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


charlene abel said...

The North Carolina Assembly, in June, voted 274 to 255 to adopt the human sexuality social statement. I have it on good authority that the entire issue was never discussed at church council---so, our two pastors and one council member voted as they chose. I don't know what way they went. No information or discussion has been passed on to the church body as yet.

Anonymous said...

That's exactly why they are called "voting members" and not "delegates." The rules for Churchwide Assembly (and individual Synod Assemblies) make clear that the voting members are not present to represent any geographic region or agenda-driven caucus. They are to come together to prayerfully discern how best to faithfully decide the issue(s)... no matter what "side" they may be on. Your pastors and the one coucil member did exactly what they were supposed to do... no matter which way they voted. They were not there to represent the opinion(s) of the congregation.

Judy Anne Reitz Gustafson said...

I am a Lutheran Pastor (ELCA); A grad of Luther Seminary; a FINE confessional theologian, who studied and learned from the best Lutheran confessions teachers-FORDE/NESTIGEN in their prime-i argued for and was granted an ordination outside the "historic episcopate and did not vote for CCM-all based on my thological convictions-- and yet i could not disagree with you more- i fully respect your right to your understandings and convictions-indeed, i defend your rights in conversation with those who would demonize you--putting the best construction on your viewpoint--i do, however, resent the condescension and disdain which you consistently exhibit towards those with whom you disagree. It is a horrible witness, and it is so disrespectful. It is also disingenuos to hide one's prejudice behind presumed 'correct" Biblical interpretation and presumed "correct orthodoxy" (excuse my reduncancy on that one...)I will continue to pray for this Church body-and for the spirit of understanding to fall upon us all-God's Peace and blessings to you-

Cap'n Bill said...

So, is it the open letter, or the whole blog that you object to!

It would be nice to hear something we could discuss but you have signed in just to leave an opinon. Well two. In your opinion you are OK. You are correct. But there is something here that isn't because it is condescending.

I don't know, but I am feeling a little judgment? Anyone?

Come back and explain why the Bible does not forbif homosexual activity or something like that. We would love to have a guest essay.

Judy Anne Reitz Gustafson said...

if you feel judgment, that was not my intent at all, and i do apologize-rather i am just saddened and embarrassed as i read the publications, essays, opinions,etc from this "side" (for lack of a better word-i hate polarizing language)-the WORD Alone publications are so unhelpful--just demonizing and polarizing and dismissive--I was in word alone but could no longer do that given the tone and spirit of the writing....
so here are a couple of questions/ or concerns i have-
1. the Biblical hermeneutic being applied in your arguments is simply not consistent- there is a standard and interperetive assumption being honored which is not applied in other areas of "straight" people's lives---there are many, many prohibitions in Scripture which we completely ignore-and there are many of the church's teachings which have been changed for the sake of the Gospel.
(as a woman, i, frankly, am thankful that the church finally recognized that it's prohibition against ordaining women was wrong, not scripturally valid, and unjust)
2. The Lutheran Tradition IS to challenge the tradition for the sake of the Gospel. One man against the HOLY Roman Empire-remember that guy???? So to use the arguments that this is wrong because it changes the Church's teachings or because it goes against the tradition doesn't seem to work, does it? Whether you agree with those on the other side or not, it does seem like they are standing in the stream of the reformation (not defamation) of the Church. they are acting in good conscience every bit as much as your "side"
3. In his book, Slavery, Sabbath, War and Women" author Willard Swartley carefully lays out the Biblical arguments used-it is uncanny how eerily similar the current conversation parallels those arguments-even down to the Biblical verses used, and the hermeneutic applied. also, how uncanny that the side with the power and authority were consistently arguing in a parallel fashion to the arguments being put forth by your "side"
There is so much more to speak of, yes? so perhaps we will converse again?

judy anne Reitz Gustafson said...

The Lutheran tradition has a three fold meaning of the Word of God. Scripture being the written word, inspired and authoritative;
the Proclaimed Word and finally -the ultimate WORD-Jesus the Christ.
"We will not let Christ be torn from our hearts! We will not have Moses as our lawgiver any longer. Indeed, God will not have it either!" Martin Luther

Yes, the Bible is authoritative, but HOW that is true is every bit as important as that it is true. The Bible is the manger that carries the Christ Child. (Luther) and it is authoratative in that which bears Christ crucified for you,for me, for all of God's broken world. I was raised in the South, in a different tradtion that interpreted scripture literally- turning the Bible into an inerrant idol, using Scripture hurt and condemn others. that was not only a horrible, destructive thing, it was a horrible witness to the Living God made known in Christ.
For example, the problem in Romans isn't that homosexuals are sinners-the problem in Romans is that ALL of us are sinners--so to "use" Romans to unfairly condemn one group of people while ignoring the larger argument is disingenuous, isn't it?
the law reveals OUR sin to Us, not their sins to us so we can attack them....that is called scapegoating

Anonymous said...

Pastor Gustafson: There is absolutely no difference in tone or tenor between your posts and this open letter. If you find the one condescending, you should check the log of superiority in your own eye. And, for the record, taking classes from Forde and Nestingen does not give you credentials as a confessional theologian, as Forde and Nestingen would themselves declare. How embarrassing for them, and for all of us, that you should even try to cite them as credentials, whatever your viewpoint. The proof is always in the pudding: are you teaching, believing, and witnessing in a confessional manner? This open letter most certainly does. It acknowledges that the Christ cradled in Scripture is the One who died for the sins of the world--thus making use of the Law necessary in this present day to expose sin, that it might be forgiven and healed in Christ's redeeming light. Homosexuality is one such sin. Confessing it as such is necessary in a situation where that truth is being denied. If the Churchwide assembly were to try passing a motion stating that men and women living together before marriage is just swell and should be blessed, I'd speak out against that one, too.

J.Reitz Gustafson said...

Again-NO disrespect is intended--i am simply trying, however ineffectively or badly, to lift up what i think is crucial-a different hermeneutic/standard is being used here to condemn one entire group of people; while such a "zealous" insistence on "exposing the sins" of others (interestingly always "their sinfulness" not our own)is eerily absent in other arenas of life. Again-the claim is made that this will hurt our relations with the larger Lutheran body as well as ecumenical relations-what about the polygamy allowed in the Lutheran African Church-that devalues and husrts women- but is yet allowed because of economics in that area.Where is the insistence on "one man, one woman being God's Divinely ordained plan for marriage??..what about the Roman Catholic prohibition against the ordination of women? (or the WELS/LCMS prohibition a bit closer to home? We both live with and do not work to change these things- so why the zealousness against homosexuality?
Anonymous-why is it you feel you cannot use your name- what is your name? What has shaped your opinion and beliefs on this I wonder? i really would like to know,and i am most sincere in asking, because i do believe our stories shape our worldview.
and truly, i do consider myself a confessional Lutheran. Drs. Forde and Nestigen are responsible for where i now stand in all of this. God's peace to you and all people!

J.R. Gustafson said...

My brothers and sisters in Christ, you are in my thoughts and prayers today. May the unity of the Church, established by our Lord, (imputed as surely as our righteousness....) hold us all--
peace to all who are far off and who are near...
Numbers 6:24

The good ship ELCA...

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