Friday, October 29, 2010

ELCA Presiding Bishop Tells Young People 'It Gets Better'

Shrimp again, with a headline taken straight from yesterday's ELCA News Service release. The article that followed, however, wasn't even close to what we anticipated:
October 28, 2010

ELCA Presiding Bishop Tells Young People 'It Gets Better'


CHICAGO (ELCA) -- In a video essay posted on You Tube, the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) offered reassurance to young people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, saying, "You are a beloved child of God."
No, the headline didn't prepare us for that at all.
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson said he wanted to speak honestly to young people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, and offer hope.

"Your life carries the dignity and beauty of God's creation," Hanson said. "God has called you by name and claimed you forever. There is a place for you in this world and in this church."
And indeed, their lives do carry the dignity and beauty of God's creation, though that has nothing at all to do with being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or even transgender -- the last of which we must confess to having difficulty understanding that God created them that way.
And, spoil-sports that we are at Shellfish, we also can't help but wonder what St. Paul would think of a Christian Bishop encouraging young people to live to the fullest sexual expressions with someone of the their same, or changing, sex.
Hanson recorded the video in response to numerous recent reports of gay teenagers who have been bullied, with some taking their own lives. The video can be viewed at on the ELCA website.
Don't do it, Shrimp; remember Luther's explanation of the 4th and 8th Commandments. The Presiding Bishop is responding to serious tragedies here; respect the teens who were driven to despair by inexcusable, un-Christian behavior.
Hanson said he has listened "with pain and shock" to recent reports of young people who committed suicide, the result of abuse they have suffered because of their sexual orientations.

"I can only imagine what it's like to be bullied for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender," he said. "But I do know how bullying can destroy someone."

Hanson, the father of six children and four grandchildren, told a story about his daughter. He came home one day and found her curled up in a fetal position on the floor weeping uncontrollably. She was struggling to know "who she was as a biracial young woman," he said.

"She felt bruised by words people had spoken about her, words that ate away at her sense of identity and self-worth. I sat down by her on the floor holding her in my arms," Hanson said.

Words have the power to both harm and heal, he said. "Sometimes the words of my Christian brothers and sisters have hurt you," Hanson told viewers, "and I also know that our silence causes you pain."

Hanson recorded his video after results of a survey were released last week by the Public Religion Research Institute. It showed that two of every three Americans believe that people who are gay commit suicide at least partly because of messages sent from churches and other place of worship.
Shrimp just has to wonder if this "belief" of 2/3rds of Americans is something that they've actually experienced, or if it is a perception foisted upon us by GLBTQQ-celebrating, Christianity-disparaging (at least of the "conservative," "traditionalist," or "biblical" sort) media? Our experiences and observation with bullies, particularly those who bait those who appear to be "gay," is that they aren't in churches very often. But after 2000 years, Christians still make good targets.
Hanson added that as a Christian, he trusts God is working in the world for justice and peace "through you and through me."

"It gets better," he said.

Hanson's video will be submitted to the recently initiated online video project, "It Gets Better," at on the Web. Several public figures and celebrities have contributed video testimonials reassuring young people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender that the bullying and torment they experience in their daily lives, especially in high school, will end, and that there's a better life ahead.

Viewers are also directed to The Trevor Project, a crisis and suicide prevention hotline.

More than 3,000 video essays have been contributed to "It Gets Better." Last week, President Obama contributed a video to the project. The Rev. V. Gene Robinson, a gay man who is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, also contributed a video piece.

For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or
Yeah, "It gets better. You don't need to change at all." That's what Jesus would say, right?

And for the 95% (or so) of the "young people" who've quickly discovered that the headlined message of hope from the Presiding Bishop of the largest Lutheran church in North America wasn't for you, sorry for building up your hopes.

Shrimp out.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Braaten's Conference and The Lutheran

Shrimp here.

Subscribers to The Lutheran were treated to an editorial in the October 2010 issue (the one with Jack Benny, who died in 1974, on the cover -- don't get us wrong, Shrimp loves the comedy of Jack Benny, but what does putting him on the cover of The Lutheran tell you about the editorial staff's perception of the magazine's audience?) in which editor Daniel J. Lehmann justifies the magazine's refusal to run an ad for the free theological conference held last August organized by theologian Carl Braaten, an ELCA pastor. In the heart of his editorial, Mr. Lehmann writes:
So now the NALC becomes, in the eyes of this magazine, one more Lutheran denomination. Just as the staff follows major events in the life of the LCMS, the same will be true with the NALC. The Lutheran won't give it any special coverage just because of its heritage. This group, like Elvis, has left the building.

That comes as a bit of a shock to some. The magazine turned down an advertisement sought by organizers of the NALC gathering. It promoted a theological symposium that served as a run-up to the constituting convention. Yes, many if not all of those involved were still on the ELCA roster, but their actions were schismatic. Why would the magazine assist with highlighting an event aimed at detracting, if not undermining, the ELCA? After all, The Lutheran is the magazine of the ELCA, not the NALC.
If you are a subscriber, you can read the whole editorial here; if you're not a subscriber, that link will give you the beginning of the editorial through the first paragraph we quoted above.

Meanwhile, today over at ALPB Forum Online, we find posted this open letter to Mr. Lehmann from Prof. Braaten, which we quote in full:

An Open Letter to the Editor of The Lutheran, the magazine of the ELCA, from Dr. Carl Braaten

An Open Letter to Mr. Daniel J. Lehmann
Editor, The Lutheran, Magazine of the ELCA
8765 W. Higgins Rd.
Chicago, IL 60631

Dear Sir:

I am writing in response to your editorial in the October 2010 issue of The Lutheran, the magazine of the ELCA. In that editorial you write about the formation of a new Lutheran church body, the North American Lutheran Church. You make a number of statements that are either petty or untrue, creating a false impression.

1) You observe that “the NALC becomes, in the eyes of this magazine, one more Lutheran denomination” and you assert that “The Lutheran won’t give it any special coverage just because of its heritage.” Why not? The Lutheran should serve the people of the ELCA and not only the bureaucracy at Higgins Road. The NALC is composed entirely of congregations and pastors who left behind many close friends and relatives in the ELCA. The NALC is therefore not just another Lutheran church body, no matter what you say. It will always have a special relationship to the ELCA as “a chip off the old block.” Don’t you think the people of the ELCA deserve to be kept informed about what their friends and relatives are experiencing in the NALC? Your response is pitifully petty, a mere defensive reaction born of resentment.

2) You observe that “the magazine turned down an advertisement sought by organizers of the NALC gathering. It promoted a theological symposium that served as a run-up to the constituting convention.” These statements are half-truths. As a journalist you should pay attention to the pesky little things called “facts.” I was the initiator and coordinator of the theological conference, “Seeking New Directions for Lutheranism.” I know what happened, down to every detail. The fact is that Lutheranism in North American has been and is theologically in disarray, in a state of confusion. My idea was to ask CORE to sponsor a free theological conference for all Lutherans, to discuss the identity and future of Lutheranism with integrity in an ecumenical age. When this conference was planned and announced, there was not a hint about the formation of a new church body. The theological conference was announced at the CORE assembly in September, 2009, Fishers, Indiana, at which time there was no proposal for a new church body on the table. Our theological conference was organized as a function of CORE, pure and simple. What possible objection could you as a journalist or editor have to that, unless you had already taken the side of the bureaucrats in the church struggle that led to the 2009 ELCA assembly in Minneapolis? The fact that the organization of the NALC took place chronologically soon after the theological conference was an after-thought. The advertisement that you turned down was sought by the officers of CORE and not by the organizers of the NALC, as you suggest. The ad was for a conference sponsored by CORE. Not a single word suggested anything about creating a new church body. When we planned the conference, selected the speakers, and produced the brochure, we knew nothing about the NALC, nor was it on anyone’s radar screen.

3. You observe that “many if not all of those involved were still on the ELCA roster, but their actions were schismatic.” Now, as a self-professed schismatic yourself, you should know from experience that neither the conference itself nor any of the speakers were guilty of actions that were schismatic. Who are you to judge that their actions were schismatic? All of the speakers are ordained ministers of the ELCA and have served for decades as professors of theology at its colleges or seminaries, in some cases more than 50 years. Neither the theme nor the aim of the conference was to call for or to promote the creation of a new church body. We are all church theologians and not church politicians. We covered the loci of Lutheran dogmatics -- the authority and interpretation of Scripture, the doctrine of the Trinity, the centrality of Christ, the nature and purpose of the Church, Christian ethics, and so forth. The Lutheran theology embedded in these lectures stands on its own feet, and does not ride piggy-back on the church-political actions to start a new church. You should know that theologians who promise to serve the whole church of Jesus Christ are not beholden to the officials of any Protestant denomination. Over the years all of us speak across the ecumenical spectrum, at Catholic, Orthodox, Baptist, and Evangelical institutions. Is there something un-Lutheran or un-churchly about that? Now that the NALC is organized, as theologians we are free to speak at its events, just as we are free to speak at any non-ELCA Lutheran church bodies. That may be too difficult to grasp by those who think and act as though church theologians should be the functionaries of church bureaucrats who manipulate the levers of power. If Martin Luther were here, he might say with Yogi Berra, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

4. You ask “why would the magazine assist with highlighting an event aimed at distracting, if not undermining, the ELCA?” What do you know about the aim of the theological conference? The brochure states the aim this way: “This theological conference will reaffirm the original aim of Lutheranism to be a reforming movement within the whole church that is both evangelical in preaching and orthodox in doctrine. Each of the presenters will focus on a particular article of faith at risk in Lutheranism today and spell out what we confess on the basis of Holy Scripture, the ancient Creeds, and the Lutheran Confessions. We invite all Lutherans in North America to come together to reclaim the great tradition that witnesses faithfully to Jesus Christ, builds his Church on earth, and proclaims the Gospel of salvation to the nations.” Those are scary words, but only to heterodox revisionists moved by a different spirit and loyal to different principles and standards.

More than eight hundred persons attended the theological conference. You were invited too. Editors from non-Lutheran magazines chose to attend, for example, Christianity Today, Touchstone, inter alia. You chose not to attend, even though it was a major theological event within the orbit of the ELCA. There is a reason for this, and we know what it is. Lutheranism began in history as a movement of critical theology, biblical and dogmatic. The lackeys of the church bureaucracy at that time were opposed to Luther and his reforming and renewing efforts. They could not tolerate criticism. All the theologians who spoke at the theological conference in Columbus, 2010, are responding to the theological crisis in American Lutheranism. They have been critics of various aspects of the ELCA from its earliest beginnings, for example, the quota system, radical theological feminism, antinomianism, etc. The two “Call to Faithfulness Conferences” at St. Olaf College in 1990 and 1992 put the spotlight on a number of critical theological issues. Those who have ears to hear heard, and the rest plugged their ears.

Is there something un-Lutheran about raising voices in protest and criticism of false teachings and practices going on in the church? That’s what theologians do. Lutheran theologians have been doing that from the get-go. Understandably, then and now the church politicians don’t like to hear it. What is the mission of The Lutheran? Is the ELCA beyond criticism, so that critical theological voices should be ignored, muted, and regarded as schismatic? That is what the bureaucrats charged against Luther when they tried to muzzle him. Does The Lutheran have a greater obligation to heed the wishes of the bureaucrats of the ELCA than to hear the voices of its theologians? Do the bureaucrats who have served the ELCA for a few years have a greater right to address the ELCA than its theologians who have served its various educational institutions for many years?

A schism has occurred now. You seem to exhibit no understanding of what caused it. It’s not the case that a few pastors and congregations woke up one morning and said, “Hey, let’s start a new church? Wouldn’t that be fun?” Every historical event has a cause. We know what caused the schism. There would have been no schism except for the ELCA assembly decisions in Minneapolis, August, 2009. The game is now hard-ball and you have joined in, using the kind of tactics applied against you in that other schism to which you refer.

You end your editorial with a quotation from Luther: “The most dangerous sin of all is the presumption of righteousness.” Your editorial reeks with the kind of self-righteousness Luther had in mind.

My question to you is: As a journalist, why can’t you be fair to all parties involved in the debates and discussions going on within the ELCA? Why do you need to be a partisan beholden to its bureaucracy? If that is the mission of The Lutheran, maybe that explains why it has fewer and fewer subscribers and readers, as you yourself have acknowledged.

I am sending this as an “Open Letter,” because I do not expect to see it in The Lutheran magazine. Nor do I want it edited so as to make it say things I did not write. I have had that experience before.

Carl E. Braaten
Shrimp out.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The ELCA's (Latest) Redesign

Shrimp here.

We'll admit to scratching our head as we were reading this thinking, "How did we find this?" But there we were on the web site of the Southwestern Minnesota Synod reading a pdf version of the Synod's PowerPoint® presentation for Bishop Jon Anderson's "webinar of effects on ELCA Redesign & Synodical Changes." That Synod's website also includes a link to a 24-minute video of Presiding Bishop Hanson's overview of the redesign presented at an All Staff Convocation last Monday.

The presentation quotes Bishop Hanson,
  • "I think we are in a time of 'turning and being turned' as this church.
  • The next 11 months … could be the most significant in the 22-year history of the ELCA.
  • These months could be, and I'm confident they will be,"
In his overview, Bishop Hanson observes that 2 years ago the ELCA receiving about $65 million in annual mission support; the new redesign expects annual mission support for each of the next three years to be $45-48 million. Whew!

In his presentation, you will notice Bishop Hanson's subdued tone -- a marked contrast from his tone in ELCA News release about the new design.

Shrimp is struck by the following comments in the SWMinn Synod presentation under the subtitle "Reformation" --
  • Semper Reformada – always reforming the structures of the church to serve the changeless Gospel in our changing world.
  • Committee for New Lutheran Church – 1980’s
    • 25 plus years ago
    • No internet
    • Some right, some wrong, much has changed
  • Streamline
  • Smart
  • Never waste a crisis –makes clear our priorities in organizational structure
  • How have you been reforming your life in your local congregation lately to serve your mission field?
Shrimp wonders: Would it not be better to prevent a crisis -- or better yet, not create one -- than to waste it?

Anyway, you are supposed to be able to view Bishop Anderson's webinar here...

Bishop Jon Anderson - ELCA Churchwide Redesign from Tammy Sather - SW MN Synod on Vimeo.

...though we were unable to get it to work when we posted this.

Shrimp out.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Orientation at Gustavus Adolphus

Shrimp here.

This year's new student orientation at Gustavus Adolphus College, an ELCA-related college in St. Peter, Minnesota, has become much discussed in the blogosphere thanks to some videos posted on YouTube by a student at the college. We'll point you here for a perspective from some of the more conservative students at Gustavus -- a post that includes a video of "a series of clips featuring sexually suggestive theatrics explaining to incoming students such things as: where to get free condoms on campus; how to signal to your roomate that you are busy having sex (so he waits until later to come in); and how to tell your roommate you're gay (as well as the appropriate response you are to take when recieving such information)."

We'll begin by observing that this is not your farfar's Gustavus Adolphus College, back in the days when most everyone went to chapel and administrators knew better than to offer coed dorms.

On the other hand before you go spreading the news of what incoming freshmen were, uh, exposed to during orientation, we also want to point you to the discussion over at ALPB Forum Online, particularly this post from a member of the college's Board of Trustees, which includes this:
The student-created skits depicted in the videos were not appropriate. Period. We were not aware of them before a student posted the videos on YouTube. The skits will not be part of orientation again. While they seem to represent the views of some individuals, they assuredly do not represent a college perspective.
Go ahead, read it all. We are glad that there is more to Gustavus than what you can find here. On the other hand, we wonder if "diversity" is really what a liberal arts college, especially a church-related one, is supposed to be about.

Shrimp out.

Thursday, October 07, 2010


Shrimp here, doing a little housecleaning at Shellfish. Namely our "Links" column.

pretty good lutherans has said, "So long," though reporter Susan Hogan continues the religion beat at her Divinity and Beyond. Subtitled "Religion Across Minnesota," ELCA matters continue to show up on her newsblog now and then as part of the "stories about spirituality and religion around the state." So, so long to our pretty good lutherans link.

Lutheran (True!) Confessions has been quiet the last several months; its "published weekly (more or less)" has turned to only 2 "issues" since Holy Trinity Sunday, the last being nine-and-a-half weeks ago. Subtitled "News, Gossip, Innuendo, Hope!" its nose for new, gossip, and innuendo seems to have been put to other uses now that its chief "hope" has been fulfilled -- although Pr. Sofie Fortresson still tweets on occasion. Of ocurse, we've become pretty quiet the last weeks ourselves, so we'll keep that link for now.

New to our links is Bishop Barbie and the Brave New Church, whose address is "Higgins Road, Chicago, IL, United States." "I'm nice. Let's be friends!" she says and, since we at Shellfish aren't always nice, it's probably a good link to have as we swim in these waters that someone needs to calm.

Shrimp out...

Saturday, October 02, 2010

ELCA Pulls Out of Lutheran Malaria Initiative

Shrimp here, with the disappointing news that the ELCA pulling out of the Lutheran Malaria Initiative, which "mobilizes the nearly 8 million Lutherans in the United States in the global fight against malaria." The initiative, which was given considerable prominence during the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, was to be a joint effort of the ELCA, LCMS, and Lutheran World Relief working with the United Nations Foundation.

The ELCA News Service announced the ELCA's withdrawal Thursday in the following news release:

ELCA Strengthens Malaria Work Through New, Focused Effort


CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), announced Sept. 30 that the ELCA will maintain and build its commitment toward a comprehensive effort to contain and prevent malaria, while making some changes to the structure of the project. The 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly authorized continued development of a campaign to respond to malaria.

"Our commitment to sisters and brothers in Africa remains firm," Hanson said. "This new, focused effort will assist the ELCA to keep our commitments strong and allow us to bring health and hope to those affected by malaria in Africa."

The project, known as the "ELCA Malaria Campaign," has been "right-sized" for the current realities of the ELCA, the presiding bishop added.

Hanson noted there have been declines in mission support and other income sources to the ELCA. Because of those financial realities, he said that ELCA churchwide leaders determined that it was not feasible to propose a $30 million LMI fundraising campaign to the 2011 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.

As a result the ELCA churchwide organization withdrew a grant proposal to the United Nations Foundation (UNF), ending the ELCA's involvement in the Lutheran Malaria Initiative (LMI) partnership, Hanson said. The LMI was to be a partnership of the ELCA, Lutheran World Relief (LWR), The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the UNF. The ELCA's withdrawal from the UNF grant process should not be seen as a reflection on the ELCA's working relationship with any of the other partners, Hanson said.
(Oh, yeah. We didn't mention that the "annoucement" was put down in the fourth paragraph, did we. The news release continues....)
The 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly authorized "continued development" of the LMI with the other partners. The assembly also requested that a report and recommendations for a "possible churchwide campaign" for the LMI be brought to the 2011 assembly.

In keeping with the spirit of the assembly action, the ELCA Malaria Campaign intends to engage with at least 10 companion churches in Africa to contain, prevent and treat malaria, Hanson said. The new ELCA initiative will build on work already done by companion churches in Africa and pilot synods of the ELCA, and it will carry forward much of the work done through the LMI, he said.

Hanson said he will present to the ELCA Church Council in November a proposal for the ELCA Malaria Campaign. The council is the ELCA's board of directors and interim legislative authority between churchwide assemblies. A proposal for a possible churchwide fundraising campaign is expected to be presented to the 2011 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.

For now the ELCA churchwide organization will continue to develop the ELCA Malaria Campaign, and encourage prayer, advocacy, education and fundraising. Some "pilot synods" of the ELCA will continue their work to develop the ELCA's malaria effort, Hanson said. There are 10 pilot synods for 2010-2011.

Though the ELCA will not be part of LMI, the church plans to work cooperatively with LWR in Tanzania and other places where working together advances the malaria prevention and treatment effort, Hanson said. "We are also exploring a possible shared approach in malaria fundraising at ELCA colleges and universities with LWR," he said.

Companion churches and the ELCA Global Mission program unit will continue to work with the Global Fund "as these churches grow in their capacity to respond to HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria," said Hanson, adding the ELCA's continuing involvement in "Nothing But Nets" is still under consideration.
How's that for spin?

A "breaking news" post Thursday at The Lutheran magazine's blog by Associate Editor Elizabeth Hunter takes a different approach:

ELCA: $30 million malaria campaign 'not feasible'

A proposed $30 million ELCA campaign around malaria will no longer go forward, but the ELCA will continue raising funds for malaria, ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson wrote in a Sept. 30 email to churchwide staff.

"In recent months, mission support to the ELCA and support of ELCA World Hunger have declined significantly, and many synods and congregations are also struggling to deal with hard financial realities," Hanson wrote. "In the light of this difficult economic situation, ELCA leadership has determined that a $30 million campaign around malaria, which was to be tested in the current biennium, is not feasible at this time. Therefore, the decision has been made to withdraw the ELCA's grant proposal to the United Nations Foundation and to end the partnership that was entitled "Lutheran Malaria Initiative."

Hanson said the church's commitment to malaria work, global health and companions in Africa is "firm."

"The new ELCA initiative, will carry forward much of the work that the ELCA had been doing under the rubric of the Lutheran Malaria Initiative," Hanson wrote. "The ELCA Malaria Campaign, as it will now be known, will direct all of its funds to our companion churches in Africa (90 percent) and to our fund-raising efforts (10 percent)." According to Hanson, the proposed UNF-related campaign would have required that "30 percent of funds raised to go to the Global Fund and 20 percent to be used for capacity building to encourage companion churches to participate in Global Fund country efforts." Fifty percent of ELCA funds would have supported malaria work among ELCA partners.

Hanson wrote that leaders had "right-sized" the malaria efforts given "current realities of the ELCA." Raising $15 million "will be a challenge in the current economic environment, but is both doable and ambitious enough to meet the commitments that we have made to our companion churches in Africa," Hanson wrote. "The ELCA Malaria Campaign will continue to work closely with ELCA World Hunger, and to underscore the global health connections between malaria containment and ministry with those living with HIV and AIDS."

Hanson said that rather than compete with "core World Hunger work," the ELCA Malaria Campaign will "build further capacity" by reaching new donors and allowing current donors "to deepen their commitment above and beyond normal World Hunger giving."
There's more, which you can read here.

Incidentally, we're struck by the timing of this announcement, for also on Thursday began the Fall Meeting of the ELCA Conference of Bishops, which runs through Tuesday. The ELCA Church Council begins its next meeting on Friday.

Meanwhile, if you go to you'll notice that the page has been renamed ELCA Malaria Campaign.

Shrimp out.

The good ship ELCA...

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