Saturday, August 18, 2007

Pastor Zip Gets Quoted: Part 2

Continued from previous entry.

This morning's paper reminded me of how difficult it is to get an idea across via the press. Mind you, it's not because reporters do a bad job, or misquote, or don't understand the issues. Most reporters do a good job, are accurate with quotes, and if they don't understand the issues they want things explained to them so that they will.

When I'm asked questions, by parishioners or (in this case) the press, about something that has happened, I try to first explain things as objectively as possible before giving my perspective. Hopefully that has shown up in this blog now and again. It is one way I try to apply Dr. Martin Luther's explanation of the 8th Commandment in his Small Catechism [note to self: update links on Pastor Zip's Christian Web Links]:
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

What does this mean?

We should fear and love God, so that we do not lie about, betray or slander our neighbor, but excuse him, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.
I tried to do that when interviewed earlier this week, and this is how it came out in the paper:
"I think at least symbolically that really is a big victory for including active gays in the ministerium," said the Rev. Steven Tibbetts, pastor of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Peoria who also served as a volunteer at the assembly.

What struck Tibbetts, though, was how much of an effort was made by people on both sides of the issue to get along and remain united as a church.
Read the entire column here.

I do admire how Michael Miller was able describe a 15 minute interview in 2 sentences. And as far as I am concerned, he did his reporting and editing job well. But he only had so much space and, when I read it this morning, it seemed like a reader could reasonably think that I was pleased with the "victory" I described. In my own small way I felt like Senator Obama, or President Bush, or someone like that reading what they said in the paper or seeing the soundbite on TV and thinking, "But that's not what I meant!"

Michael Miller and I have talked about church matters over the years, he reads this blog, and we covered quite a bit of ground on the phone the other afternoon. I don't think for a minute that he thinks I'm pleased with the outcome of the "refrain from discipline" vote or that he intended to suggest that. Well, what are ya gonna do?

How about post a sign next to the phone saying something like, "Give juicy quote, but watch it!" ;->

The vote was a symbolic victory for the proponents of the gay agenda in the church. It was a real defeat for the orthodox believers in the ELCA. And a clear signal that we cannot just sit back and let someone else take care of things. It was one skirmish and we did poorly. All is far from lost, however.

On Friday, September 28, Lutheran CORE is holding a gathering, 'This Church' and God's Church, at St. Mark Lutheran Church in Lindenhurst, Illinois, on the north side of metro Chicago. From 10 am to 4 pm CORE will review what happened at this Churchwide Assembly and plan for the next two years' Synod and Churchwide Assemblies. Dr. James A. Nestingen, Dr. Robert Benne, and retired Bishop Paull Spring will speak. And ELCA Lutherans, clergy and lay, from across the land will be there because they want to have the ELCA we were promised 20-25 years ago, not the one we're getting.

I'll be there. And if you send $10 payable to "WordAlone Network" to Lutheran CORE, c/o WordAlone Network, 2299 Palmer Drive, Suite 220, New Brighton, MN 55112 (which is to cover lunch), you can meet me there. For more details, contact my friend and colleague, Pr. Steve Shipman.

Pastor Zip Gets Quoted: Part 1

I've been quoted twice over the last month in articles by Peoria Journal Star Religion Editor Michael Miller in the Saturday "Faith & Values" section. In July (while I was on holiday in Los Angeles) I had responded via e-mail to questions he'd asked in the light of the recent statement on the Doctrine of the Church, and he used some of that to conclude his Religion Beat column, Vatican words rile some Protestants.
The Vatican’s recent statement on the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church has riled some non-Catholic Christians in the ecumenical movement, but Catholic leaders and some Protestants are saying it’s nothing to be concerned about and certainly nothing new.
For me the statement had come shortly after I'd attended a conference Freedom and Authority in the Christian Life sponsored by the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology. Among the speakers there was Dr. Margaret O'Gara, who has been an official Catholic representative in the Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogues in both the U. S. and internationally, and I had been struck by the tone of her address where it seemed she was minimizing particular differences between Lutherans and Catholics (related to her conference topic) so much that it sounded like the Catholic Church had become Lutheran—sort of along the lines of American missionaries of a few generations ago "going native" after spending so much time in a non-Christian culture. So that, along with the understanding that the Vatican's "Responses" statement was targeting that sort of ecumenism, was behind my reply to Miller and what he included of my response in the paper:
However, Kieschnick said that the LCMS looks "forward to the continuation of our theological dialogues with Roman Catholic leaders in discussion of this very important matter and to strengthening our common witness on such matters as the sanctity of life."

That "sanctity of life" movement is one of several where Catholics and other Christians participate on a grass-roots level. Another area of cooperation is the Cursillo renewal movement, which in the Diocese of Peoria has historically been marked by Protestant involvement. Such interaction will probably continue without a noticeable hitch.

That’s the feeling of the Rev. Steven Tibbetts, pastor of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Peoria. Tibbetts has been involved in ecumenical efforts since the early 1980s. He’s also a "non-Roman" spiritual advisor on Cursillo weekends and takes part in the conferences of the Center for Catholic and Ecumenical (sic) Theology.

"It is almost as if the pope is trying to get Catholic ecumenists to give a more consistent message to the various communions and groups with whom they have dialogues," said Tibbetts, whose church is part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The statement’s impact will be minor, Tibbetts said, "because ecumenical relations aren’t really going anywhere beyond the committees having the discussions—at least formally."

"I think that, in this statement, the Vatican is challenging ‘Protestant’ ecumenists, and the churches themselves, to seriously deal with a doctrine of the church, of which the ministry-priesthood and apostolic succession are an indispensable part."
If you haven't already, read it all here.

And, yes, the Lutheran Reformers saw the Holy Ministry (the Confessions speak repeatedly and approvingly of "priests" and the "priesthood," except where the office has been abused) and Apostolic Succession as indispensible to the Church. They hadn't defined them precisely as the Council of Trent would a few years later, but they didn't just throw them out the door like the more Radical Reformers did. As we confess in Article V of the Augsburg Confession:
That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith; where and when it pleases God, in them that hear the Gospel, to wit, that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ's sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ's sake.

They condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that the Holy Ghost comes to men without the external Word, through their own preparations and works.
Lutherans need to remember who we are, so that we can remind Romans Catholics of who they are, so that we can together re-discover the Catholic Faith and be fully "Church" once again.

Continued on next post.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Lutheran CORE's Chair Reflects on CWA

The Rev. Paull Spring is retired Bishop of the Northwestern Pennsylvania Synod, ELCA, and Chair of Lutheran CORE, a coalition of pastors, lay people, congregations and reforming groups seeking to preserve within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) the authority of the Word of God according to the Lutheran confessions. Our intention is to remain within our church and to work with congregations, individuals, and other reform-minded groups for the reform of our church.

Some reflections on Chicago 2007
by Paull Spring, Lutheran CORE chair

Now that I'm back home from the Chicago churchwide assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I've had some time to reflect a bit on what occurred during those six steamy days.

I attended a non-assembly service that was sponsored by the Lutherans Concerned/North America and Goodsoil folks, two groups calling for approval of homosexual behavior. To call it a service would be a disservice. It was really more of a rally in celebration of a lifestyle that runs counter to the Biblical paradigm for marriage and the family. The texts for the creed and the Lord's Prayer were not the ones in our hymnals. References to God were thoroughly gender neutral. It was not an inclusive service at all, but a quite exclusive occasion to celebrate who "we" are as over against who "they" are.

The passage of the resolution on "restraint in discipline" was surely the biggest disappointment. I do think, however, that we need to be clear among ourselves about what the resolution does and does not do. The resolution does not change Vision and Expectations and Definitions and Guidelines. Persons who are practicing gays and lesbians still are precluded from ordination. What the resolution permits is that, under certain circumstances, a synodical bishop may choose not to discipline a pastor who is in an active homosexual relationship. My hunch is that only a few bishops will avail themselves of this permission. I also suspect that only a few pastors in gay relationships will avail themselves of this possibility. Time will tell, but, bad as the resolution is, it does not open the gates to the ordinations of active gay and lesbian persons.

It is my hope that all of us will stay within the ELCA and work hard toward bringing about an orthodox, confessional statement on human sexuality at the 2009 churchwide assembly.

The next two years will be difficult and turbulent times for our church. We need to put all of our energy into plans for the 2009 churchwide assembly. To that end, I hope we are all planning to attend the Sept. 28 Lutheran CORE gathering at St. Mark Lutheran Church, Lindenhurst, Ill., 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. You can download a registration sheet at:

Thursday, August 16, 2007

++Mark Hanson on the Assembly

From ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson:

August 15, 2007

Dear colleagues in ministry:

I greet you in the name of our crucified and risen Christ. Amen.

The 2007 ELCA Churchwide Assembly ended last Saturday afternoon. Some of you were voting members. Others were present as congregational observers, volunteers, or visitors. Many followed the assembly via the Internet. Most of you have heard a variety of reports through the media. Thank you for your interest, involvement, and sustaining prayers.

As I approach the beginning of a second term, it is in a spirit of humility and gratitude for the honor of serving as your presiding bishop. But it is also with the deep conviction that we are called to share leadership for this church as we are sent into the world in the power of the Holy Spirit and with the promise of the Gospel.

As ELCA leaders we share responsibility for understanding and interpreting the actions of the assembly. Both the assembly's work and how we describe and discuss it become part of our witness to the world. What do we want our testimony to be?

I want it to be that the living Word of God was at the heart of the tenth ELCA Churchwide Assembly. The assembly's life and work each day was centered in worship around the means of grace. We engaged Scripture through Bible study, prayer, and moments of "dwelling in the word" -- personal stories about what the Word of God means to individual members. Paul's invitation in Colossians to "let the word of Christ dwell in you richly" became a refrain woven throughout the week.

In fact, one of the assembly's most significant decisions was to call the entire ELCA to a five-year initiative, "Book of Faith: Lutherans Read the Bible." As a church body, we are committed to becoming fluent in the first language of our faith -- the language of Scripture. We know the power of God's Word not only to convict and free, but also to reform the church and transform the world. Let us now build upon the strong foundation of engagement with Scripture that undergirds this church. We are delighted that Professor Diane Jacobson will coordinate the project as she continues teaching half-time at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn.

The "Brief Summary of Assembly Actions" (see link below) provides an overview of the primary actions of the assembly, which included the election of a new secretary for this church, Mr. David Swartling of Seattle, Wash.; adoption of the ELCA's tenth social statement, this one on education; a call for a strategy on HIV and AIDS; reaffirmation of the "Peace Not Walls" campaign; and commitment to the funding of this church's mission and ministry as outlined by the Blue Ribbon Committee on Mission Funding.

We were energized and encouraged by the presence of 100 young rostered leaders and nearly that many young people. We heard the witness of partners from around the world. We pondered and deliberated, we prayed and sang, we listened and laughed, we worshiped and heard God's Word. There are vital stories of faith and commitment, many of them overlooked by media reports, woven into each of the assembly's decisions. They deserve to be told throughout this church.

It is important that we accurately describe the assembly's various decisions regarding our current studies on sexuality and standards for rostered ministries. It is significant that the tone of our discussions was thoughtful and respectful, reflecting the commitment made by the 2005 Churchwide Assembly that we "concentrate on finding ways to live together faithfully in the midst of disagreements ..." The following summary may inform your discussions:

* The ELCA Churchwide Assembly rejected resolutions that would have changed ELCA policy and practice to permit persons in same-gender relationships to serve as rostered leaders.
* The assembly affirmed the study process that will lead to the development of a social statement on human sexuality, voted to share with the study's task force the synod memorials on this matter, and directed the task force to address current policies precluding "practicing homosexual persons" from serving as pastors or rostered leaders as part of the recommendations it will bring to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly.
* While voting on several occasions not to change the ELCA's constitution, bylaws, or policies, the assembly did take action to pray, urge, and encourage the leadership of the ELCA to "refrain from or demonstrate restraint in disciplining" pastors and other rostered leaders who are "in a mutual, chaste, and faithful committed same-gender relationship" and are currently serving in this church, as well as congregations that call such otherwise qualified candidates.

Let me underscore that this third action is not a change in the official documents or policies of the ELCA. Attempts to make such changes were rejected by the assembly.

However, the assembly offered the advice and counsel described above to bishops and others in positions of authority as they make pastoral decisions on matters relating to discipline as issues of human sexuality are being studied throughout the church prior to action by the 2009 Churchwide Assembly. The third action does not bind bishops to follow this requested course; rather, it expresses the sense of the assembly to encourage restraint in discipline during this time of deliberation.

As we prepare for a social statement on human sexuality in 2009, it is essential that leaders of this church invite ELCA members to participate in the current phase of the ELCA Studies on Sexuality. The development of social statements is participatory in nature. Responses to the third study are welcome until November 1, 2007. Watch for the first draft of the social statement in March 2008. Please encourage thoughtful response to it. You will find more information at

On an afternoon in the middle of the assembly, voting members participated in a "committee of the whole" discussion. I want to share with you the compelling image of that discussion from Bishop Peter Rogness of the Saint Paul Area Synod. He described the long lines of people at every microphone and then wrote, "Since [assembly] rules indicate we alternate speaking pro- and con-, a set of two microphones stands at each station -- one green, one red. I looked at the microphones closest to me and saw Saint Paul Area Synod voting members standing in both lines. I was proud of that. We've been together enough to enjoy and respect each other, and we went to different lines. And then we worshiped together, ate together, did other work together. This synod -- and this church -- is not simply a red line synod or a green line synod. We are church together. We can commit ourselves to living together, faithfully."

You will soon receive in the mail the "Brief Summary of Actions" from the assembly. The ELCA Web site provides information and photos from the assembly at . In addition, the links that follow will provide more information about the Churchwide Assembly, which you are invited to use as resources for your leadership in this sent church:

Brief summary of actions:
MSH sermon:
MSH verbal report:

I close with deep appreciation for you, for your ministry, and for our partnership in the mission we share. Yes, we are "marked with the cross of Christ forever, claimed, gathered, and sent for the sake of the world." Thanks be to God!

Mark S. Hanson
Presiding Bishop

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Dr. Kieschnick's Statement on the CWA Actions

As in the previous two Churchwide Assemblies, The Rev. Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick, President of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, brought greetings to the ELCA Churchwide Assembly. This cannot be an easy task, especially since the 2001 LCMS Convention questioned whether the ELCA can genuinely be described as Lutheran, but his greetings have been honest about our differences while spoken graciously. At the close of his 2005 greeting, tears were welling in my eyes (really, that almost never happens) and close to half of that Assembly stood in their applause afterwards.

Dr. Kieshnick was briefer this year and was graciously received, though I didn't notice much standing. What I did note was that he concluded "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit"—notable because the new ELCA liturgies used at the CWA rarely speak this Name of God, preferring "Triune God." As you read (if you looked at the ELCA News release), the continued discussion on gay pastors is one of the matters that divide the two largest Lutheran Churches in the US. Now Dr. Kieschnick has written his church about the Assembly's action. Here's his entire statement:
TO:        The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
FROM:     Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick, President
SUBJECT: Statement regarding 2007 ELCA Churchwide
                Assembly Action
DATE:      August 13, 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Greetings in the Name of Jesus Christ, Savior of the world and Lord of the universe, through whom alone we receive forgiveness of sin, life, and salvation!

On the final day of its 2007 Churchwide Assembly in Chicago (Saturday, August 11), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) adopted a resolution which "prays, urges, and encourages [ELCA geographical] synods, synodical bishops, and the presiding bishop to refrain from or demonstrate restraint in disciplining those rostered leaders in a mutual, chaste, and faithful committed same-gender relationship who have been called and rostered in this church."

News of this action troubles me greatly and is causing serious concern and consternation among the members and leaders of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). We in the LCMS hold firmly to the conviction that, according to the Holy Bible, homosexual behavior is "intrinsically sinful." We are deeply disappointed that the ELCA, by its decision, has failed to act in keeping with the historic and universal understanding of the Christian church regarding what Holy Scripture teaches about homosexual behavior as contrary to God's will and about the biblical qualifications for holding the pastoral office.

The LCMS firmly believes that the sin of homosexual behavior, like every sin that fallen human beings commit, has been paid for in full by the life, suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The LCMS also believes that we must continue to reach out in love to all people on the basis of what God's Word alone teaches about human sinfulness, God's grace in Christ, and the new life empowered by God's Holy Spirit.

It should be noted that the ELCA voted not to amend at this time its governing documents regarding the expectations of its ordained workers in this area (this matter was referred to its task force on sexuality). However, its decision "to refrain from or demonstrate restraint in disciplining" ELCA workers in “a mutual, chaste, and faithful committed same-gender relationship” raises troubling questions about whether the expectations set forth in its governing documents will be taken seriously by the ELCA or by the task force. The potential implications of decisions such as this for future LCMS-ELCA relations have been discussed in previous meetings involving leaders of the LCMS and the ELCA. In addition, I stated in my official greetings to the 2007 ELCA Assembly on Friday, August 10, "For the sake of our mutual witness and service together, the implications of such action, should it be taken, would need to be addressed, fraternally and evangelically."

As the LCMS noted in a resolution adopted at its 2001 Convention (Resolution 3-21A), "we of the LCMS recognize that many of our brothers and sisters of the ELCA remain faithful to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and we resolve to reach out to them in love and support." As President of the LCMS, it is my ongoing hope and fervent prayer—as stated in my remarks to the 2003 ELCA Assembly—that the ELCA's continuing "study and deliberation of this matter will be made in the light of the biblical understanding of human sexuality and the qualifications for the pastoral office." I also pray that God the Holy Spirit will lead and guide all Christians and Christian denominations everywhere to seek wisdom and truth from God's inspired, inerrant, infallible Word on this and other critical issues in our contemporary church and culture.

Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick, President
The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod

"Transforming lives through Christ's love ... in time ... for eternity ..." John 3:16-17
Thank you, Dr. Kieschnick.

Presiding Bishop Hanson, Secretary Almen, and other ELCA leaders made particular note throughout the CWA of those ways our two churches are able to work together. But I am baffled as to how it is that we in the ELCA seem so willing to throw that away for a dubious theological stance.

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

Monday, August 13, 2007

Reality Check

In the aftermath of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly and the, uh, "debriefing" that is happening on several groups and e-mail lists of which I am a part, a colleague with Lutheran CORE included this line in a Sunday afternoon post:
However, God granted me a reality check this morning.
To which I replied (and sent to others):

Same here -- except I was in my pulpit when it happened. I was describing my response to Bishop Hanson's question to those of us still around at the CWA's end, "What is the first thing you'll say when people ask you, 'What happened at the Churchwide Assembly?'"

You can find a brief narrative/pictoral version of what I did later homiletically posted late last night on my blog. Or at least what I tried to do homiletically. For you see, the moment I got to the climax of describing what happened during the moment of silence/prayer for church unity at the microphone I was monitoring (go ahead, read it)...


...I lost it. My voice choked, and my eyes overflowed with tears. Now in 15 years of ordained ministry, I've had a few (okay, very few) powerfully emotional moments in the chancel or pulpit. I've had to take a deep breath in order to complete a difficult/painful sentence or thought, particularly at a couple of funerals. But I'd never just lost it like this.

And it wasn't out of despair, or anger, or disappointment—all of which I have—at what happened at the CWA. It was out of HOPE. And the fierce calling that the ELCA must be united, and must be united in the Faith.

We're not there. It may be a long time before we are. We'll have to work hard and in ways we are not used to working. And the things we will have to experience will hurt like hell.

But speaking for myself, I have no other choice. This is where I have been called and this is where I will stay.

After a long, long moment, I was composed enough to finish my description. Then came the texts for today: "Do not be afraid." "Have no fear, little flock." I pointed to the cross, resurrection, and ascension. I pointed to the Eucharist of which we were about to partake, the very Body and Blood of the living Christ.

To those of you for whom this CWA appears to have crossed a line, I plead you to not abandon the faithful in the ELCA. Walk with us, instead. Speak with us. Pray with us.

Pax et bonum, Steven+

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Highlight of the Assembly

By an action of the Churchwide Assembly, Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson was directed to pause during the discussion on the memorials (that is, resolutions to the Churchwide Assembly from Synod Assemblies) related to homosexuality every 20 minutes for a moment of silent prayer and reflection to be followed by him leading the Assembly in prayer for the unity of the church.

For a couple of plenary sessions, I was monitor at the front, center microphone (#4), responsible for enabling those opposed to the motion on the floor -- which during that particular debate meant those would didn't want those memorials referred to the Sexuality Task Force -- to be identified on the video screens and those speakers to be heard. As you might guess, we microphone monitors (12 for each session) were kept quite busy during that discussion, which was spread out over several plenary sessions during the week.

That moment of silent prayer happened once when I was monitor at #4. Those waiting to speak had been standing in line for some time, with some running back and forth to their seats to vote in the midst of parliamentary wrangling. Thus far only one person, pro referral (that would be microphone #3), had managed to speak from my station.

Then came the call to pause. And the young layman at the front of #3 (the pro-referral line) reached out his hand to the pastor at the head of #4 (the anti-referral) line, who accepted and, suddenly, the two sides were, as you see, together in prayer. I was nearly in tears, but managed to sneak this photo as a press photographer did the same from another perspective.

This church, like others in the US and in other lands, is deeply divided over gay pastors and the blessing of gay relationships. But many on both sides are also deeply hopeful that the ELCA will remain united as one church.

And it should be our fervent prayer, that we remain united as one church with the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Observations from the CWA

Greetings from the ELCA Church-wide Assembly floor. Okay, the photo is from the floor, me on duty as a microphone page. Right now we're in a recess and I have a few moments of internet access.

As I've written, the best sources for what's happening are the ELCA's own website and Forum Letter Editor Dick Johnson's reporting over at ALPB Forum Online.

Hopefully they'll offer it seperately as a video/DVD, but in this morning's (plenary session six) webcast you will find retiring ELCA Secretary' Lowell Almen's final Report to the CWA and it is a very personal, powerful tribute to the Church and his work in it. Recommended viewing.

Yesterday in his Report, Presiding Bishop Hanson spoke of visiting a dying aunt. While standing watch, he noticed her lips moving and trying to speak. Quickly he figured out that she wasn't in any distress, however. Rather, she was reciting from memory Paul's Letter from the Philippians. The whole thing! Turns out she had memorized much of the Bible as a youth. Later when she was more lucid and they were conversing, she told her Presiding Bishop nephew that he should be making sure that ELCA pastors where having their youth memorize the Scriptures, for the comfort it would bring them at times like this (when they were unable to read).

"Oh," he replied, "the Presiding Bishop doesn't have that kind of power or authority in the ELCA. That's the responsibility of Synod Bishops."

As the CWA laughed, by my microphone Bishop Eaton from Ohio stood up at her chair and started pointing at the pastors in her synod's delgation: "You, you, you..."

Also yesterday afternoon in one of the "Dwelling in the Word" moments, former Bishop Marcus Miller, now president at Southern Seminary, told a wonderful the story of the family going through his father-in-law's things after his death, and finding a beautiful, leather, King James Bible, well-worn especially in the Psalms and New Testament. "What should we do with this?" his wife asked. Bp. Miller kept it, and uses it daily in his morning devotions, conscious that he is not doing them alone, but that he is praying with the Church, his Father-in-law, and all the saints of the past and present. Try to catch that in yesterday afternoon's session, just prior to the Quasi-Committee of the Whole discussion on memorials related to homosexuality.

But then there's the "Justice for Women" report, that sounded like it came out of 1972. The director fairly demanded that all sort of theologies, including "womanist," be part of the ELCA's "Mainstream."

All in all, I'm having a good time working, meeting and re-meeting old friends and colleagues. But the major controversies have yet to be discussed much. Now, back to my station for the afternoon.

Keep praying for us.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Remember this during the debate...

Okay, I just couldn't resist. Thanks to Touchstone's Mere Comments for pointing me into yet one more helpful (okay, they describe it as "brutal") direction.

For more similarly inclined, uh, motivational posters click here. It's a good thing these weren't around when I was in seminary....

Pre-Assembly Message from Lutheran CORE

"Our first and most important request is prayer."

My ability to include any further messages from Lutheran CORE—Coalition for Reform during the ELCA Churchwide Assembly will depend upon my ability to go online. I expect, however, that if CORE issues any messages during the week, you will be able to find them on its CORE Newsletters page or its News & Discussion pages (aka the LC3 Blog).

And in addition to the ELCA's own coverage, check out the full CWA coverage and commentary at ALPB Online. Now, the message.

Lutheran CORE Newsletter 1.1
August 5, 2007

Lutheran CORE has been actively preparing for the Churchwide Assembly in Chicago August 6-11. Information regarding the assembly both encourages and discourages us, but we believe that Christ is still Lord of His Church and in the end he will answer the prayers of his faithful people among our congregations, pastors, and bishops. We also realize that many people disagree with us in good faith, and we pray for God's loving wisdom to guide all of us.

Our first and most important request is prayer. Whether or not you are in Chicago, please pray for Bishop Hanson and Secretary Almen, all the voting members, the Lutheran CORE steering committee members, and many dedicated CORE members and friends who have paid their own way to be in Chicago working on your behalf, and also for those sisters and brothers in Christ who are working for agendas we believe are wrong.

Sexuality Memorials

A key strategy of Goodsoil and Lutherans Concerned, the groups working to change policies regarding homosexuality, is to use this assembly to begin a process of rescinding the rules that prohibit active homosexuals from serving as pastors and that discourage blessings of same-sex relationships. While no more synods are asking for this change than addressed the 2005 assembly, many faithful Lutherans assumed the issue was settled at Orlando and were not prepared to reconsider the issue this year. We believe it is dishonest and deceptive to raise the issue again before the report of the Task Force on Sexuality in 2009, and we support the recommendation of the Memorials Committee to refer all sexuality proposals to the task force.

Lutheran CORE believes using such tactics to initiate a change of policy this year will fragment the ELCA. We see this happening among our Full Communion partners the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church, and the United Church of Christ, as many faithful members have become weary of the constant attacks on what they have believed on the basis of the Bible.

Ultimately, we do not believe we have the right as Christians to vote on whether or not we will accept the clear teachings of Holy Scripture. Especially when an overwhelming majority of Christians through the ages and across the world have understood the texts of the Bible regarding same-sex relationships in their plain sense, we have to say, "our conscience is captive to the Word of God; unless we are convinced by clear Scripture and evident reason therefrom, we cannot and will not recant."

Retired Bishops Speak

Pastor Paull Spring, chair of Lutheran CORE and retired bishop of the Northwestern Pennsylvania Synod, wrote an open letter to Bishop Hanson on behalf of CORE, in which he objected "strenuously" to a public announcement by Bishop Margaret Payne, of the New England Synod, that she would preside at a service of Holy Communion apart from the assembly agenda at which defrocked pastor Bradley Schmeling would be the preacher. Schmeling was removed as a pastor after he announced publicly that he is in a relationship with another man.

We object to using the Means of Grace, God's Holy Word and the Sacrament of the Altar, as tools to further political ends on behalf of Goodsoil and their allies. In his letter, Spring asks whether Bp. Payne should not resign as an act of integrity if she as bishop cannot support the official policies of the church and whether her action is a matter of discipline.

Bishop Emeritus George Mocko, retired bishop of the Delaware-Maryland Synod, wrote an open letter expressing his concerns about the way we seem to be asked to read the Bible in the ELCA, in order to overturn the Scriptural admonitions against homosexuality. "We are preparing to sell our birthright as the foremost biblical theologians of the west for the pottage of this culture's approval," Mocko writes.

You can read both letters in full at the website shared by Lutheran CORE and Lutheran Churches of the Common Confession, Both were posted in July.

Gathering in September: Where do we go from here?

Regardless of what happens in Chicago, Lutheran CORE intends to stay and remain a voice for those ELCA members who wish to remain faithful to the Word of God and our Lutheran Confessions. Of course, it is possible that at some point after 2009 many will need to re-evaluate whether they can be faithful to Christ and still remain within this denomination; we are working and praying that such agonizing decisions will not be necessary.

We will gather on Friday, September 28, from 10 to 4 in Lindenhurst, Illinois (near Chicago), to hear reflections and reports from James Nestingen, Robert Benne, and Paull Spring. Please join us. A flyer can be downloaded from our website at: or by emailing

Pass It On

We urge you to copy and distribute this newsletter electronically and on paper to people who share our concerns with the undermining of Scriptural authority in the ELCA, the replacement of the revealed Name of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) in many worship and educational resources, and the devaluing of God's plan for human community centered around the faithful marriage of a man and a woman. We also seek to elect faithful leaders across the ELCA who will uphold "the faith once delivered to the saints."

As always, we solicit your prayers and welcome your financial contributions. We are grateful that for now the WordAlone Network, a member of our Coalition for Reform, provides administrative support to Lutheran CORE. Donations in any amount (deductible as permitted by law) may be sent to Lutheran CORE, c/o WordAlone Network, 2299 Palmer Drive, Suite 220, New Brighton, MN 55112. Please make checks payable to WordAlone Network, and write "Lutheran CORE" on the memo line.

And if you have not seen or signed on to our Scripture statement (to which Bishop Emeritus Mocko refers in his letter), it is on the same website, at Please add your signature to the many who already support us.

A lot of helpful links and articles are included both on the website and on and we urge you to become informed on viewpoints you may not learn from official ELCA sources.

If you have questions, please check our website or contact us.

And if you're at the Churchwide Assembly in Chicago, look us up at the Hyatt Regency Grand Suite 3. We'll try to have it staffed by somebody much of the time.

Pr. W. Stevens Shipman, Secretary
PO Box 64
Lock Haven, Pennsylvania 17745

Saturday, August 04, 2007

A Bishop's (Final?) Pastoral Letter

Continuing a long story that I've covered on this blog, this is from the website of the Southeastern Synod, ELCA:
August 2, 2007

A Pastoral Letter regarding the Bradley Schmeling disciplinary case and St. John's Lutheran Church, Atlanta, GA

Dear friends in Christ,

After much prayer, it is my decision not to take any further action regarding the Bradley Schmeling disciplinary case and/or any action against St. John's Lutheran Church, Atlanta, GA. A few days ago I shared this decision with Bishop-elect H. Julian Gordy and this evening shared the news with St. John’s Executive Committee and Bradley.

As most of you know, I will be leaving the Office of Bishop of the Southeastern Synod August 31, 2007. I have requested that St. John’s leadership be in contact with Bishop-elect Gordy, who assumes office September 1, 2007.

In the blessed name of the risen Lord Jesus,

Ronald B. Warren
ELCA-Southeastern Synod
Well, I suppose it would have been a bit much for an outgoing Bishop to begin conversations with a parish whose pastor is no longer eligible to serve it. Prayers for Bishop-elect Gordy are in order.

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.