Friday, August 03, 2007

Here Comes the Churchwide Assembly!

The ELCA's Tenth Biennial Churchwide Assembly will be called to order this Monday afternoon at the Navy Pier in Chicago. Pastor Zip will be there as a volunteer -- my chief assignment appears to be as a microphone page on the Assembly Floor, where it will be my job to make sure speakers are properly identified (for the video screens and webcast) and heard by the rest of the Assembly. It's all the fun of being right smack in the middle of things, while having none of the responsibilty for taking part in the decisions.

There's some important business happening there. Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson's 6-year term is concluding and he had made it clear last fall that he would be, uh, available for a second term. While some in the ELCA have not been pleased by his leadership, his re-election is expected. Every ELCA pastor on the roster of ministers is eligible to be nominated, but there is a strong ethos in our church against appearing to be "running for bishop." The WordAlone Network's Pr. Jaynan Clark Egland commented on that last spring in her "Let those hats fly!" article.

There she notes that, "If I were to get enough support in the first few ballots to make a speech or entertain questions at the churchwide assembly, then at least the concerns of WordAlone will have been presented openly." I've been saying much the same since before the formation of Lutheran CORE, that we needed to identify a candidate who could at least get enough votes to make sure that our key issues,
• the need to affirm the authority of the Word of God within and throughout our church;
• preserving in teaching and worship the biblical name for the triune God: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit;
• our concern to elect leaders (both synodical and churchwide) who will guide us in faithful witness and mission;
• and our profound concern over changes in doctrine and practice regarding marriage and sexuality
would come up for discussion during the election, rather than continue to be quietly ignored by this church's leadership. We'll see what happens.

While there will be elections for all sorts of other offices, including the ELCA Church Council, the key election (presuming Bishop Hanson's re-election) will be for the next ELCA Secretary, whose office is much more powerful that it might first appear -- for the Secretary serves as the chief interpreter of the ELCA's Constitution, by-laws, policies, etc. Pr. Lowell Almen, who has held that office since the ELCA's formation, announced last fall that is retiring. My personal take on the Secretary's election is that, regardless of what Pr. Almen has actually done in office (his critics note a devotion to the "letter of the law"), he has had a (so-to-speak) "power base" that is independent of the Presiding Bishop, something that has been particularly needful as more and more power and authority within the ELCA have been placed in the office of our Presiding Bishop, who is a resourceful, intelligent, dynamic, and charismatic leader. If the new Secretary is "Mark Hanson's man" (or woman), there will be no curb or brake on his leading this church into just another liberal protestant denomination. If the new Secretary is independent of the Presiding Bishop, then there can be at 8765 W. Higgins Road an office that is not automatically at his beck-and-call. And right now, that seems to be the most traditionalist, orthodox, conservative ELCAers can hope for.

There will be more: the "Book of Faith" Initiative (on which I've blogged); "reception" of the deeply-flawed Evangelical Lutheran Worship book; adoption of the widely-ignored, virtually unknown social statement on education; declaring full communion with 2 more provinces of the Moravian Chruch in America; memorials (resolutions) from the Synods; and host of other matters. Details here.

The media will, of course, concentrate largely on one matter. As one reads in today's Chicago Tribune:
Prompted by the sudden dismissal of a popular Atlanta pastor in a committed same-sex relationship, impatient supporters of gay clergy will push an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America assembly in Chicago next week to stop its navel-gazing and lift the celibacy requirement imposed on gay and lesbian pastors.

Almost a third of the church's synods, or regional governing bodies, have endorsed a proposal that would permit gay and lesbian pastors in committed relationships to serve congregations and would reinstate those who have been removed because of a same-sex relationship.

The resolution before 1,071 voting members at the biennial national assembly convening Monday comes two years before the church is scheduled to release a broader social statement on human sexuality.

Those who oppose the proposal but support gay clergy argue that a church policy based on the denomination's social statement would be worth the wait. Lutherans against ordaining gay clergy say supporters are asking the assembly to bless sin. A similar attempt to speed the decision was defeated at the last assembly two years ago.
Read here the entire (heavily slanted towards the pro-gay lobby -- to the point that it inaccurately says Brad Schmeling's "own bishop sprang to his defense" when actually Bishop Warren was the one who sought Schmeling's removal from office) article.

Actually, the ELCA's Churchwide leadership -- while, except for some on the Conference of Bishops, largely openly-committed to church blessings of homosexual unions and ending the (oft-ignored) rule against pastors in gay/lesbian relationships -- is making a mighty effort to refer all such action to the ELCA Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality which is working towards presenting a Social Statement to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly. Grant Presiding Bishop Hanson with enough sense to recognize that most of the ELCA remains "not ready" to make such a move.

Now, if only he'd figure out that, since a theological case for blessing "committed homosexual relationships" could not be brought to the 2005 Churchwide Assembly -- despite every resource being made available to the sexuality Task Force -- the ELCA should never be ready to make such a move if she is to remain faithful. But that can be delayed for 2009.

While the media will likely follow antics of Goodsoil, the real Churchwide Assembly story will be the same one I first described (within earshot of a Forum Letter correspondent in 2003: It's the Mark Hanson Show! Watch it here, or listen to it here, or ("Extra! Extra!") read all about it.

Or even better, catch the on-the-spot coverage from Forum Letter editor Pr. Richard Johnson.

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