Monthly Archives: February 2010

Gay and female clergy civil disobedience

GandhiDr Martin Luther King Jr. championed civil disobedience as a pushback or resistance to existing law with the goal of ultimately changing the law; of course, that is precisely what happened.  Rosa Park’s refusal to sit in the back of the bus and lunch counter sit ins are prototypical examples of civil disobedience.  Of course, King had learned from Mohatma Gandhi who used civil disobedience, first in South Africa and later in India, to exact reforms and ultimately Indian independence from colonialist England.

In the Episcopal Church, the election of V. Eugene Robinson as New Hampshire bishop in 2003 was also a form of civil disobedience.  Despite denominational rules to the contrary, Robinson was elected as bishop as an openly gay man in a committed relationship.  Six years later, the Episcopalians revised their rules to include “all the baptized in all the sacraments”.  The fait accompli of Rev Robinson forced the Episcopalians to confront the issue of gay clergy and to ultimately change church policy de jure to accord with the de facto status of Bishop Robinson.

The extraordinary ordinations of gay clergy in the ELCA in the early ‘90’s, accelerating in the new millennium, similarly helped to push the issue of gay clergy to the forefront of the ELCA consciousness, culminating in the momentous actions of the ELCA churchwide assembly of 2009 (CWA09) in which ministry policies were formally changed to allow persons in same gender, livelong, monogamous relationships to become rostered clergy.  Those who pushed back, who exerted pressure through civil disobedience, are now being welcomed back into the ELCA (see prior posts here and here). 

The most recent example is Pastor Anita Hill of St Paul Reformation church.  After I sent Pastor Hill a congratulatory email, she replied, “I’ll be glad when the process is complete for all of us in ELM [Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries]”, and her email contained a quotation from Alice Walker: “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”

Scott Anderson The Presbyterian Church (USA) is now witnessing the same process of civil disobedience.  The John Knox Presbytery covers SW Wisconsin, NE Iowa, and SE Minnesota.  As an ELCA person, I think of a Presbytery as being similar to an ELCA regional synod (or diocese in the Roman Catholic and Episcopal traditions).  A lengthy article published Feb 22 by the Presbyterian News Service provided background and context to the news that the John Knox Presbytery had voted to reinstate Scott Anderson, a gay man in a twenty year committed relationship, to the rolls of Presbyterian ordained clergy despite ministry policies to the contrary.

The ordination standards of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) [require] that those being ordained practice “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness.”

The Anderson case is based on an apparent loophole in the polity of the PCUSA based on a “scruple” which is an “objection of conscience”.  That is, Anderson claimed an objection of conscience to the fidelity-and-chastity rule, and his Presbytery, by a vote of 81-25 agreed.  But, that is certainly not the end of the story as opponents will likely appeal this decision to the judiciary of the PCUSA, which must decide whether the policy of “scruple” may be used to circumvent the fidelity-and-chastity ordination rule.  If the PCUSA judicial system upholds the ordination of Anderson, it will have established a precedent, a fait accompli, that the PCUSA General Assembly must confront.

The PCUSA is scheduled to convene its 219th annual General Assembly on July 3 in Minneapolis (perhaps ironically, in the same venue as the ELCA assembly which voted to allow gay clergy last year).  Certainly, ministry policies will be front and center of the assembly business.  If the PCUSA judiciary affirms the Anderson ordination based on the policy of “scruple”, it would appear that the burden of persuasion will have shifted from gay clergy advocates to their opponents; that is, it will be the burden of the opponents of gay clergy to persuade the assembly to change the policy and not vice versa.

2009 Womanpriests ordinands In a similar context, there is a “Womanpriest” civil disobedience effort underway within the Catholic Church in the US (see prior posting).  The official Roman Catholic policy prohibiting female ordination is set in stone, and there are no exceptions based on “scruple”.  Yet, a group of women, and their male supporters, are proceeding to ordain females nevertheless, at the risk of excommunication.

Womanpriest Bishop Andrea Johnson spoke the following as quoted by a Nashville blogger in advance of Johnson’s appearance at Vanderbilt:

“We feel that canon law, which does not represent the people at all — only a few guys in Rome — is unjust,” Johnson [said]. “We’re breaking canon 1024. Like Rosa Parks, we’re saying, ‘No, we are not going to sit on the back of the bus.’ “

Gay Iowa

In Iowa, kisses in public may not last more than five minutes, a man with a moustache may never kiss a woman in public, and in one city (Ottumwa), a man may not wink at a woman he does not know.  But, lest you think Iowa has a prudish and antiquated view of sexuality, Iowa also happens to the only midwestern state that allows gay marriage, and it seems, will fight to keep it that way.

On April 3, 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the state law defining marriage only as a union between a man and a woman violated the equal protection clause in the Iowa constitution.  Conservative opposition has attempted a legislative effort to enact a constitutional amendment reversing the court, but on Feb 10, the Iowa House defeated the attempt to put the matter on the ballot by a 54-45 vote.  Thus, at least for now, no constitutional amendment proposal will come before the Iowa voters.

The Interfaith Alliance of Iowa supports marriage equality, and a letter signed by 167 members of the clergy was presented to the Iowa legislature opposing the drive for a constitutional amendment.  Many of these were ELCA Lutherans according to Pretty Good Lutherans blog.

It appears that the legislative action blocking the drive for a constitutional amendment is consistent with the mood of Iowa voters.  A poll conducted Feb 15-17 found mild support for marriage equality and broad support for civil unions.  Here are the poll results:

GAY MARRIAGE:

QUESTION: As you may know, same-sex marriages have been legal in Iowa for over a year. Would you favor or oppose a constitutional amendment which would over turn current law allowing same sex marriages in Iowa?

YES NO NOT SURE

ALL 39% 42% 19%

MEN 43% 40% 17%
WOMEN 35% 44% 21%

DEMOCRATS 22% 64% 14%
REPUBLICANS 66% 13% 21%
INDEPENDENTS 33% 45% 22%

QUESTION: Regardless of how you feel about same-sex marriages, do you favor or oppose allowing same-sex couples the same benefits allowed to heterosexual couples, known as civil unions?

FAVOR OPPOSE NOT SURE

ALL 51% 40% 9%

MEN 47% 44% 9%
WOMEN 55% 36% 9%

DEMOCRATS 77% 21% 2%
REPUBLICANS 16% 68% 16%
INDEPENDENTS 55% 35% 10%

Raynard KingtonIn an unrelated note, HRC Backstory posted the following:

Grinnell College’s Board of Trustees unanimously elected Raynard Kington, an openly gay man, as its next president. Nestled in the corn fields of Iowa, Grinnell is a small liberal arts college known for its politically active student body and commitment to social justice.

A Wretched Man Novel print run

I departed on a pilgrimage in late summer 2006 without a roadmap; after numerous fascinating turns, frequent detours, and the occasional blind alley, I have arrived at journey’s end—with the assistance and encouragement of many helpful fellow travelers along the way.  Today, an anonymous artisan will push a button, and the first edition of my novel will spin through the rollers of an offset printing press. Soon, boxes of books will then travel their own journey to distributors and retailers—hopefully, for a just a short layover.

The website created for the occasion, www.awretchedman.com, is online, ready for the browsing public.  The ecommerce functionality of the website awaits customer orders with several purchase alternatives including autographed copies directly from me, through the publisher, or through Amazon.com.  Locally, the books will be available in Northfield at Monkey Read Bookstore in a few days and at a book signing at Bethel Lutheran on March 13th.

With apologies to those who follow this blog closely, here are brief summaries of advance reviews reprinted again with links to the full reviews by clicking on the reviewer’s name:

a stunning fictional account of the early church … the most authentically historical novel ever written about the lives of the apostles … presents the apostles as real flesh and blood human beings … This is a story that will both shock and inspire any Christian who is truly searching to find and follow the historical Jesus.

From review by Professor Jeffrey Butz

a powerful recreation of the world of Paul, James and Peter that pulls no punches … highly readable novel, based on contemporary scholarship … Paul comes alive as a complex individual … this book opens up the reality of the world of Paul and his contemporaries in a way no other work does … Real individuals, with passions and agendas, step on to the world stage.

From review by Professor Barrie Wilson

a compelling exploration of the Jewish and Gentile movements in the first century … A Wretched Man will help you to imagine your way into Paul’s life and times … Holmen definitely captures the “feel” of first-century Roman territories … well-versed in contemporary progressive scholarship about Paul … these characters leap off the page and into our imaginations

From review by Christian education consultant Tim Gossett

For those who choose to buy the book—thanks more than I can say, and I sincerely hope you enjoy it even a wee bit as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Click here for more info

A closer look at Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC)

LCMC logo What is Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC)?  This question jumps to the fore with the realization that a turf war is looming between LCMC and Lutheran CORE/NALC.  “LCMC and NALC will be splitting a small pie” in the words of one LCMC pastor who is skeptical of Lutheran CORE’s announcement of the formation of a new denomination to be called The North American Lutheran Church (NALC).  It seems that some folks in LCMC are warning CORE/NALC, “don’t you be stealing our sheep.”

One LCMC commenter suggested that LCMC is “low church” while CORE/NALC will be “high church”.  I assume this means LCMC congregations offer a non-liturgical worship style and LCMC as an “association” functions as a lesser ecclesiastical structure than the proposed “denomination” of NALC with a bishop at its head.

A perusal of the LCMC website certainly confirms their limited organizational structure.  They apparently have a paid staff of two persons!  Congregational autonomy is the watchword.  LCMC publishes a list of certified pastoral candidates and a list of congregations seeking pastoral leadership, but that is the extent of their role in the call process.  LCMC offers group health insurance and pension planning to pastors through third parties but without any subsidy or contribution from LCMC.

There is a “resources” page on the LCMC website which merely contains links to documents, videos, photos and other websites.  LCMC has no colleges or seminaries, but they claim an affiliation with five listed seminaries that would seem to have a greater Baptist influence than Lutheran (two are Baptist, one is evangelical, one is a Lutheran online/internet entity out of Brookings, South Dakota (with a limited faculty that includes James Nestingen!), and the fifth is non-denominational but with ties to the Minnesota mega-church movement (North Heights, Woodland Hills, Redeemer of Fridley) and Fuller Theological seminary of California.).

Obviously, LCMC is conservative, and the website contains a “pastoral admonition” that “it is God’s will and intention that human sexual expression and fulfillment take place only within the boundaries of marriage between one man and one woman”.   Their website also states:

Our association is firmly committed to accepting the normative authority of the Bible. We reject the notion that science, personal experience, tradition, or other human endeavors have equal footing with the Bible. We are certainly aware that these endeavors contribute to our conversations and deliberations, but the Bible must be our final authority in matters of faith and practice.

Actually, this is not as conservative as CORE’s statement about Biblical authority which fails to acknowledge any role for science, experience, or tradition.  Also notably lacking in the LCMC website is the brusque harshness of CORE polemics.  There is no condemnation of the ELCA as “unchurched” or “unbiblical”; in fact, there is no mention of the ELCA at all.

Many of the ELCA congregations that have voted to leave the ELCA or are currently in the voting process have already affiliated with LCMC, and their roster of congregations has swelled to around 300 in the US (covering 38 states).  So, at this point they are still relatively small (for comparison, the ELCA has over ten thousand congregations and even the WELS has over a thousand).

Schism amongst the schismatics

I have a confession.  I was brainwashed.  Though I have been a persistent critic of the Lutheran CORE and a skeptic regarding their grandiose claim to “reconfigure North American Lutheranism”, I confess that I bought into their hyperbole, or at least, I failed to question the implication that CORE would become the focal point and landing spot for Lutheran congregations that choose to depart the ELCA. 

CORE’s lengthy statement released a week ago, called A Vision and Plan for the North American Lutheran Church, (NALC for short) stated in its introduction:

we are now also proposing the formation of a new denominational body for confessing Lutherans: the North American Lutheran Church (NALC).

Does this not imply that CORE expects to become the home of those departing congregations who vote themselves out of the ELCA?  Is this not the implication of CORE’s visible presence at the 2009 Churchwide Assembly (CWA09), their much ballyhooed Convocation in September, their frequent press releases and blog postings, their slate of rabble rousing appearances at ELCA gatherings around the country, and in their professed commonality with the dissident Lutheran organizations that have been around for a decade?

Oops.  Wait a minute.  There’s a hint of trouble.  More than a hint, actually.   Right here in River City.  Trouble with a capital “T”.  And that rhymes with “LCMC” and that stands for Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ! (My apologies to the Music Man).

I caught the hint in a comment to my Saturday posting about the Anatomy of Lutheran CORE.  An anonymous commenter, calling himself LCMCer, said:

Core has no official relationship with LCMC. There is an agreement to work together in the future and look for ways to support each other. But LCMC has been around for almost 10 years, and is its own organization …

I responded,

it sounds like [CORE and NALC] expect the LCMC congregations to be integral parts of their network–almost as if LCMC is a temporary landing spot until NALC gets organized.

And, LCMCer replied:

In my interactions with many LCMC folks, I have yet to talk to anyone that sees LCMC as a “temporary landing spot”.

I dug deeper into the potential conflict or competition between CORE/NALC versus LCMC, and I found a Google discussion group called “Friends of LCMC”.  Whew.  There’s a lively discussion going on there in response to CORE’s announcement of the formation of NALC. 

On February 19th, LCMC pastor Bradley Jensen of Duluth posted his open letter to CORE (NALC):

Most of what the NALC is proposing already exists in LCMC.  

Many congregations who (a) are seeking dual affiliation with confessional
Lutherans while remaining in the ELCA or (b) are seeking to leave the ELCA
will have already done so by joining LCMC long before the NALC’s August 2010
constituting convention.  Furthermore, LCMC has proved itself as a viable
on-going entity whereas NALC has not.  In light of these issues, I have two
questions at this time:  

1)  What, specifically, does the NALC offer that LCMC DOES not or CANNOT
offer?  

2)  Given that many, if not most, traditional ELCA Lutheran congregations
will have affiliated with LCMC long before 08/2010, what will NALC do if
there are, say, less than 100 congregations who formally affiliate with
NALC?  In other words, what will you do if the NALC fails to become an
established, on-going entity?

The next day, he posted the following:

I’m giving these reflections a title:  “NALC:  Lutherans ‘Waiting for
Godot'”  In Samuel Beckett’s play, two characters wait for the arrival of
Godot—who never arrives.  I’m arguing that the NALC is will host its
constituting convention and then wait for in influx of congregations who,
like Godot, won’t arrive.  The number won’t be a bleak as “zero,” but I
don’t believe that very many congregations will either (a) establish dual
affiliation with NALC or (b) actually leave the ELCA for single affiliation
with NALC.  Here is why:  I think that traditional Lutherans are too
optimistic about how many congregations will leave the ELCA (it won’t be
that many) … Thus, LCMC and NALC will be splitting a small pie.  LCMC
is up, running viable for the long haul, and receiving new congregations
every week.  NALC is not. … I think that the energy for dual affiliation/leaving the
ELCA is rapidly dissipating.  Most of the action will happen prior to this
summer … NALC will have its constituting convention in August. 

Too late.  I expect that the NALC will be “waiting for Godot.”

Indeed.  Stay tuned.

Anatomy of Lutheran CORE & NALC

Amoeba Remember biology class in high school when we learned about the amoeba?  These single celled, microscopic creatures would split and one would become two.  It would seem that Lutheran CORE is also capable of binary fission, and it has just announced the spawning of a creature much like itself, but apparently separate, and they have crowned their progeny with the auspicious (audacious?) title of “The North American Lutheran Church” (one expects the emphasis to be placed on The, much like the pro football types who trumpet their alma mater).  On February 18th (drum roll please), Lutheran CORE released its Vision and Plan for The North American Lutheran Church–NALC for short.

To use another biology metaphor, the ganglia of disaffected ELCA Lutheran organizations (affiliations?, associations?, denominations?, church bodies?, collaborative ministries?, community of confessing Lutherans?, partners?) is becoming diffuse and confusing to track the connective tissue.  Lutheran CORE apparently sees itself as the central nervous system connecting Lutheran Congregations in Mission (LCMC), the WordAlone Network, and the newly created NALC, while retaining its tentacles into the ELCA (but withholding its financial support, of course).

So, what exactly will this new NALC organization look like?  How will it function?  What services will it provide?  Of course, we know they hope to be a “reconfiguration of North American Lutheranism”, crossing borders into Canada to the north and Mexico and the Caribbean to the south.  Whew!  Impressive.  While NALC will be “a new denominational body for confessing Lutherans,” it will also “work in close partnership and cooperation with the community of Lutheran CORE” and “will look to Lutheran CORE … for many resources.”  While NALC will have its own organizational structure headed by a bishop, will the Lutheran CORE hierarchy remain the real power behind the throne?

NALC proposes to be a “big tent” that accepts differing views of ministry policies regarding the status of those eligible for the ordained clergy. 

The NALC and Lutheran CORE will recognize both women and men in the office of ordained clergy, while acknowledging the diversity of opinion that exists within the Christian community on this subject.

Wait a minute.  Isn’t the whole raison d’être for Lutheran CORE wrapped up in their unwillingness to accept the ELCA decision to recognize both gay and straight in the office of ordained clergy, while acknowledging the diversity of opinion that exists within the Christian community on this subject?  Do they not see the irony, if not the inconsistency, in their position?  There’s room for differing views on women clergy in the NACL tent but not for differing views on gay clergy.

The document allows, nay encourages, dual membership in NALC and the ELCA.

Lutheran CORE recognizes and affirms those congregations and individuals who feel called to remain within the ELCA and who wish to continue to work for the reform of the ELCA and to witness to Biblical and confessional teachings and practices, as well as to support others remaining in the ELCA. Some of these congregations and individuals may choose dual membership in the ELCA and the NALC. Others may be members of Lutheran CORE on an individual, congregational or partnership basis.

While these individuals and congregations may remain within the ELCA only in a formal sense, they may look to the Lutheran CORE community as their church beyond the congregation … often re-designating their benevolence outside the mission support system of the ELCA.

Hmmm.  How will other ELCA members and congregations view that posture?  Retain influence but not allegiance.  Receive ELCA benefits without obligation. 

How will ELCA leadership respond?  From the ELCA’s inception, its governing documents have precluded dual membership in another denomination for either pastors or congregations, according to a January 19th memo distributed by ELCA secretary David Swartling.  While there have been instances in the past where such dual memberships have been overlooked (interestingly, the practice ended at the insistence of the LCMS, not the ELCA), one wonders whether and how the ECLA will enforce these policies in the future.  Already, the January 19th memo produced a hew and cry about the heavy handed policies of the ELCA.

One final note for today; the document includes this statement:

We affirm the authority of the canonical Holy Scriptures as the only source and norm of our faith and life.

“Only”.  That’s a significant statement.  No room for reason.  No room for conscience.  No room for experience.  No room for scientific, historical, or empirical evidence.  It would seem that CORE is boxing itself into a corner with the infallible and inerrant fundamentalists with a far more restrictive attitude than any mainstream Christian denomination, including Roman Catholicism.

The lyre and the music of the ancients

What did the ancient liturgies of the Hebrew temple sound like?  We have some likely lyrics of early Christian hymns, but what about the musical accompaniment?  These questions came up earlier today as my publisher began to create a “trailer” for my novel’s website consisting of images and background music evocative of the first century world of Paul.

The easy answer is that we don’t know much about the music of our Judeo-Christian ancestors.  But then we happened upon the website of Michael Levy (www.ancientlyre.com). Michael has recreated instruments that are likely quite similar to those used by temple musicians.  His website is replete with musical samplings that attempt to recreate the music of the first century and earlier, together with in depth historical background supporting his work.   He offers three albums of his musical recreations entitled, King David’s Lyre, Lyre of the Levites, and An Ancient Lyre.

Michael has graciously consented to allowing us to use his music for our “trailer”.  Check out his website and his music!

2010: the status of ELCA Lutheran—Roman Catholic ecumenical dialogue

Bishop Hanson and Cardinal Kasper in 2004 As part of a two week, “2010 Ecumenical Journey”, ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson and his delegation recently met with Cardinal Walter Kasper at the Vatican.  Cardinal Kasper is the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity–the Vatican’s point man for ecumenical relations with other church bodies.

Prior to this Vatican meeting on Feb 12th, Bishop Hanson’s delegation had met with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams on Feb 4th for discussion of Lutheran-Anglican relations, and with Eastern Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I and Orthodox ecumenists in Istanbul on Feb 8th and 9th.

What is the status of Lutheran – Catholic dialogue?  A little over a decade ago in 1999, ecumenical discussions led to the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification”.  Wikipedia provides a succinct explanation of this agreement:

The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification is a document created by and agreed to by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Lutheran World Federation in 1999, as a result of extensive ecumenical dialogue, ostensibly resolving the conflict over the nature of justification which was at the root of the Protestant Reformation.

The Churches acknowledged that the excommunications relating to the doctrine of justification set forth by the Council of Trent do not apply to the teachings of the Lutheran churches set forth in the text; likewise, the churches acknowledged that the condemnations set forth in the Lutheran Confessions do not apply to the Catholic teachings on justification set forth in the document. Confessional Lutherans, such as the International Lutheran Council and the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference, reject the Declaration.

On July 18, 2006, members of the World Methodist Council, meeting in Seoul, South Korea, voted unanimously to adopt this document as well.

That was then; what’s happening these days? 

In an honest appraisal of Lutheran-Catholic relations, former ELCA Presiding Bishop Herb Chilstrom last year acknowledged that ordaining women “was the first nail in the coffin of further ecumenical progress,” and he asked “how long are we going to live with the illusion that Vatican II is alive and well in Roman Catholicism?”  Chilstrom’s comments were in the context of CWA09 and the probable dampening effect of ELCA pro-LGBT ministry policies on ecumenical relations with the Vatican.

Cardinal Walter Kasper What did Cardinal Kasper have to say about the consequences of CWA09?  Seemingly, his greatest concern was not with the ministry policies themselves but with the schismatic actions of dissenters.

“We are concerned, but the dialogue goes on,” Kasper told the Lutherans.  “We want to continue … so we do not interrupt any dialogue. But what we see are new ‘fragmentations’ in the Protestant world in the churches.  This has bothered us a lot.”

ELCA Bishop Robert Hofstad of the Southwestern Washington synod, a delegation member, responded:

If our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters can say to us, “do not go away from each other too fast,” then how can we in the ELCA be running away from each other with such speed, at least in some anecdotal instances?  How can we be running away from each other so fast when we have a commitment from people like yourselves, and a hope to say “please let us not run away from each other too quickly?”

“That’s a very encouraging word, and that’s a word that I’m going to take back to my colleagues,” Hofstad said.

The report of the meeting from the perspective of the Catholic News Service included both hopeful and troubling aspects of the discussion.

Cardinal Kasper said it is essential “to keep alive the memory of our achievements” in dialogue, educate the faithful about how much has been accomplished and prepare a new generation to carry on the work.

On the other hand, the Cardinal said, “the Vatican needs to better explain to its dialogue partners the Catholic conviction that ‘the Catholic Church is the church of Christ and that the Catholic Church is the true church … [including] the primacy of the bishop of Rome, the pope.’”

Hmmm.

A thin slice of the ELCA

Yesterday, I attended the Cannon River Conference Assembly at St. Olaf College in Northfield.  The Cannon River Conference is one of the five conferences of the SE Mn synod of the ELCA, and the others also convened yesterday in annual assemblies in various locations around the synod.  Within the political polity of the ELCA, conferences serve as a stepping stone between congregations and synod assemblies and ultimately the biennial church wide assembly.  In the SE Mn synod, the clergy and lay voting members to the 2011 churchwide assembly were nominated yesterday at the conference assemblies.  These nominations will then be affirmed by the annual synod assembly in a couple of months (additional nominations from the floor are possible but rare).

So, our conference is merely one of over 300 conferences of the ELCA, and we are therefore just a small microcosm of the national ELCA.  Thus, what happened at the Cannon River Conference was merely a thin slice of the whole, but interesting, nevertheless.

Of all the candidates for church wide voting members, both lay and clergy, not a single one expected the 2009 pro-LGBT decisions to be revisited in 2011.  Not a single candidate expressed a desire for an agenda of reconsideration; instead, the clear preference was to move forward and to heal.  Interestingly, of the four candidates for male, lay, voting member, the two who expressed a willingness to listen to both sides if the partnered gay clergy ministry policies reemerged as an issue in 2011 received fewer votes than the other two candidates who expressed unwavering support for the revised policies.  In this conference at least, the overwhelming sentiment was that the 2009 church wide assembly did a good thing regarding partnered gay clergy, and it is time to move on.

Bishop Huck Usgaard was himself the synodical representative, and he offered several interesting tidbits of information.

In 2009, the synod received 96% of budgeted revenues based upon congregational pledges.  Over half of the congregations achieved their pledged amounts and half of those actually exceeded their pledges.  The synod itself achieved its pledge of over $1 million to the churchwide ministries.

But, 2010 is likely to be more challenging, and the synod’s budget will be reduced.  One item receiving serious consideration is the practice of full time campus ministers.  Bishop Huck suggested the synod is looking at a “town-gown” system whereby campus ministers would only be part time while also serving part time in local parish ministries.

Gay clergy return to ELCA

debaters The “gay clergy” resolution passed at the 2009 ELCA churchwide assembly reads as follows:

RESOLVED, that the ELCA commit itself to finding a way for people in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as rostered leaders of this church.

This resolution didn’t actually change ministry policies, but effectively committed the church infrastructure to do so.  The process is underway but not yet completed to amend the multi-page 1990 document entitled Visions and Expectations, to wit, the one sentence out of the lengthy document that stated,

Ordained ministers who are homosexual in their self-understanding are expected to abstain from homosexual sexual relationships.

Due to the 1990 policy, many gay and lesbian persons simply abandoned their call to the ordained ministry.  Emily Eastwood, the head of Lutherans Concerned North America, is one example.  Others left the ELCA and pursued their call to the ministry in other denominations such as the UCC or Episcopal Church.  A few found Lutheran congregations willing to call them, despite the potential for ELCA punitive measures (the first congregations were expelled from the ELCA but later congregations were merely censured).

Although the revised ministry policies are not yet finalized or effective, the process of reconciliation and restoration is already underway.  I previously reported on a San Francisco congregation that was expelled that is now engaged in discussions about returning to the ELCA and about their pastor’s restoration to the ELCA clergy roster. 

The past week saw a few more examples of healing.

The blog of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM) reports that a Missouri congregation that has been under censure for a decade has been restored to the good graces of the ELCA.

The censure against Abiding Peace Lutheran congregation in Kansas City, Missouri which has been in effect since March 2001 has been lifted. The censure was put in place because the congregation called and ordained ELM roster member Pastor Donna Simon the previous October. Bishop Gerald Mansholt of the ELCA Central States Synod lifted the censure.

Donna SimonPastor Donna has served that congregation since her ordination and call. Donna Simon is a 1999 graduate of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Berkeley, CA. She was extraordinarily ordained by ELM in 2000.

Her service and ministry drew praise from the bishop. In his letter to the congregation, he said of Pastor Donna, a lesbian not yet on the roster of the ELCA, and her service as pastor for nine years: “…though ordained outside the established processes of the Church, Pastor Simon has been a gracious witness among us in this synod as well as in the larger Church. She has spoken the truth in love, and shared her witness and struggle as a baptized child of God, even as she has prayed for a day of wider understanding and acceptance in the Church.”

Bishop Mansholt, in notifying the synod of the lifting of the censure, repeated the above praise for Pastor Donna and commented on the faithfulness of the congregation at Abiding Lutheran: “As the Church studied, prayed and conversed with one another over the matters of gay and lesbian people in the Church, Abiding Peace Church might have walked away. But they remained in the Church and stayed in dialog with brothers and sisters who were trying to make sense of these issues in the light of the Gospel. They kept on praying for a better day, a time of wider awareness and acceptance. . . . I know the congregation also longs for the day when their pastor might be welcomed onto the roster of the ELCA.”

Blog friend Susan Hogan at Pretty Good Lutherans also posts on this announcement, and there are some great comments following her post such as this one from Pastor Christine Iverson:

I served Abiding Peace as an intentional interim for more than 3 years. They called Pastor Simons a few years after I left. They never did want to leave the ELCA and the bishop at the time and they tried to find ways to continue together. The process that led to the censure decision was done with great care and inclusion and I think that probably had a part in the congregation’s decision to hang in there with us. Unfortunately, the bishop, synod council, pastor, and the congregation were bound by the requirements of the ELCA constitution.

On a personal note, when my daughter was very ill, Donna came and ministered to us both for which I will always be grateful. She is a gifted colleague.

On the other hand, conservative blogger “Shrimp” at Shellfish blog, offers the following condescending, sarcastic commentary:

We at Shellfish can imagine just how devastating it is to a small congregation (latest reported average Sunday attendance: 18) not being able to serve on a synod committee. But if Bishop Mansholt appreciates their constant presence, who are we (with “bound consciences” scandalized by Miss Simon serving as a pastor without any sign of repentance on her part) to object to welcoming them back fully?

And a comment to Shrimp’s post adds:

I just read of a pebble tossed down the slippery slope of an apostate church. Everyone therefore make a joyful noise, for avalanche starts in this very way.

It strikes me as revealing that the Henny Pennys who cluck about the demise of the ELCA do so with such self-righteous glee.

Vince Lavieri The same Extraordinary Ministries blog also reports on a former LCA pastor who left and became a UCC pastor because of the former ministry polices but now seeks to return to the ELCA.  Pastor Vince Lavieri:

values the home that the UCC has given him during his time of exile from the ELCA, deeply appreciating the UCC’s particular insight that God Is Still Speaking. Vince is at core a confessional Lutheran who yearns to return to parish ministry in a Lutheran context.

Welcome home, Pastor Vince.