Thursday, October 06, 2011

PB Hanson: Building Trust Key Work of ELCA

Shrimp here (believe it or not) inviting you to peruse the latest ELCA News release.
October 6, 2011

ELCA presiding bishop says building trust is key work of this church


CHICAGO (ELCA) - The task before leaders of this church is to build communities of trust among people of faith, said the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). He said ELCA members and leaders have a unique opportunity to make this their evangelical witness in a world that continues to be "a breeding ground" for suspicion and distrust.

In his Oct. 1 report to the ELCA Conference of Bishops, Hanson said that for the past two years his leadership and that of the 65 synod bishops has been about building communities of trust. "It's the work and the witness of this church at this time," he said.

The ELCA Conference of Bishops is an advisory body of the church that includes the ELCA's synod bishops, presiding bishop and secretary. It met here Sept. 29-Oct. 4.

While working to build confidence in all relationships of this church, "we are also making witness to cultures of mistrust that are all around us," Hanson said. The danger there, however, is that such "analysis can end up being just one more example of finger pointing, blaming and shaming that end up contributing to [that] culture. ...."

Hanson offered four dimensions necessary for trust to occur: conceptual congruence, personal integrity, emotional resonance and life-relatedness.

When all four dimensions work together and there's coherence, Hanson said the whole is greater than the sum of any of its parts.

"The distinctive evangelical Lutheran witness is to declare what God is doing for Jesus' sake to make all things right, making us a new creation (and) not holding our sins against us," he said, "reconciling us to God and to one another, and entrusting us to the message and ministry of reconciliation."

As an example of this evangelical witness, Hanson highlighted the vital work of the 2011 ELCA Churchwide Assembly this past summer.

"Over and over we said we are a people 'freed in Christ to serve.' We belong to Christ, and we believe God calls us by name. There is a place for you in this church," Hanson said.

"Over and over we experienced our unity in Christ, and that unity comes through word and water, bread and wine. Over and over we said we're called to discern what the death and resurrection of Christ means for us, our witness and our common life in the world. We continually heard people say, we share a living, daring confidence in God's grace. We're called to do God's work, restoring and reconciling communities, so we roll up our sleeves and get to work on solving problems," he said.

The official launch of the ELCA Malaria Campaign illustrates how ELCA members plan to live out its vocation in mission, he said. Together with companion churches in Africa, the ELCA will work to decrease the number of deaths related to malaria by 2015.

This church's relationships with global companions, ecumenical and full communion partners, dialogue partners, councils of churches and The Lutheran World Federation -- all of whom greeted the assembly and were warmly received -- is an example of the "deep bonds of trust" that have formed, despite some disagreement with the actions of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.

For the ELCA, inviting Sayyid Syeed from the Islamic Society of North America served as a "powerful witness in a culture and world where religious differences so often breed cultures of distrust," Hanson said.

The presiding bishop also highlighted the strengthening of relationship between the ELCA and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, which has its roots in conversations among leaders of both churches for the past five years. This dialogue culminated in a festive, meaningful joint worship service and summit with members of both churches "proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, living, reconciling and setting us free," said Hanson.

"We have a marvelous moment to continue to make this our evangelical witness in (the) world," Hanson said as he concluded his report.

- - -

About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with approximately 4.2 million members in 10,000 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of "God's work. Our hands," the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer, Martin Luther.

For information contact:
Melissa Ramirez Cooper
773-380-2956 or
Living Lutheran:

Shrimp again.

No comment.

At least for the moment.

Shrimp out.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Michigan ELCA Bishop Speaks Out

Shrimp here. Apparently ELCA North/West Michigan Synod Bishop John Schleicher has been busy writing Letters to the Editor, for he shows up in two different newspapers on two vital topics. The following was published in the Holland Sentinel last Friday, the festival of the Annunciation of Our Lord:

Saving the Earned Income Tax Credit is a moral imperative.

By John David Schleicher
Evangelical Lutheran Church of America

Lansing, MI — As a bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), I am called to provide leadership in seeking economic justice in the communities where our congregations serve.  For me that means 125 communities in the Lower Peninsula. I am writing specifically with regard to Michigan’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), urging Gov. Snyder and our legislature to find a way to preserve EITC in some form as they engage the tough work leading toward adoption of a constitutionally mandated balanced budget.

A social statement of our church on economic life calls for “tax credits and other means of supplementing the insufficient income of low-paid workers in order to move them out of poverty.  ‘Sufficiency’ means adequate access to income and other resources that enable people to meet their basic needs, including nutrition, clothing, housing, health care, personal development and participation in community with dignity. God has created a world of sufficiency for all, providing us daily and abundantly with all the necessities of life …. Justice seeks fairness in how goods, services, income, and wealth are allocated among people so that they can acquire what they need to live.”

EITC is at risk right now.  In Gov. Snyder’s 2011 Citizen’s Guide to Michigan’s Financial Health, he writes that “Michigan’s families are among the poorest in the nation,” ranking 37th in per capita income among all 50 states.  The EITC, a refundable tax credit for low-income working families, does seem like a just step toward alleviating poverty, perhaps especially for young families with children.  Maybe more important than the economic lift this tax credit gives to our communities, it offers some hope to low-paid workers and their families that their prayers for “daily bread” are being answered even in the toughest of circumstances.

John David Schleicher
North/West Lower Michigan Synod
Evangelic Lutheran Church of America
Meanwhile, today in the Saginaw News,

New Clean Air Act rules don't go far enough

Voice: Bishop John D. Schleicher, North/West Lower Michigan Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Lansing

Legislation to ban the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act was introduced recently in the U.S. Congress. The House Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by Congressman Fred Upton, has been front and center in this issue.

As a bishop of the North/West Lower Michigan Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I want to express my concern about the damaging effects of such possible deregulation.

The ELCA has long lifted up the care of God’s creation as an important component of our reverence and gratitude toward God, and our love and service to those in need. We see this as a moral and justice-laden responsibility, undertaken with humility and hope.

At our annual assembly last year, members of our synod supported a resolution calling for energy stewardship. Similar actions have taken place in other synods of the ELCA as well.

We recognize the threat of global climate change, which is heightened by increasing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels. It is incumbent on us to take steps to decrease our use of such polluting fuels.

For four decades, the EPA and the Clean Air Act have protected Americans from dangerous pollutants and led to significant public health and environmental benefits for Michigan and the Great Lakes. 

The new Clean Air Act rules have been designed to cover only the largest sources of greenhouse gases.

We are at an important crossroad. This is about the health of our communities, of our Great Lakes and about faithful stewardship of God’s creation. I urge our elected officials to bear these things in mind.
A blessed and holy Lent to you from the ELCA North/West Michigan Synod.

Shrimp out...

Friday, March 18, 2011

Ah, Not Quite "Utter Silence"

Shrimp again, with a quick followup to our post on Prof. Taylor's Epiphany Day presentation to the ELCA Conference of Bishops. Bishop Martin Wells of the Eastern Washington Idaho Synod wrote of the latest Bishops' Academy in the February issue of the Synod's Cross Connection:
I’ve just returned from the annual Bishop’s Academy, a time of continuing education and relationship building. This year we heard from three teachers of our church, Dr. Ralph Klein of Lutheran School of Theology, Chicago; Dr. Walter Taylor of Trinity Seminary, Columbus, OH; and Dr. Marty Stortz, Professor of religion at Augsburg College. These teachers led us in three days of reflection on scripture and the ways in which the ELCA has sought to encourage study of scripture in the life and ministry of our church. As you might guess there was much discussion of the way in which the church studied scripture in anticipation of social statements on human sexuality and, most recently, how scripture is guiding us as we write a statement on Genetics.

One of the most interesting conversations had to do with a comparison of the way scripture influenced the church at the time of the decision for the ordination of women and the way scripture was studied in these last several years. There was a difference of opinion on whether the scriptural case for women’s ordination had been made by the time of that decision or whether the most significant work had been done following the decision. This was thought to be important because Dr. Taylor, in particular, sought to encourage us to continue the scriptural work around human sexuality as we live into the decisions of 2009. I believe we will need to continue that work so long as we are expressing respect for persons who have reached different conclusions about the faithfulness of those decisions. All of us were grateful for the continuing work of the Book of Faith initiative which seeks to ground us all in a deeper commitment to scripture as the first language of faith.

I tell you all this because I want you to know that, even as you study scripture for your own life of faith, that same work is being done by the Conference of Bishops. We do this because scripture continues to be the deep well of wisdom from which we all draw strength and insight even as the Holy Spirit works through scripture to create and sustain our faith.
Since it was stuck in the middle of the middle paragraph, let's repeat what we think is the heart of Bishop Wells' epistle:
There was a difference of opinion on whether the scriptural case for women’s ordination had been made by the time of that decision or whether the most significant work had been done following the decision. This was thought to be important because Dr. Taylor, in particular, sought to encourage us to continue the scriptural work around human sexuality as we live into the decisions of 2009. I believe we will need to continue that work so long as we are expressing respect for persons who have reached different conclusions about the faithfulness of those decisions.
Hmm. "Continue the scriptural work" suggests this has been happening since the 2009 CWA. Frankly, we think the victors in getting the 2009 CWA to act as it did are more interested in "expressing respect" that in actually respecting by engaging in the scriptural work Prof. Taylor (and nearly all who have dissented from the CWA's actions) says hasn't happened.

Any other Bishop's responses out there? Tip o' the claw to Pastor Harris at ALPB Forum Online.

Shrimp out...

Prof. Taylor: What Did Not Happen at the 2009 CWA

Shrimp here, with a tip o' the claw to Pastor Marshall Hahn writing on ALPB Forum Online. (Note that if you click that link and get a blank page, re-load the page and it should come up. This seems to be a "feature" of the software behind that forum.)
At the Conference of Bishops Academy on January 6, 2011, Dr. Walter Taylor was asked to give a presentation on the concerns of those "troubled by the use of the Bible in Churchwide 2009 documents and decisions." He presented 11 points outlining "what did not happen" at the 2009 Churchwide Assembly. (Pr. Tony Metz listed these on his blog, "The Bible Is God's Word - Lutheran Style." I contacted Dr. Taylor to be sure these were accurate, and they are.) His 11 points:
  1. What did not happen: adequate use of the Bible, especially the Old Testament.
  2. What did not happen: a clear, full statement of the biblical foundations for marriage.
  3. What did not happen: study and reflection - even refutation - of the texts on homosexuality that normally come into play.
  4. What did not happen: normal historical study of Acts 10:9-16.
  5. What did not happen: use of the Bible when trying to build a positive case for acceptance of same-sex relationships.
  6. What did not happen: an acceptable definition of the neighbor's need.
  7. What did not happen: adequate understanding of the Law.
  8. What did not happen: the need for a savior adequately stated.
  9. What did not happen: a positive biblical and theological understanding of being single.
  10. What did not happen: an attempt to resolve the hermeneutical issues.
  11. What did not happen: adequate foundation for bound conscience.
One more quotation from Dr. Taylor, which comes from an online article in 2008 which he wrote about the earlier draft, and which he repeats in his presentation at the Bishops Academy with regard to the 2009 decisions:

"By not engaging the debate regarding same-sex relationships, the document, I believe, has done a disservice to gay and lesbian people, as well as their family members and supporters. The document gives the impression that there is no argument to be made, only assertions to be stated. Thus any change to current practice that might be suggested will appear arbitrary and in conflict with the Bible. If the task force has a biblical argument to state, I think it needs to state it - for the sake of the ELCA, but even more for the sake of the people whose lives are most immediately affected."
Prof. Walter F. Taylor is the Ernest W. and Edith S. Ogram Professor of New Testament Studies at Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio. He is also the co-author of Background Essay on Biblical Texts", published in 2003 for Part Two of the ELCA's Journey Together Faithfully study of human sexuality. Prof. Taylor's on-line article referenced by Pr. Hahn is "The Use of Scripture in the "Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality" and was published in the September 2008 issue of the ELCA's on-line Journal of Lutheran Ethics.

The Bishops' response these last 2 months to their opening of this discussion seems to have been utter silence. Perhaps we'll see some substantive response to Prof. Taylor's points by other ELCA pastors, laity, and other concerned folk over at ALPB Forum Online.

Shrimp out.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Reactions to Cal Lutheran Students

Shrimp again.

"Students will now vote on constitution change," headlines the Echo, the student newspaper at California Lutheran University. On Monday the CLU judicial review panel made its review of the proposed constitutional amendment and also declined to remove two members of the student Senate from office. Read the entire article for some of the public on-campus discussion.

Meanwhile, the Echo's Opinion section includes two pieces by a student columnist, "CLU sacrifices Christianity roots to promote diversity," published Monday, Feb. 28 (when the Senate voted to send the proposal to CLU's undergrads), and "ASCLUG approves constitution change, but should it have?" on Monday, March 7 (the day of the judicial review). The Echo also posted on Monday guest columns entitled "Preamble to reflect current identity," by the amendment's initial sponsor, Senator Evan Sandlin of the Junior Class, and "Christian ideals should be present in preamble," by senior Jesse Knutson.

And then over at the Ventura County Star, Monday's Letters to the Editor includes one from CLU's President, Dr. Chris Kimball:
Let me set the record straight. The only ones involved in this discussion are students. If enacted, the change would only affect the student government constitution. Not the university's constitution. Not the university's mission statement. Not the university's identity statement.

In fact, the proposed change would actually align the student constitution more closely with CLU's identity statement. In it, we say that, "Rooted in the Lutheran tradition of Christian faith, the university encourages critical inquiry into matters of both faith and reason."

This is what CLU is all about. Our Lutheran identity defines who we are as an academic and social community. "Lutheran" is our middle name and it will remain our middle name.
Read Dr. Kimball's "What Cal Lutheran is all about" here.

In Tuesday's Star one can find four letters to the editor: from Ray Holm of Thousand Oaks ("Values endangered"); CLU employee Juanita Hall of Moorpark ("Lutheran tradition"); CLU's Director of Church Relations, Pastor Arne Bergland ("CLU faith-based"):
...For those who might question CLU's commitment to be a faith-based institution, I invite you to attend our Wednesday 10:10 a.m. chapel services or any of the other services provided by our campus ministry as well as any number of our student organizations with a faith-based focus....
and ELCA Southwest California Synod Bishop Dean Nelson, who is also a member of CLU's Board of Regents ("CLU and faith"):
In 2007, voting members of the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) approved a new social statement entitled, "Our Calling in Education." This statement helps the ELCA address the many issues related to education at all age levels both public and church-related, including the issues that now are being raised as a result of recent student activities at California Lutheran University....
Read them in full here.

We're thinking that ELCA-related higher education is a rather different bird from what the founders of her colleges envisioned.

Shrimp out.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Should Cal Lutheran Student Body Set Aside "Christian Growth"?

Shrimp here.

The Associated Students of California Lutheran University, an ELCA-related college in Thousand Oaks, California, will be asked to vote to remove "to further Christian growth" from the student body's constitution according to reports at the Christian Post, the local Ventura County Star, and the CLU student newspaper the Echo. The proposed amendment, adopted Monday by the ASCLU Senate by a 14-4 vote, would replace this purpose clause with "inspire the maturity of faith and reason in an environment of Lutheran tradition." The amendment will be brought to the university's undergraduate students, where two-thirds of those voting must approve the amendment for it to take effect.

Evan Sandlin, a Junior class representative in the ASCLU Senate, sponsored the proposed amendment. "I think it doesn't accurately reflect what our university is," Sandlin is quoted in the Echo. "I think we are a place founded on the Lutheran tradition and Christian tradition, but we are also a place of diversity and mutual understanding and this new wording will help our constitution better reflect that." The Star reports that Senator Sandlin "believes in God but has asked that his faith not be identified."

The proposal was first introduced to the Senate at its February 7 meeting, where the minutes report this initial discussion:
  • Evan Sandlin: Basically I saw in the Constitution it is not recognizing the diversity we have on campus. Favoring one religious faith over the rest. During involvement fair I have 4 or 5 written statements I could bring up on email all saying they would approve of this Constitution change. They think it is discriminatory. This new change would make us like our mission statement which says to “further discussion of faith and reason” it recognizes the different faiths on campus and it is not our job to favor one over the rest.

  • Robyn: Did you ask any religious clubs?

  • Evan: I’m not attacking Christianity at all, so I did go around to LOL for a comment, the people who were at the table at the time were shaking their heads but didn’t want to give a formal statement without talking to the rest of the club. I also talked to young republicans and young democrats and they expressed interest as well.

  • Jaclyn: I see what you’re trying to do and for me personally we are a Lutheran University and people that are coming here recognize that we are a Christian Institution and I don’t see how that is discriminatory towards anyone. We aren’t saying you have to be Christian and we have never discriminated as far as I’m aware, and I am uncomfortable with trying to make us go away from that in a sense. It makes me uncomfortable people come here knowing they are coming to a Christian University.

  • Evan: We are also Lutheran. Would we support changing preamble to Lutheran? How exclusive are you going to get? Recognizing that we have a lot of different faiths/beliefs on campus. I’m saying ASCLU is to further Christian growth on student population. To me that is exclusive and inappropriate.

  • Jeremy: Can you pull up the school’s mission statement?

  • Daniel: Reads mission statement.

  • Rebecca: Instead of amending it to read I really like that it incorporates Christian identity, could we discuss a new phrase to keep Christianity as our middle name but incorporate faith and reason?

  • Jaclyn: I would be more open to that.

  • Grant: We could do “further faith, reason and Christian growth.”

  • Monique: I do agree with Jaclyn, because upon enrolling I realized that I was coming to a religious school and I think everyone else knows that so there should be no reason to completely remove it.

  • Evan C: As a non Christian I didn’t come here to further Christian faith. I find it difficult, it’s the further statement that we have many things that keep us secular and I think our ASCLU I would enjoy being secular.
  • (The Star and Post both report that ASCLU President Evan Clark is an atheist.)
  • Jeremy: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with mentioning Christianity in the proper context but to further Christian growth sounds like the mission statement for Campus Ministries or something like that. We are rooted in a Christian Tradition, not promoting Christianity.

  • Maryalice: I don’t know what Senate or PB do to further Christian growth, so I don’t see why it is necessary.

  • Sally: We are looking at other things that may need to change in the constitution so it may be worth your while to continue this discussion past today. As the person who makes this all happen, if we could send one revision or one vote…don’t feel obligated to make a decision tonight.

  • Daniel: There are strong opinions, we are limited on time. I recommend not deciding tonight, my opinion is to table the bill or shoot it down knowing it will come back later.

  • Grant: I move to table senate bill number 64 so that we can further think about this and have a chance for other constitutional amendments to be brought up.

  • Jaclyn: I second.

  • Jesse Mcclain: This is the perfect time to talk to fellow students, so you know if you’re voting on personal beliefs or for fellow students.

  • Bill: As you think about wording, I’m glad you’re having the conversation as you think about the University’s mission statement you can take a look at wall outside of student affairs when we created that mission and we had some good conversations about what language to use because we wanted to promote whatever faith and moving forward with integrity where they are. We chose language like "to grow in spirituality, integrity, and leadership." Want to promote growth in their faith. Good conversation.

  • Daniel: All in favor of tabling bill? 16‐0‐0.
  • The bill was finally approved at the February 28 Senate meeting, after an hour debate among the Senators and students in the audience. Over the next few weeks several of the ASCLU Senators (four members representing each of the four classes, plus one representative each of transfer and commuter students) will hold forums to discuss the proposed amendment.

    Though first, the Star reports that another member of the student government (Jesse Knutson, who currently serves on the Programs Board, a senior and a Lutheran who lost the election for ASCLU President to Clark) has asked for a "judicial review" of the proposed amendment and is seeking to remove both Sandlin and Clark from office.

    Currently, the Preamble of the ASCLU Constitution reads:
    We, the Associated Students of California Lutheran University, in order to provide for student organization, to encourage academic and social development, to provide a forum for student expression, and to further Christian growth, do establish this constitution.
    The amended verson would read:
    We, the Associated Students of California Lutheran University, in order to provide for student organization, to encourage academic and social development, to provide a forum for student expression, and to further discussion of both faith and reason, do establish this constitution.
    Where do we find this stuff? Google News. Shrimp out.

    Tuesday, January 18, 2011

    Diversity in the ELCA: Agree, or else?

    Shrimp here, with this report from the Lutheran CORE Blog:

    ELCA evicts African Lutherans because of opposition to new ELCA teaching and policy

    The ELCA is taking harsh actions against African immigrant Lutherans who oppose the ELCA’s new teaching and policy on marriage and same-sex sexual relationships.

    Two African immigrant congregations have been expelled from local ELCA congregations where they have worshiped at the direction of ELCA officials.

    “Oromo congregations in Houston, Texas, and Denver, Colorado, were asked by their mission directors and host church to leave the church premises without delay. The reason they were given was they are not in agreement with the August 2009 Churchwide Assembly resolution,” the January newsletter of the United Oromo Evangelical Churches reported.

    The 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly voted to change ELCA teaching and practice on marriage and sexual ethics to affirm same-sex sexual relationships and to allow pastors to be in those relationships.

    The 2009 assembly also asked the ELCA to respect the “bound consciences” of those who disagree with the church’s new teaching and practice. But that part has been more difficult for ELCA officials.

    “One of the things mentioned to the leaders of the church in Denver: ‘Rev. Gemechis Buba has resigned from his ELCA position and we assume you have a similar stand and we have no reason to keep you in our buildings,’” the newsletter reported.

    The Rev. Dr. Gemechis Buba is the former Director of African National Ministries for the ELCA. He resigned his ELCA position Dec. 8 to accept a call to serve as Missions Director for the North American Lutheran Church.

    Dr. Buba was the first prominent leader from the ELCA national offices in Chicago to leave the church body since the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.

    Members of these congregations came to America to escape persecution because of their Christian faith in their native Ethiopia under the Communist regime that ruled Ethiopia until 1991. Some of them were imprisoned and tortured because of their commitment to Christ. They now face a different kind of persecution in their new home because of their faith.

    “We ask all of our church leaders to announce fasting and prayer time for the difficulties we currently facing,” the newsletter requests.

    Saturday, January 15, 2011

    ELCA, Board of Pensions Respond to Lawsuit...

    Shrimp again.

    Midday Friday the ELCA News Service issued a press release in response to the suit reported in our last entry. We'll close this entry with the entire release, but we wanted to highlight a couple of quotes first.

    The ELCA's public response to the suit in essence is:
    "While we deny the allegations, we will not comment publicly on the specifics contained in the lawsuit so long as this matter is in litigation."

    "The ELCA remains concerned about the retirees who filed the lawsuit as we are about everyone adversely affected by the downturn in the stock market and the state of the economy. We ask everyone to keep the retirees and the church in their prayers during these difficult times," the statement said.
    No mention that we could find of the ELCA Special Needs Retirement Fund which is available to supplement those prayers.

    Meanwhile, the Board of Pensions is reported to say:
    "We believe this lawsuit, brought by four individuals, lacks merit and we are vigorously defending against it," said a statement from the ELCA Board of Pensions. "The top priority of the Board of Pensions for the ELCA Participating Annuity and Bridge Fund has always been, and continues to be, providing annuity payments to participating plan members during their lifetimes.
    Part of the lawsuit, though, has to do with how the ELCA Board of Pensions encouraged ELCA clergy and other church workers to move their retirement funds into the annuities in the first place. As the Pioneer-Press reported in its article:
    [T]he pastors' lawsuit cites years' worth of documents from the ELCA, all of them discussing the security of the pension payments in the annuity plan. A 2001 description of the annuity option says that the plan's goal was to increase participants' monthly pension income at the rate of inflation — about 3 percent to 5 percent — over many years.

    "Any increase is permanent and applies to all payments made to you, your joint annuitant and beneficiaries," the 2001 plan description said....

    Like the Augsburg Fortress plan [Note: the Pioneer Press article is relating this pension suit to the Augsburg Fortress pension controversy], the ELCA pension plan also claims to be exempt from federal laws governing pensions because it's a "church plan." But the pastors' lawyer said that isn't a point of contention in their lawsuit, which alleges breach of contract on that part of the pension plan.
    Granted, Shrimp isn't a lawyer, but the "breach of contract" accusation seems to be a likely focal point. Pastors converted their pension funds into annuities because they would be "safer" than leaving those funds in their BOP accounts. Annuities promised greater protection from inflation and long life. On the other hand, most of those whose pension funds remained fully invested in their BOP accounts (members have a choice of several allocations between stocks, bonds, cash, and other investment vehicles), both retirees and those still working, took a significant hit -- many greater than those who annuitized -- when the markets plummeted.

    Shrimp has to wonder if lawyering up against each other is the best way for the ELCA and its pastors to survive this continuing economic crisis.

    Meanwhile, here's the entire ELCA News release. Shrimp out:

    ELCA, Board of Pensions Respond to Lawsuit on Annuity Payment Reductions


    CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The churchwide organization of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the ELCA Board of Pensions responded publicly to a Dec. 3 lawsuit filed against them in a Minnesota state court by four plaintiffs. The plaintiffs claim the ELCA Board of Pensions acted improperly to reduce annuity payments to retirees participating in an annuity retirement fund.

    The suit was filed in a district court in Hennepin County, Minn., by the Rev. Arthur F. Haimerl, the Rev. Benjamin A. Johnson and two former pastors, Larry D. Cartford and Dr. Ronald A. Lundeen.

    Named as defendants were the ELCA Board of Pensions, based in Minneapolis, and two members of its leadership team, John G. Kapanke, president and chief executive officer, and Curtis G. Fee, vice president and chief investment officer. The ELCA, a separate nonprofit corporation based here, was also named.

    "The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is aware of the allegations contained in the lawsuit filed in the Minnesota District Court," according to a statement from the ELCA churchwide organization. "The lawsuit claims that the ELCA Board of Pensions, a corporation separate from the churchwide organization, acted improperly by reducing certain annuity payments. We are disappointed the plaintiffs chose to name the ELCA as a defendant in this matter. While we deny the allegations, we will not comment publicly on the specifics contained in the lawsuit so long as this matter is in litigation."

    "The ELCA remains concerned about the retirees who filed the lawsuit as we are about everyone adversely affected by the downturn in the stock market and the state of the economy. We ask everyone to keep the retirees and the church in their prayers during these difficult times," the statement said.

    In 2009 the ELCA Board of Pensions informed about 12,500 retirees in the Participating Annuity and Bridge Fund that, because of significant market losses, their annuity payments would be reduced 9 percent for 2010, and would likely be reduced further by 9 percent in 2011 and 2012.

    The reductions were needed because the Participating Annuity and Bridge Fund suffered significant market losses in late 2008 and early 2009, resulting in a funding shortfall of as much as 39 percent in February 2009. To ease the impact on plan members, the trustees decided to implement reductions over a three-year period.

    Last month the trustees of the Board of Pensions announced smaller 2011 reductions in annuity payments for plan members in its Participating Annuity and Bridge Fund, primarily because of positive market performance in recent months. The trustees reduced annuity payments for 2011 by 6 percent instead of 9 percent for plan members in the Participating Annuity and Bridge Fund.

    In the lawsuit the plaintiffs alleged that the defendants' actions were not proper and not permitted based on the terms of the retirement plan agreement. The plaintiffs claimed that "annuity payments were guaranteed for life" and that "increases in these guaranteed lifetime annuity payments would be permanent."

    Earlier this month the Board of Pensions caused the lawsuit to be moved to the federal court in Minneapolis.

    "We believe this lawsuit, brought by four individuals, lacks merit and we are vigorously defending against it," said a statement from the ELCA Board of Pensions. "The top priority of the Board of Pensions for the ELCA Participating Annuity and Bridge Fund has always been, and continues to be, providing annuity payments to participating plan members during their lifetimes.

    "In January 2010, as a result of the historic and virtually unprecedented downturn in the investment markets in late 2008 and 2009, the Board of Pensions implemented a three-year plan of corrective measures to protect the long-term viability of the Fund for its participating plan members. The Board of Pensions believes it has acted in the best interests of plan members by seeking to return the Fund to fully funded status. The steps implemented by the Board of Pensions are intended to support continued annuity payments to participating plan members during their lifetimes. Currently we are on track to return the Fund to a fully funded status, due primarily to improved investment market performance and the action we have taken in our stewardship of the Fund," the Board of Pensions statement said.

    For information contact:
    John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or

    Tuesday, January 11, 2011

    Pioneer Press: Lutheran pastors sue ELCA over annuity cuts

    Shrimp here. While we've done some reporting on the cancellation one year ago of a pension plan for employees of Augsburg Fortress, "the ELCA's publishing ministry," it turns out that we've not made mention of the reduction in benefits announced in October 2009 to those members of the ELCA Board of Pensions who had converted their retirement fund balances into annuities. For those not up to speed:
    The downturn in investment markets in late 2008 and early 2009 resulted in a gap between the net assets in the Fund and projected lifetime obligations to members, John G. Kapanke, Board president, said in a report to the ELCA Conference of Bishops, which met Oct. 1-6 in Chicago. Effective Jan. 1, 2010, monthly annuity payments will be decreased by 9 percent, he said.  Kapanke said the Board anticipates monthly annuity payments will be decreased "by an additional 9 percent in 2011 and 2012."  The interest-crediting rate for the non-annuitized portion in the "bridge component" of the Fund will be cut 3.5 percent for each of three years beginning in 2010, Kapanke said.
    Last November came the announcement that the 2011 cuts would not be as severe as earlier anticipated:
    The trustees reduced annuity payments for 2011 by 6 percent for plan members in its Participating Annuity and Bridge Fund and set the interest crediting rate for 2011 at -0.3 percent for bridge accounts.
    Separately, the ELCA News Service reported:
    The Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) authorized one-time payments from the ELCA Special Needs Retirement Fund "as soon as realistically possible in 2011" to help people most adversely affected by reductions in ELCA Board of Pensions annuity payments caused by the crisis in financial markets in late 2008 and early 2009.

    The council action was among a series of recommendations it approved from a report presented by an Ad Hoc Committee the council appointed in August....

    In addition the council asked the Board of Pensions and the management committee of the ELCA Special Needs Retirement Fund to "develop criteria based on need and a process for distribution of available funds" to those with the greatest need. It asked for more frequent reviews of eligibility, including periodic comprehensive reviews to address plan members' needs in light of economic realities, and requested more information about the implementation of the recommendations at the council's April 2011 meeting.
    Earlier today the Twin Cities Pioneer Press reported that some retired ELCA pastors aren't taking this lying down.
    Four retired Lutheran pastors are suing their former employer, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, alleging that the church guaranteed lifetime annuity payments that it later decided to "drastically reduce."

    While the retirees had been planning on a lifetime of steady and growing pension payments, they were told in September 2009, that the guaranteed payments would be cut 9 percent in 2010, with more cuts to come in 2011 and 2012.

    And the four pastors are not alone.

    Over the last 21 years, more than 10,000 eligible employees elected to take their retirement accumulations in a lifetime annuity or a pension, according to court filings from the ELCA, which has its headquarters in Chicago.
    Read here for more about this lawsuit, filed last month and seeking class action status for all those who annuitized all or part of their pensions. As you read this we'll observe that while those affected by this are retired ELCA pastors, lay rostered leaders, and other church workers, most were actually employed by ELCA congregations or institututions, not the ELCA itself. And, as the ELCA's News Service repeatedly notes in its reports, the ELCA Board of Pensions is separately incorporated from the ELCA.

    What these facts mean legally will, of course, be determined in the settlement of this suit. What they mean morally, well, we've written about "economic justice" in the ELCA before; as they say, "YMMV (Your mileage may vary)." We here at Shellfish do appreciate that, unlike with Augsburg Fortress pensioners, the ELCA Church Council has made some sort of attempt to alleviate some of the effects of the financial downturn on retired ELCA pastors and pensioners. And rather than cast further judgment, we'll point you to the ELCA Special Needs Retirement Fund and encourage you to act with your own sense of economic justice.

    Shrimp out.

    The good ship ELCA...

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