Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Dissent from Calif. Supreme Court

More Talking about Marriage and our Culture -- and do read that linked blog entry of mine if you have not already -- can be found in another commentary by John Witte, Jr., highlighted by Canon Kendall Harmon at TitusOneNine on Sunday.

While in that post Prof. Witte is addressing "The Legal Challenges of Religious Polygamy," one of Fr. Harmon's correspondents raises this from California Justice Marvin Baxter’s dissent from the revolutionary Court's lawless creation of same-sex marriage:
The bans on incestuous and polygamous marriages are ancient and deep-rooted, and, as the majority suggests, they are supported by strong considerations of social policy. Our society abhors such relationships, and the notion that our laws could not forever prohibit them seems preposterous. Yet here, the majority overturns, in abrupt fashion, an initiative statute confirming the equally deep-rooted assumption that marriage is a union of partners of the opposite sex. The majority does so by relying on its own assessment of contemporary community values, and by inserting in our Constitution an expanded definition of the right to marry that contravenes express statutory law.

That approach creates the opportunity for further judicial extension of this perceived constitutional right into dangerous territory. Who can say that, in ten, fifteen, or twenty years, an activist court might not rely on the majority’s analysis to conclude, on the basis of a perceived evolution in community values, that the laws prohibiting polygamous and incestuous marriages were no longer constitutionally justified?
Again, the link to the T19 post and comments is here. Prof. Witte's full commentary is here. For for excerpts of Justice Baxter's dissent, see here by Cobb, here by the Thomas More Law Center, and here on the West Law Report blog.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

This Blog's Reading Level

Hmm. Do I need to use shorter sentences and smaller words?

blog readability test

Movie Reviews

Try it on your (favorite) blog.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

More California Bishop reactions

I have added the statement of San Diego Episcopal Bishop Mathes to the end of my previous California Episcopal Bishops React post.

One should note that Bishop Mathes' comment about constitutional amendments is not accurate. The San Diego area Anglican blogger innocent as doves lists rights that have been curtailed by Constitutional Amendment. And since the "right" was created last week by judicial fiat, I don't see how fixing that is legitimately called "removing a right."

As for the ELCA Bishops in California, if any of them has said anything, it's not being reported anywhere I can find. But you can be sure that what they are thinking is more in line with what the Episcopal Bishops, not the Catholic ones, are saying.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

California Episcopal Bishops React

And now for something completely different. The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles issued this release Thursday:

A statement from
The Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno
Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles

Bishop J. Jon Bruno of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles issued the following statement concerning the California Supreme Court decision regarding same-gender relationships.

May 15, 2008

Today's Supreme Court decision on same-gender relationships is important because it reflects our baptismal vow to "strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being" and our commitment to justice and mercy for all people.

The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles has been a leader in working for the rights of all people in the State of California, and that work is honored in today's ruling. The canons of our church, under "Rights of the Laity" (Canon 1:17.5), forbid discrimination on the basis of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, disabilities or age. We affirm equal rights for all.

We will continue to advocate for equality in the future and will do so at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, which will meet in Anaheim in 2009.

I celebrate and give thanks for this decision of the court and look forward with joy and excitement to a future of justice and mercy for all people in the State of California and the Episcopal Church.

To paraphrase St. Paul, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, gay nor straight in Jesus Christ our Lord.

J. Jon Bruno
Bishop of Los Angeles

Then there is this from the Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus, Bishop of California (San Francisco Bay area):

I welcome the ruling of the California Supreme Court affirming the fundamental right of all people to marry and establish a family. All children of God should be afforded the same rights under the law, and this decision recognizes that all Californians, regardless of sexual orientation, have equal access to one of our fundamental human institutions. This decision gives our church another opportunity to partner with our state to ensure that all families have the support they need to build relationships that strengthen our communities, state and country. Jesus tried to free his disciples from a narrow definition of what it means to be his follower. In Matthew 10:42, Jesus says “whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” God affirms the good in the world outside the boundaries of religious creeds and dogmas. In this spirit, we also affirm and rejoice in this decision by the California Supreme Court precisely because we are Christians. Clearly, this momentous decision will have ecclesial implications for the Episcopal Diocese of California. I intend to be in prayerful consultation with the people of our diocese to see how we can use this decision to strengthen our support of our lesbian and gay sisters and brothers, and our witness to God’s inclusive love. The Diocese of California will issue an appropriate statement in due course.

And then there's Saturday's statement by San Diego Diocese Bishop James R. Mathes:

Bishop Mathes' Statement on CA Supreme Court Ruling
May 17, 2008

While visiting the Diocese of El Salvador, I learned of yesterday's ruling by the California Supreme Court that it is unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples the right to receive a California marriage license. With efforts already underway to place a constitutional amendment on November's ballot banning such marriages, it is clear that this issue will continue to permeate our political life.

I support the Supreme Court's decision and oppose the likely effort to amend the constitution. At a federal level, the constitution has only been successfully amended to expand rights, not remove them, and it follows that California would maintain a similar posture.

While supporting the rights of gays and lesbians, I am mindful that our church has not yet made the decision to bless same-sex unions. We are in the midst of a challenging but vital conversation about holy relationships in this diocese and indeed across the communion.

I ask all people of the diocese to hold the court's decision gently. Prayerfully remember that God has placed his children, who share different perspectives on same-sex relationships, next to each other in church every Sunday.

As Archbishop Rowan Williams said, "our baptism puts us in solidarities not of our own choosing." Let us be good stewards of these solidarities and teach each other, and the wider community, how to listen and learn from each other as we accept the Court's decision to allow equal access to the institution of marriage.

The Right Reverend James R. Mathes
Bishop of San Diego

California Catholic Bishops' Reaction

The California Catholic Conference released this statement on Thursday:

Catholic Bishops React to CA Supreme Court Decision on Gay Marriage

SACRAMENTO – Ned Dolejsi, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, released the following statement on behalf of California’s Bishops and the California Catholic Conference, following the California Supreme Court’s decision declaring the state’s Defense of Marriage Act (Proposition 22) unconstitutional, thus allowing same-sex marriages to take place in California:

“The California Catholic Conference of Bishops must express its disappointment in the California Supreme Court decision to declare Proposition 22 unconstitutional.

“Proposition 22, which states, ‘Only marriage between one man and one woman is valid and recognized in California,’ passed eight years ago by a vote of 61.2 to 38.8 percent. That statute reflected the wisdom of the voters of California in retaining the traditional definition of marriage as a biological reality and a societal good. Unfortunately, today, the Court saw fit to disregard the will of the majority of people of California.

“Catholic teaching maintains that marriage is a faithful, exclusive and lifelong union between one man and one woman joined in an intimate partnership of life and love—a union instituted by God for the mutual fulfillment of the husband and wife as well as for the procreation and education of children.

“Partnerships of committed same-sex individuals are already legal in California. Our state has also granted domestic partners spousal-type rights and responsibilities which facilitate their relationships with each other and any children they bring to the partnership. Every person involved in the family of domestic partners is a child of God and deserves respect in the eyes of the law and their community. However, those partnerships are not marriage—and can never be marriage—as it has been understood since the founding of the United States. Today’s decision of California’s high court opens the door for policymakers to deconstruct traditional marriage and create another institution under the guise of equal protection.

“Although we strongly disagree with the ruling, we ask our Catholic people, as well as all the people of California, to continue to uphold the dignity of every person, to acknowledge individual rights and responsibilities, and to maintain support for the unique and irreplaceable role of traditional marriage as an institution which is fundamental to society.”

Also on Thursday, the Archbishop of San Francisco George H. Niederauer issued his own statement:

In regard to this decision of the court, the Catholic Bishops of California have said that "Catholic teaching maintains that marriage is a faithful, exclusive and lifelong union between one man and one woman joined in an intimate partnership of life and love-a union instituted by God for the mutual fulfillment of the husband and wife as well as for the procreation and education of children."

This teaching of the Church follows forth from the teaching of Jesus Christ: "Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'?" (Matthew 19: 4-5)

At a moment in our society when we need to reinforce the strength of marriage and family this decision of the Supreme Court takes California in the opposite direction. This action challenges those in society who believe in the importance of the traditional understanding of marriage to deepen their witness to the unique and essential role that marriage between a man and a woman has in the life of society.

The Bishop of Monterey, Richard J. Garcia, issued this statement on Friday:

Catholic tradition maintains that marriage is a faithful, exclusive and lifelong union between one man and one woman joined in an intimate partnership of life and love. Eight years ago the Bishops of California endorsed Proposition 22 which the California Supreme Court declared as unconstitutional in their May 15, 2008 decision. The words of that proposition still merit our support that, “Only marriage between one man and one woman is valid and recognized in California.”

Church teaching on marriage derives from the words of Jesus who said, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?” (Matthew 19:4-5)

Let us dedicate ourselves to upholding the inviolable dignity of every person. Let us at the same time declare by the witness of our lives our recognition of the vital role that marriage between a man and a woman plays in family and society.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Talking about Marriage and our Culture

I meant to post this several months ago, but in the light of the California Supreme Court's redefinition of "marriage" this week and the conversation it is eliciting in some segments of the Church, it seemed more urgent to transcribe this portion of an interview with John Witte, Jr., from a recent edition of Mars Hill Audio. In the interview, which draws upon his book God's Joust, God's Justice: Law and Religion in the Western Tradition (Eerdmans, 2006), Prof. Witte addresses why law needs to be understood in the context of its relation with other practices and disciplines, including religion.

Ken Meyers' last question in the interview is:

"One of the areas in which there's a lot of contention about morality and law right now are marriage laws. I know you've spent a lot of time studying marriage and family -- history of marriage and family. It seems that in some circles there's a reluctance to assert that our laws concerning family, what constitutes a family, what constitutes a marriage, should be based in some moral vision, that that itself is seen as a transgression of the Social Contract for a kind of pluralism. You think that it’s entirely possible to make moral arguments in the construction of laws governing family."

Witte responds:

"I think those are absolutely imperative to offer as alternatives in the discourse.

"It’s important to remember that the architects of our understanding of a social and government Contract (people like John Locke or Jean Jacques Rousseau and some of their American followers and contemporaries) had as their First Contract -- before the contract of society and the contract of government -- the First Contract was the Contract of Marriage. In Locke’s First and Second Treatise that’s presupposed. In Jean Jacques Rousseau’s work that’s presupposed. James Madison and Thomas Jefferson both presupposed that as well.

"The Marital Contract is the First Contract. It's the First School of Justice. It's the first chrysalis in which nurture, education, and habits of citizenship are encouraged in the population. It's only on the strength of that contract, from atavistic individuals in nature to this first institution, that we can then begin to build a notion of a Social Contract and, beyond that, a Government Contract.

"And that's an ancient insight that goes all the way back to Aristotle, that goes back to his "Politics" in Nicomachean Ethics, where he said the first institution of the polis is the family.

"So if that is the presupposition in Western understandings of how we organize our polities, it seems to me that it is a non-starter for us to be debating the essentials of marital and family norms, and procedures and policies, and exclude from that discourse all of the rich cultural, philosophical, and theological traditions that have helped to cultivate our understanding of marriage and family, and how it works within the broader polity.

"And religious communities that bracket their theological discourse, that choose to forego a deep reflection on the goods and the goals of what marriage and family life are all about in an attempt to be politically correct, or an attempt to avoid a political fence -- or in an attempt to First Amendment-ize themselves per the caricature of the separation of Church and State -- in my view, both are engaging in theological bracketing and trimming that's unnecessary. What they're ultimately engaging in [is] an omission from the discourse that's going to harm the polity in the long term.

"And that’s not to say that there's a preordained result about how these marriage and family debates are going to work out at the State level. But it is to say that, if we're going to have a real, serious discourse about changing 2500-year-old patterns about how marriage and family life come together in the West, we better do that with full ventilation of all of the philosophical, theological, moral, economic, sociological issues at stake."

Thus far, I see few signs of a "real, serious discourse" in my "religious community."

John Witte, Jr., is the Jonas Robitscher Professor of Law and Ethics at Emory Universty, where he is also serves as Director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion. You can download or purchase the entire interview here. While you're at it, subscribe to Mars Hill Audio.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Lutheran CORE Connection update

A correction has been posted to the May 2008 CORE Connection article,"Unauthorized ordination held in Minneapolis." The last paragraph, which erroneously reported that the recently irregularly ordained Jen Rude is in a committed same-sex relationship, has been changed to note that, "On April 27, Grace Lutheran Church in Houston, Texas, voted to call Lura N. Groen, a candidate not approved by the ELCA. An unauthorized ordination is scheduled for July."

Lutheran CORE also draws our attention to the following:

Carl Braaten Critiques Draft Statement

A Critique of the
"Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality"

Prepared by the Task Force for
ELCA Studies on Sexuality, Church in Society
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
by Carl E. Braaten
(May 2008)

[This critique may be downloaded as a pdf file.]

I am aware that this social statement is a first draft. The Task Force has asked for suggestions and criticisms that might be helpful in producing an improved and final version. The authors of the document claim that it is based on Lutheran theological foundations. My critique will examine whether this proposed social statement is faithful to the Lutheran tradition of theological ethics in general and the ethics of sex in particular. I will offer my conclusion at the outset and then proceed to explain how I arrived at it.

This "Draft" fails to apply traditional Lutheran principles of theology and ethics regarding human sexuality. In Lutheran doctrinal theology the articles dealing with creation and law precede the articles dealing with redemption and gospel. This is equally true of Orthodox, Catholic, Reformed, and Evangelical traditions of theology, virtually amounting to an ecumenical consensus from which this social statement departs.

1) This draft social statement identifies two doctrines as foundational for a Lutheran understanding of sexuality: the incarnation of God and justification by faith. There is no doubt that these two doctrines are basic to a Lutheran understanding of salvation. However, in Lutheran theology soteriology is not the primal basis for the ethics of sex, marriage, and family. That would be to confuse law and gospel. Creation and law come before gospel and church, both in the Scriptures and in the Creeds (Apostles’ and Nicene). To put the matter quite simply, the Old Testament comes before the New Testament and the First Article of the Creed comes before the Second and the Third Articles. Lutheran systematic theology has traditionally observed this biblical and creedal structure, both in the order of knowledge (ordo cognoscendi) and in the order of reality (ordo essendi). The doctrine of creation comes before the doctrine of redemption; law comes before gospel. The ethics of sex is not primarily a gospel issue; it is a matter of law in the first instance.1

2) The common human structures of life such as marriage and the family, labor and the economic order, the nation and the state are universal dimensions of human existence. They are created by God and experienced by all human beings and societies apart from the Scriptures and outside the covenant communities of Israel and the Church. The knowledge of what is right and wrong, good and bad, is revealed by God through these structures, by means of the way God has ordered them. No Lutheran theology has ever proceeded to deal with the matters addressed by the Ten Commandments (especially the Second Table of the Law) as though only Christians are endowed with moral discernment. In spite of the universal condition of sin, reason and conscience are not so depraved as to be incapable of grasping the universal morality expressed in the Decalogue (the Ten Words of God).2

3) The early church found itself in a life-and-death struggle against gnosticism (e.g., Marcion). Gnosticism negated the doctrine of creation and God's covenant with Israel. Gnosticism based its understanding of theology and ethics exclusively on the New Testament, on the gospel and the church, denying the priority and relevance of creation and law. Like Marcionitic gnosticism this social statement virtually ignores the Old Testament, the Genesis story of creation, God's covenant with Israel, and the giving of the Mosaic law. It starts straightaway with the incarnation of God and justification by faith, that is, with the gospel of salvation in Christ rather than with the law of creation mediated through nature and history. I can think of no example of such an approach in the history of Lutheran theology and ethics. Lutherans have typically followed the Catholic tradition in the way it orders the concepts of "Creation," "Law," "Gospel," and "Church" in the process of constructing theological ethics -- political, social, economic, ecological, and sexual. The living God is the Creator of all things; God is doing this now in an ongoing way (creatio continua).3

4) The question of method in theology was hotly debated between Karl Barth (and the Barthians) and a large number of his Lutheran contemporaries: Paul Althaus, Edmund Schlink, Peter Brunner, Gustaf Aulen, Gustaf Wingren, Regin Prenter, Helmut Thielicke, Hans Iwand, and many others. For good measure we would add to this list Lutheran ethicists in the United States: George Forell, William Lazareth, Frank Sherman, Robert Benne, Robert Bertram. What was their beef? It was the fact that the Barthians derived all dogmatics and ethics from Christology (i.e., incarnation and justification), as though everything that preceded the New Testament or lay outside the Bible and the walls of the church is irrelevant.

5) This document claims that the doctrines of the incarnation and justification form the theological foundations of human sexuality. However, it is not possible to argue from these particular soteriological premises to establish relevant norms, standards, rules, or principles regarding sexual behavior. According to Luther and the Lutheran tradition God governs and rules the world through the law in the struggle against sin all over the world. This activity of God does not bring about human salvation. Only the gospel of Christ accomplishes that through the power of the Holy Spirit. The law has a different function than the gospel; the law is first and then the gospel. It is not the function of the gospel to instruct human beings about sex, marriage, and family. That is the function of the law. For this reason many human beings who are not Christians are often better examples of God-pleasing behavior in matters of sex, marriage, and family. Even many pagans with no knowledge of Christ put Christians to shame -- they live chaste lives, their marriages are exemplary, and their families are strong -- because God is working through the law of creation (lex creationis) to address them, and they are able to respond to the divine commands through their reason and conscience.

6) As a "teaching document" this Draft claims that it takes into account the contributions from the ecumenical partners of the ELCA and other Lutheran churches throughout the world. That would be wonderful if it were so. However, it is conspicuously silent on what the mainstream of the classical Christian tradition has had to teach on the subject of human sexuality and homosexuality. This Draft confines its treatment of the controversial issues to what concerns "this church." No other voice is taken into consideration. There is no acknowledgment that the intention of Lutheranism is to be part of the great tradition of churchly theology reaching back to Irenaeus, Athanasius, Augustine, and Aquinas.

7) This Draft mentions the "Trinity" once, but it fails to name the Triune God. Words such as "Father" and "Son" are avoided. Lutherans, like all other orthodox Christians, believe in and place their trust in the God of the Bible who is identified as "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" in the Creeds of the Church. Why does this name not appear even once in this document? Is it unfair to assume that the authors have made a deliberate effort to avoid the name of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, such as we profess in our baptism, in our salutations and benedictions? Have members of the Task Force been persuaded by the ideology of radical theological feminism (e.g., Mary Daly, Carter Heyward, Rosemary R. Ruether) for which male referring nouns and pronouns are regarded as offensive and oppressive?4

8) This document is worried about legalism. Some Lutherans are so afraid of legalism that they have thrown the baby out with the bath water. The root of the problem is confusion about the relation between law and gospel. Lutherans have said that we are justified by faith alone, apart from the works of the law. Fine! Does that mean that the works of the law are bad and that the only good works are those motivated by the gospel? That has led to antinomianism in Lutheranism. Luther was the first to blow the whistle on antinomianism. Antinomianism means that the law is silenced with regard to ordering the Christian life. Antinomianism is a famous word in the Lutheran lexicon. The authors choose not to mention it or define it. Why? Legalism is not much of a problem in the ELCA today; antinomianism is. The other side of the coin of antinomianism is "gospel reductionism."

9) This 50-page essay on sexuality scarcely makes any reference to the Ten Commandments (once on page 14) or the sixth commandment. Here is an example of a statement that begs for an explanation: "A Lutheran sexual ethic looks to the death and resurrection of Christ as the source for the values that guide it." (p. 11) This assertion sits there without commentary. I have no idea what the Task Force is trying to say. Taken at face value, it is not a true statement. A Lutheran sexual ethic is not derived from soteriology or the Christology on which it is based. The social statement asserts: "We ground our ethics . . . in the living voice of the gospel." (p.5) Again, no mention of the law! At one point this Draft states: "Both the Apostle Paul and Martin Luther emphasized the important role of the law to reveal to us God's intentions and promises for our lives, and to constrain, support, and guide us in daily living." (p. 6) That is a true statement, but this Draft does not follow the lead of Paul and Luther. It replaces the law with the gospel, with talk about the incarnation and justification as the foundation of ethics, including the ethics of sex.

10) This Draft affirms that "the primary source for distinctively Christian insight is Scripture." (p. 14) It goes on to state: "Scripture cannot be used in isolation as the norm for Christian life and the source of knowledge for the exercise of moral judgment. Scripture sheds light on human experience and culture." (p. 15) Over against Scripture the Draft refers to "society's changing circumstances and growing knowledge" as well as to "insights of culture and human knowledge." In the balance the latter clearly outweighs the former. If Scripture is really the "primary source" of Christian teaching, one would expect that its most relevant passages on human sexuality would be exegeted with extreme care. The most important verses are not even quoted.

11) The social statement drops the ball on the issue of homosexuality. According to Lutheran theological ethics God has two ways of working in the world, one through creation and law, and the other through the gospel and the church. This document confuses the two ways. One does not need to read the Bible to know by reason and conscience that homosexual behavior is against the norm of God’s created order. When God created the world and human beings, he designed all things to obey certain laws. There is the law of gravity; God invented it. There is the second law of thermodynamics; God invented it. There is the law called suum cuique (“to each his own”), on which the principle of justice is based. The Golden Rule is universal. One does not need to learn from the Bible that cheating is wrong. That is based on the law of creation. The basics of what is morally right and wrong are built into human nature. There is the law that male and female are created for each other; their sexual organs match. That is no accident; God created the sexes to complement each other. If they do what comes naturally, they will together procreate the human race. Catholics know these things; Evangelicals know these things. Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists know these things. Would it not be ironic if practically everyone in the world is aware of these elementary facts of nature except for a few latter day saints in the dying denominations of liberal Protestantism in North America and Europe?

12) The treatment of homosexuality in this document is very thin. On page 24 it states: "Lutheran historical teachings concerning homosexuality sometimes have been used to tear apart families with gay or lesbian members." The Task Force does not specify which Lutheran teachings it has in mind? One historical teaching, not only Lutheran, is that homosexual acts are sinful. That is the clear teaching of the Bible. Does that tear apart families? Has the church been wrong to teach that homosexual acts are sinful? This document does not say. The church has taught that homosexual persons are called to live chaste lives, just as heterosexual persons are so called. Is such a teaching responsible for tearing apart families? This is the question: Is it sin that tears apart families or is it the church's teaching about sin that tears apart families? This document is not helpful in addressing the question people are asking: Is homosexual behavior sinful or not? If it is not sinful, why not leave the issue alone? If it is sinful, why not say so in a teaching document of the church? If, however, members of the Task Force do not know whether homosexual acts are sinful, that is, against the will and command of God for the behavior of human beings, then what is the use of this teaching document? We are back to square one. Some say this; others say that. Some pastors and congregations condone sex between same-gendered persons, as long as they are "chaste, mutual, monogamous, and life-long," whereas other pastors and congregations call for "repentance and celibacy."

13) The Draft Statement acknowledges that there is a lack of consensus in this church on this matter. If there were not, there would be no need for the study and an eventual social statement. It is the obligation of the church to teach the biblical-Christian truth about faith and life, not to take a poll of its members and base its teaching on the outcome. If, for example, some pastors in the ELCA do not believe in the incarnation of God or in justification by faith alone (and some do not), does that mean that this church should refrain from teaching these doctrines? Should the church teach only those doctrines on which there is consensus? Our Lutheran Confessions start each of its affirmations of faith with these words: "We believe, teach, and confess . . ." These are the Confessions of the ELCA according to its Constitution. No polls need to be taken. Popular consensus is irrelevant. Some pastors and congregations may not conform their teaching to the Lutheran Confessions, and many do not, what does this prove? It proves that there is a high degree of tolerance of false teaching in the church and that discipline is lacking.

14) This "Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality" is not only deeply flawed from a Lutheran theological perspective, it is also so poorly written that I believe there is very little in it to salvage. This document states that "this social statement on human sexuality . . . taps the deep roots of Scripture and the Lutheran witness . . ." However, in my judgment its treatment of both Scripture and Lutheran theology is extremely superficial and erroneous.



1Gustaf Wingren has stressed this aspect of Luther’s and Lutheran theology with great clarity in a number of books. Cf., Creation and Law (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1961); Gospel and Church (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1964); and Creation and Gospel (New York: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1979).

2 Luther's idea of "The Left Hand of God" lies at the base of this aspect of Lutheran theology.

3 Cf., The Catechism of the Catholic Church (Liguori, Mo., Liguori Publications, 1994). Whatever differences there are between Lutheran and Catholic theology, the structure of doctrinal theology is not one of them.

4 Cf.,Daphne Hampson, Theology and Feminism (Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1990).

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

What is your church celebrating this Sunday?

The ELCA's web site was recently completely redesigned. That's all well and good although, since I am still on dial-up (DSL has only come this far for a few months, and every time the Peoria cable franchise changes hand, the company seems to raise the price as it offers even worse customer service), the big section in the middle with the four rotating teasers is somewhat annoying.

Then there's the content. You might remember this from Holy Week. Well, someone's still not checking the Church Calendar. Here's one of those rotating messages on the ELCA front page:

May 18 – A "Day of Dialogue" on Racism

ELCA members are observing May 18 as a “Sacred Day of Dialogue and Discussion” on the topic of racism, as designated by the National Council of Churches – USA. Some resources on racism include:
  • A 1993 ELCA social statement on Race, Ethnicity and Culture

  • A 2008 resolution on racism by the ELCA Church Council

  • Resources from the ELCA Metropolitan Chicago Synod

    Well, I don't know about your ELCA congregation, but at Zion on May 18 we're observing the Festival of the Holy Trinity, complete with a reading of the Athanasian Creed. Yes, racism is important. But, contrary to the grasping-for-relevancy National Council of Churches, or the ELCA's front page, it doesn't quite rank up there with dialogue on the very nature of God.

    That's twice, now, in 2 months. I say it again: "Just whose church is this?"
  • Monday, May 12, 2008

    Bishop Challenges Pro-Choice Catholic (?) Governor

    Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, writes the following in the May 9 installment of his weekly column, "Life Will Be Victorious," in The Leaven, the Archdiocese's newspaper. The Kansas City Star seems unhappy (see here and here) that the Archbishop dares to exercise genuine pastoral care with one of his flock.

    Governor’s Veto Prompts Pastoral Action

    On the day of my return (Monday, April 21) from the exhilarating experience of participating in Pope Benedict’s pastoral visit to the United States, I learned that Governor Kathleen Sebelius had vetoed the Comprehensive Abortion Reform Act (HS SB 389), which had been passed by significant majorities in both chambers of the Kansas Legislature. Last week, an attempt to override the governor’s veto failed in the Senate by two votes.

    Governor Sebelius in her veto message claimed: “For years, the people of Kansas have asked their elected officials to move beyond legislative debates on issues like abortion.”  From her veto message, I received the impression the governor considered it a waste of the Legislature’s time to pass a statute that attempts to protect some women by making certain they have the opportunity to be well-informed: 1) about the development of their unborn child; and 2) about abortion alternatives available to them. Evidently, the governor does not approve of legislators devoting energy to protecting children and women by making it possible to enforce existing Kansas laws regulating late-term abortions.

    The governor’s veto message demonstrated a lack of respect to the members of the Kansas General Assembly who had carefully crafted and resoundingly passed the Comprehensive Abortion Reform Act, as well as to the many Kansans who find it more than an embarrassment, in no small part due to several previous vetoes by Governor Sebelius of earlier legislative efforts to regulate abortion clinics, that Kansas has become infamous for being the late-term abortion center for the Midwest.

    What makes the governor’s rhetoric and actions even more troubling has been her acceptance of campaign contributions from Wichita’s Dr. George Tiller, perhaps the most notorious late-term abortionist in the nation. In addition to Dr. Tiller’s direct donations to her campaign, the governor has benefited from the Political Action Committees funded by Dr. Tiller to support pro-abortion candidates in Kansas.

    In her veto message, the governor took credit for lower abortion rates in Kansas, citing her support for “adoption incentives, extended health services for pregnant women, providing sex education and offering a variety of support services for families.” Indeed, the governor and her administration should be commended for supporting adoption incentives and health services for pregnant women.

    However, the governor overreaches by assuming credit for declining abortion rates in Kansas. Actually, lower abortion rates are part of a national trend. Our neighboring state of Missouri has actually had a steeper and longer decline in its abortion rate.

    Governor Sebelius’ inclusion of public school sex education programs as a factor in the abortion rate decline is absurd. Actually, valueless sex education programs in public schools have been around for years, coinciding with increased sexual activity among adolescents, as well as increases in teen pregnancy and abortion. On the other hand, the governor does not acknowledge the significant impact of mass media education programs, such as those sponsored by the Vitae Caring Foundation, or the remarkable practical assistance provided by Crisis Pregnancy Centers which are funded through the generosity of pro-life Kansans.

    What makes the governor’s actions and advocacy for legalized abortion, throughout her public career, even more painful for me is that she is Catholic. Sadly, Governor Sebelius is not unique in being a Catholic politician supporting legalized abortion.

    Since becoming archbishop, I have met with Governor Sebelius several times over many months to discuss with her the grave spiritual and moral consequences of her public actions by which she has cooperated in the procurement of abortions performed in Kansas. My concern has been, as a pastor, both for the spiritual well-being of the governor but also for those who have been misled (scandalized) by her very public support for legalized abortion.

    It has been my hope that through this dialogue the governor would come to understand her obligation: 1) to take the difficult political step, but necessary moral step, of repudiating her past actions in support of legalized abortion; and 2) in the future would use her exceptional leadership abilities to develop public policies extending the maximum legal protection possible to the unborn children of Kansas.

    Having made every effort to inform and to persuade Governor Sebelius and after consultation with Bishop Ron Gilmore (Dodge City), Bishop Paul Coakley (Salina) and Bishop Michael Jackels (Wichita), I wrote the governor last August requesting that she refrain from presenting herself for reception of the Eucharist until she had acknowledged the error of her past positions, made a worthy sacramental confession and taken the necessary steps for amendment of her life which would include a public repudiation of her previous efforts and actions in support of laws and policies sanctioning abortion.

    Recently, it came to my attention that the governor had received holy Communion at one of our parishes. I have written to her again, asking her to respect my previous request and not require from me any additional pastoral actions.

    The governor has spoken to me on more than one occasion about her obligation to uphold state and federal laws and court decisions. I have asked her to show a similar sense of obligation to honor divine law and the laws, teaching and legitimate authority within the church.

    I have not made lightly this request of Governor Sebelius, but only after much prayer and reflection. The spiritually lethal message, communicated by our governor, as well as many other high profile Catholics in public life, has been in effect: “The church’s teaching on abortion is optional!”

    I reissue my request of the faithful of the archdiocese to pray for Governor Sebelius. I hope that my request of the governor, not to present herself for holy Communion, will provoke her to reconsider the serious spiritual and moral consequences of her past and present actions. At the same time, I pray this pastoral action on my part will help alert other Catholics to the moral gravity of participating in and/or cooperating with the performance of abortions.

    Thursday, May 08, 2008

    May 2008 CORE Connection

    Note: this includes a correction/alteration to the conclusion of the article, "Unauthorized ordination held in Minneapolis," posted May 16th.

    CORE Connection
    News from Lutheran CORE - May 2008

    Please copy this newsletter and distribute it as widely as possible. A pdf version is available online at

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    Lutheran CORE and LC3 are coming together

    Lutheran Congregations of the Common Confession (LC3) and Lutheran CORE have decided to combine their efforts. A proposal for LC3 to become a part of Lutheran CORE was approved April 14 at the annual gatherings of both groups in Golden Valley, Minn.

    LC3 and Lutheran CORE were formed at the same time for somewhat different tasks and to serve different constituencies. Over time, LC3 leadership realized that the separate existence of the two groups created confusion and was probably unnecessary.

    The LC3 leaders approached Lutheran CORE with the suggestion that the goal of congregational networking and renewal could better be accomplished if LC3 operated under the Lutheran CORE umbrella.

    Pastor Mark Braaten from Texas, who had been on the LC3 steering committee, was added as a non-voting member of the Lutheran CORE steering committee. Pastor Eric Swensson from LC3 is a member of the Lutheran CORE advisory board.

    Lutheran CORE also adopted a new goal (to be numbered as its second) of "Making Disciples for Christ: To reassert Christ's Great Commission to make disciples of all nations as a priority in the life of the ELCA, through emphases on congregational renewal, church plants and global missions." We will highlight this goal in next month's newsletter.

    Many specific details remain to be worked out, and the LC3 leadership will be communicating with the congregations that have accepted the Common Confession. LC3, perhaps under a different name, will continue as a list of such congregations, as a part of Lutheran CORE.

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    ELCA acknowledges relationship with Lutheran CORE

    The ELCA Church Council voted to recognize Lutheran CORE as an independent Lutheran organization that relates to the ELCA through its Vocation and Education Program Unit at its April 11-13 meeting.

    Lutheran CORE applied for the acknowledgment, and the Rev. Dr. Stanley N. Olson, executive director, ELCA Vocation and Education, recommended the relationship be established.

    Since our goal as Lutheran CORE is the reform and renewal of the ELCA, we thank Pastor Olson for his recommendation and the church council for its acknowledgment. We look forward to sharing our story and mission at various ELCA-sponsored events as we work together to create a stronger witness to the Gospel throughout this church.

    We remain convinced that we are the "Core" of the ELCA and not a fringe group, and that we represent the vast center who, while very diverse in many matters, agree on the basics of the faith "once delivered to the saints" and the Confession of Faith upon which this church was founded.

    Lutherans Concerned, one of the organizations advocating for the acceptance of pastors in same-sex sexual relationships and the blessing of same-sex relationships, was recognized as an independent Lutheran organization that relates to the ELCA several years ago.

    Lutheran CORE is one of several independent Lutheran organizations to receive this designation from the ELCA. Some of the other organizations include Global Health Ministries, Lutheran Peace Fellowship, World Mission Prayer League, and the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians.

    The ELCA Church Council approved the relationship with Lutheran CORE by a vote of 18-13. The ELCA News Service reported that "some council members raised specific concerns about the proposal, noting that the WordAlone Network, which has been critical of the ELCA churchwide organization and its leaders, is a member organization of Lutheran CORE."

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    CORE facilitates open forums in Michigan and Colorado

    Lutheran CORE sponsored an open forum on Sunday, April 13, at St. Michael's Lutheran Church, Canton, Mich. Interested persons in the greater Detroit area were invited. About 50 persons were in attendance.

    Professor Marc Kolden of Luther Seminary spoke on the Lutheran interpretation of the Bible. Pastor Paull Spring, Lutheran CORE chair, addressed the work of Lutheran CORE and the current sexuality discussion within the church.

    Following the presentations, there was formal and informal discussion about next steps in support of the cause of orthodoxy in the ELCA.

    In February, more than 60 people from the Denver area gathered at Lord of the Hills Lutheran Church, in Centennial, Colo. (suburban Denver).

    Pastor Paull Spring, Lutheran CORE chair, was the keynote speaker for this gathering. He spoke about the Bible and the ELCA and the need for people to remain within the ELCA and work for the church's renewal. A lively question and answer session followed Spring's presentation.

    At the conclusion of the gathering, a small planning group was formed into a leadership team. This team will follow up the gathering and develop strategies for electing voting members from the Rocky Mountain Synod to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly.

    Earlier that day Pastor Spring preached the sermon at the worship services of St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Colorado Springs, and led a discussion for the congregation during the Sunday School hour.

    We encourage local groups to schedule informational gatherings and events to discuss the concerns Lutheran CORE is raising. We will try to help you enlist speakers. Members of the steering committee are happy to attend. Contact information is available online at

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    Unauthorized ordination held in Minneapolis

    Three former ELCA bishops presided over the unauthorized ordination of a woman in a same-sex relationship Jan. 19 in Minneapolis.

    According to the March 2008 edition of Metro Lutheran newspaper, Salem English Lutheran Church ordained Jennifer Nagel, who lives in a committed same-sex relationship.

    Three retired bishops who remain on the ELCA clergy roster - the Revs. Darold Beekmann, Lowell Erdahl, and L. David Brown - presided over the ordination. The Rev. Hans Lee of Our Saviour's Lutheran Church in Minneapolis presided at the liturgy.

    More than 90 vested clergy attended the unauthorized ordination. Nagel was presented with a stole worn at each of the 13 unauthorized ordinations since 1990, according to the news report.

    Nagel was not approved for ordination in accordance with the standards and process outlined in the ELCA constitution (C7.31.13).

    The ELCA constitution states that "Ordained ministers shall be subject to discipline for . . . willfully disregarding the provisions of the constitution or bylaws of this church" (C20.21.01).

    The participants in this liturgy have acted in ways that violate the ELCA constitution. We are not aware of any official disciplinary action taken against the participants in the unauthorized ordination. The "restraint" resolution passed by the 2007 Churchwide Assembly does not apply to participants in unauthorized ordinations.

    Even a statement from someone in authority in the ELCA or from the synod condemning the action would be refreshing to us who have been asked to "journey together faithfully" in the ELCA.

    As long as unauthorized ordinations continue with no serious objection from those in authority in the ELCA, it is inaccurate to speak of the ELCA as having one clergy roster or one set of ordination standards. It will also be increasingly difficult to encourage the core of faithful ELCA members to support ELCA programs and emphases.

    Nagel's ordination was the fifth unauthorized ordination of a person in a same-sex sexual relationship to serve an ELCA congregation since 2006.

    On April 27, Grace Lutheran Church in Houston, Texas, voted to call Lura N. Groen, a candidate not approved by the ELCA. An unauthorized ordination is scheduled for July.

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    Disturbing news from Arizona sexuality hearing

    While we believe that most of the ELCA leadership is sincere in its desire to have open, honest discussion around the "Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality," we were disturbed at a report from Jim Lindberg, our CORE contact in the Grand Canyon Synod, of a recent hearing held in Tempe,

    Jim wrote to his bishop saying, "This one hour 'hearing' quicklydegenerated into an attack on those members of the ELCA who hold traditional Christian understandings of human sexuality."

    Jim described what he witnessed: "Although there was a moderator and a person recording the comments on her computer, the so-called hearing was more like a kangaroo court complete with emotional witnesses. It appeared to be a well-planned gripe session where people were encouraged by the moderator to air their personal grievances, tell sob stories, and make the unmitigated charges that those people who disagreed with them were being judgmental.

    "The moderator even called on two people whom he identified as members of the Roman Catholic Church and had not even seen the draft statement. One testified that the ELCA needed to change its policy on same-sex marriage and the ordination of non-celibate gays and lesbians because the Catholic Church wasn't about to change its position.

    "In his closing instructions to the court, the moderator made an impassioned statement which exposed his real bias. He said that, 'since there are only a few passages in the Bible that talk about homosexuality, we have to do the right thing as Christians and we can't exclude them.' He then asked the question, 'Would Jesus exclude people and their gifts?' He then answered his own question by reminding those present that, 'we need to go forward and let the spirit work.'"

    We commend Jim for communicating with his bishop. If there are other such violations of good faith in the process of considering this statement, we urge you to contact your bishop, ELCA Bishop Mark Hanson, and Lutheran CORE with the information.

    The 2005 report of the ELCA Task Force for Sexuality Studies showed that a significant majority (57 percent) of ELCA members who responded to the study on homosexuality opposed change to accepted Christian teaching on homosexual behavior to allow for the blessing of same-sex unions or the ordination of persons in committed same-sex relationships.

    Only 22 percent of those responding to the study favored change in church teaching to allow for the blessing of same-sex unions or the ordination of persons in committed same-sex relationships.

    These percentages are admittedly unscientific results. They probably understate the number of ELCA members with traditional beliefs.

    Folks like Jim represent the center of the ELCA and deserve better treatment than he and those who agree with him received in Tempe.

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    Generous financial support enables program increase

    Ryan Schwarz, who leads Lutheran CORE's fund-raising efforts, was able to report with gratitude many generous donors among individuals, congregations, and partner reform movements at Lutheran CORE's annual gathering April 14.

    In response to the generous support, Lutheran CORE's budget proposal was amended to add $50,000 to support additional staff to coordinate our efforts.

    We continue to solicit your gifts in support of our work. You may donate online at or send your gifts to:
        Lutheran CORE
        c/o WordAlone Network
        2299 Palmer Drive, Suite 220
        New Brighton, MN 55112

    Please make checks payable to the "WordAlone Network" and write "Lutheran CORE" on the memo line. Contributions to Lutheran CORE are tax deductible as permitted by law.

    Our relationship with the WordAlone Network allows us to avoid many distractions from our mission of reform. While we still hope to secure our own 501(c)(3) non-profit status in the future, for now we operate administratively within WordAlone.

    We thank all those who have supported our work together.

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    Essay explains Lutheran CORE position on sexuality questions

    Lutheran CORE has prepared an essay to help ELCA members to understand why we believe, along with most Christian churches in the world, that the biblical norms for sexuality should be upheld.

    "After careful and prayerful consideration, the members of Lutheran CORE have concluded that those seeking changes in the Church's understanding of human sexuality have not met, and almost certainly cannot meet, their burden of showing that those changes are consistent with the foundational tenets of the Christian faith," the document states.

    The essay offers four key points:
    • "The Church discerns its teachings from Scripture."

    • "As even advocates of a new sexual ethic admit, Scripture does not approve same-sex sexual relationships."

    • "Because Scripture prohibits same-sex sexual relationships, advocates for the blessing of such relationships contend that it is not binding."

    • "The advocates of the new sexual ethic urge the ELCA to replace the Christian Gospel with a new and very different religion."
    "Keeping Faith" was written by a Lutheran CORE writing team led by James Gale of Washington, D.C., Pastor David Baer of Whitewood, S.D., and Pastor Russell Saltzman of Kansas City, Mo.

    In March Lutheran CORE released a Question and Answer resource that is designed to help members of ELCA congregations to participate in the process leading to an ELCA Social Statement on Sexuality and to enable them to better understand some of the questions on human sexuality that will be considered at the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.

    The Q & A document, written by this same writing team, addresses basic questions about the process and about current ELCA policy. It also responds to some of the arguments made for changing teaching on homosexual behavior. Questions are addressed in a basic way that is easy to understand.

    Both resources are available online at

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    Check out Lutheran CORE online

    Lutheran CORE's website - - is the place to find the latest information on our work together as Lutheran CORE.

    New resources are posted to the website on a regular basis, and most Lutheran CORE statements and resources are available at the website.

    One of the features of our web site is Lutheran CORE's blog. Interesting comments and articles continue to be posted on the blog. One of April's blog highlights is an article entitled "This Is Our Opportunity" by Pastor Russell Lackey of Westminster, Calif. We urge those questioning their future in the ELCA to consider what he has to say.

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    What is Lutheran CORE?

    Lutheran CORE (Coalition for Reform) is a coalition of individuals, congregations and reform movements in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America that speaks for the historic center of Lutheranism.

    We seek to preserve within the ELCA the authority of Scripture according to the Lutheran Confessions.

    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.

    We are a way for those who care about the ELCA to work together for the good of the church and for the sake of its future.