Sunday, August 30, 2009

Oh, This Is So Cool!!

A few minutes ago I discovered that Zion has been cited in a book! Yes, a real book published by Church Publishing (which is affiliated with the Episcopal Church) earlier this year. The book is Cohabiting Couples & Cold Feet: A Practical Marriage-Preparation Guide for Clergy by Robert W. Pritchard, professor of church history and pastoral theology at Virginia Theological Seminary.

I have no idea how good the book actually is, but it is one that will actually be bought and read by seminarians, priests, and others in the Episcopal and other mainline churches. Okay, that's a shrinking market that's not nearly as significant as it would have been 40 years ago. But still...

Granted, the author is just using a line from our wedding policy that he found via on the web for an example. And actually the example is pretty much boiler-plate wedding policy for a church with a member of the American Guild of Organists (I'm the chaplain for the local chapter).

Still, I typed it up and put it on our web site. And now it's in a book!


Saturday, August 29, 2009

For this Crisis: Lutherans Persisting

It is my pleasure to introduce you to Lutherans Persisting, which joined the blogosphere on Thursday and is already a new addition to my "Blogs for Faithful Churchmen." That's because the principal writer (at least initially) is Prof. Michael Root, a fine lay theologian who was until recently Dean at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary (IMHO the most orthodox of the ELCA's eight seminaries) and who've I've gotten to know personally through the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology. Here's Dr. Root's introduction:
“They persisted in the teaching and communion of the apostles” (Acts 2:42). What does it mean here and now for those who claim the heritage of the Lutheran Reformation to persist in the apostles’ teaching and communion? After the recent decisions of the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, that question has become pressing. Those who contribute to this blog believe that those decisions are flawed and that those flaws are deeply rooted in theological tendencies that have been present within Lutheranism for decades. They will not be rectified soon. Persistence and faithfulness is our intention; that intention can be met only in the mercy and power of the Spirit of Christ. Where the Spirit will lead, we do not know.

Michael Root will have oversight of this blog. David Yeago will contribute as the Spirit moves him. Others may join us. While those who write here share a common outlook, all contributors write only in their own names and do not speak for the others.
Dr. Root's first post identifies four "aspects" to the present crisis in the ELCA:
  • "[T]he decisions to permit same-sex blessings and to permit ordinations of persons in such same-sex relations will lead many individuals and congregations to contemplate leaving the ELCA."

  • The teachings of the statements adopted by the Churchwide Assembly "are more than just mistakes, policies and ideas with which we disagree. They are false teaching, teaching that directly contradicts the clear command of Scripture and the authoritative tradition of the church. The ELCA is now not just a pilgrim church, an imperfect church on the way, but an erring church, a church which has, in an important part of its life, lost its way."

  • "[T]he way tendencies present in Lutheranism since the early 20th century are now coming to a head. One reason false teaching has captured the ELCA is that various views (a crude and static understanding of simul justus et peccator, a confusion between paradox and ambiguity, bad understandings of biblical authority) have come to be accepted as authentically Lutheran, even as defining Lutheranism. ... (What I worry about at 2 AM when I cannot sleep is that what we have come to think of as 'Lutheran' actually is Lutheran, in which case the Reformation was just wrong.)"

  • The theological affirmation by the Assembly "that opposing 'bound consciences' can stymie consistent church teaching or that no disagreement on ethics can divide the church (unless one side of the ethical disagreement is inconsistent with the doctrine of justification)."
Strong words. Heady stuff, perhaps. But then a Lutheran church ought to be engaging in heady stuff with strong words, no? It's what we (used to) do. It's what the rest of the Church, no, the world expects from us.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Still an Unanswered Question

Last December I posted:

The Question No One Wants Asked

How do I counsel a celibate homosexual pastor who asks me to explain how the Word of God can be changed by an ELCA convention when he or she has spent a life time struggling with this issue and has resolved it in a different way than has the church?
The question was voiced publicly by Bishop Thomas A. Skrenes of the ELCA's Northern Great Lakes Synod at the Conference on Sexuality held October 24-26, 2002, in Kansas City, sponsored by the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau and can be found published on page 44 of the book of that conference, Christian Sexuality.
Early during the Assembly before the sexuality discussions began, I saw Bishop Skrenes outside the plenary hall. So I walked up to him, re-introduced myself, and recalled his question.

"Have you gotten an answer?" I asked.

No, he hadn't.

Confessing that I hadn't either, I thanked him, both for asking the question in public and for his answer to me.

An ELCA News release earlier today reported,
At least two bishops revealed their voting record to their synods -- the Rev. Claire S. Burkat, bishop of the ELCA Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod and the Rev. Thomas A. Skrenes, bishop of the ELCA Northern Great Lakes Synod. Burkat supported the resolution, Skrenes did not.

Burkat and Skrenes committed to continuing conversation with members of the ELCA who do not agree with them.

"I voted against all of these proposals because I believe the theological and biblical case for change was not made," Skrenes wrote in his letter. 'My renewed pledge to you is to be honest, fair and pastoral as we enter the future."
WLUC TV6/FOX UP in Marquette, Michigan, reports,
In Marquette, Bishop Tom Skrenes says he will not recommend a gay or lesbian clergy member into the church. He voted against the ruling and fears the decision will only cause a divide.

"This decision, I think, will not be popular here in the Upper peninsula of Michigan by many of our congregation though there are advocates of this in almost every church in our synod," says Skrenes.

Skrenes says he will talk one-on-one with all of the 85 pastors throughout the Upper Peninsula about how this will effect the church into the future.
I wonder how many other ELCA Bishops intend to do the same?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

CORE's +Spring: We Have Clarity

In the following letter Bishop Paull Spring, Chair of the Lutheran CORE steering committee, addresses the ELCA Churchwide Assembly's decisions.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

"We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh" (2 Corinthians 4:8-11).

With these eloquent words the Apostle Paul describes his ministry and apostleship. He has experienced distress, pain, suffering, and rejection. He bears the marks of the crucified Jesus. But Paul also is lifted up and sustained by his hope and confidence. The life, and especially the resurrection of Jesus, is the source of Paul’s hope and confidence: "the life of Jesus made visible in our bodies."

The words of Paul describe my feelings as I reflect on the decisions of the recent Churchwide Assembly. Yes, I am distressed that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has now endorsed blessings and ordinations for active gays and lesbians in spite of the clear teaching of Scripture on marriage and homosexual behavior.

But I am not crushed down nor in despair.

For one thing, we now have clarity. We now know where the ELCA is going, and we have a strong sense of where God is leading us. Then, too, we know that we are not alone. We have each other. The tireless efforts of our faithful supporters at the Churchwide Assembly, too many to name, underscore how we are "surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses."

Most of all, I am buoyed up by the confident words of the Apostle Paul. I am not crushed, driven to despair. I am neither forsaken nor destroyed. I place myself where the Church at its best has always placed herself — in the arms of the crucified Jesus, whom God raised from the dead. Jesus’ own resurrection and the promise of my own resurrection on the last day sustain me and give me hope for today. "Death is at work in us," but, much more, the life of Jesus.

Many of us are now asking ourselves, what we should do now?

As faithful Christians, all of us will want to be intentional in our prayer life. We will pray for those who disagree with us. We will pray for one another. We will pray for God’s guidance and leading as we seek to move forward in our Christian life and discipleship.

We will want to give ourselves time for patient and careful reflection. Now is not the time to make rash, hasty decisions. Most people make serious mistakes when they make decisions under pressure. We do not want to make this mistake now. Our relationship with the ELCA is a serious matter for us. I ask that we all take time to reflect patiently with ourselves and with others and not to make rash decisions now. We all have the time for God to disclose his will for us. Lutheran CORE and our supporters have consistently urged us to maintain at least a formal relationship with the ELCA. The question now before us is the level of our participation within the ELCA.

I encourage you to write to your synodical bishop and let him/her know how you feel about the decisions of the churchwide assembly. I also encourage you to be in touch with other orthodox supporters in your congregation or community. We need to support and encourage one another now.

You may also feel drawn to redirect your personal (and congregational) giving outside the framework of the regular budget of the ELCA. My wife and I have already done so ourselves. Both synods and the ELCA have ministries -- camps, nursing homes and relief agencies -- that merit our financial support. There are other ministries within and beyond the ELCA. You may well consider whether your offerings to these other ministries are to be preferred over the regular mission support of the ELCA.

I note in passing that contributions for Lutheran CORE will be greatly appreciated at this time. If we are to re-form ourselves as a confessional movement, Lutheran CORE will need a significant increase in ongoing financial support for our work.

On September 25 and 26 Lutheran CORE will assemble as a convocation at Christ the Savior Lutheran Church, Fishers, Indiana (suburban Indianapolis). Registration forms are available on our website. At this convocation we will consider the future direction for Lutheran CORE and adopt a constitution for a re-formed and re-newed Lutheran CORE. Our goal is to become more intentional about our ministry. We will become a confessional and confessing movement and will carry out many functions that characterize a synod. We anticipate a large attendance at Fishers, and you are invited to attend.

I invite you to visit Lutheran CORE's website,, for more information about our ministry.

I join my prayers with those of other Christians throughout the world. I especially remember in my prayers those of us who have been hurt and are scandalized by the actions of the churchwide assembly. Please join with me in prayer for our work and ministry.

In Christ's Name,
Paull E. Spring
Lutheran CORE Chair

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Message to My Flock

The following was read to the congregation assembled at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church of Peoria near the end of the worship service there this last Sunday morning:

To the Church at Zion,

From Steven, your Pastor.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, peace and all good!

I have been told that, in reports on the ELCA Churchwide Assembly's actions this past Friday, Headline News included a clear shot focussed on me sitting in the Congregational Observer's section. What I do not know, apart from the local headlines and conversations in the streets, is the content of reports you may have seen or heard, especially in Peoria.

In normal circumstances I would have waited until I could speak with you in person about what happened at this Assembly. But I think it important that, since some of you have likely heard in one way or another of the most controversial votes in Minneapolis, you also hear something of my initial response to them.

There have been, of course, many important matters to deal with. And a Churchwide Assembly is always a joyous opportunity for the reunion of friends and colleagues from across the Church. In some respects I have enjoyed this week greatly.

However, on Wednesday the Assembly approved, by exactly the 2/3rds vote required, a seriously flawed Social Statement on Human Sexuality. And by Friday evening, the Assembly had by very strong majorities approved new policies to permit, as the teaching and practice of the ELCA and its congregations, the blessing of committed homosexual unions and removed the impediments to those in such unions from serving in the ELCA as Pastors and rostered lay ministers.

By these actions, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's teaching and practice on marriage, family, and sexuality has not only departed from the faith and teaching of the Holy Scriptures and nearly 2000 years of Christian teaching, it is proclaiming what the Apostle Paul calls "another gospel."

One of the things that I was taught from a young age and have grown to experience more and more over the years is that a Lutheran pastor relates to the denomination differently than the laity and congregations. When I was ordained, the ELCA became my church. On Friday afternoon, I lost my church.

I intend to remain your pastor. I intend to remain a pastor in the ELCA and in our Central/Southern Illinois Synod, to be a voice -- with other pastors and laity throughout the ELCA -- for the ELCA's repentance and restoration into the Faith. Many of you already know that I have been part of groups of pastors and others, in our Synod and across the ELCA, that have been working for this already. These efforts will continue, beginning with a national gathering near Indianapolis on September 25-26.

While some pastors and congregations have already left the ELCA and more will, including several in our own Synod, I do not believe it would be wise for Zion to start thinking about this. I have not given up completely on the ELCA or the faithfulness of its people.

Furthermore Zion's mission and ministry from the South Side, to the prisons, and beyond are closely linked with sister ELCA congregations. We do not need to immediately change those links. We have time to figure out how to best respond to the Churchwide Assembly's actions.

Please pray for me. Please pray for our Bishop Warren Freiheit and the Pastors and leaders of our Synod. Please pray for ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson and all in the ELCA in these dark days for our church.

And do not forget that even in this, our Lord is a gracious God. In today's Gospel St. Peter says what we sing every Sunday: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." That proclamation will continue for Zion as long as we are here. For that, praise the Lord.

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

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Ministerium is Destroyed

For some (perhaps most) of you, this will be a bit cryptic. But with the vote a few moments ago by the ELCA Churchwide Assembly to permit the rostered service of theose in committed homosexual relationships, the Lutheran Ministerium -- which was the backbone, even foundation, of the Lutheran Church in North America (as represented in the ELCA) -- is dead.

Some place I will have more to say. For now, I'm kind of numb. I do not know what to do, other than mourn deeply. This is not the time to act in any rash way (like by resigning from the ELCA clergy roster) or to begin discussions about leaving this church.

But the relationship is now unalterably impaired: there will be, officially, pastors of the ELCA who I (and many others) cannot under any circumstances recognize as pastors. We are now alienated from the very church that nurtured us in the Faith. And from now on, the ELCA is no longer one church in any way except on paper.

Kyrie eleison. (Lord, have mercy.)
Christe eleison. (Christ, have mercy.)
Kyrie eleison. (Lord, have mercy.)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Please Pray for Us

Greetings from the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis. This afternoon the voting members will vote on the proposed Social Statement on Human Sexuality. It is not the most contentious vote -- that will be Friday morning when the Recommendations on Ministry are brought to the floor. But there has already been plenty of discussion -- on the floor, in hearings, and in more private conversations -- on the Statement and the Recommendations.

We are much as we were two years ago -- see the story behind this photo here and here -- except we are reaching "decision time." The stakes are high for people of conscience -- both traditionalists on matters of sexuality (such as myself, those associated with Lutheran CORE, many of those who participate or lurk on ALPB Forum Online, etc.) and those who would revise the church's teaching (such as Goodsoil and much of the ELCA's Churchwide leadership). The discussion has been respectful and thoughtful, but will be growing more tense. For instance, at this very moment, the new President of the Lutheran Youth Organization has used most of her greeting to the Assembly to put voice of the ELCA's youth fully behind the "full inclusion" of LGBT persons in the church.

You can follow what is happening on the here on the ELCA web site (both live, streaming video and news reports) and also on ALPB Forum Online. Please pray for the Assembly -- voting members, those of us observing, and all the volunteers and staff -- and for our church.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

"Perhaps the Church has erred..."

Last Thursday morning over at the pan-Lutheran ALPB Forum Online, in a discussion following a letter from Bishop Nicholas Tai of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hong Kong to ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson and ELCA "Colleagues in ministry" concerning the sexuality proposals before the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, the well-known (in American Lutheran circles) retired pastor-journalist Charles Austin asked,
Does anyone entertain the thought that the Church may have erred? That even if one argues for an unbroken viewpoint (difficult to do, given some blank spots in human history), might it be that this viewpoint was wrong?
That afternoon I replied:
Yes, I have entertained the thought that the Church may have erred. After all, as Lutherans we hold as a matter of confession that Councils of the Church can err, so it isn't much of a stretch to suggest that an issue that has not been directly addressed by a Council of the Church could still be unclear for Christians.

Whether the Church could have erred and whether the Church is erring in declaring homosexual relationships, regardless of their qualities, as being contrary to God's will is another matter still. Here is where I am relying on 2 independent sorts of examinations:

1) My own, which started long before I was willing to become a seminarian because the particulars of the issue were very personal. I continued the examination while a seminarian at institutions whose teachers were frequently on record as teaching that the Church had erred, but found their arguments wanting. Occasionally creative. Alas, sometimes a bit too creative with verifiable history. None came close to convincing me -- as one who very much wanted to be convinced. My own examination continued in concert with...

2) The ELCA's examinations, predominantly through the sexuality studies leading up to the infamous First Draft of 1993 and the sexuality studies that have led to proposals for the CWA less than 4 weeks from now. Examinations that have had as available resources every single one of the theological minds of the ELCA and beyond.

Now, I will admit here that even before the charge of the 2001 CWA, I had been convinced by my own examination, by the theological conversations (formal and informal) while in seminary, and by the conversations that ensued through the debates within the ELCA, ECUSA, etc. of the 1990s that there was indeed no sustainable argument for changing the Church's teaching that all homosexual relationships are, regardless of other qualities, ipso facto sinful. This theological judgment was contrary to my desires, but my theological/pastoral conscience is bound to something other than my desires.

Nevertheless, I had hopes that, since every possible theological resource would be available to the ELCA Task Force, if anyone could offer such a sustainable argument, they would. I participated in all the studies. I read through all the official materials. I participated in many discussions.

And in the end, they offered no argument at all. They have given us assertions that cover the "sides" in the debate over the place of homosexuality in the Church, but there is no argument made for changing the Church's teaching on homosexuality anywhere to be found in the Report and Recommendations or the proposed Sexuality Statement.

In the end of nearly 8 years of work, given the chance to show that the Church's teaching has been wrong, having the best and brightest minds of the ELCA at their disposal, they did not even try.

And, I will note, in all the on-line discussions I've been in with you over 16 years, neither have you. It is always, "Some people believe...."

Now there may be some churches where such statements hold theological weight. If the ELCA is one of them, it has betrayed our Confession of Faith.

I'm not from Missouri, Charles. Nevertheless, show me, and I'll gladly change my mind. Otherwise, my conscience is bound by the Word of God, not my own desires. Here I stand. Until convinced otherwise by the Word and reason, I can do no other.

Pax et bonum, Steven+
Late that evening, another ALPB Forum Online participant (from the Missouri Synod) in expressing his thanks for what I had written pointed out "that it took Charles to bring that out." I disagreed Friday afternoon:
I do want to observe that what I wrote above was nothing that I haven't written already -- here or elsewhere -- or that I've not stood up and spoken out loud, several times over the last months.
[Most recently just a few weeks ago from the floor of our Synod Assembly. It is hard to say anything well in the 2 minutes we are allowed to speak, but a least a couple of people got my point.]
This is not even the first time that Charles (or Brian S., or other persons noted for "making people think through the pastoral consequences of the positions we hold") has drawn this out of me. Or out of others who have said similar things. Please also notice the response from those who, uh, provoke such testimony. Nothing. Silence.

And yet it also takes no prophet inspired by any sort of spirit, Holy or otherwise, to predict that, soon, Charles, Brian, and/or some other advocate of sexual revisionism will once again smugly comment as if I (or some other "sexual traditionalist" for whom this particular discussion is deeply personal) had never said a thing, as if we had hidden in a closet throughout the last 2 decades. Because they've all done it, repeatedly, since they adopted their current perspective.

It's part of why I've found the very title of the proposed Social Statement, Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust, so hypocritical before I'd finished its second page.
[Note: see my "...Gift and Trust" blog entry from last April.]

And sure enough, by Saturday evening such a smug comment was posted.