Wednesday, June 25, 2008

News from Lutheran CORE - June 2008

Headlines:A PDF version is available online here. You are encouraged to copy the newsletter and to share it widely.

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CORE offers summary response to sexuality draft

Lutheran CORE has prepared a summary response to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality to help ELCA members as they consider and respond to the draft statement.

The summary highlights some of the detailed and formal responses to the draft statement that have been offered by ELCA pastors and scholars in a straightforward way to make it accessible to all ELCA members.

The summary is divided into three sections: affirmations of the draft, suggestions for improvement, and concerns about the current draft.

Links to more detailed reviews of the draft and to other helpful documents on human sexuality are available online at in the marriage and family educational resources section.

We encourage all ELCA members to submit a response to Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality by the November 1, 2008, deadline.

Affirmations of Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality:
  • Marriage is affirmed as a covenant of faithfulness between one man and one woman.

  • Marriage is affirmed as the most appropriate place for physical intimacy.

  • The important role of the family is affirmed.

  • Analysis of dominating influence of advertising and the media in our culture.

  • Analysis of our current sexualized society and its many victims.

  • Call for pastoral care and compassion for all people.

  • Concern for cohabitation, promiscuity, and premarital sex.

  • Spirit of civility and moderation in draft's approach to human sexuality.
Suggestions for improvement of Social Statement on Human Sexuality:
  • Affirm human sexuality as a part of God's created order for the world.

  • Affirm marriage as God's intention for humanity "from the beginning of creation" (Mark 10:6-9, Genesis 2:24).

  • Affirm marriage as the touchstone around which Christian sexual ethics are elaborated.

  • Affirm procreation as one of the chief purposes of marriage.

  • Affirm the role of the Ten Commandments in sexual ethics, especially the Sixth Commandment (See 1996 ELCA Message, "Sexuality: Some Common Convictions" for an example of this).

  • Affirm the value of the traditional family while also recognizing other family structures.

  • Affirm that all are sinners who are justified by grace through faith. But also recognize that God justifies sinners rather than justifying sins.

  • Allow Scripture to function as source of the statement's teaching on sexuality by moving clearly from biblical interpretation to practical application in dealing with issues of marriage, family, and sexuality.

  • Allow Scripture to function as norm of the statement's teaching on sexuality by clearly affirming biblical norms for sexuality and sexual behavior.

  • Consider the role of ELCA social statements to provide a framework for ethical decision making by ELCA members. Write in a way that most church members can understand and apply to their lives.

  • Draw content more directly from Scripture — both Old Testament and New Testament.

  • Draw content more directly from traditional Christian interpretation of Scripture and the Christian moral tradition.

  • Draw content more directly from the ELCA Church Council's 1996 message, "Sexuality: Some Common Convictions."

  • Draw content more directly from the social statements of The American Lutheran Church and Lutheran Church in America (the ELCA's predecessor churches).

  • Maintain a consistent definition of marriage throughout the draft.

  • Maintain the relationship of the two great commandments from Jesus: love for God and love for neighbor (Mark 12:29-31). The command to love God first and entirely makes it clear that love for others is more than affirming all of their behaviors.

  • Note the difference between forgiveness and acceptance. God forgives sinners and accepts them. God's acceptance of sinners does not mean that God accepts sins.

  • Provide a clearer application of the first use of the Law — how God orders the world.

  • Recognize Scriptural prohibitions of homosexual behavior in both Old Testament and New Testament.

  • Recognize that Jesus' teaching on sexuality includes affirming woman and man as created in the image of God, upholding marriage, and the law of God he inherited from Jewish tradition, which gives the basic form and content to the sexual ethics he teaches and sometimes sharpens.

  • Recognize the 2005 ELCA Churchwide Assembly decision to "continue to respect the guidance of the 1993 statement of the Conference of Bishops."
Concerns about Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality:
  • The most common concern raised by pastors and scholars is that the draft confuses the role of Law and Gospel in addressing human sexuality. The Lutheran tradition places sexuality within the doctrines of creation and the Law. God uses the Law to order the world and to reveal our sinfulness. The draft attempts to place sexuality within the saving work of Christ, the Gospel. Incarnation and justification are key to understanding salvation, but creation and God's Law shape Christian understandings of sexuality and ethics. Christ's birth, death and resurrection are intimately connected with providing salvation and not with sexual morality.

  • Pastoral Care in the Lutheran tradition is understood to be a personal address that is based on God's Word of both Law and Gospel. The draft seems to view pastoral care as merely affirmation and support.

  • The use of "trust" as the central ethical principle for human relations in marriage and family life is confusing. Love would be a better Christian principle. Trust is a more passive quality in which one person allows his or her being to be dependent on the trustworthiness of another. Love is a more active principle that moves outward toward the other.

  • The use of the category of trust in social relationships and institutions is confusing.

  • The draft seems confused and disjointed. It is not always easy to discern how one theme leads to another.

  • The draft lacks internal consistency.

  • The draft seems to intentionally distance us from our biblical heritage — especially from the Old Testament.

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What is Lutheran CORE?

Lutheran CORE (Coalition for Reform) is a coalition of individuals, congregations and reform movements in the ELCA.

Lutheran CORE's members and participants represent the vast middle of American Lutheranism, spanning geographical regions, vocations, and political and theological viewpoints. We are united by our common commitment to the authority of Scripture in the life of the ELCA.

Lutheran CORE seeks to be a voice for the solid, faithful core that is the majority of ELCA members, pastors and congregations.

You may support our efforts to work for positive renewal in the ELCA by donating online or sending a gift to:
Lutheran CORE
c/o WordAlone Network
2299 Palmer Drive, Suite 220
New Brighton, MN 55112

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Canadian Lutheran bishop recognizes constitutional role

A North American Lutheran bishop exercised his role as bishop by reminding the pastors of his synod that participation in an unauthorized ordination would violate their responsibilities as Lutheran pastors.

Bishop Michael J. Pryse of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada's Eastern Synod stated his responsibilities as bishop in a May 9 letter to rostered leaders.

Pryse's actions came in response to a decision by a Lutheran congregation in Ontario to call a man who was not approved for ordination by the ELCIC. The man is in a same-sex sexual relationship in violation of ELCIC standards.

Bishop Pryse's decision to recognize his role as bishop stands in contrast to some ELCA bishops who have chosen to ignore the actions of ELCA pastors who have participated in unauthorized ordinations and of congregations that have chosen to call unapproved persons as pastor.

Bishop Pryse personally supports change in church policy regarding pastors in same-sex sexual relationships, but he recognizes his role as bishop.

Bishop Pryse's entire letter to Eastern Synod pastors is available online at Following are portions of the letter:

"On April 20, 2008, Holy Cross Evangelical Lutheran Church in Newmarket, Ontario, voted to issue a call to a candidate who has not been approved for ordination through the candidacy processes of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. This action marked a serious breach of the constitutional obligation of all congregations and rostered persons to 'abide loyally by the constitution, administrative bylaws and enactments of this church and those of the synod of which it becomes a part.'

"Since that time, I understand that many of our rostered personnel have been invited to attend an irregular service of ordination and to participate in it by vesting for the service and/or participating in the rite of laying on of hands. In response, several of you have contacted me to request clarification of any implications such participation might have. Hence, I have written this letter.

"After much soul searching and considered reflection, I have come to the conclusion that any rostered person who vests for this service and/or participates in a rite of laying on of hands will have chosen to publicly participate in an action that our church prohibits and, as such, would be subject to subsequent disciplinary action. I have not made this determination lightly nor am I intending to threaten those of you who are considering participation in this liturgy. I am simply trying to clearly and forthrightly inform you of the potential consequences that your participation in this service will bring. This, I believe, is my responsibility, both to you and to the entire church.

"As noted in my April 30, 2008, letter to Holy Cross congregation, 'I am committed to working toward ending practices that preclude the full participation of all God's people in the life of the church, regardless of sexual orientation.' I realize that many of our synod's rostered personnel share a similar commitment and might see participation in this service as a way of giving public expression to this position. Indeed, when viewed from a very local perspective, some may be tempted to think this is an appropriate way to proceed.

"However, when viewed from a wider perspective, I believe that this action requires participants to abandon several foundational and confessional principles which inform our church's understanding of ecclesiastical polity and the role, identity and functioning its rostered leaders. In short, these are principles whose affirmation we owe to one another as we engage important questions as a wider community of faith.

"Our individual belief in the justness of any individual cause does not in itself justify the use of any and all means to achieve a particular end. At some point there needs to be a measured deliberation concerning the potential harm or benefit of a particular course of action. In this regard, it particularly distresses me to consider what it would mean if others - as is presently happening in partner churches both here in Canada and around the world - were to follow a similar path to achieve any number of alternate reforms in the life of our church....

"I hope and pray that you can receive this counsel from your bishop as also coming from a colleague who is not insensitive to the significant dilemma this situation presents for many of you. May God grant each of us generous gifts of wisdom and insight in this present moment."

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Lutheran CORE's Advisory Council meets

Lutheran CORE's Advisory Council met for its first time April 29-30 at Elk Grove Village, Ill.

The Advisory Council is a group of pastors, scholars, and church leaders who have agreed to provide advice and direction to Lutheran CORE on important issues and to provide counsel to the Lutheran CORE Steering Committee when important matters are before the church.

Ten members of the 18-member panel attended the April meeting. The advisory council spent time becoming more familiar with the work of Lutheran CORE and the role of the advisory council.

The council discussed a broad range of concerns facing Lutheran CORE and the ELCA:
  • Salvation in Christ alone.
  • The nature of the Church.
  • Seminary theological education.
  • The doctrine of the Holy Trinity.
  • The importance of prayer in the Christian life.

  • Primary focus for the meeting was on two matters of current importance for Lutheran CORE and the ELCA: Biblical interpretation and sexuality.

    As a part of Lutheran CORE's participation in the ELCA's five-year emphasis on Scripture, a paper on how Lutherans interpret the Bible by the Rev. Dr. Roy A. Harrisville III of Menomonie, Wis., was added to the education resources on Lutheran CORE's website.

    The council asked that a summary response to the ELCA Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality be prepared, drawing on responses prepared by Professors Robert Benne and Carl Braaten and Bishops Paull Spring and Kenneth Sauer.

    A continuing concern remains, whether the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of persons in same-sex sexual relationships is a matter of status confessionis for Lutheran CORE supporters. Discussion will continue on this important matter.

    There was general agreement that Lutheran CORE should continue beyond the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, as a confessional movement within the ELCA.

    Members of the Advisory council are:
    • Mr. Alan Beaver, Salisbury, N.C., member of Lasting Word, North Carolina Synod.

    • The Rev. John Beem, Miltona, Minn., former Bishop of the East Central Synod of Wisconsin.

    • Dr. Robert Benne, Director of the Center for Religion and Society at Roanoke College, Salem, Va.

    • The Rev. Dr. Carl Braaten, Sun City West, Ariz., Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology and Senior Editor of Pro Ecclesia, Professor Emeritus, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.

    • The Rev. James R. Crumley, Jr., Chapin, S.C., former Bishop of the Lutheran Church in America.

    • The Rev. Paul Gausmann, pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church, York, Pa., and member of Lutherans Reform!, Lower Susquehanna Synod.

    • The Rev. Jeffray Greene, pastor of American Lutheran Church, Rantoul, Ill., and Editor of FOCL Point, Fellowship of Confessional Lutherans.

    • The Rev. Gary Hatcher, pastor of St. Peter Lutheran Church, Greene, Iowa, and a member of Call to Faithfulness in the Northeastern Iowa Synod.

    • The Rev. George Mocko, Towson, Md., former Bishop of the Delaware-Maryland Synod.

    • The Rev. Dennis Nelson, pastor of Christ Lutheran Church, West Covina, Calif., and member of the Evangelical Mission Network.

    • The Rev. Dr. James Nestingen, Dallas, Ore. Professor Emeritus, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn.

    • The Rev. Richard Niebanck, Delhi, N.Y., former Secretary for Social Concerns, Department of Church in Society, Division for Mission in North America in the Lutheran Church in America.

    • The Rev. Russell Saltzman, pastor of Ruskin Heights Lutheran Church, Kansas City, Mo., and former editor of Forum Letter.

    • The Rev. Kenneth Sauer, Columbus, Ohio, former Bishop of Southern Ohio Synod and Chair of the ELCA Conference of Bishops.

    • The Rev. Beth Schlegel, pastor of Christ Lutheran Church, York, Pa.

    • The Rev. Fred Schumacher, Manchester, N.J., Executive Director, American Lutheran Publicity Bureau.

    • The Rev. Eric Swensson, pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, New Rochelle, N.Y.

    • The Rev. Morris Vaagenes, Shoreview, Minn., Pastor Emeritus of North Heights Lutheran Church.

    Tuesday, June 24, 2008

    Update on the Rev. (?) Dr. Redding

    It's been about a year since the case of the Rev. Dr. Ann Holmes Redding hit the press. She's the Episcopal priest who, while serving at the Cathedral of the Diocese of Olympia, announced that she was both Muslim and Christian.

    While that didn't seem to be a problem for the then-Bishop of Olympia, it was a problem for her own Bishop, Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island, where Dr. Redding is canonically resident. Bishop Wolf put Dr. Redding under a year's 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."

    Over the weekend, Bishop Wolf sent the following:
    June 20, 2008
    To: Members of the House of Bishops
    From: The Rt. Rev’d Geralyn Wolf
    Re: The Rev’d Dr. Ann Holmes Redding

    In June of 2007, I issued a Pastoral Direction to The Rev’d Dr. Ann Holmes Redding, a priest canonically resident in the Diocese of Rhode Island but living in Seattle. She claimed to be both a Muslim and a Christian. Among other things, she was suspended from all priestly duties for one year, at which time I would review the situation. If it became necessary to take further action the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Rhode Island would be engaged in early July, 2008.

    I met with The Rev’d Dr. Ann Holmes Redding on May 22, 2008, and believe that she remains committed to her profession of both Christianity and Islam. As I am leaving for pre-Lambeth engagements on June 28, prior to the end of her suspension, I have extended the Pastoral Direction until September 15, 2008. I do not think that it is fair to make a decision of this nature from afar; without ready access to either Dr. Redding or the Standing Committee.

    The decision for extension was not requested by Dr. Redding, nor does it indicate a change in my understanding of the theological conflicts inherent in professing both traditions.

    Dr. Redding is a woman of utmost integrity and our conversations remain open and mutually gratifying. I have great respect for her and the process of exploration to which she is committed. I also remain devoted to our Christian faith and the ordination vows taken by those who have entered the sacred priesthood.

    The media is requesting an update from me. Recalling the attention this attracted a year ago, I share this communiqué with you.

    Looking forward to seeing you at Lambeth.


    Cc: the Rev’d Dr. Ann Holmes Redding; Standing Committee; Diocesan Council;
    Email: All Clergy; Ms. Neva Rae Fox; Ms. Janet Tu
    Thanks to Fr. Scott Gunn who posted the letter on his Seven whole days blog, and linked on Canon Harmon's TitusOneNine.

    That Bishop Wolf is being quite gracious to Dr. Redding might be a bit of an understatement -- especially considering how some other Bishops (including the Presiding Bishop) are dealing with more orthodox dissidents to the directions the Episcopal Church is heading. But it is probably salutary that a final decision wait until after the Lambeth Conference.

    At least it is still clear that one can't be Muslim and Episcopalian.

    Saturday, June 21, 2008

    Enemies of the Permanent Things

    Decisions, decisions. Do I post this on my seldom read (and rather infrequently used) 21st Century Whig blog, or here? I try to save my more overtly "political" thoughts for the other blog, but in this land of "separation of church and state," and even as a pastor who follows Luther's distinctions of the Two Kingdoms, making the distinction is not always very easy. Well, if Touchstone and First Things can easily set aside the distinction for the sake of commentary, I suppose I can on occasion, too. After all, both Kingdoms are ruled by God. So, here goes.

    Over at Touchstone magazine's Mere Comments (listed first in my "Blogs for Faithful Churchmen" because it is the most ecumenical of them), Anthony Esolen writes about what's been going on in his mind has he promotes his The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization while in the midst of reading Russell Kirk's essay collection, Enemies of the Permanent Things (out of print, but do click that link to Kirk).

    Esolen concludes this post with this:
    I have wanted to say, "When a high court overthrows over two millennia of western tradition, all English common law, and the express will of the people, to engage in an unheard of experiment touching upon the most intimate matters of human society -- marriage and the family -- and when the people supinely put up with it, at best hoping to tweak the decision or overturn it in some vainly hoped-for election, then it is not the case that civic liberty will soon be lost. It already has been lost. Quit looking at the ephemeral! Your forefathers rebelled over a few high-handed taxes without parliamentary representation. They and their descendants for a hundred and fifty years would have tarred and feathered the silly members of that court, denouncing them as fools and tyrants, and putting them back in their place." Tarring and feathering, by the way, if carried on with a due consideration for sex and age and physical debility, need cause the honoree no permanent physical damage, and yet it is an excellent deterrent.

    To one host I did say, as I've said in my book, that I believe that the ideals of western civilization will not pass away, because they are based upon truth, and guaranteed by Truth Himself, the one who keeps His promises. Whether those Permanent Things survive in a nation called The United States (or the Corraled Geldings) is another question.
    Yeah, it may belong there a bit more than here. But either place it's something to consider in this (apparently) revolutionary time.

    Friday, June 13, 2008

    California ELCA Bishops on Gay Marriage

    Thanks to Forum Letter's Dick Johnson over at ALPB Online, here is a letter jointly from the retiring and newly-elected Bishops of the Sierra Pacific Synod, which territory includes northern California and northern Nevada. The bottom line is, "In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes." (Judges 21:25)
    June 13, 2008

    Dear Pastors of the Sierra Pacific Synod,

    Three weeks ago, the California Supreme Court issued a ruling on same-gender marriages, and since that time, some of you have been asked if you would be willing to perform such marriages. Since we are nearing a time of transition in the leadership of our synod, we felt it was important that both of us write to you as a beginning to what will no doubt be a continuing conversation on how the church, both locally and regionally, will respond to such requests and this ruling. This letter is written to provide you with pastoral guidance, ecclesiastical understandings and a word about our context for you to consider in your ministries. Clergy serving in Nevada may accept this as an aid to understanding the context of our life together as synod.

    As pastors who have been called to serve in the office of bishop, we appreciate your desire to provide appropriate pastoral care and leadership in your context. While there may be a sense of urgency around this issue, this does not preclude the need to prayerfully consider one’s pastoral and theological responsibilities in exercising the duties of the office of pastor. This is a moment for us to consider and teach from the rich legacy of the Lutheran witness and understanding of marriage as a civil institution governed by state laws. Marriage is not, in our teachings, a sacrament; rather, when a pastor of this church officiates at a wedding, s/he does so as both an officer of the state and an ordained minister providing prayer, assurances of God’s blessing and the support of a wider community for each couple. The mixing of these two “offices” creates a necessity for dialogue in a time such as this.

    If someone were to ask you to officiate at a same-gender marriage, some of you may be clear in your desire to refrain from offering such a ceremony. It should be understood that no pastor is required to preside over any marriage for which s/he does not feel it would be pastorally appropriate to perform such a service. We also understand that some of you may choose to offer such a ceremony, but are concerned about possible consequences for such a choice. In whatever manner you choose to respond to such requests, please be assured of our support for you as you prayerfully deliberate such questions and choose to act out of your pastoral sensibilities.

    Past practice in our synod has been to request pastors who have been asked to preside at covenant blessings to consult with the bishop. Now, in the changed context of California, we invite such consultations to continue, where we will together consider the following:

    · Consultation with your congregational leadership.
    · Conversation with the congregation.
    · Avoidance of ceremonies as media events.
    · Ways in which a ceremony may be offered in keeping with current ELCA policy
    · Assurance that your typical pre-marital counseling processes are followed.

    Such a conversation would likely include counsel that, while neither of us may have intentions to bring charges for discipline against a pastor who chooses to solemnize a same-gender marriage, we cannot guarantee that other pastors or congregations will not choose to do so, as is allowed in the sections of the ELCA Constitution and By-Laws quoted at the end of this letter.

    While the ELCA has not granted approval of same-gender marriages or provided rituals for such ceremonies, there are statements of this church which recognize that pastors and congregations may desire to offer ministry to same-gender couples seeking blessing or marriage.1 We have sought counsel and guidance from the other two ELCA bishops who serve in California, as well as the Secretary of the ELCA, David Swartling. In a memo dated May 27, 2008, Mr. Swartling offers the following:

    The constitution and bylaws, as well as related policy documents of the ELCA, do not provide a basis for pastors of this church to officiate at a samesex marriage. Under ELCA policy, marriage is defined as a covenantal relationship between a man and a woman. The Churchwide Assembly has had opportunities to change this policy, both to make it less restrictive and to make it more restrictive. It has declined to do so.

    In light of ELCA policy, pastors, synodically authorized ministers, and congregations may be subject to discipline if they officiate at same-sex marriages and allow them to take place in their buildings. ELCA governing documents identify those who may initiate charges; those who may bring charges against a pastor are enumerated in ELCA 20.21.03,2 and those who may bring charges against a congregation are listed in ELCA These provisions mean that bishops cannot preclude the commencement of disciplinary action, even if they personally desire to exercise restraint pending the 2009 Churchwide Assembly.

    You might be asking, in the words of Luther, “What does this mean?” Simply put, it means that as pastors in the ELCA, we are expected to abide by the standards and policies of this church, and are not, therefore, constitutionally permitted to solemnize same-gender marriages. This does not mean, however, that you are prohibited from offering pastoral care to same-gender couples who seek the blessing of the church in their lives, a position that was affirmed in a 1993 statement by the Conference of Bishops:

    Nevertheless, we express trust in and will continue dialogue with those pastors and congregations who are in ministry with gay and lesbian persons, and affirm their desire to explore the best ways to provide pastoral care for all to whom they minister.

    Of course, ours is not the only denomination living into these questions. We invite you to dialogue with your sisters and brothers in Christ of other churches, as no doubt we will also be doing with our counterparts, as together we seek to add depth and breadth to our discussions.

    In 1990, the Sierra Pacific Synod voted in Assembly to adopt an Affirmation of Welcome, similar to statements which have been enacted in many Reconciling in Christ congregations. Some of our communities of faith have become Reconciling in Christ congregations to amplify that witness, while others continue to offer a gracious welcome to all who seek to live under God’s gracious love in Jesus.

    Four years ago, the Sierra Pacific Synod, as it met in Assembly, passed Resolution 04-05, entitled “In Support of Civil Marriage:”

    Resolved, that the Sierra Pacific Synod in Assembly affirms that marriage and other civil rights protections are essential to making all families safer and more secure; and be it further
    Resolved, that the Sierra Pacific Synod in Assembly affirms the right of every American to marry, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender couples; and be it finally
    Resolved, that the Sierra Pacific Synod in Assembly supports the efforts to make civil marriage for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender couples a reality in our country and opposes any attempts to discriminate against lgbt couples and individuals.4

    In 1993, our Synod, meeting in Assembly “commended (the) Synod Council for encouraging pastors to deliberate prayerfully and to use wise pastoral discretion in decisions regarding the blessing of monogamous, covenantal, same-sex relationships; encouraged on-going Scripturally-based discussion; and, in acknowledging differing views, encouraged respect for serious conscience-directed deliberation so that "our unity is in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and not in mandated conformity in all matters of pastoral practice."5

    It isn’t lost on us that this Church continues to be in a time of deliberation and discernment regarding human sexuality, including issues related to the full inclusion of GLBT persons in our churches and on the roster of this Church. At the 2007 Churchwide Assembly, an assembly action (CA07.06.28)5 was strongly approved to encourage restraint of discipline as we await the outcome of further conversation and action on this issue at the 2009 Assembly.6 We choose to receive this as helpful counsel for us in the office of bishop with regard to the issue of same-gender marriage, and will be guided by this sensibility in the exercise of our ministry. We hope the pastors and congregations of our synod will also receive this as helpful counsel as we move forward in our ministry together.

    It is our hope this letter will prove helpful to you in these changing times. We welcome conversation with you, either as individuals or in your conference or other gatherings. We affirm our desire and calling to support the gracious pastoral care you will offer in your context of ministry, and offer our prayers for you in doing so. Please remember us in your prayers during this time of transition in the leadership of our synod. We pray that in all the conversations that will ensue from living in these questions, both those who request same-gender marriages and their congregations will be able to celebrate life-long commitment in a gracious, Christ-centered way.

    God’s blessing and strength be with you all.
    David G. Mullen, Bishop
    Mark W. Holmerud, Bishop-elect

    1 Clarification Regarding Same-sex Blessings and Ongoing Deliberation Concerning Homosexuality From the ELCA Office of the Presiding Bishop, May, 2000, The Rev. H. George Anderson

    The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America upholds heterosexual marriage as the appropriate context for intimate sexual expression. The ELCA’s 1996 message, Sexuality: Some Common Convictions, stated:
    Marriage is a lifelong covenant of faithfulness between a man and a woman. In marriage, two persons become "one flesh;" a personal and sexual union that embodies God’s loving purpose to create and enrich life. By the gift of marriage God "founded human community in a joy that begins now and is brought to perfection in the life to come."

    In 1993, the ELCA’s Conference of Bishops stated:
    We, as the Conference of Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, recognize that there is basis neither in Scripture nor tradition for the establishment of an official ceremony by this church for the blessing of a homosexual relationship. We, therefore, do not approve such a ceremony as an official action of this church’s ministry. Nevertheless, we express trust in and will continue dialogue with those pastors and congregations who are in ministry with gay and lesbian persons, and affirm their desire to explore the best ways to provide pastoral care for all to whom they minister.

    Recent synodical actions do not change the ELCA’s stance upholding marriage.
    In 1999, the Churchwide Assembly (this church’s highest legislative authority) called upon all members and congregations to continue dialogue regarding homosexuality. The assembly voted:
    To continue discerning conversations about homosexuality and the inclusion of gay and lesbian persons in our common life and mission and to encourage churchwide units, synods, congregations, and members of this church to participate in thoughtful, deliberate, and prayerful conversations through use of such resources as "Talking about Homosexuality–A Guide for Congregations."
    To reaffirm 1991 and 1995 actions of the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America that "Gay and lesbian people, as individuals created by God, are welcome to participate fully in the life of the congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America."
    [excerpts from CA99.06.27]

    2 20.21.03. Charges against an ordained minister which could lead to discipline must be specific and 2 in writing, subscribed to by the accuser(s), and be made by one or more of the following:
    a. at least two-thirds of the members of the congregation’s council, submitted to the synodical bishop;
    b. at least one-third of the voting members of the congregation, submitted to the synodical bishop;
    c. at least two-thirds of the members of the governing body to which the ordained minister, if not a parish pastor, is accountable, submitted to the synodical bishop;
    d. at least 10 ordained ministers of the synod on whose roster the accused ordained minister is listed, submitted to the synodical bishop;
    e. the synodical bishop; or
    f. the presiding bishop of this church, but only with respect to an accused who is a synodical bishop (or who was a synodical bishop at any time during the 12 months preceding the filing of written charges), submitted to the secretary of this church.

    3 20.31.03. Charges against a congregation which could lead to discipline must be specific and in writing, subscribed to by the accuser(s), and be made by one or more of the following:
    a. at least one-fifth of the voting members of the congregation, submitted to the synodical bishop;
    b. at least three other congregations of the synod, submitted to the synodical bishop;
    c. the Synod Council; or
    d. the synodical bishop.

    4 Minutes, Sierra Pacific Synod Assembly, May 13-15, 2004.

    5 HISTORY OF ACTIONS BY THE ASSEMBLIES OF THE SIERRA PACIFIC SYNOD, ELCA Pertaining to ELCA Rules Affecting Gay & Lesbian Clergy and Related Disciplinary Issues 1988 -2000 --

    6 RESOLVED, that in an effort to continue as a church in a moral deliberation without further strife and pain to its members, the Churchwide Assembly prays, urges, and encourages synods, synodical bishops, and the presiding bishop to refrain from or demonstrate restraint in disciplining those congregations and persons who call into the rostered ministry otherwise-qualified candidates who are in mutual, chaste, and faithful committed same-gender relationship; and be it further
    RESOLVED, that the Churchwide Assembly prays, urges, and encourages 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.

    Wednesday, June 11, 2008

    Why Keep the Athanasian Creed?

    More from Robert Saler's essay, "Longing for the Longest Creed," found on pages 21-23 of the latest (Summer 2008) issue of Lutheran Forum:
    [W]hat theological justifications remain for retaining the creed as a presence in the life of the Lutheran church? Can there be any value in encountering a creed in the teaching or even the liturgy of a congregation, if large segments of that congregation cannot assent to all of its features? I would suggest that it is precisely because the Quicunque provokes such an unsettling encounter between the fidelity of the early church and our contemporary mindsets that retention of the creed is so vital. This is true for several reasons.

    First, the creed reminds us that, while Lutherans assert that it is faith that justifies us, we also believe that the faith to which we are called has a content and not simply a form. were one to deny this by claiming, explicitly or implicitly, that the grace of the Holy Spirit calls us to the "life" or form of faith without any specific theological content, then such a denial would constitute a definitive departure from the theologically "thick" faith of the Reformers and the church with which they understood themselves to be in continuity. Such a mentality would exacerbate the unfortunate tendency of many Christians to proclaim that we are saved through faith without further specifying what that faith asserts about itself. The Athanasian Creed is one of the church catholic's most powerful statements that the faith to which grace calls us is faith in the God of Abraham, the God of Jesus Christ, the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It declares that Christian faith is faith in the Trinity. The Lutheran insistence upon sola fide [faith alone] does not erase the so-called "scandal of particularity." If anything, sola fide revels in particularity. So does the creed, and in that sense it is a very Lutheran-friendly document.

    Tuesday, June 10, 2008

    Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier?

    It's only a footnote in his essay, "Longing for the Longest Creed," in the newest (Summer 2008) issue of Lutheran Forum on the Athanasian Creed, but there Robert Saler packs a whole lot of commentary into just one sentence:
    This piece of modalism is all the more vexing since it completely obscures the fact that, according to both the Gospel of John and the Epistle to the Colossians, it is the second and not the first person of the Trinity who is the primary agent of creation.
    The answer to the question in this post's title is, "No!"

    In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

    Friday, June 06, 2008

    Gettin' them into church

    Fr. Robert is a cyber friend, formerly an ELCA pastor, now an Orthodox priest who (thankfully) continues to spend some time in Lutheran precincts. Over at ALPB Online, he wrote this yesterday in the "Is the liturgy transcultural?" thread: must always be a place for the proclamation of the Gospel and receiving the Means of Grace. I have never been a fan of contemporary worship. I especially dislike "entertainment evangelism" or whatever they're calling it now. My Lutheran mother-in-law often argues the point with me that "at least it gets people in"; while I am quick to remind her that topless ushers handing out $5 bills would achieve the same results with greater success. The ends never justifies the means; and when the means becomes an end in itself, we find ourselves to be idolaters.
    If I smile during the offertory Sunday, now you know why.

    Thursday, June 05, 2008

    And Not Dissenting...

    Once upon a time, Lutherans Concerned was, well, concerned about Lutheran churches being a safe place for homosexuals, or those wondering if they might be homosexual, to deal with their struggles. The Church is a place where one ought to hear the grace of God, though often when it came to homosexuality the words of pastors and church members were either non-existent or solely condemning.

    On the whole, this was a good thing. After all, what we sinners need to hear is, "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him." (John 3:16-17) And if the only thing thing people, especially young ones, hear about homosexuality from Christians is about how "they will burn in Hell," the two most common responses of those who find themselves struggling with homosexuality are 1) despair that God or anyone else could ever love them (which can lead to suicide) or 2) rejection of Christ and his Church.

    20 years ago, Lutherans Concerned/North American (LC/NA) changed -- and it was a quick, radical change -- to a focus on "full acceptance," especially the public blessing homosexual relationships and ordaining those in them. And not simply of gay and lesbian persons, but those of "all sexual orientations and gender identities." You wouldn't know it today, but in the early days of the ELCA when the gay ordination issue blew up, the matter was extremely controversial not only throughout the ELCA, it was extremely controversial within Lutherans Concerned. Those proposing the very ideas were viewed as a radical fringe. 2 years later any dissent to that "radical fringe" had been silenced. (It also moved from being a general "Lutheran" group -- I once met a member of a Wisconsin Synod congregation at a Lutherans Concerned event -- to one focussed on the ELCA alone.)

    The idea of "gay marriage" took longer, but in the last 10 years it has become pretty much a demand for most "mainstream" GLBTQ (gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgendered, and Queer and/or questioning) advocacy, Lutheran Concerned included. (Though there are still plenty of homosexuals who think marriage and committed relationships is heterosexist nonsense, and want nothing to do with it.) And it seems they were ready when the California Supreme Court set aside 2500 years of Western thought and culture.

    The web site for the Los Angeles Chapter of Lutherans Concerned is (Cute, no?) The main page gives the locations of those ELCA congregations that have declared themselves "Reconciling in Christ" (RIC) and/or have a special, explicit welcome for all sexual minorities. You'll find 12 congregations listed, though in actuality any LA area ELCA congregation would welcome just about anyone. Partly because the entire synod is RIC; mostly because Lutherans don't have sexuality detectors at the doors.

    And now there's a link titled "Getting MARRIED!" There you'll find 9 congregations and pastors "that will welcome you and are ready to help you plan your wedding day!" 7 of those congregations are on LC/NA's RIC list, and 1 is also on LC/LA's list.

    And then there's one more Lutheran church in the Los Angeles area glad to have your gay wedding. Granted, I wasn't terribly surprised to see it on the list for the pastor at that congregation was, in the years prior to being called there, the co-ordinator for Lutherans Concerned/LA's RIC program. I figured the pastor would be giddily joyful upon the the California Supreme Court's judgment. Nevertheless, it's... home congegation: where I was baptized, raised in the Faith and confirmed, where I communed and served in many lay roles, where I was ordained.

    [sigh!] How terribly, terribly sad...