Monday, April 20, 2009

Changing the Conversation?

Cap'n Bill here: Read the following article at USA Today, and follow the comments. From the end of the opinion piece:

" As a 26-year-old, I feel a lot like others within my generation. I have deep sympathy for my friends who are gay. They often suffer as societal pariahs at the hands of misinformed Christians who believe that gays have chosen their sexual orientation. Though I unashamedly believe that God desires a better path for their lives, I also understand that my obligation to love them is not dependent upon their capitulation to a particular belief system.

"When I hear younger evangelicals address homosexuality, they speak with compassion, sympathy and love that have been uncommon among the Falwells and Robertsons. But this change in tone isn't surprising because rising generations are twice as likely to be in close community with someone who is gay. It is a lot easier to fight a faceless "agenda" than it is to war against a friend.

"Now is the time for those who bear the name of Jesus Christ to stop merely talking about love and start showing love to our gay and lesbian neighbors. It must be concrete and tangible. It must move beyond cheap rhetoric. We cannot pick and choose which neighbors we will love. We must love them all."

Jonathan Merritt is a faith and culture writer who serves as national spokesperson for the Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initiative. He is writing a book on a Christian approach to environmental problems.

My one comment for now is I suppose I will never get used to how people think they had an original thought. Young Jonathan (age 26, about the age of our denomination which has had this controversy its whole span of years) seems to think that all people who have been against "de-sinning sin" on sexuality issues these last few decades have not been saying "love the sinner". We have, though there are even better ways of saying it than that!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Missional Church

Shrimp here.
House for All Sinners and Saints' is a group of folks figuring out how to be a liturgical, Christo-centric, social justice oriented, queer inclusive, incarnational, contemplative, irreverent, ancient - future church with a progressive but deeply rooted theological imagination.
That's from the front page of one of those "emerging churches," brought to Shrimp's attention by our, uh, colleagues at Lutheran (True!) Confessions, who write,
but it was none other than ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson who told us about Pr. Nadia Bolz-Weber and House for All Sinners & Saints (HFASS) in Denver, and we're glad he did.
You'd never know it from the House's website, but Pastor Nadia is indeed an ELCA pastor (recently ordained) called as a Mission Developer. She is also the Sarcastic Lutheran blogger.

We're beginning to think we understand how it was that the book by Charles Porterfield Krauth -- he is a significant part of the ELCA's 19th Century pre-history -- entitled The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology is being published not by Augsburg Fortress, the corporate descendant of the original publisher, but by Concordia Publishing House.

Theological imagination, eh? We can just feel the Presiding Bishop's excitement.

Shrimp out.

Holy Matrimony, Holy Trinity

From the website for Institute on Religion & Democracy

Dear Friend,

Last week was a tough one for proponents of traditional marriage. Iowa and Vermont were added to the list of states legalizing same-sex marriages. Vermont—where those who favored same-sex marriage were estimated to have outspent the opponents by twenty to one—is the first state to legalize these relationships by a vote of the legislature rather than the actions of a court.

These decisions from a Christian point of view misunderstand not only marriage, but what it means to be human.

To begin: to be human is to be a body.

J. Budziszewski writing in the December 2008 First Things said:

These days carnality is underrated. Our obsession with sex doesn’t show that we take embodiment seriously; it shows that we don’t. Like Gnostics, we regard our bodies as separate from our true selves. We use them merely to get pleasure, attention, and other things for the self—and nothing taken seriously is merely used. But the Gnostics were wrong. As [Pope] John Paul [II] emphasizes, body is not separate from self; it is the emblem and vesture of self. You don’t have a body; you are a body. I cannot possibly express my soul except through my body. Adam was created out of both dust and spirit (Genesis 2:7). That, God said, was good. Human embodiment is neither a handicap nor a curse. We are not spirits rattling around in bodies needing release. Instead each of us is a unity of body and spirit. This is the nature a loving Creator gave us and, thus, it is His gift to us.

If our own creation does not convince us of the goodness of our bodies, we also have the fact of the Incarnation. God the Son, in His first coming, was born the human child of Mary from whom He received His human nature including his body. If human bodies are simply containers that impede personal and spiritual growth, why would God the Son have wanted one of His own? It is an indication that our bodies are a greater good than we imagine that God the Son shares human embodiment with us.

Abstracting soul from body leads inevitably to abstracting faith from deed, belief from obedience, feelings from doings, evangelism from discipleship, and gender from physiology. A Christian understanding of what it means to be human takes the physical as seriously as the spiritual, the spiritual as seriously as the physical. Gender matters.

Next, we need to consider Genesis 1:27: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Apparently you and I as individuals—male or female—do not adequately constitute the image of God. The image of God is realized through a matched pair—male and female. Why would that be? It has to do with the nature of God in whose image we are created.

The number one Christian distinctive, the thing that sets Christianity apart from every other religion is our doctrine of God. God is Trinity. There is one and only one being who is God. And that one God exists eternally in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. A squirrel is one being, but no persons. You are one being and you are also one person. God is not like you (nor is he like the squirrel). God is one being, three persons—a mystery, but not utterly incomprehensible.

To put it another way, the one true God is a communion of persons. The Father eternally begets the Son and the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son, the issue of their love for each other. While husbands do not beget wives nor do wives beget husbands, they are nonetheless matched sets. Husband and wife united in marriage form a communion of persons. They are called to love each other by selfless self-giving of soul and body—the whole person. When they do that there is the potential that nine months later a child will be born—a third person. Human love, like the love of the Trinity is fruitful. The communion of persons expands and the image of God is made more complete. It would be wrong to say that the Trinity is like a family because it is the other way around: a family is like the Trinity. In fact, the family is a picture, an icon of the Trinity, inviting us to view a more robust image of God than we can see in any one individual on his or her own. When we see the family, we look through it to the Triune God in whose image we—male and female—are made.

Marriage between one man and one woman and the family that results are not simply nice options for autonomous individuals. Such marriage is integral to what it means to be human and its protection is vital for human flourishing and for the proper ordering of our common life.

Jim Tonkowich
IRD Scholar

P.S.: If you would like to subscribe to this newsletter, please register on the IRD website. The IRD Weekly is an automatic subscription to all IRD Users.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Holy Saturday for the ELCA according to the AP

Shrimp here. On Holy Saturday as Christians all across the land were transforming their churches from the stark barrenness of Good Friday to the joyous extravaganzas of Easter Sunday, the Associated Press wire decided that the following was the pre-Easter story of your Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The news story appears across the land in headlines like
  • At one Lutheran church, gay, partnered and preaching

  • At 1 Lutheran church, gay, partnered and preaching (imaginative, aren't the headline writers)

  • Lutheran pastor flouts gay partner ban

  • Gay pastor installed at one Lutheran church

  • Lutheran congregation welcomes gay pastor, and

  • As Lutherans mull gay partnered pastors, some congregations already a ways down that road
Here's the story, the early part of which Shellfish reported here in December:

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Brad Froslee was installed as pastor of Calvary Lutheran Church at a special Sunday service attended by dozens of his fellow pastors, as well as Froslee's proud parents and grandmother, all devoted lifelong Lutherans.

But the Minneapolis Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America officially lists Calvary's ministry as vacant. That's because, sitting with Froslee's family at his installation ceremony in February, was his male partner of 5 1/2 years — living proof that Froslee has flouted the ELCA's prohibition on non-celibate gay pastors.

"What I heard from the members of the church's call committee was that from the first meeting, they knew I was the one meant to be their pastor," said Froslee, 35. "I've always felt called to this process, and that in a sense God has a guiding hand in this. So I always had a sense it would work out."

But to make it work, Froslee and the church and synod leaders are operating on what church council member Brian Aust called "the margins of the ELCA." It's an arrangement that could be formalized this August, when leaders of the ELCA — the nation's largest Lutheran denomination with 4.7 million members — meet for their biannual convention in Minneapolis.

An ELCA task force has recommended a policy that would let congregations decide whether to allow gays and lesbians in committed relationships to serve as their clergy. The resolution has been criticized from both directions, with liberals saying it doesn't go far enough and conservatives saying it conflicts with Scripture.

"This isn't about sex," said the Rev. Mark Chavez of Landisville, Pa., the director of Lutheran CORE, a coalition of conservative groups in the ELCA. "It's finally about the authority of God's word."

But the approach envisioned by the task force is already in practice at Calvary Lutheran, a modest 70-year-old brown brick church in a racially diverse neighborhood four miles south of downtown Minneapolis. The 120-member congregation is a mix of young families and single people, middle-aged couples and older established members, and is mostly white despite the surrounding neighborhood....

In college at St. Olaf in Northfield, a theology professor told Froslee his work had uncommon insight and asked why he wasn't considering the ministry.

"I hemmed and hawed for quite a while, and then finally I said I don't think there's a place for me in the church because I'm gay," Froslee said. "And he looked at me and said, 'Brad, that's a cop-out.' And that I think really became kind of a turning point for me in terms of my journey."

Froslee came out to his family while in college, and sharpened his scriptural understanding at Harvard Divinity School. He says he never concealed his sexuality while going through the ordination process, and also made it known his desire to someday find a lifelong partner.

Before joining Calvary, Froslee served as pastor at a Presbyterian church in Minnetonka through a pact between the two denominations. He's also been an activist on issues of homosexuality and Christianity, co-founding a summer camp for gay, Christian youth. And even after meeting his partner, he stayed on the ELCA's roster of pastors eligible to serve in Lutheran congregations — which got his name in front of the Calvary committee looking for the new pastor.

Aust, an attorney who chaired that committee, said Calvary wasn't looking for trouble. "Our simple motivation was find the best person, gay or straight. It wasn't about labels," he said.

The Minneapolis Synod of the ELCA signed off on the arrangement, but lists Calvary's ministry as vacant. "We viewed it as a decision for the congregation to make," said Minneapolis Synod Bishop Craig Johnson.

Froslee and church council members said there are few real ramifications to the vacant designation, save that Froslee can't vote at synod assemblies. But from a symbolic standpoint, they said, it's not ideal.

"It's sort of don't ask, don't tell," said Moberg, the church council president. "It's not necessarily the way we'd like it to be."

Not every gay pastor has been as fortunate as Froslee. In Atlanta in 2007, the Rev. Bradley Schmeling was kicked off the ELCA roster entirely after acknowledging he had a partner — a decision that helped precipitate the ELCA's attempt to find a middle ground. Just a few miles away from Calvary at Salem Lutheran Church, the Rev. Jen Nagel, also partnered, has been kept off the ELCA roster — putting her congregation even further on the ELCA margin than Calvary.

Rev. Peter Strommen, a pastor from Prior Lake, Minn., who led the task force that proposed the policy change, said it's an attempt to officially recognize the lack of consensus across the ELCA.

With rapid social change on gay rights even in recent weeks, including the sudden legalization of gay marriage in Vermont and Iowa, he said the Lutheran church must find a way to proceed amid strongly divergent viewpoints.

"We've tried to stress here that this is not a core issue of our faith," Strommen said. "It's important. But it doesn't get to the level of the risen Christ and salvation."

Read it all here. Note that Pastor Froslee remains officially "on leave from call," a status that usually goes for a maximum of 3 years in the ELCA, though that can be extended for educational purposes. Apparently figuring out ways to work around Vision and Expectations counts for advanced theological education in the Minneapolis Area Synod.

Shrimp out.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

President Obama and family host 'green' Easter fest - and make it gay


WASHINGTON - You might call this green eggs and Bam, after President Obama hatched a whole new style of White House Easter celebration on Monday. Among the innovations: The White House rolled out new "green," environmentally friendly souvenir eggs and invited gay parents. . .

"The administration really reached out, and there are gay and lesbian people here from all over the country. It's a really positive first step, and hopefully there are even better things to come," she said.

What could possibly be better than that?

Monday, April 13, 2009

"The injustice of Iowa's ruling on gay marriage"

Its central focus on emotions erodes moral principles and law.
By Matthew J. Franck
The Christian Science Monitor

Princeton, N.J. - When the Iowa Supreme Court proclaimed last Friday that gays have a right to marry, it insisted that its groundbreaking decision rested squarely on the state constitution's equal protection clause.

In reality, the court's bland overturning of foundational moral principles and many centuries of civilization shows what happens when judicial arrogance becomes second nature: It transforms into smug self-deception.

By allowing feelings and desire to replace moral reasoning – or at least a fair-minded reading of the constitution – as the basis for judgment of lawful public morality, the Iowa court, like American judicial power more broadly, has burst free of all constraints and is now in the grip of a banal routinization of tyranny.

"Tyranny" is a strong word, but consider:

•In the 69-page ruling, the actual words of the Iowa constitution receive no real analysis.
•The court rejected any argument for the natural family as the best setting for child-rearing as a mere "stereotype" – and this in a dismissive footnote, no less.
•The judges essentially said only they, not democratic majorities, could decide "the standards of each generation," which the US Supreme Court (wrongly) said in 2003 are the touchstone for understanding what the Constitution says about equality.

Regardless of where you stand on gay marriage, at least Vermont decided the issue this week the right way: democratically. But even in that case, the state's choice came only after a decade of civil unions that had been forced on Vermonters by their supreme court.

The Iowa court put the burden of justification on the state: It had to show good reasons for excluding gays from marrying. That maneuver masked the court's weak argument for same-sex marriage, which boils down to this: Because some persons are "sexually and romantically attracted to members of their own sex," and because some of those persons have entered into "committed and loving relationships" with each other, they are entitled to "the personal and public affirmation that accompanies marriage."

From this vantage point, the feelings individuals have for one another are the authoritative wellspring of moral principle. Emotion and desire are certainly important, but without more, they are a treacherous foundation for law and public policy.

Marriage and family are a moral institution – the teacher of right conduct between the sexes, the school of morality for the young, the founding scene of our moral obligations, the refuge from a wider world where respect for those obligations is a much chancier proposition.

These may sound like lofty ideals often unrealized, but that is both the point and beside the point. Society has a profound interest in encouraging the successful formation of marriages and families that point by their nature toward the achievement of these ideals.

It is essential that public policy on marriage turn from love, and from lovers' felt need for "affirmation," to consider what reasons can be given for this or that way of arranging the family that makes a claim on our attention.

Are all "relationships" created equal? Are all of them equally conducive to human flourishing and the betterment of successive generations? How many men and/or women does it take to fulfill marriage's vital functions? Are children best prepared for healthy, responsible adult lives with both a mother and a father?
The laws of marriage and family, of divorce and custody, are efforts to address such questions rationally, if necessarily imperfectly, with a priority placed on optimizing the moral health of each party. In the nature of things, someone's preferred notion of a "relationship" that needs "affirming" would seem to be peripheral at best.

To the Iowa court, it was apparently central. When desire becomes the foundation for a right, beware. Nothing in what passes for reasoning in Justice Michael Cady's opinion can stand against the next claimant – perhaps the polygamist – who presents himself as needing government affirmation of his consensual relationships. This is not a slippery slope; it is a levee breaking in a spring flood.

To address the practical grievances – such as lack of hospital visitation – that gay couples who can't marry face, some courts and legislatures have adopted types of civil unions. But such grievances can be easily accommodated through normal contract law. Civil unions, on the other hand, amount to special provisions for a special class of people. And because they deprive same-sex couples of the term "marriage," civil unions themselves become a cause for complaint and eventually a stepping stone to outright gay marriage

Turning to its strong suspicion that "religious opposition" was behind the state's ban on same-sex marriage, the Iowa court rightly held that the state government is forbidden to choose between rival religious beliefs. But the court went further, affirming that "[s]tate government can have no religious views, either directly or indirectly, expressed through its legislation."

This suggests the court is incapable of entertaining the most elementary distinction between matters of theology, faith, and worship, on the one hand, and matters of moral reasoning springing from religious conviction on the other. What the opinion calls "religious opposition to same-sex marriage" would more accurately be described as "moral opposition to same-sex marriage springing from religious sources." It would not go too far to say that religion is the wellspring of moral thought and action in our civilization. America's own Declaration of Independence – source of what President Lincoln called "our ancient faith" – calls upon the Creator as the giver of all our fundamental rights.
Because of the diversity of religious commitments in our society – and because coercion in matters of faith and practice violates our constitutional and dominant religious morality – we must express our moral opinions to one another in a shared language of reason and argument.

This does not and cannot mean that the connection of our moral arguments to our religious sentiments is severed when we meet in the public square. But when all the arguments have been heard, the moral view that prevails at the ballot box and in the legislative halls is entitled to have its way in public policy, barring any explicit constitutional obstacles to its enactment.

The "separation of church and state" is not one of those obstacles. If it were, no law with any moral purpose that happened to coincide with the view of any religious community could ever be upheld.

The Iowa justices evidently believe that if a moral argument finds support in any religious commitment, then the promulgation of that argument in law is a violation of the principle of religious disestablishment. This is logically fallacious, historically illiterate, and politically brutish.

Recall that juxtaposed with this unremitting hostility to religiously supported morality is an embrace of the morality of feelings. Yet in the Iowa court's view, religion is itself reduced to mere "sentiment," and so the justices wind up incoherently privileging one kind of feeling over another. Those who desire to marry win out over those who desire to "exclude" them from marrying, and that's that.

Lost from view is the true ground of our common public morality: reasoned judgment about the natures of things and the good of human persons, families, and communities. About such matters, religion can be instructive (to say the least), while a desire to "affirm" our "relationships" cannot be. And so, in both its reductive approach to religion and its empty invocations of feelings, the Iowa Supreme Court has done an injustice to religion, to the possibility of lawful public morality, and – yes – to our relationships themselves.

Matthew J. Franck is professor and chairman of political science at Radford University and a visiting fellow in the James Madison program at Princeton University. This essay was adapted from a longer version that was originally published by The Witherspoon Institute's "Public Discourse."

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Shellfish Alert: Bishop says Religion hampers gay civil rights

Cap'n Bill here with a diminutive "AAAAAAAAAARRGH!!!" because it is all so hohumm don't you know to hear that the man who does not want to be known as "The Gay Bishop" (but somehow speaks of little else as he storms across the Western World ---wouldn't you like to hear him once being interviewed in the Mideast or Africa?). Anyway, here he is in being profiled and quoted by the MSM again and we are quoting it in its entirety because it is such a solid sterling example of "The Shellfish Argument." What's that? O, you know, when people equate sexual ethics with the food you eat. Duh. One would think a liberal would at least once surf the web and see how their arguments are faring, but apparently not.

Bishop: Religion hampers gay civil rights
Published: April 6, 2009

ATLANTA, April 6 (UPI) -- Outmoded Western religious beliefs are the biggest obstacle to gay and lesbian civil rights, New Hampshire Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson said.
Robinson's 2003 consecration as the first openly gay bishop in a mainline Christian denomination set off a rift in his church's parent body, the Anglican Communion.

"Let's be honest, most of the discrimination ... has come at the hands of religious people, and the greatest single hindrance to the achievement of full civil rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people can be laid at the doorstep of the three Abrahamic faiths: Christianity, Judaism and Islam," Robinson said in Atlanta at Emory University's Center for the Study of Law and Religion.

Justifying anti-homosexuality laws with presumed moral authority from the Bible's Book of Leviticus -- which says a man "shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination" punishable by death -- ignores that life has changed since 400 B.C., Robinson said.

People today routinely do many other things, from eating shellfish to wearing two kinds of cloth, that Leviticus also labeled abominations, said Robinson.
Humanity's beliefs about God and life have evolved in many ways, but Leviticus's few verses about homosexuality "are quoted as if nothing has changed in our understanding since biblical times," Robinson said.
Robinson called on "religious voices and religious people to undo the harm and devastation" by helping the nation and religious communities to question, if not change their minds about, religious convictions that "we've been very sure about for thousands of years."

Evolving are we? Listen, some people are so far from evolving that the can't even advance an argument.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

UN Commission on Population and Development Ends with Delegations Saying No to Abortion

By Samantha SingsonNEW YORK April 3, 2009 ( - As the sun rose on the last day of negotiations at the Commission on Population and Development (CPD) at the United Nations (UN) today, delegations were still embroiled in a contentious debate over language concerning “sexual and reproductive health and rights,” which some radical NGOs and UN committees have interpreted and used to promote abortion.

As UN member states came together at the closing meeting to adopt the document, delegations took the floor to define abortion out of the document.

Up until the eleventh hour, the contentious term “sexual and reproductive health and rights” remained in the draft document. Just prior to adoption, Iran took the floor to object to the phrase which has never before been included in any negotiated UN document.

Iran stressed that the term remained problematic for a number of delegations and urged the Commission to revert back to previously agreed upon and carefully negotiated language from the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Program of Action, which is understood not to create any right to abortion.

In an attempt to get consensus, the chairwoman from Mexico suspended the meeting and after twenty minutes, returned to the room and announced that Iran’s proposal would be accepted and that the term “sexual and reproductive health and rights” would be removed from the text.

The document was then adopted by consensus.Several delegations, however, went further and made statements to explicitly define abortion out of the CPD document and to reiterate that the document created no new rights.

Comoros, Peru, Poland, Ireland, Chile, the Holy See, Malta, and Saint Lucia spoke out against the other remaining reproductive health-related terms such as “reproductive rights,” “reproductive health services” and “sexual and reproductive health” and emphasized that these could not be construed to “support, endorse or promote” abortion.

Malta’s ambassador stated that his delegation was finding it more difficult in accepting the resolutions of UN bodies like the CPD where there were consistent attempts to expand “reproductive health” to include abortion.

Saint Lucia made an explicit objection to the term “safe abortion” because the term could “give the impression that abortion was a procedure completely free of medical and psychological risks.”

Saint Lucia also highlighted a provision in the CPD document which called on states where abortion was legal to “train and equip health service providers and should take such measures to ensure that such abortion is safe and accessible.”

The Saint Lucian representative stressed that her delegation understood this provision did not impact the right of healthcare providers to refuse to perform or be complicit in abortions as a matter of conscience, stating, “Again, no new rights are created or acknowledged in this document, and the universal right to conscience can in no way be overridden or weakened.”

Only the representative of Norway expressed regret that the term “sexual and reproductive rights” was not accepted in the text, saying that his country had widespread access to abortion and virtually no negative effects on women.The CPD will next meet in April 2010.

Friday, April 03, 2009

We Say More...

...about and in yesterday's entry "News from Sweden." Go ahead, read it.

ELCA Church Council rejects pleas for 2/3 majority

by Mark C. Chavez

In spite of requests from 15 ELCA synods and a significant majority of ELCA bishops asking for a two-thirds majority vote, the ELCA Church Council voted to stick with its November decision to propose rules of procedure for the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly that would require only a simple majority vote on resolutions about changes in church teaching and policy to allow practicing homosexuals to serve as ELCA ministers. The Church Council met March 27-30 in Chicago.

The council's Legal and Constitutional Committee presented a proposed rule for the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly that was nearly identical to the rule it had recommended in November. The Church Council had voted 19-10 to delete the two-thirds majority requirement at its November meeting. In presenting the rule at the March meeting, the committee made no recommendation for approval or disapproval. Ten council members voted for the two-thirds majority rule for the ministry policy resolutions, 21 opposed it and two abstained in the Saturday, March 28, vote.

In recent weeks, 15 ELCA Synod Councils had asked the Church Council to propose a two-thirds majority rule on all the sexuality matters to be considered by the Churchwide Assembly. Three Synod Councils had supported a simple majority rule.

The ELCA Conference of Bishops voted by a two-to-one margin in support of a two-thirds majority rule at their meeting in early March. Because it was a closed session, the ELCA had not reported the bishops' vote. However, when a council member requested that the council hear the Conference of Bishops' advice on this matter, the bishops' views were made public.

Some council members said that if they changed their minds on the rule, it might look like the council was succumbing to pressure from "a few synods."

One member suggested that perhaps all of the other synods agreed with the simple majority rule.

Some council members also said that by making the decision in November -- prior to the release of the task force report -- their decision was neutral with respect to the content of the task force report. If they changed their minds now, it might look like they were commenting on the content of the task force report.
The 2009 Churchwide Assembly will adopt its rules of procedure at its first session and could amend the rules to reinstate the two-thirds majority requirement for changes in ministry standards.

ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson set the tone for all of the council's discussions with his report at the start of the meeting on March 28. He said, "We are at the intersection of fear and hope," and went on to say that the council and the ELCA should not let fear keep them from doing what they ought to do and be who they ought to be. He urged them to move forward boldly in hope.

Sunday, March 29, the council dealt with the proposed social statement on human sexuality and the ministry policies resolutions from the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Human Sexuality.

The Rev. Steve Loy, chair of the council's Program and Services Committee, which had reviewed the proposed social statement, Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust, before the meeting, said that the committee considered the proposed social statement to be credible and therefore recommended that the Church Council pass it along to the Churchwide Assembly with minimal changes.
When the Churchwide staff and leaders presented the social statement to the Church Council for consideration, they praised the task force for its work.

The Rev. Roger Thompson, chair of the Church in Society Program Committee, said the task force accurately reflected the diversity of views in the ELCA and that the social statement is a "very admirable document."

The Rev. Roger Willer, director of the ELCA Department of Studies, Church in Society, reported that the task force took seriously the feedback to the 2008 Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality and made significant revisions in the proposed statement including: writing a shorter statement (1,000 words less); placing sexual ethics within the doctrine of creation; clarifying the role of the Law; using less technical language; locating sexuality in God's left-handed ruling; and noting that disagreements on sexual ethics are not matters in which salvation is at stake.

The Church Council unanimously approved amendments to the proposed social statement, which the task force regarded as friendly amendments that further the intent of the social statement. Then the council voted by a strong majority to "transmit" the social statement to the Churchwide Assembly as amended.
The Church Council also voted to transmit implementing resolutions related to the proposed statement, with some amendments, to the Churchwide Assembly. Some council members opposed this action.

The amended social statement and implementing resolutions as they will be presented to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly will be available online at April 2.

The Church Council then took up the Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies resolutions from the task force. The Rev. Rebecca Larson, head of the Church in Society Unit said that, contrary to some news reports, the ELCA is not proposing a change in rostering policies but proposing a process by which the ELCA will decide if it wants to consider a change in policies.

The task force recommended a series of four resolutions that would allow ELCA pastors and other rostered leaders to be in same-sex sexual relationships.

The Rev. Peter Strommen, chair of the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality, repeated that the task force had not proposed what the ELCA ought to do, but rather a process for how to proceed when there is no consensus on the sexuality issues.

The Rev. Stan Olson, head of the Vocation and Education unit, said that "structured flexibility" is a shorthand way to refer to what already exists in the ELCA candidacy process. He said that "structured flexibility" is not a proposal for local option because the ELCA does not currently have a local option. If the ELCA already had a local option then it would be accurate to say the task force recommendation is a proposal for local option.

Later in the meeting, Olson clarified that Resolution #4 would allow for different practices among ELCA synods and congregations.

The Church Council voted overwhelmingly to transmit Resolutions #1 and #2 to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly.

Resolution #1 asks the ELCA to "commit itself to finding ways to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support, and hold publicly accountable life-long, monogamous, same-gender relationships." The council amended this proposal to delete a reference to synods.

Resolution #2 asks "that the ELCA commit itself to finding a way for people in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as rostered leaders of this church."

The Church Council also voted overwhelmingly to transmit Resolutions #3 and #4, but after much more discussion.

Resolution #3 states that "in the implementation of these resolutions, the ELCA commits itself to bear one another's burdens, love the neighbor, and respect the bound consciences of all."

Questions were raised about the definition of "bound conscience" -- prominent in the third resolution. Is it a proper definition? Is it a new definition?

Pastor Willer said that the Church in Society Unit is preparing a document that will show that the definition of "bound conscience" used by the task force is long-standing in Lutheran and Christian teaching. He said it hasn't been used in recent years, which is why it appears to be new. Willer asserted that Martin Luther understood "bound conscience" to apply not only to central matters of salvation but also to other matters, and that Luther understood it to mean the ability to judge moral doctrine. The document is to be available later this month.

Resolution #4 details the policy changes necessary to current ELCA teaching and policy to enact the previous resolutions.

After much discussion, Resolution #4 was substantially amended and shortened. One council member said that the amendments are more transparent in that they make it clear that the resolution allows a congregation to introduce a practice in a synod that might otherwise not accept the practice.
Throughout all of the discussions on the sexuality issues, only a few people spoke in opposition to the content of the task force documents.

The Church Council made its decisions on the sexuality documents after hearing grim news about the financial situation of the ELCA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.

Canadian Bishop Susan Johnson was first to report its grim financial situation. She has had to cut her staff by 30 percent. There are now only 10 full-time employees in the ELCIC national office. She is trying to run the office with one-third the real funds they had in 1986. Individual income in Canada has kept pace with inflation, but giving to congregations and giving to synods and Churchwide has not. She believes they will need to reduce the number of synods or to downsize them. "We're running out of runway," Johnson said. She added they still have some time to make choices, but they soon won't.

When the ELCA's financial condition was reported, the Rev. Wyvetta Bullock, the Executive for Administration, said that the ELCA is close to being on the edge like the Canadian church.

The ELCA has had a significant decline in mission support from synods thus far this year. January 2009 was the second lowest January in the ELCA's history, February was down, and March is down. In fiscal year 2008 the Churchwide unit received 95.8 percent of planned mission support. The estimate is for only 93 percent in 2009. The ELCA treasurer reported that factoring for inflation, mission support is down 42 percent from 1989.

Because of the revised income estimates, 35.5 Churchwide staff positions were eliminated in recent weeks -- 23.5 occupied staff positions and 12 vacant positions. All Churchwide units have made reductions, a partial hiring freeze is in place, and salaries for the highest pay grades will be reduced by 3 percent.
In another action the Church Council approved, with no discussion, the ELCA bishops' response to the 2007 Churchwide Assembly resolution that called for a report from the bishops to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly on their accountability to ELCA policies. The bishops have concluded that no new document is needed for the 2009 assembly because they had been regularly reviewing accountability all along and the current ELCA documents are sufficient.

The Church Council used process observers throughout the meeting to report on the freedom in the meeting for all to express themselves and for all voices to be heard. Ironically, at the very end of the meeting when advisers to the council were making reports, the Rev. Khader N. El-Yateem, chair of the Multicultural Ministries Program Committee informed the council that none of the Arab or Middle Eastern ELCA congregations had participated in the sexuality studies and feedback in the past several years. The leaders of those congregations did not present the sexuality studies and documents in their congregations because it would have been unhelpful and troublesome. He said many other ethnic congregations had also not participated for the same reasons. He warned the Church Council that it does not have the input or participation of many of these congregations.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

News from Sweden

Go to and click the link to read the Bishops' letter from the Mission Province.

Shrimp here, posting on Friday, thinking Cap'n Bill ought to have said a wee bit more. The letter is a response to the Swedish Parliament's approval of "gender neutral" marriage. For some years Sweden has offered legal same-sex unions (and such unions could then be blessed by priests of the [Lutheran] Church of Sweden), but had refrained from calling such unions "marriage."

Missionsprovinsen ["Mission Province"] is described on Wikipedia as "a second, independent ecclesiastical province within the Church of Sweden . . . founded by members of the 'orthodox opposition' to the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate." The province was organized in 2003 and its first Bishop (there are now 3) was consecrated by Lutheran Bishops (in apostolic succession) from Kenya, Belarus, South Africa, and Norway in 2005.

And this becomes suddenly more relevant as the Iowa Supreme Court becomes the latest court to declare that "limiting" marriage to being between a man and a woman is "unconstitutional." Shrimp, of boggled-mind, out.

The good ship ELCA...

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