Tuesday, July 31, 2007

More '40s Reunion

A story and photos of the Canoga Park High School 1940s Reunion now appears on the school's website. See if you can pick out my dad (Class of Winter 1944) in any of the photos!

Update: (6 March 2008) -- The story is gone, but the photos can be found here.

Monday, July 30, 2007

95 Days of Purpose

Reformation Day, October 31, is the commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther's posting for debate 95 Theses or, as they are more properly title, Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences. Dr. Luther's posting began, "Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg, under the presidency of the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and of Sacred Theology, and Lecturer in Ordinary on the same at that place." What happened next is called the Protestant Reformation; and from an intended academic debate in a new, backwoods University the world was turned upside down.

David Ould is an Anglican seminarian in Sydney, Australia, who wrote a few days ago,
I’m pleased to announce that for (approximately) the next 95 days davidould.net will become the Purpose Driven Blog.
In the run-up to Reformation Day (31 October, originally 31 Oct. 1517) I’ve decided to work through Luther’s 95 Theses, the theological equivalent of the Big Bang as far as kickstarting true religion in Europe.
You can find his blog here. He's also posting his going-through the 95 Theses over on Stand Firm, the blog of "Traditional Anglicanism in America." They host Canon Kendall Harmon's TitusOneNine, which you can find near the top of my list of "Blogs for Faithful Churchmen," and there you will find already (young Mr. Ould is up to Thesis 4) lots of comments on each of his posts there.

It should be interesting to see how traditional Anglicans read most famous, though certianly not most read, document.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Lutheran CORE Response to Bishop Payne

The following open letter from retired Northwestern Pennsylvania Synod (ELCA) Bishop Paull Spring to ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson quite clearly and succinctly states many of the very serious matters at stake in New England Synod Bishop Margaret Payne's provocative letter in my previous blog entry.
July 27, 2008

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Chicago, Illinois

Dear Bishop Hanson,

Bishop Margaret Payne of the New England Synod has announced that she intends to preside at a celebration of the Holy Communion at a special service during the Chicago churchwide assembly. This service - not a part of the regular agenda for the assembly - is to be sponsored by Lutherans Concerned/North America and others, and the preacher for this service is to be Mr. Bradley E. Schmeling, a former pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Bishop Payne's participation in this service raises many questions by us in Lutheran CORE.

Article 14 of the Augsburg Confession affirms that "nobody should publicly teach or preach or administer the sacraments in the church without a regular call." Mr. Schmeling is no longer an ordained minister of our church and no longer has a regular call to ministry in our church. How can Bishop Payne defend her participation in a service at which Mr. Schmeling is to deliver the sermon?

The ELCA is currently in the midst of a process toward developing a possible social statement on sexuality, for action at the 2009 churchwide assembly. A specific process has been developed for preparing this social statement. How does Bishop Payne's participation in this service affect the credibility of this process? How does her participation in the service lead toward peace, unity, and prayerful deliberation throughout our church on these matters?

Our church understands itself to be one church, with congregational, synodical, and churchwide expressions. Each expression of the church is to be an interdependent partner with the other expressions. How does Bishop Payne's leading this service reflect the polity of the ELCA? Are individual bishops and synods somehow exempt from the interdependence that we expect from all expressions of the church?

We object strenuously to Bishop Payne's serving as presiding minister at a Eucharist, for which Mr. Schmeling is the indicated preacher. We look to you to redress this matter. You are the only one who can do so! We ask that you address our concerns to Bishop Payne, in your role as chief pastor of our church. We also ask that you publicly express your disapproval for her decision to preside at the service.

When The Rev. Paul Egertson was called as a synodical bishop, he indicated that he would resign from the office, should his personal convictions prove to be in conflict with the official policies of our church. With great integrity, he resigned as a synodical bishop when faced with this situation. Is it not appropriate for Bishop Payne to do the same thing now?

We respectfully ask whether Bishop Payne's anticipated action is a matter of discipline.

Paull E. Spring
Chair, Lutheran CORE Steering Committee

CC: Bishop E. Roy Riley
      Bishop Margaret G. Payne
Thank you, Bishop Spring!

As an aside, I wonder why is it that in the ELCA it seems only retired Bishops are able to say these kinds of things that need to be said?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

New England Synod Bishop Writes Her Pastors

An Upsurge in an ELCA Controversy?

New England Synod Bishop Margaret Payne was the Chair of the ELCA Task Force studying human sexuality while it was focussed on the questions of homosexual unions and gay/lesbian pastors. After the last Churchwide Assembly 2 years ago where the Task Force's recommendations were dealt with (no changes in official practice or documents were approved), she resigned from the Task Force. Earlier this year, the New England Synod (which has been supportive of pastors in gay/lesbian relationships despite ELCA standards) approved blessing of homosexual unions. And now, Bishop Payne has written the Pastors of her Synod:
July 15, 2007

In the past few months, our church has been involved in conversations and decisions that continue to reveal the differing viewpoints among us about the role of gay and lesbian persons in the ELCA. However, we still seek to live together faithfully despite our disagreements and to work prayerfully to discern God's will for our church.

We are called to obey the policies of the ELCA, yet we are also called to consider possibilities for change. Within this difficult tension, we are committed to respect one another's faith-bound beliefs while we disagree about policy related to the ways in which our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters are included in the life of our church.

Over the last few months, I have spent time in prayer and discernment that have led me to choose to be more openly supportive of gay and lesbian persons who seek fuller inclusion in the life of the ELCA. I have accepted an invitation from the worship planners of Lutherans Concerned/North America to preside at a Eucharist that will take place on Wednesday, August 8, 2007, during the Churchwide Assembly. To me, this liturgy represents the commitment to continue support for consideration of change in the policy of the ELCA in a way that depends not on political maneuvering but on the flow of gifts that comes to all of us in the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

When I sought ordination as a woman in the Lutheran Church, and encountered hateful resistance, I was profoundly appreciative of men who were allies and stood openly by my side with support and encouragement. I want to provide that same kind of support and encouragement for gay and lesbian people who are deeply faithful brothers and sisters already sharing their gifts among us.

The time may or may not be right in God's plan for change in our church, but I pray and continue to trust that there will be open and ongoing dialogue that moves us beyond our present stalemate. As together we depend on Word and Sacrament to be our center of faith and decision-making, I am certain that we will be drawn more and more deeply into the profound unity that we share in the New Covenant of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Bishop Margaret G. Payne
New England Synod of the ELCA
Bishop Payne fails to note that, when she sought ordination, her Lutheran church body had already voted (overwhelmingly!) that one's sex was not a bar to ordination. Furthermore, the resisitance she faced included those who had theological objections (and, yes, even in the ELCA, still have them) to the ordination of women. To which one could point to the ALC-LCA study that presented a serious theological argument for ordaining women. Granted, not all were convinced; nevertheless the argument was theological, not simply "hateful resistance."

Nor is it simply "hateful resistance" that prevents the ELCA from authorizing the blessing of homosexual relationships or permitting those in them to serve as pastors. The Task Force that Bishop Payne chaired, with all the theological resources available to this church, including over $1 million spent on the study, did not present any theological arguments for that authorization. None! Nevertheless, she is now even more strongly convicted that we should do so.

And to make her point, she will use the Holy Sacraments of the Church to make her blatently political statement -- that "fuller inclusion in the life of the ELCA" (that is, blessing gay relationships and ordaining those in them; for nothing else is withheld from homosexuals in the ELCA) for those who engage in homosexual relations is so important that those demanding this change in ancient, Biblical standards of behavior will stop at nothing to get their way.

This is a mighty strange way "to live together faithfully despite our disagreements."

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Update: Lutheran CORE Statement on Scripture

I've mentioned here A Lutheran Statement on the Authority and Interpretation of Scripture in the Church, which was offered to the ELCA earlier this spring by Lutheran CORE - Coalition for Reform as the ELCA begins Book of Faith: Lutherans Engage the Bible, a five-year "initiative to deepen and broaden engagement with the Bible for all ages, all cultures, and to draw on our heritage of faithful ways to let the Word engage us."

A few weeks later I reported of a drive to gather signatures of ELCA pastors and laity, which in July would be presented with the Statement itself to Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, the Rev. Stanley Olson (Exec. Director of the ELCA unit on Vocation and Education), and the Conference of Bishops.

I was just checking out latest list of signers and counted 409 signatures, at least 143 of whom are ELCA pastors (an exact count would be difficult as I recognized 6 signators who are pastors but aren't identified as such, and I figure there are bound to be a few more). That's well short of the original goal of 2000 signators, though perhaps not all signatures have yet to be posted to the CORE web site. And when one considers the history of such things in the ELCA -- over 700 pastors and some 300 laity subscribed to the 9.5 Theses (see also my blog entry) to which the ELCA's response was an enforced silence -- and the well-established habit of the ELCA's leaders to speak loudly, carry a big stick, and pretend you don't hear anything you don't want to hear, well, maybe everyone's already decided to disengage from this five-year initiative.


Greatest Generation shares Canoga Park High stories

I'm back in Peoria after attending the Canoga Park High School Class of 1977 Reunion. So I didn't get to see Dennis McCarthy's LA Daily News column this Sunday. No, nothing about Cardinal Mahoney. Rather, it was another CPHS Reunion, one week after mine -- officially the Classes of 1944-47, though all '40s alums were invited. My Dad graduated in January 1944, and this was the first reunion he'd attended.

The Eisenhowers sat across from the Trumans at the picnic table as the star quarterback talked about milking cows before school.

For a few precious hours Saturday, Canoga Park High School's Greatest Generation came home one more time.

More than 170 silver-haired grads from all the school's classes in the 1940s - and a few from the 1930s - gathered in the quad to eat hamburgers and hot dogs, share old stories and remember when they could look south from the school and see nothing but alfalfa fields all the way to Ventura Boulevard.

After lunch, they filed past stands of old black-and-white class pictures of themselves and stopped at a table set up to determine who had the most children, the most marriages, the most husbands and other "mosts."

Then they walked into their old high school auditorium for the first time in more than 60 years to sit on hard wooden seats and sing their alma mater one more time before honoring one of their own with his long overdue high school diploma.

Joe Osaki had gone to grammar school with most of them, but he didn't get to go to high school with them.

His high school diploma is from Manzanar High School, a makeshift school set up on the grounds of an internment camp for Japanese-American families during World War II.

"I can remember the military police coming on campus that day and taking him away," said former classmate Joe Beckwith.

"We were all stunned. It was so sad. He was our friend. We had grown up together, played together. He wasn't a threat to anyone."

But after only two months at Canoga High in 1941, Joe Osaki was gone.

Sixty-six years later, the high school classmates he never had stood and applauded as Canoga Park High School Principal Pam Hamashita - whose own parents were interned at Manzanar - handed Joe his diploma from Canoga Park High.
Read it all here.

Four Canoga students were, with their families, sent to Internment Camps during World War II, three to Manzanar in California's Owens Valley (from where Los Angeles gets much of its water), one to Heart Mountain in Wyoming. Mr. Osaki is the second to receive a belated CPHS diploma under recent California legislation, the first being Dorothy Morita in 2006. Thanks to modern technology (and family connections -- have I mentioned that the teachers who oversee the school's website are my brother and his wife?), the school has been able to re-create a genuine 1940s-era Canoga Park High diploma, including the signatures of school officials at the time.

Dad isn't mentioned in McCarthy's article, but on the phone he was telling me of watching the Daily News columnist at work. I'm not sure whose reunion was more fun, but it looks like Dad's was more newsworthy.

Update (31 July 2007) -- A story and photos of the CPHS '40s Reunion now appears on the school website. See if you can find my dad in any of the photos!

Update again (6 March 2008) -- The story's gone, but the photos are here. spt+

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Long Lent Explodes in Los Angeles

I've been home the last week for my 30-year high school reunion.

The headline in Sunday's (Los Angeles) Daily News:
Sins of the fathers to cost church $660 million

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles will pay a historic $660 million to more than 500 victims who were abused by clergy during the past 70 years, sources said late Saturday.

In what would be the largest payout in the church's sex-abuse scandal, sources close to the archdiocese and a lawyer for the victims said Saturday that terms of a settlement are being worked out this weekend. If the agreement holds, each victim would receive between $1.2 million and $1.3 million.

The news came just two days before the first of more than 500 clergy abuse cases is scheduled for trial jury selection Monday.

Ray Boucher, attorney and negotiator for the victims, confirmed late Saturday that a settlement had been reached, but he declined to provide specifics.

He said a news release will be issued today (Sunday) about the formal announcement of the settlement, which will take place on Monday morning.

A source close to the archdiocese confirmed to the Daily News that an agreement had been reached but said details and legal language were still being hammered out.
Read it all here.

This has been the story in LA ever since. The Daily News' front page on Monday and Tuesday remained focussed on this $660 million settlement. Monday:
Mahony's mea culpa
Cardinal offers apologies to sexual-abuse victims; claimants doubt sincerity

Calling sexual abuse by clergy a "terrible sin and crime," Cardinal Roger Mahony apologized Sunday to hundreds of people who claim they were molested by priests in the nation's largest archdiocese.

The apology came during a news conference following Sunday Mass and a day after the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles agreed to pay a record $660 million in a settlement with 508 victims.

"There really is no way to go back and give them that innocence that was taken from them," Mahony said. "The one thing I wish I could give the victims ... I cannot.

"Once again, I apologize to anyone who has been offended, who has been abused. It should not have happened and it will not happen again."

Mahony said he has met with dozens of victims of clergy abuse in the past 14 months and those meetings helped him understand the importance of a quick resolution to the lawsuits.

The cardinal is scheduled to be in court this morning to go over the final settlement. He said the church's decision to settle on the eve of the trials - which were set to begin today - had nothing to do with keeping him from testifying.
Read it all here.

We're reading notes from an interview with Cardinal Mahoney (which apparently upset His Eminence), stories about victims, and questions about the Cardinal's future. That last links concludes ominously:
Meanwhile, with the civil case now settled, it appears a criminal case isn't out of the question. Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley issued a statement Monday afternoon making that clear.

"Today's massive civil settlement highlights the institutional moral failure of the archdiocese to supervise predatory priests who operated for years under its jurisdiction," he said.

Regarding confidential documents that could be released as a result of Monday's settlement, Cooley said, "If these documents reveal evidence of criminal activity on behalf of individual priests or anyone else, we will pursue them.

"The book is not closed on our investigation."
I can hardly wait to see tomorrow morning's paper.

Meanwhile, LA's talk radio is blistering the Cardinal Archbishop, at least on KFI (where John and Ken seem to have nothing good to say about the Church) and KABC (where the usually common sense Larry Elder is beside himself over Cardinal Mahoney still having a job).

What the people of Los Angeles are not hearing or reading about is the outrage among faithful Catholics that dates to the beginning of the sexual abuse scandal, which blew open in January 2002 in Boston and then spread across the nation. Fr. Richard John Neuhaus of First Things was calling this the "Long Lent" back in 2002. At one point he wrote:
I have said it before: we have probably not yet felt the full fury of the storm aroused by the grave misgovernment of the Catholic Church in America. I do not want to write about this, and I wouldn’t blame you if you do not want to read about it. Since all this broke in January, I have given no less than thirty hours per week to the subject, talking with endless reporters, and doing radio interviews. (I’ve been turning down as many as half a dozen television interviews per day, because they take so much time in traveling to studios, and mainly because most of them provide an opportunity for no more than a few sound bites and a food fight.) Please, I’m not whining. It is just to say I’m weary of the subject, but recognize the probability that it will not let us go.

For weeks now, the media have been in a feeding frenzy. I do not say that in criticism of the media. Let it be stated unambiguously: the leaders of the Catholic Church, meaning mainly the bishops, are responsible for the crisis and for the consequent frenzy. Of course some reporting is sensationalistic, and of course it is amusing to see the New York Times, day after day, running essentially the same story on the front page, as though they’re afraid people are going to forget about it. But, regrettably, there are also new developments, and no doubt will be more, that legitimate the major attention paid.

There is this difference: for the first time in years, I have the impression that most journalists are really trying to understand what is happening, or at least to find a story line that makes sense of what is happening. In other words, the story doesn’t conveniently fall into the conventional left/right, liberal/conservative boxes on which reporters usually depend. Recall that the story started out as a “pedophilia” scandal. The story has rightly moved beyond that now. The scandal is only very marginally about pedophilia. With very few exceptions, it is about adult men having sexual relations with adolescent and older teenage boys. So everybody has by now heard a great deal about “ephebophilia.” It is not necessary, however, that we learn a new vocabulary. There’s a perfectly good old fashioned word for same-sex sex. Homosexuality is very close to the center of the crisis. At the epicenter is the grave negligence of bishops. Not all bishops, to be sure, but too many. And, as in the case of Palm Beach, Florida, not only grave negligence but active complicity. Two months ago a lawyer and friend of the Church told me that before this is over we will see a bishop or two in jail. I thought that hyperbolic. Now I am not so sure.
That was in June 2002. In May 2004, Fr. Neuhaus wrote about "The Catholic Reform:
The cover of the 150-page report of the National Review Board (NRB) is deep purple, the color of Lenten penitence, which is just right for this telling moment in the Long Lent that began with the Boston exposures of January 2002. It is titled “A Report on the Crisis in the Catholic Church in the United States.” Not the “Sex Abuse Crisis in the Catholic Church” but the “Crisis in the Catholic Church.” Long before there was a sex abuse crisis, there was a spiritual crisis, a moral crisis, a doctrinal crisis, and a crisis of misgovernance in the Catholic Church in the United States. All these crises finally come down to what the bishops did and did not do, what the bishops have and have not been doing for decades. The report is about priestly perpetrators and their victims; it is about seminaries and spiritual formation; it is about lawyers and the compromising of the Church’s independence. But, mainly and most importantly, the report is about bishops.

When, in their panicked Dallas meeting of 2002, the bishops created a National Review Board of prominent Catholic laity, I was opposed to the idea. I said and wrote that the bishops should take the heat and the responsibility for what had happened. I thought it was a dangerous precedent to have lay episcopoi of the episcopoi, overseers of the episcopal overseers; that it would play into the hands of dissenting Catholics who challenge what, in Catholic teaching, is the divinely constituted structure of the Church governed by bishops who are successors to the apostles. I hoped the bishops would devise some means—perhaps a plenary council or a long collegial retreat—to honestly examine what had gone wrong and come up with a believable program for reform. I was wrong. It is now apparent that the bishops as a body, meaning the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), were incapable of doing what the National Review Board has done. It is inconceivable that the bishops and bureaucracy of the USCCB could have produced the forthright analysis and program of reform that the NRB issued in Washington on Friday, February 27. The NRB has done what the bishops should have done. The report is a great gift to the bishops and to the Church. Now the question is whether the bishops are capable of receiving the report, and acting on it. If not—and the initial responses are not encouraging—they will, as the report suggests, further undermine the confidence of the Catholic faithful in the authority, competence, and moral integrity of their leaders. That is the “Crisis in the Catholic Church in the United States.” The report leaves no doubt that clerical sex abuse opened a window, exposing to sight a much larger reality of nonfeasance and malfeasance in the leadership of the Church.
Read it all here. Alas, the Cardinal Archbishop of Los Angeles did not seem to get it in full. Phil Lawler says it like this in a special to Catholic World News:
Five years ago Cardinal Roger Mahony was reportedly encouraging Vatican officials to ask for the resignation of Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law. Using the same logical arguments that the American prelate presented in 2002, the Vatican should now ask Cardinal Mahony himself to step down.

The sensational cost of the sex-abuse scandal for the Los Angeles archdiocese far exceeds the devastation in Boston. The $660-million legal settlement announced on July 16 is nearly five times the total of the financial damages in Boston. Combining that settlement with previous agreements, lawyers' fees, and other associated costs, the overall price to be paid by the faithful Catholics of Los Angeles will approach $1 billion.

Yet the monetary costs, grave as they are, still do not reflect the most serious damage to the Catholic faith. Only rarely do I agree with an editorial in the Boston Globe, particularly when the topic is the Catholic faith. But today's Globe editorial is on target:
In the eyes of victims, the scandal will never be fully resolved as long as bishops who put the interests of their fellow priests over the protection of children remain in positions of leadership.
One could – and should – go further. This ugly chapter in Catholic history cannot be closed until the Church rebukes those prelates who put their own interests ahead of the needs of the Catholic faithful and the Catholic faith. Cardinal Mahony is the most conspicuous example.
Thanks to blogger Steve Ray for that report.

Bishops stopped acting like Bishops, and trusted secular counselors to fix priests who could not keep their vows. When they got caught, they let their defense and insurance lawyers stall and protect, rather than confessing their sin and doing their penance. (Which, it seems, is exactly what "saved" the original offenders.) The $660 million this has finally cost the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, after millions more paid elsewhere and even the bankruptcy of other Dioceses, is only the money side of the cost this has been to the Catholic Church. What about the cost to the faithful laity, clergy, and religious? And worse, the cost of (and to) those who lost their faith, or had it stripped away -- Catholic, protestant, and others?

And in all this we cannot set aside that this Long Lent, which still continues, has been deftly used by anti-Catholic zealots who attack the Catholic Church because it indeed has some sort of accountability for this sort of thing, even when it is horribly misused and mangled by those who should know better. Meanwhile other parts of our culture, in both sacred and secular realms, this same sort of behavior does not get much attention, or where in the popular media it is even encouraged.

Who'll pay for that when those chickens come home to roost?

Friday, July 13, 2007

ELCA Presiding Bishop Responds to Pope

And so I received an e-mail from ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson:
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

Grace and peace to you.

This is to inform you I have recently released a response to the Vatican Statement, "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church" (July 10, 2007). You will find the response at http://www.elca.org/bishop/messages/m_070711.html

Living in God's Amazing Grace,

Mark S. Hanson
Presiding Bishop
So, setting aside for the moment Bishop Hanson's ubiquitous and smarmy "Living in God's Amazing Grace," I clicked the link to find this:
Response of Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson to Vatican Statement "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church"

July 11, 2007

The Vatican's statement, "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church" ("Responses to Questions"), does not appear to change previously stated positions. It does, however, restate known positions in provocative ways that are before us in the ongoing U.S. Lutheran-Roman Catholic bilateral dialogue.

It is no surprise that the Roman Catholic Church asserts that in it subsists the Church of Christ; surely every Christian church body makes the same assertion, for it is only because Christ's Church survives in and lives through the community we call "Church" that we preserve and promote the apostolic faith. However troubling such exclusive claims may be, we recall the Second Vatican Council's "Decree on Ecumenism" which affirmed that the separated churches and ecclesial communities are used by the Spirit of Christ "as means of salvation" (Unitatis redintegratio 3.4). The statement, "Responses to Questions," does not minimize this affirmation.

As Lutherans we uphold the Augsburg Confession, which states that, "The Church is the assembly of saints in which the Gospel is taught and the sacraments are administered rightly" (AC VII). Therefore, although our witness is wounded by the division that exists among Christians, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America recognizes no deficiency in our self-understanding as "Church."

The anguished response of Christians around the world to the Vatican's statement, however, clearly indicates that what may have been meant to clarify has caused pain. Now is the time for our thoughtful and measured response. The question all Christian people should reflect on today is how best to exercise forbearance and love for one another. With Roman Catholics, we trust that, ". . .the Lord of Ages wisely and patiently follows out the plan of grace on our behalf, sinners that we are. In recent times more than ever before, he has been rousing divided Christians to remorse over their divisions and to a longing for unity. Everywhere large numbers have felt the impulse of this grace, and among our separated brethren also there increases from day to day the movement, fostered by the grace of the Holy Spirit, for the restoration of unity among all Christians" (UR 1.1).

"Responses to Questions" does not alter the commitment to ecumenism of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It will not cause us to step back from our U.S. or international relationships or promises. We remain dedicated to the ecumenical task described in "Ecumenism: The Vision of the ELCA," which stresses that, "Ecumenism has as its focus and goal clarity of understanding among Christians and a greater realization of unity among Christ's people. As such it is closely related to the mission of the Gospel to all the world." That singular focus and goal has led to numerous breakthroughs with the Roman Catholic Church, including the "Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification" in 1999, which resolved a bitter 500-year dispute. We will continue to celebrate and build upon the deepening relationships fostered by that "Joint Declaration" even as we long for greater visible unity itself.

I encourage you not to pull back from your own personal commitment to ecumenism. I agree with Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, that in order for the ecumenical movement to bear the weight of change for the future, it must be rooted in an ecumenism of life. This is ecumenism at the local and personal level through joint prayer, Bible study, and service with Christians of other traditions.

Difficult and important matters of ministry and ecclesiology remain to be discussed in our ongoing U.S. Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue. Since "Baptism . . . establishes a sacramental bond of unity which links all who have been reborn by it" (UR, 22.2), Christian unity already exists through baptism into Christ, which serves as a continuing sign of hope that our churches will not always remain divided.
Most high and holy God, pour out upon us your one and unifying Spirit, and awaken in every confession of the whole church a holy hunger and thirst for unity in you; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen
        - Evangelical Lutheran Worship
As with so many episcopal epistles in the ELCA, this statement offers a wee bit of help within a whole pile of presumption. Where our Presiding Bishop is helpful is in reminding us in the ELCA that His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has not said anything new. Furthermore, I see within ++Hanson's message an acknowledgment that, despite the "anguished response of Christians around the world," the Pope's statement is a reminder of the context of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogues, and of the entire ecumenical enterprise, for the last 40+ years. In other words, nothing has changed from the Catholic perspective.

Yet our Presiding Bishop simply cannot let it go there. No, he must (as is his wont with those he addresses) lecture the Pope: "I encourage you not to pull back from your own personal commitment to ecumenism." A colleague who has been involved in the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogues notes of Bishop Hanson (who is also, not so incidentally, President of the Lutheran World Federation), "For a Lutheran leader who was absent from Pope John Paul II's funeral, did not attend Pope Benedict's installation and who has not lifted one finger toward improved Luth/RC relations or the further implementation of JDDJ and who presides over Synods (eg. New England) that welcome persons to the Eucharist without the prerequisite of baptism to instruct the Vatican in the way he does is more than disingenuous."

And that comment is telling. For it points to the Faith that we Lutherans have claimed, since the Augsburg Confession itself, to share with the Catholic Church and notes one place (of, alas, many) where we in the ELCA seem to be stepping away from that Faith. Which makes ecumenical dialogue so much more difficult.

Not to say anything of the purity of the Gospel proclaimed, or how rightly the sacraments are administered, in the ELCA.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Open Letter to ELCA Presiding Bishop

The following Open Letter was recently written by the Rev. George Paul Mocko, Bishop Emeritus of the Delaware-Maryland Synod, ELCA

An Open Letter to Presiding Bishop, Mark Hanson

Dear Mark.

All my life I have been proud to call myself a Lutheran. Given my Hussite roots, I have quipped that I was a Lutheran a hundred years before Luther. That pride is not what it was, as I feel it breaking down before feelings of betrayal and alienation. This is happening as I watch my church, like a juggernaut follow the path of the ECUSA in the matters of the ordination of those openly living in homosexual relationships and the blessing and marrying of those in such relationships.

We ignore what this is doing to the ECUSA: it faces schism; it has become a pariah in Africa; the welcome mats from Rome and Constantinople have been pulled back; membership and income losses were recently described in The Christian Century as "precipitous." But undeterred, we push forward, apparently ready to accept the same sort of results.

Why? Is it because some new exegetical revelation has burst upon us? No. All attempts to claim that come up against the wall that every reference to homosexual practice in our scripture gives a clear negative judgment. Yet we would pronounce it blessed.

So next we launch into a study on the authority of Scripture, which, excuse me, early signs are, that it will tell us that we can continue to claim that Scripture is the "source and norm of our faith and life", as we clearly brush aside Scripture and turn to other sources and norms. We are preparing to sell our birthright as the foremost biblical theologians of the West for the pottage of this culture's approval, as we accommodate to its desires and demands in its extraordinary and overwhelming obsession with and worship of sex. What hubris possesses this generation to think it is qualified to rewrite the teaching of what has been the faith for two thousand years, and a thousand before that.

If we succeed in doing this, we will sacrifice the credibility of all our teaching. The very thing that has made our teaching notable has been its solid rootage in Scripture. Make that optional, take it away and who cares what we say about anything?

I read with deep appreciation the paper on the authority of Scripture produced by bishop Paull Spring, and Lutheran CORE. I hope there may still be hope for us.

In Christ,
George Paul Mocko,
Bishop Emeritus, De. Md. Synod, ELCA

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Defrocked ELCA Pastor Loses Appeal.

Last February, I blogged about the Rev. Bradley J. Schmeling, pastor at St. John Lutheran Church, Atlanta, Georgia, of whom an ELCA Discipline Hearing Committee had ruled he be removed from the ELCA clergy roster this coming August 15 (immediately following the adjournment of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly) because he is is a "committed relationship" with another man, former ELCA pastor Darin Easler. Read it all here. Both Pastor Schmeling and Southeast Synod Bishop Ronald Warren appealed the Committee's decision, and the ELCA Committee on Appeals rendered its decision on Monday: Pastor Schmeling is removed from the ELCA clergy roster immediately.

Here is Bishop Warren's Pastoral Letter, posted today on the Southeast Synod's website (note, that page includes Bp. Warren's other letters, and links to the official discipline documents).
A Pastoral Letter for Immediate Public Release – July 5, 2007

The Committee on Appeals of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has upheld the decision of the Discipline Hearing Committee that the Rev. Bradley E. Schmeling be removed from the clergy roster of the ELCA. The Committee on Appeals ruling was effective July 2, 2007, and therefore, as of that date, Bradley Schmeling is no longer a pastor on the roster of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. My decision to seek Pastor Schmeling's removal from the ministry of this church was difficult because of my deep respect for the pastor and the congregation at St. John's, but the policy of this church is clear. It was my responsibility as bishop of this synod to enforce the established standards of this church, particularly after the 2005 Churchwide Assembly decided that the church would not create a process for possible exceptions to existing behavior expectations for pastors. As this church continues prayerfully to consider the issue of clergy who are gay or lesbian and in committed relationships, both the synod and I will continue to work on finding ways to live together faithfully in the midst of our disagreements.

On Tuesday, July 3rd, former ELCA Pastor Schmeling and the congregation of St. John’s Church, met to share the news of the final decision of the ELCA Committee on Appeals.

In a telephone conversation with Bradley Schmeling this morning, I suggested that synod staff and I come to meet with St. John’s congregation. After continuing conversations, he and I agreed that it might be best for two visits to occur. The first would be a meeting with St. John’s Executive Committee and Bradley suggested that this meeting take place on August 2, 2007. This meeting will be an opportunity to pray together, listen and discuss options for the congregation and Bradley in the future. Then we agreed that an informal meeting with the congregation would be scheduled subsequent to the meeting with the Executive Committee with the date and time to be announced later.

Please remember all of us who are involved in this difficult and challenging process in your intercessory prayers.

Below is a link to the ELCA Committee on Appeals decision (11 pages).

Sincerely in Christ,

The Rev. Dr. Ronald B. Warren
Bishop, ELCA-Southeastern Synod

Bishop-elect H. Julian Gordy
Dr. Lowell Almen, ELCA Secretary, Chicago

View a pdf version of the full 11-page decision of the Committee on Appeals
[Note: The decision no longer appears there, but does appear here. spt+ 18.11.2009]

In a press conference today, Schmeling said, "The congregation issued their call to me in 2000, and as far as we’re concerned, that call has not changed. The good news for today is that we can now return to the ministry and mission that we have been called to do . We’re going to continue to welcome everybody who comes through our doors; to work in our city for justice; to teach our children the Bible; and to be a faithful and loving voice in the larger church." Read more at St. John's "Trial Update" page.

While this ends the formal appeals process in the ELCA, Schmeling's counsel and Emily Eastwood, Executive Director, Lutherans Concerned/North America both note that this action must be reported at the Churchwide Assembly next month when it meets at the Navy Pier in Chicago. Says Ms. Eastwood:
We now turn to the ELCA churchwide assembly in August seeking the legislative remedy offered by the DHC and confirmed as the only alternative by the COA. The Spirit has moved 22 synods of the ELCA to state in no uncertain terms that the policy of discrimination must be changed. These synods represent a full 40% of the membership of the ELCA. They believe that this matter must come to the floor of the assembly, be debated, and the current policy eliminated leaving a single standard for pastors more fitting to those who follow Christ and Martin Luther.

“The struggle is not over, LGBT Lutherans and their allies both clergy and lay will not relent until justice and mercy prevail.
Read the rest of her comments here.

So, as Vin Scully said when the Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the Milwaukee Braves in the playoff for the 1959 National League pennant, "We go to Chicago!" It's going to be another, uh, interesting CWA.

Nonetheless, this has been a good day to see faithful shepherds of the Church in action.

Follow-up: Just What Are They Thinking?

A few days ago I mentioned the case of the Rev. Dr. Ann Holmes Redding, a priest in The Episcopal Church who had announced that she was both a Christian and a Muslim.

While the Rev. Redding has been serving in the Diocese of Olympia (Washington), it turns out that she is canonically resident in the Diocese of Rhode Island. Which means that, contrary to the reports I used for that blog entry, her bishop is the Rt. Rev. Geralyn Wolf (and not the Bishop of Olympia, the Rt. Rev. Vincent Warner). Here is Bishop Wolf's response, as reported in The Living Church, by Stand Firm, and on Canon Kendall Harmon's TitusOneNine blog:
To: Clergy, Members of Diocesan Council and Standing Committee
From: The Rt. Rev. Geralyn Wolf
Re: The Rev. Dr. Ann Holmes Redding

As many of you know, The Rev. Dr. Ann Holmes Redding is an Episcopal priest who has recently professed her faith in Islam. Dr. Redding is canonically resident in the Diocese of Rhode Island, though she has not served here for over twenty years.

After meeting with her I issued a Pastoral Direction giving her the opportunity to reflect on the doctrines of the Christian faith, her vocation as a priest, and what I see as the conflicts inherent in professing both Christianity and Islam. During the next year she is not to exercise any of the responsibilities and privileges of an Episcopal priest or deacon. Other aspects of the Pastoral Direction will remain private.

I am sending this e-mail to you because the continued web-site coverage suggests that I be as clear as possible with those exercising leadership in our diocese.
I do not know much about Bishop Wolf. But she is thinking like, and has acted as, a Christian shepherd in this matter, for both Dr. Redding and the whole Church. That probably happens more often than we know, but it is very good to see a Bishop act this way in public.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Red, White, and Boom

When I was a boy, we'd go to Woodland Hills Park on the Fourth of July to watch the fireworks. The LA City Fire Department would set up on the hill behind the swimming pool, and we'd sit on our blankets on the baseball fields. They'd shoot off a few fireworks, usually 3-4 at a time, and then we'd wait a moment for the next volley. Usually once or twice each year the wait would grow to 2 or 3 minutes, and the crowd would start clapping to encourage the firefighters to fire the next shot.

This was Southern California, hot and dry Southern California. While we wanted to see the fireworks show, in the back of our minds was concern that they'd inadvertently set the hills ablaze. Brush fires are a regular event in the mountains that surround the Valley. The Bel Air Fire of 1961 was still firmly implanted in our memories. Yes, I'm too young to remember it first hand, but I remember watching films of it in 1st or 2nd grade.

Peoria has a river, and here they don't have to worry about brush fires when the fireworks are fired off a barge in the middle of it. This year it was called Methodist Red, White and Boom!, the lead sponsor being Methodist Medical Center (taking over from FM 93.3 which had sponsored and aired its Sky Concert through several different formats over 20 years -- they still co-ordinated the music, simulcasting it on it's sister stations, too.) Now that the Riverfront is being developed on the East Peoria side, Peoria and East Peoria decided to have a common show. Over 100,000 people are said to have lined up near the Peoria and East Peoria Riverfronts.

Every year I am simply overwhelmed by the fireworks and this year's show was bigger yet than ever, advertising 5500 shells. The show lasts about 20 minutes, and every year I think I see more fireworks in the first 2 minutes than I had in my total lifetime before Peoria. Even when the final volley is mostly duds -- that's happened a couple of times -- it's exciting. "And the rockets' red glare..." And white, blue, purple, green, etc.

And once or twice during the show, they'll pause 2 or 3 seconds between volleys. Just for effect.

While the fireworks are wonderful, the Fourth of July is about much more than that. See here on my "political" blog for some thoughts. May God bless America; and (more importantly) may America bless God.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Just What Are They Thinking? II

Of course, one can ask this of us Lutherans, too. St. Olaf College, "a private liberal arts college of the Lutheran church in Minnesota," recently announced the appointment of a new Chair of its Religion Department. Once upon a time, the Religion Department of a Lutheran College was the place for young men who were preparing to enter the Holy Ministry in the Lutheran Church. That is much less the case these days. That my undergraduate education was at a state university was not all that unusual when I was in seminary -- though my BS in Business Adminstration (Accounting) was. Still, one would expect that the Religion Department of a Church college, while teaching about other religions, would teach from the perspective of that Church. Right?

When I was a teenager, it was a pretty controversial matter when California Lutheran College appointed a Presbyterian as College President. A couple years later, when the CLC recruiter came to my high school, he thought it was something worth mentioning to the 2 of us who'd expressed an interest in CLC. But that's more than 30 years ago!

Still, what might it mean that the new Chair of the Religion Department at St. Olaf College, a college of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, is ...

... is ...

... is ...

a Hindu?

Just What Are They Thinking?

Several years ago someone came up with a slogan describing their church as one where "you don't have to check your brain at the door." One can find a variation on that from the Church Ad Project (originally called the Episcopal Ad Project), where one popular display ad they offer churches says, "He died to take away your sins. Not your mind."

Then there's the Rev. Ann Holmes Redding, who was referred to in my previous entry. In case you haven't heard about her case, the Journal Star's Mike Miller describes it on his Faithfully Yours blog as Episconfusion Part Deux. Rev. Redding is an Episcopal priest (ordained some 20 years ago) in Seattle who recently revealed in the Diocesan newspaper that she is a Muslim, having confessed that faith "early in 2006." (Note: her interview is on page 9 of that last link, which is a nearly 1 megabyte pdf file.) That made the Seattle Times and has been all over the blogosphere. She's also been director of faith formation at St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral, the seat of the Bishop for the Diocese of Olympia. Which brings to mind the old Olympia Beer slogan, "It's the water. And a lot more."

According to the Times' article, "Redding's bishop, the Rt. Rev. Vincent Warner, says he accepts Redding as an Episcopal priest and a Muslim, and that he finds the interfaith possibilities exciting." Indeed, it must be the water. Or the priest and bishop have indeed checked their brains at the door. What else can one say about her explanations of the place of Jesus Christ in the Christian Faith and Islam? Here's Rev. Redding in the Diocesan paper:
“We Christians, in struggling to express the beauty and dignity of Jesus and the pattern of life he offers, describe him as the ‘only begotten son of God.’ That’s how wonderful he is to us. But that is not literal,” she continues. “When we say Jesus is the only begotten one, we are saying he’s unique in some way. Islam says the same thing. He’s the only human aside from Adam who is directly created by God, and he’s different from Adam because he has a human mother. So there’s agreement—this person is unique in his relationship to God.” Christianity also says that we are all part of the household of God and in essence brothers and sisters of Jesus. Muslims take the figurative language of “only begotten,” make it concrete and contradict it: God neither begets nor is begotten.”
So much for the Nicene Creed's declaration of Jesus as the only-begotten Son of the Father.
“I agree with both because I do want to say that Jesus is unique, and for me, Jesus is my spiritual master,” Redding says. “Muslims say Mohammed is the most perfect. Well, it depends on who you fall in love with. I fell in love with Jesus a long time ago and I’m still in love with Jesus but I’d like to think my relationship with Jesus has matured.”

She added that what Islam does is take Jesus out of the way of her relationship with God, “but it doesn’t drop Jesus. I was following Jesus and he led me into Islam, and he didn’t drop me off at the door. He’s there, too.”
Yeah. I won't claim to be an expert in Islam, but I took a course in it from Prof. Benjamin Weir while in seminary at the GTU. She is just wrong. And any Christian -- especially one who has studied Christian theology (as every Episcopal priest has done) -- ought to be able to recognize that. Granted, there are things that Islam and Christianity can share. Arabic-speaking Christians pray to "Allah," and both faiths have roots in the Jewish patriarch Abraham.

But to confess, "There is no god but Allah and Muhammed is his prophet," (the "First Pillar of Islam") is an explicit rejection of Jesus Christ being the Messiah, whether Rev. Redding thinks so or not.
“The renunciations [of Satan, evil powers and sinful desires] any Muslim can say,” Redding says. “The affirmations are tough for any Christian who is at all progressive because there are certain of us [Christians] who have taken these and made them in to something like fraternity hazing—you have to say these words in order to be part of the club. I see them as taking Jesus as the human example to follow toward God. Most Muslims see Mohammed rather than Jesus as the pattern of life to follow, and I do not see him as the only example. I just am not willing to put ‘onlys’ in front of all those affirmations about Jesus.
For more of Rev. Redding's bizarre (for a Christian priest) "thought," see this Seattle Times reader Q&A.

A Godly Bishop

My title comes from a recent thread on ALPB Online. But I think it a fine way to introduce the following tribute from a young Anglican priest to his Bishop.

It is meet, right, and salutary to note first two things:

1) that I first heard about this young priest when he was in seminary from his proud grandmother, who was then playing piano for the monthly worship services I've lead for over 5 years at Liberty Village Estates, a retirement center here in Peoria; and

2) that I have known his Bishop to be a truly godly Bishop and one for whom this tribute is most appropriate.

The occasion was the 13th Anniversary of the Consecration of Keith L. Ackerman as the 8th Bishop of Quincy, which was last Friday. So, with Fr. Drummond's permission:
Tribute to a Bishop

Today is Friday. Presumably, the Rev. Ann Holmes Redding will be at Mosque for prayers today. But I wonder if she'll also go to Mass today, on this Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul.

The Church is built on the confession of St. Peter: "Thou are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Islam explicitly teaches that God does not have a Son. Yet Dr. Redding believes that the two faiths are compatible at the most basic level. What is "the most basic level?" Peter's confession is the rock upon which the Church is built. In other words, it's the foundation. Or, to put it still differently, it's the Church's belief "at the most basic level." Sorry, Dr. Redding, it is at "the most basic level" that Christianity and Islam are irreconcilable. Just as tragic (if not more) is the Rt. Rev. Vincent Warner, who "accepts" Redding as a priest and is "excited about the interfaith possibilities." This man is no successor to the Apostles. Certainly not St. Peter and St. Paul.

While Dr. Redding goes to mosque in Seattle, and Bishop Warner pats himself on the back for his broad-mindedness, a small group of Catholic Anglicans in Illinois (and beyond!) will observe this Feast with Divine Offices and Divine Liturgies, as the Church has always done. Many of their prayers and thanksgivings on this day will be offered on behalf of a man who thirteen years ago on this day came among us to be set apart. For him, being elevated to the Episcopate meant being driven to the ground to wash feet. For him, being a Bishop meant guarding and proclaiming the Apostles' teaching, not altering and "improving" it. For him, being a Bishop meant not only wearing a pectoral cross but also bearing the paschal Cross. It still means these things to this day. With St. Peter, Bishop Keith Ackerman confesses boldly that Jesus is "the Christ, the Son of the living God." With St. Paul he suffers the burden of the "care of all the churches."

Today is Friday. Today, as on every Friday, we commemorate the death of our Lord on the Cross for our redemption. We commemorate the deaths of Sts. Peter and Paul, who laid down their lives for the Faith they proclaimed. We commemorate the consecration of The Rt. Rev. Keith L. Ackerman, who knows and loves Jesus Christ, still believes the faith of Sts. Peter and Paul, and pours out his life as a "drink offering" in the service of Christ and the Faith of his Apostles. Glory to God for all things, and thanks be to Him for giving us a true Shepherd!

Many years, Bishop Ackerman, many years!
Amen, Father! Amen!

And you can read more of Fr. Drummond at his Things Above blog.