Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Open Letter to Churchwide Assembly Voters

The following Open Letter to the Voting Members of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly from a group of about 60 ELCA theologians and other leaders assembled by Lutheran CORE appeared briefly last week on ALPB Forum Online (and on this blog) but was then withheld in order to honor an official release today. I'm also appending below a cover letter from Prof. Bob Benne from last week which says a bit more about its background.

An Open Letter to the Voting Members of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly

We are grateful that the church has called you to serve as a voting member for the 2009 Churchwide Assembly. Your role at the assembly will be a difficult one. We are writing this open letter as Lutheran theologians and church leaders concerned about the fidelity and future of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The proposals are in fact no compromise
The teaching of the church will be changed
The proposals to be considered by the Churchwide Assembly this summer from the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality are perceived by some as compromises that will permit the ELCA to live faithfully with internal diversity on controversial ethical questions. The proposals are in fact no compromise. They clearly imply that same-sex blessings and the ordination and rostering of homosexual persons in committed relationships are acceptable within the ELCA. The teaching of the church will be changed. We should not make such an important decision without clear biblical and theological support. The Task Force did not provide such support, nor has it been provided in statements from some of our colleagues in ELCA institutions.

Indifference to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church1. If the assembly adopts the proposed rules of procedure, a simple majority of one Churchwide Assembly will alter the moral teaching on sexuality we have shared with the vast majority of the church past and present. We are concerned that such a procedure shows an indifference to the common mind of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church throughout the ages and across cultures. At the least, a two-thirds majority should be required, if indeed the assembly should be voting on these matters at all.
The church is founded on the whole Word of God, both law and gospel 2. The proposals claim that the ELCA can live with profound differences on sexual questions because our unity is centered exclusively on the gospel and the sacraments. This claim separates law and gospel in a way contrary to both Scripture and the Confessions. The church is founded on the whole Word of God, both law and gospel. The Task Force texts seem to permit variation on all ethical questions, no matter how fundamental. How Christians behave sexually is not a matter of indifference to our life in Christ.
It would damage our ecumenical relationships

3. If the ELCA were to approve the public recognition of same-sex unions or the rostering of persons in such relationships, it would damage our ecumenical relationships with the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, and Evangelical churches, all of which affirm the clear teaching of Scripture that homosexual activity departs from God’s design for marriage and sexuality. Furthermore, it would put the ELCA at odds with many of our sister Lutheran churches, especially in Asia and Africa. The United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA) have also recently upheld scriptural teaching on this matter. These bodies have officially recognized that the biblical prohibitions against homosexual activity remain applicable today to consensual sexual relationships between persons of the same sex.
Our unity will be fractured

4. With regard to calling rostered leaders, the statement proposes “structured flexibility,” which we believe will lead inevitably to “local option.” If adopted, this proposal will mean that the relationship among bishops, candidacy committees, and congregations will become confused and conflicted. Practically speaking, there will be two lists of candidates for rostered leadership in the church. The result will be that not all pastors and congregations will be in full fellowship with each other, nor with many of the pastors and congregations of those denominations with whom we are in full communion. Further, laity seeking a congregation to join would need to ask about which option a congregation has chosen in calling its leaders. Our unity in the office of ministry will be fractured.

Conscience can err5. The social statement calls for opponents in the current controversy to respect each other’s “bound conscience,” referring to Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms. Luther, however, was not merely claiming that he was sincere about the convictions he held; he asserted rather that his conscience was bound to the Word of God. Conscience can err. The Word of God, not conscience, is the final court of appeal in the church.

We are deeply sensitive to the need of the church to provide pastoral care for all people. We are aware that there are some in the church who will disagree with this letter. Nevertheless, we feel we are called to support and advocate the biblical teaching on human sexuality. We pledge to you our prayers and we invite you to work with us for the renewal of our church under the Word of God.

Rev. Richard Bansemer, Salem, VA, former Bishop, Virginia Synod

Dr. Robert D. Benne, Director of the Center for Religion and Society, Roanoke College, VA

Rev. John C. Beem, Miltona, MN, former Bishop, East-Central Synod of Wisconsin

Rev. Dr. Paul S. Berge, Professor Emeritus of New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN

Rev. Dr. Dennis D. Bielfeldt, Professor of Religion, South Dakota State University, Brookings, SD

Rev. Dr. Carl E. Braaten,  Professor Emeritus, Systematic Theology, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago

Rev. Mark C. Chavez, Landisville, PA, Director of Lutheran CORE

Rev. Dr. James R. Crumley, Jr, Chapin, SC, Former Bishop, Lutheran Church in America

Rev. Jaynan Clark Egland, Nine Mile Falls, WA, President, WordAlone Network

Rev. Dr. C. Jack Eichhorst, President emeritus, Trinity Lutheran College, WA

Dr. Rebecca Frey, New Haven, CT, Lutheran Forum Editorial Staff

Rev. Gregory P. Fryer, Immanuel Lutheran Church, New York, MY

Gracia M. Grindal, Professor of Rhetoric, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN

Mr. David J. Hardy, Esq., Chicago, IL, Former General Counsel of the ELCA

Rev. Dr. Roy A. Harrisville, Jr., Professor Emeritus, New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN

Rev. Dr. Roy A. Harrisville, III, Menomonie, WI

Rev. Dr. Mary Havens, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Prof. of Church History, Columbia, SC

Rev. Carol S. Hendrix, former bishop, Lower Susquehanna Synod, PA

Dr. Hans J. Hillerbrand, Professor of Religion, Duke University, NC

Rev. Dr. Paul R. Hinlicky, Professor of Religion, Roanoke College, VA

Rev. Dr. Stephen J. Hultgren, Assistant Professor of Religion, Fordham University, Bronx, NY

Rev. Dr. Robert W. Jenson, Princeton, NJ

Ben Arlen Johnson, Th.D., Professor emeritus, Lutheran Bible Institute in California

Rev. Dr. Richard O. Johnson, Grass Valley, CA, Editor of Forum Letter

Rev. Corinne R. Johnson, Crystal Falls, MI

Rev. Ralph A. Kempski, Aiken, SC, Bishop Emeritus, Indiana-Kentucky Synod

Rev. Dr. Jack Dean Kingsbury, Professor Emeritus of Biblical Theology, Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, VA

Rev. Gerard H. Knoche, Bishop, Delaware-Maryland Synod

Rev. Dr. Marc Kolden, Professor Emeritus, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN

Rev. Dr. David W. Lotz, Washburn Professor Emeritus of Church History, Union Theological Seminary, New York, NY

Rev. Dr. Lamontte Luker, Professor of Hebrew Scriptures, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Columbia, SC

Rev. Dr. Paul V. Martinson, Professor Emeritus of Missions, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN

Rev. Dr. Mark C. Mattes, Professor of Religion, Grand View College, Des Moines, IA

Rev. George P. Mocko, Bishop Emeritus, Delaware-Maryland Synod

Rev. Dr. James A. Nestingen, Professor Emeritus of Church History, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN

Rev. Richard J. Niebanck III, Delhi, NY

Rev. Dr. Oliver K. Olson, Minneapolis, MN

Rev. Dr. Steven D. Paulson, Professor of Systematic Theology, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN

Rev. Dr. David W. Preus, Minneapolis, MN, Former Bishop, American Lutheran Church

Dr. Michael Root, Dean, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Columbia, SC

Rev. Dr. Paul E. Rorem, Professor of Church History, Princeton Theological Seminary, NJ 

Rev. Russell E. Saltzman, Ruskin Heights Lutheran Church, Kansas City, MO

Rev. Kenneth H. Sauer, Columbus, OH, Former Chair of Conference of Bishops

Rev. Dr. James A. Scherer, Professor Emeritus, Missions and Church History, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago

Rev. Dr. Amy Schifrin, Hershey, PA

Rev. Paul A. Schreck, Round Lake Beach, IL, former Executive Assistant to the Secretary, ELCA

Rev. Henry Schulte Jr, Boerne, TX, former Bishop, Southwestern Texas Synod

Rev. Frederick J. Schumacher, Manchester Township, NJ, Executive Director, American Lutheran Publicity Bureau

Rev. Dr. Hans Schwarz, Professor of Systematic Theology and Contemporary Theological Issues, University of Regensburg, Germany

Rev. Dr. Frank Senn, Immanuel Lutheran Church, Evanston, IL

Rev. Dr. Franklin Sherman, Schnecksville, PA

Rev. Dr. Trygve R. Skarsten, Pickerington, OH, President Emeritus of Trinity Lutheran College, Everett, WA

Rev. Paull E. Spring, State College, PA, Former Bishop, Northwestern Pennsylvania Synod

Rev. Dr. John R. Stumme, Chicago, IL, former Director of the Department for Studies in the Church in Society unit of the ELCA

Rev. Dr. Anders Tune, Campus Minister, Wittenberg University, Springfield, OH

Rev. Paul M. Werger, Iowa City, IA, Former Chair of Conference of Bishops

Rev. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, Associate Research Professor, Institute for Ecumenical Research, Strasbourg, France

Dr. David S. Yeago, Professor of Systematic Theology, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Columbia, SC

Rev. Dr. J. Larry Yoder, Professor and Director, Center for Theology, Lenoir-Rhyne University, Hickory, NC

You can find other signators here and add your own signature, too. Meanwhile, here's a copy of last week's cover letter from Prof. Benne, which reads...
Dear friends,

Two weeks ago a group of theologians and church leaders convened by the Lutheran Coalition for Reform (CORE) met in Arizona to develop a letter to voting members of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly of 2009. It is a letter appealing to the voting members to reject the Social Statement on Sexuality and the accompanying four recommendations. I have attached that letter. That letter is in the process of being sent out. At the same time it is being released to many persons and agencies within and outside the church. Soon it will be posted in a number of places for more people to sign on. (Check the CORE website or the WordAlone website if you wish to sign on.) Around 50 theologians and church leaders have already signed it and we expect many more supporters to sign on. We think the letter is persuasive and that the key theologians of the ELCA have affirmed it. We hope it is persuasive to you.

Bob Benne

1 comment:

BoJames said...

You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink - No matter the rationale provided, the dedicated sinners outnumbered the true Christians