”

We contend that the recommendations proposed in Report and Recommendations, which advocate same-gender unions and the ordination of non-celibate homosexual persons, have little biblical, historical, or traditional support. The proposed recommendations advocate a radical departure from long-held moral tradition and biblical interpretation, thus distancing us further from the Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox Churches, evangelical churches and most of the churches in the Protestant mainstream. We believe this is a very serious step that should not be taken by a sharply divided church, particularly without passage by a 2/3rd vote at the 2009 Churchwide Assembly.

Because of these theological and pragmatic concerns and because the proposed recommendation threatens to fragment the ELCA as a church by allowing synods and individual congregations to determine their own practice, we felt compelled to draft Dissenting Position #1 (found in the Appendix).

Recommending broad change in the present policies is extremely unwise and unfaithful. There may come a day in which a new consensus in the Church might mandate a change in teaching and practice, as was seen with slavery and Apartheid. Or, over time, this church might find that its resolve grows even stronger to maintain its foundational core beliefs, such as with the authority of scripture (II Timothy 3:16), justification by faith alone (Romans 3:28), and the primacy of Christ (Acts 4:12). Lack of consensus does not mandate change. In fact, it argues for the opposite: maintaining current policies.

Because longstanding biblical interpretation and teachings of the apostolic faith, all of which are shared with ecumenical church partners and partner churches of the Lutheran World Federation, argue against changing the current ELCA policies, we recommend the following to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:

1. Affirm and uphold the current policies of the ELCA, including both rostering and discipline, as stated in Vision and Expectations and Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline.

2. Affirm the pastoral guidance of the 1993 Statement of the ELCA Conference of Bishops, that “there is basis neither in Scripture nor tradition for the establishment of an official ceremony by this church for the blessing of a homosexual relationship.” However, pastors within their local contexts are to “provide pastoral care for all to whom they minister.”

The ELCA is a church deeply divided on the issue of human sexuality. The recommendations of the majority of the task force represent a radical change that not only is contrary to Scripture and the apostolic faith, but is one that will splinter our congregations, alienate many of our members, further divide the unity of this church and, we believe, grieve the heart of God. We pray this tragedy will not occur.

Submitted in the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

The Rev. Dr. Scott Suskovic; The Rev. Corinne Johnson; The Rev. Carol S. Hendrix

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

If you haven't gotten a resolution in yet, synods are extending deadline because of late release of Task Force docs

WHEREAS, as Lutherans “We believe, teach, and confess that the only rule and guiding principle according to which all teachings and teachers are to be evaluated and judged are the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments alone”[1], and

WHEREAS, many passages in Scripture both speak, and have been consistently throughout history heard to speak, in a plain and unambiguous voice concerning marriage and the exercise of human sexuality, and

WHEREAS, the Scriptures teach very positively of God’s design for marriage as reflected in the words of our Lord Jesus, “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh” (Matt. 19:4-6a RSV); and

WHEREAS, a majority of ELCA members, and most Christian churches - including most in the Lutheran World Federation – believe that marriage is a lifelong covenant between one man and one woman; and

WHEREAS, the erotic expression of our sexuality is consistently taught and celebrated in Scripture as being rightly ordered to be exercised within the bounds of marriage; and

WHEREAS, Scripture also consistently prohibits any other expression of sexually erotic activity outside the bounds of the marriage; and

WHEREAS, the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly will consider the Report and Recommendations on Ministry Policies from the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality which asks the ELCA to change its teaching and policy to affirm the possibility of same-sex sexual relationships, for pastors and other rostered leaders in the ELCA; and

WHEREAS, a synodical or congregational option on ministry standards would represent a real change in the teaching of our church forcing even those synods and congregations that do not agree with this change implicitly to accept the notion that Scripture is not clear in its teaching about marriage or about homosexual behavior; and

WHEREAS, the interdependent relationship between the churchwide, synod, and congregation expressions of the ELCA requires one Office of Ministry, one roster of pastors, and one set of expectations for pastors and other rostered leaders throughout the ELCA; and

WHEREAS, the ELCA currently expresses its expectations of pastors and other rostered leaders through documents called Vision and Expectation[2]s and Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline which are in harmony with the plain sense of Scripture and its overwhelming understanding throughout history; therefore be it

RESOLVED, that the ____ Assembly thank the members of the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality for their work; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the ____ Assembly memorialize the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly to reject the proposals in the Report and Recommendations on Ministry Policies from the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the ____ Synod Assembly memorialize the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly to reaffirm the ELCA’s current standards for pastors and other rostered leaders as expressed in Vision and Expectations and Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline.

[1] Formula of Concord, The Epitome, 1. – The Book Of Concord, Edited by Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, Fortress Press.
[2] Especially pertinent are the lines: “Single ordained ministers are expected to live a chaste life. Married ordained ministers are expected to live in fidelity to their spouses, giving expression to sexual intimacy within a marriage relationship that is mutual, chaste, and faithful. Ordained ministers who are homosexual in their self-understanding are expected to abstain from homosexual sexual relationships.”

Pass the Offering Plate, Take a Condom


Pass the Offering Plate, Take a Condom
United Church of Christ Promotes Contraceptive Distribution in the Sanctuary

“Efforts to distance the UCC from its Puritan heritage have been a consistent trend, but this move to distribute condoms is truly a bold departure.”-Alan Wisdom, IRD Vice President for Research and ProgramsWashington, DC—According to the HIV and AIDS Network of the United Church of Christ (UCC), Condoms should be distributed at places of worship. The March 19 statement, issued at a presentation to the UCC Wider Church Ministries Board, also called for making condoms available at faith-based educational settings.

According to UCC executive Michael Shuenemeyer, "The practice of safer sex is a matter of life and death. People of faith make condoms available because we have chosen life so that we and our children may live."

The UCC is the successor denomination to the Puritan and Congregationalist traditions. Membership has dropped steadily, from 2.1 million in 1967 to 1.2 million today. The UCC lost six percent of its membership in the most recent year, according to the 2009 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches.
IRD Vice President for Research and Programs Alan Wisdom

commented:“Shuenemeyer claims, ‘People of faith make condoms available because we have chosen life so that we and our children may live.’ One wonders where the children will come from if UCC members are religiously using their church-dispensed condoms.

“It is ironic that the main thing the UCC is offering its sexually active members is the technical assistance of condoms. Those can easily be obtained at any corner drugstore. One would hope that a church would be offering some moral guidance not available at the drugstore.

“The UCC, which prides itself on being ‘ecumenical,’ was quick to criticize Pope Benedict XVI for reiterating longstanding Catholic doubts about condoms as the solution to HIV/AIDS. It might have done better to consider more seriously the reasons why Catholic authorities oppose artificial contraception: because it turns sex into an activity in which persons instrumentalize one another’s bodies for pleasure, thus promoting the kind of promiscuity that accelerates the spread of HIV/AIDS.

“Parents concerned about schools distributing condoms might assume that the church would have their backs, reinforcing the traditional Christian ethic reserving sex for marriage. In the case of the UCC, that assumption would be wrong. Now, apparently, parents need to think twice before dropping their kids off for Sunday school.”

“Efforts to distance the UCC from its Puritan heritage have been a consistent trend, but this move to distribute condoms is truly a bold departure.”

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

ELCA Bishops Participate in HIV Screening

Shrimp here, with ELCA News' follow-up from about an hour ago on our "Purpose Driven Bishops" post from last November, for which we posted this "Media Advisory" 2 weeks ago.

ELCA Bishops Participate in HIV Screening

Bishop Wayne Miller, left, ELCA Metropolitan Chicago Synod, takes a swab for an HIV test from Sharon Gerc, Advocate Lutheran General Hospital, Park Ridge, Ill. ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, center, also took an HIV test.

CHICAGO (ELCA) -- Hoping to encourage other church leaders and lessen the stigma and discrimination that often surrounds HIV and AIDS, most members of the Conference of Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) participated in HIV screening March 5 here at the Lutheran Center.

The ELCA Conference of Bishops is an advisory body of the church, consisting of bishops who lead the 65 synods of the ELCA, plus the ELCA presiding bishop and ELCA secretary.  The conference met March 5-10 here and in Itasca, Ill.

At least 56 members of the conference were screened, said the Rev. Andrea DeGroot-Nesdahl, ELCA Office of the Presiding Bishop. One or more bishops were screened prior to the meeting, and a few were not able to attend, she said.

Staff with Advocate Lutheran General Hospital, Park Ridge, Ill., supervised the screening, done with an oral swab.  Results will be reported to members' physicians.

The conference agreed to the screening last October.  Through screening, members said they could raise awareness about AIDS-related issues including prevention, testing, treatment, care, stigma and discrimination.  The conference also wanted the testing to call attention to a proposed churchwide HIV and AIDS strategy, to be considered by the ELCA Church Council later this month.

"I hope that (the bishops) create awareness in their own synods and with their global companions that they indeed participated in the testing, and in that way raise awareness of the concern both locally and globally," said the Rev. Paul Stumme-Diers, bishop, ELCA Greater Milwaukee Synod, and chair of the conference's Ministry Among People in Poverty (MAPP) committee, which proposed the testing.

The Rev. Marie C. Jerge, bishop, ELCA Upstate New York Synod, Camillus, and vice chair of the conference, said HIV and AIDS is an important subject to her because the synod maintains a companion relationship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe. The synod has been working with the Zimbabwe church on HIV prevention and supporting AIDS orphans, she said.

"It's also part of (helping) to raise awareness in our own communities," Jerge said.  "This is one way we can make that kind of a witness."  She added she hopes the ELCA Conference of Bishops' action will influence others, including bishops of the United Methodist Church, which expressed an interest in doing something similar.

Reflecting on the experience, the Rev. Jon V. Anderson, bishop, ELCA Southwestern Minnesota Synod, Redwood Falls, said, "I'm haunted by the memory of fresh graves in huge fields."

He explained, "We visited a big church of our companion church body, the southeastern diocese of South Africa.  We were looking out into the field.  I asked, 'Is this one of the fields that you need help working on with agricultural issues?'  The (local) bishop said, "No, it's full of dead bodies, Jon.'  People from nearby communities had begun to bury loved ones there.  He took me and showed me this."

Anderson said he believes that through the conference's HIV testing, it will help other religious leaders lead their people to be tested, address stigma, break through fear, and deepen understanding of HIV and AIDS.  Ultimately he hopes the ELCA bishops' example will encourage others to work to prevent HIV and care for people with HIV.

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, also participated in the screening.


Audio of Bishop Stumme-Diers is at

Audio of Bishop Jerge is at

Audio of Bishop Anderson is at

Information about the ELCA's response to HIV and AIDS is at on the ELCA Web site.

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

Spiritual Gifts and Hard Choices

Spiritual Gifts and Hard Choices
by Sarah Wilson — March 15, 2009
Lutheran Forum

"Such biblical passages inspired Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship, which we all read and loved at seminary, with little sense of the real, painful, even devastating demands it would make on our own lives.

"The whole conversation we are having about the ordination of homosexuals troubles me among other reasons because it assumes that there should be an easy, happy solution. I see nothing in the Scriptures to make me think this would be the case. I see promises of persecutions; also promises of rewards for those who can endure; but nothing to indicate to me that I should be absolved of the need for hard choices, genuine sacrifices, real heartbreak."

Read it all:

Monday, March 16, 2009

Task Force Proposes Second-Class Ordination for Gay Candidates

Task Force Proposes Second-Class Ordination for Gay Candidates
by Sarah Wilson — March 05, 2009

The ELCA Task Force on sexuality has proved to be an even greater ecclesiological disaster than moral disaster, which is no small achievement. Not only does the new teaching document on sexuality not actually teach anything, but the accompanying recommendations on the ordination of sexually active homosexuals actually voids the church and its ministry of all meaning. What appears to be a compromise is either a massive insult to homosexuals or a dirty trick on those opposing their ordination...

The ELCA Task Force on sexuality has proved to be an even greater ecclesiological disaster than moral disaster, which is no small achievement. Not only does the new teaching document on sexuality not actually teach anything, but the accompanying recommendations on the ordination of sexually active homosexuals actually voids the church and its ministry of all meaning.
What appears to be a compromise is either a massive insult to homosexuals or a dirty trick on those opposing their ordination.

Harrr! She be talking like no land lubber!

Hoisted on the Trust Petard

by Sarah Wilson — March 09, 2009

Trust is the driving theme of the new ELCA Sexuality Statement. It is not a bad way to approach the issue, but in the context of the ELCA (and mainline American Christianity generally), there could hardly have been a more ironic choice...

Trust is the driving theme of the new ELCA Sexuality Statement. It is not a bad way to approach the issue, but in the context of the ELCA (and mainline American Christianity generally), there could hardly have been a more ironic choice.

Footnote 2 of the document states: “Some social scientists have begun to identify social trust as an indispensable feature of healthy organizations, institutions, and whole societies, and social distrust as one of the destructive forces at work in the breakdown and dissolution of organized social arrangements. Such reflections operate in the background of this statement.” Indeed!
And yet the very situation of this document, its dissemination, and its upcoming consideration at the assembly, is situated in the most profound ecclesial distrust. Our church is already wildly factionalized, each side amassing its resources and connections to sway the vote one way or another. We are witnessing the “breakdown and dissolution” already.

"I Think I Want a Divorce"

At stake here is Luther’s foundational claim for the plain sense clarity of Scripture as Word of God for the confessing Church in the world, and whether this principle is now to be abandoned to the shifting whim of votes at assemblies without authority or competence to decide matters of binding church doctrine. A non-papal Church that abandons the clear teaching of Holy Scripture in the form of a binding confession that has stood the test of time has no ground to stand on any more. It becomes whatever it can be conned it into being by those who get to frame the question, as in the present Draft Social Statement.

The rest is here:

Presbyterian Church Votes On Gay Ministers

Cap'n Bill here: AAARRGGGHHH! The storm she blows! The good ship PCUSA is coming apart. This bodes badly for all mainliners who already bend to the cultural wind. . .

Time to check yer lifeboats and life preservers. Make sure your last captain didn't sell 'em at the last church tag sale.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is voting to decide whether or not gay ministers should be allowed to serve and whether or not single ministers should be bound to practice chastity.

Pittsburgh Presbytery voted 206-105 this weekend against the proposed amendment, which would also require church officers to practice fidelity in heterosexual marriage. So far, 43 other presbyteries have voted in favor of the measure and 72 voted against, according to an unofficial tally on the Web site of the Presbyterian Coalition, a group opposed to the amendment. The last count by the Presbyterian News Service had the count at 42 to 69 last week. Over 87 presbyteries must pass the amendment in order for it to become church law.

The vote is not the first time the Presbyterian Church has discussed the issue. The current vote is the third time in the last 30 years that gay ministers have been voted on by the denomination, with the last vote having been held in 2002.

A General Assembly Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage is set to hold its first meeting next week. The committee will convene tomorrow morning and work through Thursday. The assembly will make policy recommendations on various topics, including civil unions, Christian marriage, the effects of gay couples on children they may raise, and the place of same-sex couples in the Christian community.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

ELCA Grassroots? Luther College, Decorah, Iowa

And then this appears in Chips, the student newspaper of Luther College. Remember that, traditionally at least, Lutheran colleges are a significant source for the next generation of Lutheran pastors.

And note to Lutheran CORE: Do you notice how Dr. Benne is identified as representing the WordAlone Network? Shrimp out, for today at least

ELCA engages in homosexuality debate
March 12, 2009
By: Don Stein, Staff Writer

Luther's mission statement says its affiliation with the church helps it remain committed to seeking truth, examining faith and caring for God's people. Currently, many within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are doing the same.

On Feb. 19, the ELCA's Task Force for Studies on Sexuality released two controversial documents — one a social statement, and the second a recommendation on ministry policies.

The statements seek to clearly define the church's views on homosexuality. If approved, they will allow individual ELCA churches and synods to decide whether to call openly gay or lesbian pastors.

The statements are a change from the current position held by the ELCA, which disqualifies "practicing homosexuals" from holding pastoral office. Many within the ELCA have praised the statements for their careful mediation between those who are calling for changes and those who are more reluctant.

Luther is a Reconciling in Christ congregation, meaning it makes a commitment to welcoming all people — regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. As a result, news of the statement was viewed as a major breakthrough by many, including PRIDE member Peter McLellen ('09).

"It's definitely a step in the right direction," McLellen said.

"We can't say that we're getting closer to the top of the stairs, since there's always a new goal to climb toward. But I think it's definitely a step up the never-ending staircase."

Campus Pastor Amy Zalk Larson agreed.

"Although I don't think the statement goes far enough, I do think it is a step in the right direction because if more people are able to see gay and lesbian pastors doing good, faithful ministry it may help to break down some of the barriers," she said.

The statements have attracted disapproval from other Lutheran church bodies, especially the conservative Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. In a statement released Feb. 22, LCMS president Gerald Kieschnick criticized the proposal,

"If this recommendation should be adopted, it would constitute a radical departure from the 2,000-year-long teaching of the Christian tradition."

Kieschnick also distanced his church from the ELCA, reiterating a past LCMS resolution,

"We cannot consider [the ELCA] to be an orthodox Lutheran church body. [However,] 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."

Perhaps the most vocal critics of the proposal come from within the ELCA, particularly from the "Word Alone" movement. Word Alone is an association of 230 mostly-ELCA churches that emphasize an importance on scripture. The group is concerned that the new social statement sacrifices theological ground in order to relate to modern society.

Robert Benne is a Word Alone member and Professor Emeritus of Roanoke College and said the following in a statement Feb. 19:

"The Task Force states that 'This ought not to be church-dividing, even if there are differences.' [Some people] representing the ELCA, follow this line of thinking: 'Our Christian unity does not depend on agreement about ethical matters.' Would it be church-dividing if the ELCA suggested that we alter the Sixth Commandment to allow adultery if the two spouses agreed? Did not the Episcopal Church split over violations of Christian moral teaching, something we Lutherans seem eager to imitate?"

Word Alone has also criticized what they consider the proposal's lack of church-wide consensus.

"The document admits that we have no consensus on that key issue but yet propose major changes in teaching and policies anyway," Benne said.

"This is 'journeying together faithfully?' This is more like 'we respect your bound conscience by adapting those policies to which you are opposed.'"

Benne went on to suggest that a break off from the ELCA may occur in the near future,

"We may have to separate amicably rather than journey faithfully."

Numerous voices within Word Alone have also advocated a break from the ELCA, and this movement could be the final straw.

"Groups like Word Alone have been angry about a variety of different things for a while," Zalk-Larson said. "They've tried to stay within the ELCA, but there's a lot of anger. We'll hear a lot from them because they're loud— the people who have been upset by this, who are more conservative. We don't hear many of the GLBT people who have been alienated and outcast from the church or who just choose to go away and use their gifts in ministry somewhere else."

The proposal still faces a long road before it is approved. Later this month, the ELCA Church Council may amend the documents or pass them along with a recommendation to the Churchwide Assembly, which will ultimately vote on the proposal in August.

ELCA Grassroots? Brookings, South Dakota

And then there's this from last Friday's Brookings (South Dakota) Register. Brookings is the home of South Dakota State University and is not far from the Minnesota border -- within the geographic heart of the ELCA . Note the responses from three of the ELCA pastors in town.

'Gay clergy' not an issue for local ELCA
Friday, Mar 6th, 2009
by: John Kubal

"Right now (there's) not much at the local level to be involved in." In brief that's the position cited by the Rev. Dave Schoeld, interim senior pastor, First Lutheran Church, in Brookings, relative to moves afoot by some in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) to lift its ban on the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy candidates.

The ELCA, 4.8 million members, allows gay or lesbian clergy, but only if they are pledged to remain celibate.

There are seven Lutheran congregations in Brookings:

- Ascension Lutheran Church, First Lutheran Church and the University Lutheran Center are affiliated with ELCA;

- Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church and Peace Lutheran Church with the Missouri Synod; and

- Our Savior Evangelical Lutheran Church (which also has an SDSU campus ministry affiliated with the Wisconsin Synod).

Schoeld agreed with the Register's premise that the issue is a "non-starter" for the Missouri and Wisconsin synods.

By way of genesis, Schoeld said the "whole conversation began in about '93 or '95." A sort of grass-roots resolution that arose at one of the smaller districts of the ELCA "kept finding feet." Eventually it surfaced at the highest levels of ELCA leadership. A group commissioned a study; now the issue keeps moving and has "morphed and grown."

A definitive look will now be taken when a four-part resolution , contained in a 30-page document , is addressed by a church-wide assembly of more than 1,000 delegates meeting mid-August in Minneapolis. South Dakota will be represented by both clergy and laypeople.

Schoeld pointed out that South Dakota's delegates would vote "not on behalf of South Dakota, but will vote their consciences." The resolution will consider:

- The ELCA's committment to allowing congregations and synods to acknowledge and support "lifelong, monogomous, same-gender relationships."

- The committment of the ELCA to finding a way for people living in such relationships to serve the church as clergy.

- The ELCA's aggreement to "respect the bound consciences" of its church members who do not agree on the issue.

- The ELCA must agree to remove its ban on gay clergy living in partnered relationships.

But when the ELCA's 37-member Church Council meets this month in Chicago, its members could amend the four major proposals for Minneapolis. Schoeld said the fourth resolution was the only one that "really deals with the ordination of gay or lesbian clergy." Along the way, each one moves along the line of "Are we really even ready for the conversation.'"

In simple terms, he said "bound consciences" means that ELCA church members on opposite sides of the issue must have mutual "respect for space and grace of another." Schoeld said he had heard no opinion on the issue "either way from the congregation." But he added, "Part of it has to do with the fact that we haven't made it a big issue here. We have not spent a lot of time in conversation regarding it. It's not been something that truly in any large way has affected this church."

However, he noted that the issue for his congregation had reached a point "where we're probably going to have to have some conversations." For now the issue is "something for study, for conversation and for consideration."

Not an issue for under-30s
The Rev. Robert Chell, pastor the ELCA University Lutheran Center which ministers to students attending South Dakota State University, has by-and-large a younger and more mobile congregation. Most will be part of his on-campus ministry for four years. For them the issue is a non-issue.

"There aren't many people under the age of 30 for whom this is an issue," Chell said. "They're concerned with what they're going to do with their life, who their life partner is going to be and what they're going to do over spring break."

In considering the issue, Chell recalled some words he heard years ago from a Roman Catholic theologian from Notre Dame, whose name he could not recall: "Watch out for people who condemn sins they couldn't commit if they wanted to."

Continuing Chell said, "By putting our energy into this as individuals, as a congregation a church, we're not doing those things that Christ called us to do: whether that's to love our neighbor or proclaim the Gospel."

By way of analogy and some parellels, Chell harked back to the 19th century and slavery in the United States when people came down on both sides of the issue pro or con and used Scripture to justify their positions . He added, "There are some parallels there. The question isn't whether we interpret Scripture literally or not; it's how we interpret Scripture. If it was crystal-clear, we would all be on the same page.

"But it's how we interpret Scripture and which pages we interpret literally." Lutherans are real comfortable with ambiguity."

The Rev. Rhonda Hanisch, senior pastor of Ascension Lutheran Church, referred the Register to the 30-page document on the issue and declined to comment.

ELCA Grassroots? Clackamas, Oregon

Shrimp here, having caught the following from the weekly Clackamas (Ore.) Review. Clackamas is in northwest Oregon, a suburb of Portland. You will discover that among the members of its ELCA congregation is the Oregon Synod Bishop.

Clackamas congregation welcomes gay community
by Ellen Spitaleri
The Clackamas Review, Mar 10, 2009

"The stars lined up" in Happy Valley, said Rev. Dayle Askey, when her congregation at Creator Lutheran Church voted to official welcome the gay community into its church.

The congregation recently adopted an Affirmation of Welcome that is "designed explicitly to welcome people who have historically been excluded" from churches, including gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders, said Gary Schulstad, a member of the committee that put together the affirmation.

In January, church-goers voted to accept the affirmation with a 93 percent approval rating, resulting in Creator Lutheran officially becoming a Reconciling in Christ congregation. RIC is a national program set up in 1984 to recognize Lutheran congregations that welcomed lesbian and gay believers. In 2002, action was taken to include people of all sexual orientations and gender identities in the RIC program.

Askey said it was important to adopt the Affirmation of Welcome and become a Reconciling in Christ congregation because although Creator Lutheran was already "known for being friendly, we wanted to take welcoming to the next level — we want to be extravagant in our welcome."

"We wanted this, not just for our members who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transsexual, but for the people who love them. We want to be purposeful in our welcome," added Toni Hartung, office administrator at the church.

Year of discernment
The process of writing the Affirmation of Welcome took a little over a year, but "the congregation has been moving toward this from day one," said Askey, who has been the pastor of the church for 10 years.

Schulstad noted that the committee embarked on "a year-long process of discernment and listening" in December of 2007 that culminated in the congregation voting to pass the affirmation by 93 percent.

Hartung, a committee member, said she and Schulstad were fortunate enough to attend an Evangelical Lutheran Church of America training last March that really got the affirmation process up and running.

Educating the congregation about what an Affirmation of Welcome entails was of prime importance to the committee, Schulstad and Hartung said, so they scheduled an event per month to let people experience the process as it happened.

One activity that was a turning point occurred when a former intern at Creator Lutheran returned to talk about his decision to come out as a gay pastor.

"He was not out when he was here and he was much-loved," Askey noted.

Sharing concerns
People of all sexual orientations were invited to share their stories about past church experiences and members of the congregation were asked to "name their fears and concerns," Schulstad said.

"[The committee] wanted people to feel comfortable expressing doubts and concerns. There were no arguments – we just listened and addressed these [concerns] later," he said.

Last August, Bishop David Brauer-Rieke, a congregation member, put together a Bible study that gave an understanding of how the scripture has been taken out of context in relation to the acceptance of other sexual orientations in church.

"It was an on-line collaboration, with statements from other churches. It was a blog-like presentation, and people added comments," Schulstad said.

High school students in the congregation were also part of the process, and came up with some of the actual wording, including the "come as you are" part of the affirmation, Schulstad noted.

In September, a draft of the Affirmation of Welcome went out in survey form.

The committee wanted to test the waters to see what result a January vote might have, Schulstad said, adding, "A 93 percent approval rate was really important to us."

Schulstad kept a blog and had a "rainbow box" set up at the church for comments, resulting in "so little negativity," Askey said.

She considers the acceptance of the affirmation as significant because "with the percentage, it becomes not only an Affirmation of Welcome, but an identity" for the church.

"It says 'Like Luther, here I stand,'" said Hartung, noting that the affirmation is "another step in our becoming such a welcoming congregation."

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

ELCA Bishops Offer "Pastoral Word"

A Pastoral Word to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America from the Conference of Bishops

In Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is the hostility between us. – Ephesians 2

We greet you in the name of our crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. May your Lenten journey be a time of renewal in faith, and may the Easter promise surround you all.

As we conclude this meeting of the Conference of Bishops, we are convinced that this time of preparation for the 2009 Churchwide Assembly is a hopeful time. We are also convinced that the Holy Spirit is guiding our deliberation and is present in our earnest seeking. This same Spirit increases our ability to listen patiently and speak honestly to one another. In the many conversations, hearings, and correspondence of the past years, the Spirit has been present in the work of the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality.

Our conversations in the Conference of Bishops have expressed the diversity of opinion that is common throughout this church. We give thanks for the unity binding us together in Christ, enabling us to listen carefully to one another, and joining us in a shared commitment to the mission of this church. We give witness to the creative possibilities of diverse perspectives within our baptismal unity. We have been led to new appreciation of our diversity, have been driven deeper into Scripture and Confessions, and have discovered new perspectives for life together as the Body of Christ.

We receive with gratitude Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust: A proposed social statement from the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality. Looking forward to the deliberation of the 2009 Churchwide Assembly and its decisions in regard to this document, we:
  • rejoice in the strong affirmation of the gift of marriage, sexuality, and family;

  • affirm the faithful exposition of Holy Scripture and Lutheran Confessions;

  • support the bold confrontation of the commercialization of human sexuality pervading our culture;

  • recognize that our world hungers for the joy of true intimacy and love we know in Christ Jesus our Lord;

  • embrace our call to be a public church, thankful we are able to speak words of commitment and hope to a world in need of God’s love in Christ; and

  • acknowledge the unity of the Church is the Holy Spirit’s continuing gift, and pray we may continually experience it.
The members of the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality also accepted an additional responsibility, the charge of the 2007 Churchwide Assembly to prepare "Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies." This document articulately names the breadth of opinion on the possible rostering of persons in committed, faithful, same-gender relationships. Further, it presents one option for working through a process for discernment and decision-making. We recognize that the content of the resolutions and the proposed process for considering them arise from the task force’s deep respect for the faithful diversity they find present in this church.

We acknowledge with gratitude the faithful work of the members of the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality. Their work over the past eight years has been a profound gift to this church. Charged with daunting responsibilities, their resulting witness is articulate. Working together amidst a diversity representative of our church, they testify of their deepened love for one another. The experience of these faithful servants as they in their diversity came to these conclusions encourages us in our own diversity. No matter our particular position on the various issues of human sexuality, we are united by our confession of "one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all."

We prayerfully trust that God will guide this whole church in the coming months as we walk together in our deliberative processes. We know that our human decisions are often imperfect, but we are confident of God’s persistent forgiveness. We are deeply committed to the unity of this church. Whatever decisions the assembly makes, we trust that God’s Spirit will form the wisdom of God’s faithful people gathered in deliberative assembly. We are prepared to stand together united in our continued service to the Church. May the Spirit align our efforts with God’s gracious intent.

May Almighty God grant each of us the ability to listen with compassion and may we speak patiently. May our prayers for God-pleasing decisions be answered abundantly.

The Conference of Bishops
March 10, 2009

Hat tip to the ELCA News Service.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Blogging the Conference of Bishops

Shrimp here.

The ELCA Conference of Bishops has been having its Spring Meeting since Thursday at the Eaglewood Resort in Itasca, Illinois. Usually we don't hear too much about what happened until ELCA News gets around to reporting. Of late, those reports have been issued only a day or 2 after the COB has departed, though a few years ago it might take 2-3 weeks. Guess they are more newsworthy now.

Anyway, the Conference of Bishops has since the beginning of the ELCA apparently subscribed to the motto, "What happens in the Conference of Bishops stays in the Conference of Bishops." Oh, yes, there were reports of any significant actions in this ELCA "advisory body." And occasionally there were reports of some disagreements, but except for the full-communion agreement with the Episcopal Church, details were very hard to come by. No, as a rule -- at least for public perception -- when the Bishops spoke as a group, they spoke as a unified group.

So when suddenly Synod Bishops were suddenly getting on line at the last Churchwide Assembly to strongly disagree with each other with what the Bishops had said as a group, long-term observers were stunned. So stunned that one Voting Member, Pastor David Gleason, introduced this resolution from the floor (which, at that point of the agenda, was extraordinary in itself)
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America meeting in Assembly in Chicago Illinois on 11th August 2007 request the ELCA's conference of Synodical bishops to enter into discussion and consideration of the matter of the accountability of bishops to the adopted policies, practices, and procedures of the ELCA and to formulate a clear statement of such accountability for consideration and adoption by the 2009 Assembly of this church.
Quickly adopted by the Assembly, the "Gleason Resolution" has been a topic for the COB ever since. We can expect that we'll be hearing about their response very soon from ELCA News, as the Spring Meeting is when the COB deals with anticipated Churchwide Assembly matters. (So, yes, we'll learn if they have anything to say about the Sexuality Task Force's reports, the state of the ELCA's finances, etc.)

But this year, we may have a little hint ahead of time. One of the avenues for the ELCA's Book of Faith initiative ("to increase biblical literacy and fluency for the sake of the world") is a Ning group ( is one of a growing number of "social networking" sites like "MySpace" or "Facebook"). And one of the features of the Book of Faith Ning Network is the ability for a member to have a blog on his or her own profile page. Several ELCA Bishops are members of the Book of Faith Ning Network. And one Bishop, the Oregon Synod's Dave Brauer-Rieke not only actually blogs there, he's been blogging about the Conference of Bishops meeting.

Shrimp found this from early in his first entry a striking observation:
The first half day of Conference of Bishop (COB) meetings is generally made up of reunions and committee meetings. Those of us who are dealing with sticky problems in our synods usually line up to talk with the ELCA attorneys as we arrive. Thankfully the line wasn’t too long today.
Thankfully indeed.

Turns out Bishop Brauer-Rieke is on the COB's Theological and Ethical Concerns Committee, which also met that first day. So we learn about
... a request from the 2007 Churchwide Assembly that the COB offer a report on our accountability practices. This arose because there was some cross talk between bishops at the 2007 Churchwide Assembly during floor debates. The Theological and Ethical Concerns Committee has been working on this request for the past year. Today we just tuned up our prior work. The COB has very clear accountability practices already in place, both to the church as a whole and to each other. We are glad to share these.
Exactly what the Bishop means, we'll wait for ELCA News to tell us.

You won't find any breaking news from the Conference of Bishops on the Oregon Bishop's blog. But Shrimp got a glimpse of the COB that we'd never seen before. You might check it out.

Shrimp out.

Friday, March 06, 2009

2 ELCA Seminaries Consider "RIC" Status

Shrimp here, having received reports that two ELCA seminaries are currently discussing afffilating with the "Reconciling in Christ" Program of Lutherans Concerned/North America. Lutheran congregations, synods, and other organizations affiliate with the program by offering a "statement of welcome" to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered believers.

The two seminaries are the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia and Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, California. Both seminiaries have already had for several years agreements with Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries to provide education and other oversight of candidates for ministry who do not accept the ELCA/ELCIC official stance ("please don't") on homosexual activity.

Recently alerted to a "series of conversations" at Philadelphia that are currently in progress, this is what we have gleaned from our source and Mt. Airy's student newspaper, The Seminiarian. The conversations began in the opening session of the seminary's Spring Convocation, "Scripture and Public Theology.” The February 24th session's theme was "Orienting our Sexual Conversations) where Dr. Erik Heen presented a lecture, "Biblical Resources for a Conversation about Homosexuality." A source tells us the lecture included nothing unexpected (at least in an ELM-affiliated, ELCA context), "although the contextualization through the use of social science criticism was actually very helpful." The lecture was followed by brief small group discussion. Says The Seminarian, "A second broadcast of this presentation will be on March 4th at 5:45 with conversation to follow."

Our source then quotes the student body president:
The second Event is currently scheduled for Tuesday March 31. It will be a presentation on the science behind sexual orientation from a sociological, biological and psychological point of view. This presentation will be lead by professor (s) from Weidner College Department of Human Sexuality. Discussion will follow in a similar format.

The final presentation, not yet scheduled, will be about the particularities of the RIC designation, what it actually means and what specifically it requires of an institution. This will be made by a presentation will be made by regional officers of Lutherans Concerned, the organizing body behend the RIC designation. Discussion will follow in a similar format.
That, so far, from the seminary founded by the Ministerium of Pennsylvania in 1864 that highlights Charles Porterfield Krauth, Luther Dotterer Reed, John Reumann, and so many other giants in the history of the General Council, the United Lutheran Church in America, and the Lutheran Church in America. Shrimp would report more of substance should it come to our attention.

(As a sidelight, Shrimp observes from the February 2009 issue of The Seminarian that this year's controversy at Mt. Airy seems to be over whether the hooded albs used in the Chapel are too associated with the Ku Klux Klan. But we digress.)

Meanwhile the PLTS Board Chair has just today e-mailed the school's alumni:
Dear PLTS Alums,

Current PLTS students have requested that the PLTS board consider establishing a PLTS affiliation with the national "Reconciling In Christ" (RIC) Initiative. This January, our students organized, self-funded ($3,500) and conducted a course concerning this. I look forward to their further consultation with board members at our April 26 board meeting. They will be working with the board's Community Life & Academic Affairs Committee on an appropriate motion for us to consider.

In preparation for that Committee meeting and subsequent board conversation, knowing that our agenda will be full and time-limited, I've directed all board members to the RIC website as well as to an informative work by our professor David Balch.

Two weeks ago, PLTS hosted a conversation to share thoughts on the proposition that we become a Reconciling in Christ (RIC) seminary. Over fifty members of our community were able to be present and to share both excitement and reservation about this prospect.

Please click here to see the highlights of the conversation: hopes, fears, benefits, and risks of seeking an RIC designation, but also our thoughts about the possibility of PLTS not becoming an RIC seminary.

In recent days I've been canvassing the board to gather up and organize their concerns around this decision prior to the April 26 Board Meeting.

And I am [sic] welcome and encourage faculty, students, staff and alums to share their thoughts with me via email.

Enjoying with all of you the anticipation of Lent, thank you.
PLTS is the youngest of the ELCA seminaries, founded in 1950 by the ULCA's California Synod to provide Lutheran pastors in the western US. For those of you who have forgotten, the ELCA's homosexuality debates began in January 1988 when 3 gay male PLTS seminarians announced they had the month earlier been officially approved for ordination (presuming they passed their remaining classes) by the PLTS faculty and/or their LCA Synod's Professional Preparation Committee despite being publicly gay and either being, or hoping to be, in homosexual relationships.

Shrimp, also wishing you a contemplative Lent, out.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Media Advisory: Lutheran Bishops to be Tested for HIV

Mar 02, 2009 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- Media Advisory: Lutheran Bishops to be Tested for HIV

When: Thursday, March 5, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Where: The Lutheran Center, 8765 W. Higgins Rd., Chicago

Description: The 67-member Conference of Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) agreed last fall to undergo testing for HIV at its March 2009 meeting in Chicago. The purpose is to raise awareness about AIDS-related issues including prevention, testing, treatment, care, stigma and discrimination. The bishops hope their actions will encourage ELCA members and members of global companion churches to be tested. The Lutheran bishops also want to provide visible support for an ELCA strategy on HIV and AIDS to be considered by the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, Aug. 17-23 in Minneapolis.

Staff of Advocate Lutheran General Hospital, Park Ridge, will supervise the testing. Personnel will collect samples orally with cotton swabs. Photography is welcome. You will be able to interview the bishops, including Bishop Wayne Miller of the ELCA Metropolitan Chicago Synod and the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, Chicago.

The 4.7 million-member ELCA is based in Chicago. It is the country's 5th-largest Protestant denomination. The 107,000-member ELCA Metropolitan Chicago Synod consists of 206 congregations.

SOURCE: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Chicago
John R. Brooks
Office 773-380-2958; Mobile 847-894-4529; or

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