Thursday, February 15, 2007

Lutheran CORE Steering Committee responds to Schmeling hearing report and New England Synod action

Lutheran CORE
Coalition for Reform

February 14, 2007

Dear Christian Friends,

Most of us had hoped that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America would have a respite from the troublesome sexuality issues this year, and that we would not have to address them until the 2009 churchwide assembly. However, last week we learned of two decisions that will likely result in these issues being addressed at the assemblies this year. The groups in the ELCA working for approval of homosexual behavior have made them front burner issues this year.

Early this month, the New England Synod released a set of guidelines for the blessing of same sex unions. These guidelines, approved by that synod's Synod Council, provide suggestions for the blessing of same sex unions, including a public liturgy for such occasions. According to these guidelines, such blessings are a part of the church's pastoral care for gay and lesbian persons.

Last week, the discipline hearing committee in the case of Pastor Bradley Schmeling released its report. Pastor Schmeling, a pastor in the Southeastern Synod, has acknowledged that he is in a sexual partnership with another man. The bishop of the Southeastern Synod followed constitutional provisions for discipline and presented the case to a discipline hearing committee for a decision on the pastor's roster status. The report of the committee directs that Pastor Schmeling be removed from the pastoral office on August 15 after the churchwide assembly. The report goes further, however, and urges synod assemblies to memorialize the 2007 churchwide assembly and churchwide organization to take action that would allow for the ordination of partnered and practicing gay and lesbian persons.

The actions of both the New England Synod Council and the Schmeling discipline hearing committee are in conflict with previous decisions of our church. Regarding the New England guidelines, the Synod Council appropriately refers to the need for pastoral care for gay and lesbian persons. It cites as reference, Recommendation 2 on Same Sex Blessings, as adopted by the 2005 churchwide assembly. However, the Synod Council has chosen to disregard the other part of that recommendation which states, "We recognize that there is basis neither in Scripture nor in tradition for the establishment of an official ceremony by this church for the blessing of a homosexual relationship We, therefore, do not approve such a ceremony as an official action of this church's ministry."

Regarding the report of the discipline hearing committee, we recognize the tragic necessity of removing Pastor Schmeling from the pastoral office. His behavior is a clear violation of provisions in Vision and Expectations and Definitions and Guidelines. However, the report calls on synods to memorialize the churchwide assembly, and urges that these memorials provide for the ordination of gay and lesbian persons who are in homosexual relationships. In this, the committee has clearly exceeded its constitutional mandate. The churchwide constitution is clear that the function of a discipline hearing committee is to make a decision on discipline. The committee is not charged with making further recommendations on anything.

The Lutheran CORE steering committee takes strong exception to the guidelines of the New England Synod. We also take strong exception to the discipline hearing committee's recommendation that synods memorialize the churchwide assembly to rescind its 2005 actions regarding ordination. More importantly, these actions stand in contrast to the Biblical norm for marriage and human relationships, as we have confessed them through the ages. According to Holy Scripture, marriage is a union of one man and one woman, and other sexual relationships do not conform to the mind of the Creator.

Lutheran CORE has, therefore, initiated a number of steps to respond to both actions. We are developing a strategy to address these issues, should they come to the floor of the 2007 churchwide assembly - as now seems likely. We are in contact with colleagues in several synods, and we are preparing a synod assembly memorial to the churchwide assembly. This memorial will indicate that pastoral care does not include the blessing of same sex unions. We are working with colleagues in several synods to the end that their synod councils address the question to the Church Council: does pastoral care mean the blessing of same sex unions?

We are grateful that we are working cooperatively with the WordAlone Network and with others who share our commitment to the orthodox practice of our church.

What can you do? Here are some strong suggestions...

* You can become familiar with the documents, the discipline hearing committee report and the New England Synod guidelines. In your own way, you can spread the word of what these documents say and mean.

* You can speak with the voting members from your synod to the churchwide assembly and urge them to speak and vote in favor of preserving the present standards for marriage and ordination.

* You can write letters - polite, thoughtful, carefully constructed letters. In fact, we urge you to do this, especially with reference to the statement of the New England Synod Council. You need to write to your synodical bishop, synod council and to any Church Council member within your synod - with a copy to Bishop Margaret Payne of the New England Synod (20 Upland Street, Worcester, MA 01607-1530). Our bishops and councils need to hear from us, how seriously we take this issue.

* We earnestly urge you to be constant in prayer over our church these days. Our bishops and other leaders need our prayers. When they were installed into their offices, we promised to pray for them. So let us be about this during these troubling days, when so many have become weary with these discussions.

We readily confess that the center of our church lies in God's justifying grace in Christ. Through Holy Scripture, God speaks to us in both law and Gospel. God's grace does not nullify the law. God's grace does not give us permission to do whatever we would choose to do. The grace of God empowers us to a "new obedience."

As always, we continue to depend on God' leading and guiding, and we seek your counsel, support, and encouragement.

Lutheran CORE Steering Committee:

    Paull Spring, State College, PA, chair
    Erma Wolf, Brandon, SD, vice chair
    W. Stevens Shipman, Watsontown, PA, secretary
    Mark Chavez, Landisville, PA, director
    Mark Graham, Roanoke, VA
    Scott Grorud, Hutchinson, MN
    Ken Kimball, Waterville, IA
    Victor Langford, Seattle, WA
    Ryan Schwarz, Washington, DC
    Paul Ulring, Columbus, OH

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