Tuesday, August 14, 2007

My Bishop Reflects on the Assembly

Bishop Warren D. Freiheit of the Central/Southern Illinois Synod, ELCA, sent the following to the Synod's congregations today:


As has often been the case in the past, my mind tends to spin as I try to recall all that took place at the Churchwide Assembly in those days immediately following. Many reports on the activities of this church are given and many actions are taken to maintain the faithful mission of this church. In addition to catching up on what has accumulated in my office, there is the need to review my notes and pages of actions taken by the Assembly.

In the midst of it all, I am concerned when I see how the Assembly is portrayed or interpreted by the media. A fellow bishop noted that in his synod, he became aware of two articles describing the action of the Assembly with headlines that read:
  -  "Lutherans to Allow Pastors in Gay Relationships"
  -  "Lutherans Don’t Change on Gays"

I became privy to the slant that a number of web sites have given to the action of the Assembly, and the various sites are not exactly sharing the same information. As in the past, there seems to be an inordinate amount of press given to issues pertaining to human sexuality, and little attention is given to the other actions taken by the Assembly. Let me give you a little sampling.

  *  Our Presiding Bishop, The Rev. Mark Hanson was reelected on the second ballot with an 86% margin.
  *  Mr. David Swartling of Seattle, Washington was elected as the new secretary.
  *  The initiative, “Lutherans Read the Bible,” was affirmed.
  *  A social statement on education was adopted.
  *  The ELCA recommitted itself to the battle against HIV and AIDS.
  *  Concern for efforts in the Middle East were again emphasized.
  *  A report of Lutheran Disaster Response was given, commending the ELCA for contributions of over $27 million over the past two years in response to natural disasters.
  *  An optimistic report was given on the progress of the fight against world hunger by the Lutheran Hunger Appeal.
  *  The Eucharist was celebrated each day and prayer preceded each major decision.

In the area of human sexuality, the recommendation of the Memorials Committee was to refer four groupings of memorials to the ELCA Task Force on Human Sexuality for consideration as they compose a social statement on human sexuality for the 2009 Churchwide Assembly. Although substitutions were offered for the first two recommendations, they failed to pass. A substitute motion became the main motion on the third recommendation, and it passed. The substitute motion which is not a legislative act to change policy moved that the Churchwide Assembly "prays, urges, and encourages restraint in disciplining those congregations and persons who call into rostered ministry otherwise-qualified candidates who are in a mutual, chaste and faithful committed same-gender relationship . . ." Following the Assembly, an ELCA official noted that "These are words of counsel . . . not words that change the standards of the Church."

Later a resolution from the floor requested discussion by the Conference of Bishops on the "matter of accountability of bishops to the adopted policies, practices, and procedures of the ELCA, and that a clear statement of such accountability be formulated for consideration and adoption by the 2009 Churchwide Assembly." My sense is that, in the coming months, these two resolutions will be closely scrutinized as to their meaning and application to this Church.

My hope is that when we look for clarification of the actions of the Assembly, we consult the ELCA News Service on the ELCA web site for further explanation and description of the 2007 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.

An exhortation from the 2005 Orlando assembly is that we "concentrate on finding ways to live together faithfully in the midst of disagreements, recognizing the God-given mission and communion we share as members of the Body of Christ." There was little doubt that there were disagreements among those who were voting members at the Assembly in Chicago. And yet, by the same token, there was little doubt that there was a desire to live together faithfully during the assembly, and as a denomination following the assembly. My hope continues to be that the attitude of the voting members may become infectious throughout the ELCA as we recognize that "we are marked with the Cross of Christ forever, and that we are claimed, gathered, and sent for the sake of the world."

Bishop Warren D. Freiheit

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