Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Kirk Offers Hint to the ELCA

Shrimp again. Every once in a while, someone suggests that the ELCA simply refuse to discuss sexuality matters for a period of time. You know, if we just agree to make no decisions about sex for a generation or two and concentrate on evangelizing the unchurched, our grandchildren will be able to discuss the matter (in a much larger, more firmly established ELCA).

Now the Church of Scotland is trying to do just that, well sort of, for 2 years. Read about it in The Scotsman, which also offers an old idea for those who find themselves in dissent from any ELCA Assembly action this summer. Tip of the claw to

Kirk orders ban on gay minister debate

The Church of Scotland last night effectively gagged its members from public discussion of gay ministers and postponed a potentially divisive vote on the issue for two years in a desperate bid to avoid a schism.

A debate on a call to ban openly homosexual people from appointment to the ministry was torpedoed by an 11th-hour motion that dominated the General Assembly yesterday.

Instead of proceeding with the vote – which many traditionalists had warned could split the Kirk – members agreed to establish a commission to study the issue and report back in 2011.

Until then, no more openly gay ministers can be appointed and no members can speak in public on the issue of openly homosexual, non-celibate ministers.

Only the Church and Society, HIV/Aids Project and Mission Discipleship committees can speak out on the broader issue of human sexuality.

One hardliner said last night Kirk members were now "effectively prevented from speaking out in public on this".

The decision came as 121 Kirk ministers and Church members showed their disapproval of the decision to allow the openly gay Scott Rennie to be appointed to a ministry when they signed a notice of dissent.

Before yesterday's General Assembly proceedings were able to start, a point of order was brought by one commissionaire that he wished to dissent against Saturday's decision to allow Mr Rennie to take up his ministry at Queen's Cross Church, Aberdeen.

Moderator Bill Hewitt said a document had been set up for those who wished to dissent on the decision to have their names recorded in the minutes of the assembly.

Although it will have no bearing on the decision itself, it was an expression of the strength of opposition to the crucial vote on Saturday that backed Mr Rennie's appointment. The vote was carried 326 to 267 and it is thought that many of those who opposed it would have signed the petition of dissent...

Read it all here. Shrimp out.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

LSTC Faculty Chimes In (Again)

Shrimp here. Most of the faculty at the ELCA's Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago is speaking up on proposed sexuality social statement and the recommendations on ministry policies. According to an ELCA News release,
an April 2 letter LSTC students, predominantly members of the senior class, "invited and implored" the seminary's faculty to respond to the documents, according to Dr. Klaus-Peter Adam, associate professor of Old Testament at LSTC.

In response, Adam and three other faculty members issued a statement May 22 offering support for the approval of the documents. In addition to the four drafters of the statement, 18 faculty members plus one professor emeritus signed the statement. The statement is not an official declaration of LSTC; it is a statement of the faculty.
The LSTC faculty members signing this statement had all previously signed the "Appropriate Next Steps for the ELCA" letter referred to below and here on Shellfish. That letter now has 150 signatures from ELCA "teaching theologians."

LSTC Faculty responds to the ELCA Statement, "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust", and the "Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies"

During the current church-wide discussion about the ELCA statement, "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust", and the "Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies" we, the undersigned members of the faculty of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, remember Paul's advice to our Christian community:
"There is no longer Jew or Greek,
there is no longer slave or free,
there is no longer male and female;
for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." (Gal 3:28)

We also offer the following considerations as members of the ELCA prepare to vote on the "Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies."

As a confessional church, the Lutheran community affirms the normative authority of Scripture and tradition. Lutherans also insist that Christ and the gospel are the hermeneutical key for interpreting both Scripture and tradition. The gospel, which always points us to Christ, is, therefore, the interpretative lens in light of which the biblical and theological heritage of the church must be understood, evaluated and affirmed. One of the realities that becomes apparent when we see Christ is that he consistently crossed religious and societal boundaries, reached out to the marginalized and modeled a radical ethic of love. We trust that Christ and his gospel now inspire God's people to live in ways that are more consistent with the good news and with the example of Christ. Hence, they are free to be divine instruments of grace in the world because of Christ's redemptive acts. They have been precisely that at particular moments throughout history when the Holy Spirit, by means of the gospel, has inspired faithful individuals and communities to see the Scriptures in a new light and to implement changes that have resulted in crucial theological, ecclesiastical and social reforms.

Luther's challenge of the medieval church's distinction between the spiritual and temporal estates and his affirmation of the universal priesthood of the baptized, the abolition of the slave trade and slavery, the flowering of ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue, opposition to racism and apartheid, and support for the ordination of women are striking examples of theological, ecclesiastical and social changes inspired by the transformative power of the gospel.

In our time, Christ and his message of grace empower the community of faith to understand specific scriptural passages differently than in the past, to change traditional ecclesiastical policies and practices, and to affirm sisters and brothers who share a common baptismal identity, who confess the same faith in Christ and whose call to ministry is an expression of the Holy Spirit's presence in their lives. In recent times, the church has repented of interpretations of scripture that justified slavery, silenced women, oppressed people of color, and maligned the Jewish people. The crucial question before the church is not whether the current recommendation on ministry policies challenges long-standing scriptural interpretations and ecclesiastical practices. It obviously does. Rather, the ultimate question is whether the recommendation on ministry policies proclaims Christ [Christum treiben] and his message of grace more faithfully than older interpretations and practices. We, the faculty of LSTC, are convinced that it does and, therefore, support the approval of the recommendation.

As academicians, the LSTC faculty is also in conversation with the research coming from biology, neuroscience, anthropology, sociology, psychology, literary studies, and other disciplines that engage in gender and sexuality studies. This recent scholarship is clear that there are varieties of sexual orientations and gender identities; that these orientations, identities and relationships derive from a complex of cultural, historical and physical realities. The research alerts us to the precariousness of assigning to "nature" what culture and community construct. Categories of binary differentiation such as "male" or "female", "heterosexual" or "homosexual" are historical and philosophical categories of great importance which nonetheless have minimal ontological status. As scholars, this faculty is and must be aware of this research which cautions us to be wary of the universality of binary sexual and gender classifications. Among many other things, that is why we must question many of the assumptions that are made in some of the circulated responses to the ELCA statements, "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust", and the "Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies"—responses which depend on these problematic classifications of human experience and behavior.

As a Lutheran community, part of the body of Christ, we also share with you our experience of Christ's refreshing spirit in our seminary community. Here at LSTC, we have been blessed by lively and faithful conversations with lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender students and pastors in our midst about matters of sexuality, gender identity, and committed relationships to human partners and God. We see firsthand the hope, the pain, and the joy in these conversations. While we do not always agree with each other, we discover Christ's spirit in this fellowship. Deeply committed to our unity in Christ, we once were emboldened to ordain free and former slaves, whites together with peoples of color, women and men alike, to serve as pastors of the church. We must now broaden that circle to include a yet more full company of God's children who confess the gospel and the lordship of Christ Jesus.

The undersigned members of the LSTC faculty:
    Klaus-Peter Adam
    Terrence Baeder
    Kathleen D. Billman
    Kurt Hendel
    Esther Menn
    Raymond Pickett
    José D. Rodriguez
    Craig Satterlee
    Lea Schweitz
    Michael Shelley
    Benjamin Stewart
    Rosanne Swanson
    Linda E. Thomas
    Barbara Rossing
    David Rhoads
    Peter Vethanayagamony
    Christine Wenderoth
    Vítor Westhelle

We also refer to the 'Appropriate Next Steps for the ELCA' that can be found under

There you have it. Shrimp out.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Shreck: Don't Act Unilaterally

Shrimp here. From 1998-2008 Pastor Paul Schreck served in the ELCA's Office of the Secretary and also in the ELCA ecumenical affairs department, working closely with ELCA Secretary Lowell Almen and in the Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogues. He has been without a call since last August. In the just-out June 2009 issue of The Lutheran magazine, Pastor Schreck addresses recommendations on ministry policies being presented at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in August.

Fragile relationships

Handle ecumenism with care

Recently I shredded an envelope only to discover the contents were still inside. The damage was irreparable. Precious things can be destroyed in a moment.

What of the church? Can this precious body of Christ be similarly broken? The church has experienced many divisions through the centuries. The bitter pain of this brokenness threatens to undermine its ability to proclaim the gospel. Yet to many, a divided church appears to be normal rather than contrary to God's will — and brings no pain.

Some steps in recent decades have restored a high degree of trust and affection between Christians of various traditions. ELCA pastors regularly preside at the eucharist in many of these traditions. ELCA members participate with Roman Catholics in joint Bible studies. Christians set aside divisions to care for the stranger in need through disaster response. But our steps toward church unity are tenuous and can be quickly undone.

The ELCA meets in assembly in August. One decision concerns whether gay and lesbian people in committed same-sex relationships may serve this church as pastors. Two opposing views have been widely discussed. Astonishingly absent from the discussion is the point that the ELCA doesn't make this decision in a vacuum. We live in interdependent relationships with Lutherans and Christians around the world. Assembly decisions affect those.

A change in ELCA discipline for pastors will scandalize some partner churches and likely lead to suspension of full-communion agreements. Relationships with the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches will cool considerably. Our Lutheran World Federation membership may be jeopardized because the fastest-growing Lutheran churches passionately oppose this change. Exact reactions are impossible to predict, but they will have concrete implications.

Whether this change is applied to the entire ELCA roster or decisions are made locally by synods, the overwhelming majority of the world's Christians will see any change in the discipline for pastors as our breaking communion with them. The criticism would be accurate: The decision will have been made unilaterally. Voting members need to be aware of these implications. There may be appropriate times to break communion with other Christians. But we must be fully aware we are doing it. Dividing the church comes at a price. We must never pretend it's not painful.
The Lutheran promises "another view on the sexuality documents" in its July issue. Shrimp out...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Open Letter to ELCA Churchwide Assembly Voters

Shrimp here, with a tip o' the claw to Pastor Zip, who managed to provide for us most of the original formatting. It's a to-the-point Open Letter to the ELCA Churchwide Assembly's Voting Members from a group of 59 ELCA leaders and theologians assembled recently by Lutheran CORE. We'll let Prof. Bob Benne introduce it himself (in a cover letter he sent to some associates last week), then you can read the Open Letter. It's a good one -- a very good one. -- with some pretty heavy names attached (and more being added). Read it. Shrimp out.
Dear friends,

Two weeks ago a group of theologians and church leaders convened by the Lutheran Coalition for Reform (CORE) met in Arizona to develop a letter to voting members of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly of 2009. It is a letter appealing to the voting members to reject the Social Statement on Sexuality and the accompanying four recommendations. I have attached that letter. That letter is in the process of being sent out. At the same time it is being released to many persons and agencies within and outside the church. Soon it will be posted in a number of places for more people to sign on. (Check the CORE website or the WordAlone website if you wish to sign on.) Around 50 theologians and church leaders have already signed it and we expect many more supporters to sign on. We think the letter is persuasive and that the key theologians of the ELCA have affirmed it. We hope it is persuasive to you.

Bob Benne

An Open Letter to the Voting Members of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly

We are grateful that the church has called you to serve as a voting member for the 2009 Churchwide Assembly. Your role at the assembly will be a difficult one. We are writing this open letter as Lutheran theologians and church leaders concerned about the fidelity and future of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The proposals are in fact no compromise
The teaching of the church will be changed
The proposals to be considered by the Churchwide Assembly this summer from the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality are perceived by some as compromises that will permit the ELCA to live faithfully with internal diversity on controversial ethical questions. The proposals are in fact no compromise. They clearly imply that same-sex blessings and the ordination and rostering of homosexual persons in committed relationships are acceptable within the ELCA. The teaching of the church will be changed. We should not make such an important decision without clear biblical and theological support. The Task Force did not provide such support, nor has it been provided in statements from some of our colleagues in ELCA institutions.

Indifference to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church1. If the assembly adopts the proposed rules of procedure, a simple majority of one Churchwide Assembly will alter the moral teaching on sexuality we have shared with the vast majority of the church past and present. We are concerned that such a procedure shows an indifference to the common mind of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church throughout the ages and across cultures. At the least, a two-thirds majority should be required, if indeed the assembly should be voting on these matters at all.
The church is founded on the whole Word of God, both law and gospel 2. The proposals claim that the ELCA can live with profound differences on sexual questions because our unity is centered exclusively on the gospel and the sacraments. This claim separates law and gospel in a way contrary to both Scripture and the Confessions. The church is founded on the whole Word of God, both law and gospel. The Task Force texts seem to permit variation on all ethical questions, no matter how fundamental. How Christians behave sexually is not a matter of indifference to our life in Christ.
It would damage our ecumenical relationships

3. If the ELCA were to approve the public recognition of same-sex unions or the rostering of persons in such relationships, it would damage our ecumenical relationships with the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, and Evangelical churches, all of which affirm the clear teaching of Scripture that homosexual activity departs from God’s design for marriage and sexuality. Furthermore, it would put the ELCA at odds with many of our sister Lutheran churches, especially in Asia and Africa. The United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA) have also recently upheld scriptural teaching on this matter. These bodies have officially recognized that the biblical prohibitions against homosexual activity remain applicable today to consensual sexual relationships between persons of the same sex.
Our unity will be fractured

4. With regard to calling rostered leaders, the statement proposes “structured flexibility,” which we believe will lead inevitably to “local option.” If adopted, this proposal will mean that the relationship among bishops, candidacy committees, and congregations will become confused and conflicted. Practically speaking, there will be two lists of candidates for rostered leadership in the church. The result will be that not all pastors and congregations will be in full fellowship with each other, nor with many of the pastors and congregations of those denominations with whom we are in full communion. Further, laity seeking a congregation to join would need to ask about which option a congregation has chosen in calling its leaders. Our unity in the office of ministry will be fractured.

Conscience can err5. The social statement calls for opponents in the current controversy to respect each other’s “bound conscience,” referring to Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms. Luther, however, was not merely claiming that he was sincere about the convictions he held; he asserted rather that his conscience was bound to the Word of God. Conscience can err. The Word of God, not conscience, is the final court of appeal in the church.

We are deeply sensitive to the need of the church to provide pastoral care for all people. We are aware that there are some in the church who will disagree with this letter. Nevertheless, we feel we are called to support and advocate the biblical teaching on human sexuality. We pledge to you our prayers and we invite you to work with us for the renewal of our church under the Word of God.

Rev. Richard Bansemer, Salem, VA, former Bishop, Virginia Synod

Dr. Robert D. Benne, Director of the Center for Religion and Society, Roanoke College, VA

Rev. John C. Beem, Miltona, MN, former Bishop, East-Central Synod of Wisconsin

Rev. Dr. Paul S. Berge, Professor Emeritus of New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN

Rev. Dr. Dennis D. Bielfeldt, Professor of Religion, South Dakota State University, Brookings, SD

Rev. Dr. Carl E. Braaten,  Professor Emeritus, Systematic Theology, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago

Rev. Mark C. Chavez, Landisville, PA, Director of Lutheran CORE

Rev. Dr. James R. Crumley, Jr, Chapin, SC, Former Bishop, Lutheran Church in America

Rev. Jaynan Clark Egland, Nine Mile Falls, WA, President, WordAlone Network

Rev. Dr. C. Jack Eichhorst, President emeritus, Trinity Lutheran College, WA

Dr. Rebecca Frey, New Haven, CT, Lutheran Forum Editorial Staff

Rev. Gregory P. Fryer, Immanuel Lutheran Church, New York, MY

Gracia M. Grindal, Professor of Rhetoric, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN

Mr. David J. Hardy, Esq., Chicago, IL, Former General Counsel of the ELCA

Rev. Dr. Roy A. Harrisville, Jr., Professor Emeritus, New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN

Rev. Dr. Roy A. Harrisville, III, Menomonie, WI

Rev. Dr. Mary Havens, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Prof. of Church History, Columbia, SC

Rev. Carol S. Hendrix, former bishop, Lower Susquehanna Synod, PA

Dr. Hans J. Hillerbrand, Professor of Religion, Duke University, NC

Rev. Dr. Paul R. Hinlicky, Professor of Religion, Roanoke College, VA

Rev. Dr. Stephen J. Hultgren, Assistant Professor of Religion, Fordham University, Bronx, NY

Rev. Dr. Robert W. Jenson, Princeton, NJ

Ben Arlen Johnson, Th.D., Professor emeritus, Lutheran Bible Institute in California

Rev. Dr. Richard O. Johnson, Grass Valley, CA, Editor of Forum Letter

Rev. Corinne R. Johnson, Crystal Falls, MI

Rev. Ralph A. Kempski, Aiken, SC, Bishop Emeritus, Indiana-Kentucky Synod

Rev. Dr. Jack Dean Kingsbury, Professor Emeritus of Biblical Theology, Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, VA

Rev. Gerard H. Knoche, Bishop, Delaware-Maryland Synod

Rev. Dr. Marc Kolden, Professor Emeritus, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN

Rev. Dr. David W. Lotz, Washburn Professor Emeritus of Church History, Union Theological Seminary, New York, NY

Rev. Dr. Lamontte Luker, Professor of Hebrew Scriptures, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Columbia, SC

Rev. Dr. Paul V. Martinson, Professor Emeritus of Missions, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN

Rev. Dr. Mark C. Mattes, Professor of Religion, Grand View College, Des Moines, IA

Rev. George P. Mocko, Bishop Emeritus, Delaware-Maryland Synod

Rev. Dr. James A. Nestingen, Professor Emeritus of Church History, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN

Rev. Richard J. Niebanck III, Delhi, NY

Rev. Dr. Oliver K. Olson, Minneapolis, MN

Rev. Dr. Steven D. Paulson, Professor of Systematic Theology, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN

Rev. Dr. David W. Preus, Minneapolis, MN, Former Bishop, American Lutheran Church

Dr. Michael Root, Dean, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Columbia, SC

Rev. Dr. Paul E. Rorem, Professor of Church History, Princeton Theological Seminary, NJ 

Rev. Russell E. Saltzman, Ruskin Heights Lutheran Church, Kansas City, MO

Rev. Kenneth H. Sauer, Columbus, OH, Former Chair of Conference of Bishops

Rev. Dr. James A. Scherer, Professor Emeritus, Missions and Church History, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago

Rev. Dr. Amy Schifrin, Hershey, PA

Rev. Paul A. Schreck, Round Lake Beach, IL, former Executive Assistant to the Secretary, ELCA

Rev. Henry Schulte Jr, Boerne, TX, former Bishop, Southwestern Texas Synod

Rev. Frederick J. Schumacher, Manchester Township, NJ, Executive Director, American Lutheran Publicity Bureau

Rev. Dr. Hans Schwarz, Professor of Systematic Theology and Contemporary Theological Issues, University of Regensburg, Germany

Rev. Dr. Frank Senn, Immanuel Lutheran Church, Evanston, IL

Rev. Dr. Franklin Sherman, Schnecksville, PA

Rev. Dr. Trygve R. Skarsten, Pickerington, OH, President Emeritus of Trinity Lutheran College, Everett, WA

Rev. Paull E. Spring, State College, PA, Former Bishop, Northwestern Pennsylvania Synod

Rev. Dr. John R. Stumme, Chicago, IL, former Director of the Department for Studies in the Church in Society unit of the ELCA

Rev. Dr. Anders Tune, Campus Minister, Wittenberg University, Springfield, OH

Rev. Paul M. Werger, Iowa City, IA, Former Chair of Conference of Bishops

Rev. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, Associate Research Professor, Institute for Ecumenical Research, Strasbourg, France

Dr. David S. Yeago, Professor of Systematic Theology, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Columbia, SC

Rev. Dr. J. Larry Yoder, Professor and Director, Center for Theology, Lenoir-Rhyne University, Hickory, NC

ELCA Theologians and Leaders Call for Defeat of Sexuality Proposals

A press release from Lutheran CORE:

Prominent Lutheran theologians and church leaders affirm biblical teaching on sexuality and call for defeat of ELCA sexuality proposals

May 19, 2009 — Prominent Lutheran theologians and church leaders have written an Open Letter to the Voting Members of the 2009 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) asking them to affirm biblical teaching on sexuality and to reject proposals to change church teaching and policy regarding marriage and same-sex sexual behavior. The open letter was released Tuesday, May 19.

The 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly (Aug. 17-23 in Minneapolis) will consider a proposed social statement which would change ELCA teaching on human sexuality and a proposal which would change church standards to allow ELCA pastors to be in same-sex sexual relationships. The open letter will be mailed to the 1,045 voting members of the 4.7-million-member denomination’s Churchwide Assembly.

“The proposals are in fact no compromise. They clearly imply that same-sex blessings and the ordination and rostering of homosexual persons in committed relationships are acceptable within the ELCA. The teaching of the church will be changed. We should not make such an important decision without clear biblical and theological support. The Task Force did not provide such support, nor has it been provided in statements from some of our colleagues in ELCA institutions,” the open letter states.

The letter offers five reasons why the proposals must be rejected:

1. “If the assembly adopts the proposed rules of procedure, a simple majority of one Churchwide Assembly will alter the moral teaching on sexuality we have shared with the vast majority of the church past and present. We are concerned that such a procedure shows an indifference to the common mind of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church throughout the ages and across cultures.”

2. “The church is founded on the whole Word of God, both law and gospel. The Task Force texts seem to permit variation on all ethical questions, no matter how fundamental. How Christians behave sexually is not a matter of indifference to our life in Christ.”

3. “If the ELCA were to approve the public recognition of same-sex unions or the rostering of persons in such relationships, it would damage our ecumenical relationships.”

4. “Our unity in the office of ministry will be fractured.”

5. “Conscience can err. The Word of God, not conscience, is the final court of appeal in the church.”

“We feel we are called to support and advocate the biblical teaching on human sexuality and urge you to defeat all the proposals from the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality that the Church Council has forwarded to you. We pledge to you our prayers and we invite you to work with us for the renewal of our church under the Word of God,” the open letter concludes.

Lutheran CORE brought together some prominent theologians and church leaders April 29 in Phoenix to draft the letter. Other scholars and church leaders were then asked to add their names to the open letter. Nearly 60 scholars and church leaders have signed the letter. Other ELCA pastors and lay members may add their names to a list of people endorsing the letter online at

“We wanted a clear statement from Lutheran theologians and church leaders who uphold biblical teaching on sexuality as it has been believed and taught by the Christian Church for nearly 2,000 years,” said the Rev. Paull Spring of State College, Pa., chair of the Lutheran CORE Steering Committee.

“We are grateful for the scholars and church leaders who have been willing to stand with us and with the vast majority of Christians worldwide and throughout time,” said Spring, the retired bishop of the Northwestern Pennsylvania Synod.

The open letter is available online at

And we'll have it here on Shellfish in just a few moments.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

How "Your Father's ELCA" Became "Your Children's ELCA

Shrimp again.

145 of the ELCA's "Teaching Theologians" have signed on to "Appropriate Next Steps for the ELCA," a statement written by Professors Ralph Klein and Barbara Rossing at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago supporting the Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies.

We put "Teaching Theologians" inside the quotation marks because, while there are indeed some pretty significant ELCA theologians among the signers (such as Klein himself, Philip Hefner, Arland Hultgren, and Gordon Lathrop -- and there are others), the main qualification seems to be being on the payroll of an institution of higher learning. Of the Bishop emeriti listed, for instance, only one (Paul Egertson, who was forced to resign over his role in the irregular ordination of Anita Hill in 2001) has anything resembling academic credentials.

We don't think we're being too elitist in thinking "Dean of Religious and Spiritual Life," "Coordinator for Candidacy," "Assistant Professor of Contextual Education," "Director of Diversity and Inclusion," and (as near as we can tell from one college website) "Alumni Relations Staff" are not quite "Teaching Theologian" material -- particularly if someone is trying to distinguish them from any other parish pastor.

Now for...
Appropriate Next Steps for the ELCA

We the undersigned ELCA teaching theologians, and Christian theologians teaching at ELCA institutions, wish to affirm and support the four recommendations on Ministry Policies proposed by the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis (Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies available at:

We take this action on the basis of the rationale on lines 147-212 of the Task Force’s document, and we would specifically highlight the following points:
  • We too affirm the authority of the Scriptures, but the seven biblical texts that are frequently cited on the issue of homosexuality are not directly pertinent to the 21st century discussion because some of them condemn specifically homosexual rape, deal with questions of “clean and unclean” that are not normative in the Christian community, do not take into account issues like “sexual orientation,” and presuppose that all would agree with a particular interpretation of what “nature” teaches.
That is, we affirm Scriptures authority when we agree with it.
  • The Task Force wisely proposes that both heterosexual and homosexual persons are expected to express sexual intimacy within publicly accountable, lifelong, and monogamous relationships. This has long been the expectation for heterosexual couples, and therefore is an appropriate expectation for homosexual couples as well.
  • The first recommendation of the Task Force rightly proposes that acceptance of same-gender relationships among all people of this church is a prerequisite to considering people in same-gender relationships for rostered leadership positions.
Yet this will not mean that if there is any opposition to same-sex relationships in the ELCA, we should not ordain those in or hoping to be in one.
  • While not all Lutheran church bodies are of one mind on these issues, Scandinavian and German Lutherans have already taken similar actions to those being proposed now in the ELCA.
Actually, it's only a couple of the Nordic Lutheran churches at the instigation of secular political forces. And if some of your older brothers jump off the top of the Empire State Building, of course the rest of you should, too.
  • We who favor the changes being proposed pledge ourselves to honor and respect those sisters and brothers within the ELCA who for reasons of theology and conscience choose to oppose these changes.
Yet the ELCA should ordain as pastors those with whom many ELCA pastors will refuse to share ministry.
  • We recognize that the unity of the church is based on one Lord, one faith, and one baptism, and that within this unity, faithful members may disagree on individual items of faith and life.
Wow, the ecumenical movement as just been brought to a successful conclusion. Kum Ba Yah, my Lord...
Specifically we make the following affirmations to the questions posed by the Task Force:
  1. Should the ELCA commit itself to finding ways to allow congregations and synods that choose to do so to recognize, support, and hold publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships? Yes.

  2. Should this church commit itself to finding a way for people in publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as rostered leaders of this church? Yes

  3. Can this church as it finds a way to roster people in publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, and same-gender relationships commit to doing so in ways that bear one another’s burdens, love the neighbor, and respect the bound consciences of those with whom they disagree? Yes

  4. Should the ELCA consider structured flexibility in decision-making to allow in appropriate situations, people in publicly accountable, monogamous, lifelong, same-gender relationships to be approved for the rosters of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America? Yes.
Shrimp out.

Your Children's ELCA?

Shrimp here. As of this moment, 203 ELCA Seminarians are chiming in for the Churchwide Assembly with the following:


Grace to you and peace,

We come to you as Lutheran seminarians pursuing a variety of callings and ministries, studying in both Lutheran and non-Lutheran seminaries. Recognizing our diversity in background, sexuality, and experience, we celebrate this opportunity to respond with one voice to the Recommendations on Ministry Policies from the Task Force for the ELCA Studies on Sexuality.

We applaud the ELCA's commitment to the dialogue on sexuality and its affirmation of sexuality as a gift and trust from God. After careful consideration of the issue at hand and its influence on the life of the church, we stand in solidarity affirming the recommendation for structured flexibility within the rostering requirements of the ELCA. Acknowledging the potential limitations of structured flexibility, we nonetheless seek here to establish our steadfast support for the rostering of "members who are in publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gendered relationships."

The life of the church depends upon the full recognition and inclusion of ministerial gifts engendered by the Spirit. St. Paul tells us "to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" and it is God, not us, who chooses what gifts and services we bring for the benefit of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:7). Yet in preparation for ministry, we both see and experience the harm of the current policy and its denial of the gifts present in the whole body of Christ. Because of the current policy, gay and lesbian persons ignore calls to ministry, candidates feel compelled to lie about their sexuality, mentors are forced out of the church, and candidates leave the ELCA for more inclusive denominations. The tragedy of these events is weakening the integrity of the church.

While we acknowledge and respect the bound consciences of those who disagree, we have faith and hope that resting in God we can respond with love to the contemporary challenges facing the church and society. We therefore stand firm in our belief that it is in the best interest of the ELCA's ministry to affirm the recommendations of the Task Force at the 2009 Churchwide Assembly.

Joining with you as people invested in the life, health, and ministry of the ELCA, we appeal to your commitment to the gospel and the mission of the church. Please represent our voice faithfully in your involvement in the deliberation process leading to the churchwide vote.

Shrimp again. The letter's writers are all matriculating at Union Seminary in New York City, though most of the signers attend one of each of the ELCA's own 8 seminaries. Somewhat unexpectedly, Shrimp recognized a handful of names and/or home congregations among the 203. Let's just say that they didn't learn their attitude from their pastors back home. And, yes, you'll find openly gay seminarians among the signers. What we're trying to imagine is a group of seminarians openly sending an opposing letter.

Question to candidates for the Ministry during the week of Good Shepherd Sunday:
whose voice are bishops supposed to represent?

Welcome to your children's ELCA? Shrimp out.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Your Father's ELCA?

Shrimp again. About 20 years ago, the storied American automobile brand Oldsmobile introduced a new slogan: "This is not your father's Oldsmobile."

Then there's the announced worship at this summer's ELCA Churchwide Assembly:

Assembly Worship Schedule

Mon. 8/17, 4:00 P.M.
Holy Communion
    Presiding Minister & Preacher:
        Mark Hanson
            Joel 2:28-32
            Psalm 104:24-31, 35b
            Romans 8:18-27
            John 20:19-23

Tue. 8/18, 11:30 A.M.
Holy Communion
    Presiding Minister:
        Natacha Kemp
        Megan Torgerson
            Micah 6:1-8
            Psalm 15
            Luke 4:16-21

Wed. 8/19, 11:30 A.M.
Holy Communion
    Presiding Minister:
        Hansel Lo
        Rafael Malpica Padilla
            1 Cor. 12:27--13:13
            Luke 9:1-6

Thu. 8/20, 11:30 A.M.
Holy Communion
    Presiding Minister:
        Callista Isabelle
        Gregory Palmer
            Philippians 2:1-13
            John 13:1-17

Fri. 8/21, 11:30 A.M.
Holy Communion
    Presiding Minister:
        Rani Abdulmasih
        Christine Timm
            Leviticus 19:1-4, 9-18
            Psalm 119:33-40
            John 15:9-17

Sat. 8/22, 11:30 A.M.
Service of the Word
  (at Central Lutheran Church)
    Presiding Minister:
        Sylvia De La Garza
        Linda Norman
            Acts 2:42-47
            Luke 20:45--21:4

Sun. 8/23, 8:30 A.M.
Holy Communion
    Presiding Minister:
        Mark Hanson
        Allan Bjornberg
            Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
            Psalm 34:15-22
            Ephesians 6:10-20
            John 6:56-69
None of these persons are identified any further, but we took a couple of minutes and were able to learn that they are all ELCA pastors — except for one. If you think for a moment, we bet you can identify the one who's not an ELCA pastor just by going through the list.

We think there is another clear message, too, in the announced worship leadership for the ELCA Churchwide Assembly: "This is not your father's ELCA." You know: male pastors with German and Scandinavian names. With the possible exception of the 2 ELCA Bishops, voting members need not fear Sven, Ole, and Lena showing up in sermon illustrations. Yet given that the then-forming ELCA's goal of having 10% of its membership being people of color or of primary language other than English in 10 years has utterly failed, just going through the names makes us wonder: Just whose ELCA is this supposed to be?

20 years ago the storied automobile marque Oldsmobile announced, "This is not your father's Oldsmobile." (Go ahead, read the linked article from 5 years ago.) 5 years ago, Oldsmobile became not.

Come away with me Lucille...

Shrimp out.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Bishop Hanson: 50 Days of Prayer and Study for the Assembly

Shrimp here, with an e-mail sent Thursday to all ELCA pastors from the Presiding Bishop.

April 27, 2009

Dear Colleagues in Ministry,

Grace to you and peace in the name of our crucified and risen Christ. Alleluia!

Recently I spent a day in Bible study and prayer with the pastors who will preach in worship each day at the Churchwide Assembly in August. The richness of the conversation reminded me how much I have missed the weekly text groups that have been so formative in my ministry. There is great strength, encouragement, and wisdom when we gather as colleagues to be engaged by God's Word and to pray for this church, the world, our respective places of ministry, and our personal lives.

Beginning Monday, June 29, and for the 50 days leading up to the Churchwide Assembly, I invite the people of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to become such a "text group" of focused prayer and scriptural study. As we journey toward the assembly, I encourage you as congregations, groups, and individuals to study and pray for -- and along with -- the assembly by using prayers, Scripture, and song drawn from the daily worship. Resources to guide individuals and groups in this time of prayer and reflection on the Word may be found at

This call to study and prayer comes not simply from my own experience or from your requests, but from the church's most fundamental and enduring practices of faith. The ELCA has placed these practices at the center of its life. The 2003 Churchwide Assembly overwhelmingly adopted an evangelism strategy that called this church to pray for renewal grounded in the Word. The strategy describes the renewal we pray for as an evangelical church "so that every member, congregation, synod, churchwide unit, and institution might bear witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ."

Four years later, the 2007 Churchwide Assembly strongly endorsed the Book of Faith Initiative that called this church to become more fluent in the first language of faith, the language of Scripture. This invitation to 50 Days of Prayer and Scripture study builds upon these commitments as we prepare for the 2009 Churchwide Assembly.

I invite you to join me in prayer that Churchwide Assembly voting members, through their proclamation, conversations, and decisions, will give account of the source of the hope within us. I Peter 1:3 points to God, the source of our hope: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead ..."

Even when we are not of one mind about all the matters to be decided by the assembly, we have a marvelous opportunity as a church body to witness to the common source of our hope. In fact, an appropriate prayer may be that God use the diversity of our opinions to witness to one Lord, one faith, and one Baptism.

I continue to spend time with the Book of Acts, pondering the power of the Holy Spirit calling a diverse people and then sending them into the world to bear witness to the mercy of God in Christ Jesus. Although tensions came with increasing diversity, our proclamation of Christ 2000 years later is testimony to the continued power and presence of the Holy Spirit calling us to faith and sending us in mission for the life of the world.

Pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to renew us in faith and mission. Pray that every ELCA congregation will grow in evangelical mission. Pray that we will grow in evangelical witness and service in the world. Pray for strength as we work to alleviate poverty and strive for justice and peace throughout the world.

I look with confident hope toward the 2009 Churchwide Assembly. The source of my confidence is twofold: God’s faithfulness to God's promises and the Holy Spirit's power. This church has an opportunity to give public witness that we are a church united in evangelical mission for the sake of the world. I invite your prayers for the sake of that mission and the work of the Churchwide Assembly.

In God's grace,

Mark S. Hanson
Presiding Bishop

The good ship ELCA...

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