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.


Anonymous said...

So the traditional voices are angry, but the homosexual lobby is sooooo reasonable. Talk about media bias.

Peace in the Lord!
Rob Buechler

John said...

I hope those Word Alone people do break off if they're just going to be huge jerks. They would probably fit in well with the hateful jerks at the Missouri Synod.

Cap'n Bill said...

Dear John:

Thanks for proving the point about the intolerance of the tolerant, i.e., it is rather hard to paint WordAlone and LCMS as "jerks" and "hateful jerks" without sounding like the latter.

Do come back, I am sure we can learn much from each other. Perhaps you can share where you learned so much first-hand knowledge of the two groups and how it pained you to share this knowledge with the world.

Do read Sara Wilson's March 15 essay. We are all called upon to make sacrifices for each other's sake, though we are not to give up Scripture and Confessions while doing that.


The good ship ELCA...

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