Monthly Archives: November 2010

Dakota developments

The Dakotas have seen more than their share of anti-ELCA sentiment since the actions of the ELCA church wide assembly in 2009 (CWA09).  I don’t have the actual statistics, but it is my impression that the percentage of congregational departures from the ELCA is higher in the three Dakota synods than nationally (South Dakota synod, Eastern North Dakota synod, and Western North Dakota synod).

The public debate has shifted recently from the CWA09 pro-gay policies to a pending ELCA social statement on genetics.

First, a bit of background about social statements.  Since the birth of the ELCA in 1988 as the result of merger of prior church bodies, the ELCA has adopted ten social statements on subjects such as abortion, race, health care, and most recently in 2009, human sexuality.  The process begins with an enabling resolution arising from a church wide assembly or church council and typically continues over several years of discernment, discussion, and drafts and culminates in a document presented to a church wide assembly for ratification, which requires a 2/3 majority.  For example, the recent human sexuality statement process began with an enabling resolution in 2001 and was ratified after a lengthy discernment and discussion process.

Social statements are developed through a participatory process over a 5-6 year period. In particular, this social statement involved a broad and reflective process of study, discussion, prayer, and dialog engaging the entire church beginning in 2002. It involved three studies and over 30,000 responses to those studies. In 2008, 111 synodical hearings took place. Forty-two synods adopted memorials to the churchwide assembly, some calling for its adoption (37) while others called for its rejection (5).


Now back to the current discernment process for the pending statement on genetics.  The enabling resolution that began the process came from the 2005 church wide assembly, and the final document will likely be presented to the next church wide assembly for consideration and possible adoption in 2011.

Seems those who would wish the ELCA ill are spreading false information about the draft document in the Dakotas, and one congregation has publicly stated that its vote to withdraw from the ELCA was based in part on its perception that the statement was anti-farmer.  According to a Christian Century article:

A rural North Dakota church has voted to leave the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, not only to protest its recent policies to allow gay clergy but also its proposed statement on genetically modified foods.

Members of the Anselm Trinity Lutheran Church near Sheldon, N.D., interpreted the ELCA’s draft statement as saying farmers who use genetically modified seeds are “pretty much sinners,” said church council president Jill Bunn.

The North Dakota church has joined the more conservative Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ [LCMC], which attributes most of its growth to departing ELCA churches.

Eastern North Dakota Bishop Bill Rindy and others have jumped to the defense of the ELCA by attempting to correct the misinformation that is spreading.  The Fargo Forum newspaper has a series of news articles and op-ed pieces; unfortunately, their articles are quickly archived and require a payment for access.  Yesterday’s op-ed piece by local farmer and agronomist Sarah E.H. Lovas included the following comments [emphasis mine]:

I am a farmer from Hillsboro, N.D., and my farm enjoys biotechnology on 100 percent of the acres we farm. My day job is as an agronomist where I sell seed and monitor crop acres for farmers. The majority of the seed I sell is biotech and I use biotech in many of my agronomic recommendations.

Last summer, the infamous Dakota Farmer article was used as an instrument of fear in my congregation. My response was to read the ELCA Draft Statement on Genetics, pray and reflect on what the statement contained … I did not find any place in the document where the ELCA bans the use of GMO technology in farming. It does not outline specific farming practices at all. As a matter of fact, I found the document actually telling me to use GMO technology, but in a responsible manner

I suggest that if you are a member of an ELCA church and this topic affects you, read the draft statement and respond. You do not need me or anyone else to tell you what your opinion is. Formulate your own. Make sure to read the draft statement, as there is a lot of misinformation floating around.

Thanks, Sarah, for offering more light and less heat to the discussion.

Meanwhile, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, a post from the synod blog reports:

The South Dakota Synod is pleased to announce that a new ELCA community of faith is coming to life in the far northwest corner of Sioux Falls.  A new sign stands tall on the land that the Sioux Falls Area Strategy Task Force chose years ago.  And as the new overpass off I-90 at Marion Road opened this week, the area is poised for growth.  Today, however, there are nearly 10,000 people in the area…without a gas station, a grocery store…or a church!

Westside LutheranIn September, the synod called Roe and Pat Eidsness to be lay mission developers, and they have literally moved into the neighborhood!  They are currently meeting with prospective members in their home, even as they search for a larger, temporary meeting place.  They have been visiting area congregations and meeting with Crossroads pastors to create awareness of the new mission start and to seek partners in the mission.

Our prayers and best wishes go out to Roe and Pat and the others behind this new start.

Midweek miscellany

Bavarian Lutheran Church

Lutherans in the United States and Canada trace their lineage through immigrants from northern Europe.  Of course, Luther was German, and the Lutheran Reformation centered in the regions around the Baltic Sea.  As the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), easily the largest and most moderate of the American Lutheran denominations, moves toward full inclusion for gays and lesbians, similar processes are underway in the traditional Lutheran churches of northern Europe.  Sweden has a lesbian bishopA bishop in Finland has announced an openness to “gender neutral marriage”.  Now, the Lutheran church in conservative Bavaria announces that gay clergy partners who have entered into a legal civil union may live together in church owned parsonages:

Gay and lesbian Lutheran ministers in the conservative German state of Bavaria may live with their partners in parish parsonages, but only if they enter into a state-sanctioned civil union … According to church officials, six Bavarian ministers already live in same-sex civil unions.

Gay student editorial banned at Catholic high School

Sean SimonsonSean Simonson is a senior at Benilde-St. Margaret’s, a Catholic school in St. Louis Park, Minn. His editorial entitled “Life as a gay teenager” drew heated comments in the student newspaper, The Knight Errant, and the article was removed.  Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) reprinted the article in full.  Here is a portion:

I have considered suicide. Yes, I have considered taking my own life. Unlike six other boys recently in the news, I never took the steps to follow through on my dark thoughts, but, unfortunately, I can understand what drove them to. Because I know what it’s like to be a gay teenager.

Imagine going through adolescence: hormones raging, body changing, and relationships that go a little deeper than friendship developing. Now, add on being gay.

Don’t believe being different is difficult? Try going through a day in the life of a gay teen.

Every day you hear someone use your sexuality — a part of you that, no matter how desperately you try, you cannot change — as a negative adjective. That hurts.

You fear looking the wrong way in the locker room and offending someone. Politicians are allowed to debate your right to marry the person you love or your right to be protected from hate crimes under the law. Your faith preaches your exclusion — or damnation. And no one does anything to stop it … Oh yeah, and the words “queer,” “homo,” and “faggot” that people throw around all the time? Yeah, those might as well be personal attacks. 

As an aside, there is news today that Sarah Palin’s sixteen year old daughter Willow embarrassed herself with a Facebook homophobic rant, using the personal attack terms Simonson derides.  What values is she learning from her mother?

Roman Catholic Council of Bishops signals move to the right

Archbishop DolanFor progressive Catholics who thought that the solid swing to the right by the church hierarchy, away from Vatican II, couldn’t get worse, it just did.  The conservative vice-president of the American Council of Bishops, in line for election to the presidency, was defeated by a right wing insurgency and an outspoken hard-liner, New York Archbishop Tim Dolan, was elected.

Conservatives [dislike the vice-president’s] reputation as a moderate who favors dialogue and persuasion over the more bully pulpit pronouncements of churchmen like … Dolan, a media-friendly but outspoken figure who became head of the New York archdiocese only last year. 

[It was] conservatives’ main goal of thwarting the ascension of a progressive to the top spot; since the contemporary structure of the bishops conference was established in the 1960s, no sitting vice-president has ever been passed over for promotion to the presidency of the bishops — until now.

ELCA commits half a million dollars to cholera relief

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) announced Nov. 15 that it has committed $500,000 for the prevention and treatment of cholera in Haiti, as well as continued response to communities displaced by the January 2010 earthquake. The gift is in addition to the $25,000 the church committed last week for similar purposes in Haiti.

ELCA social statement on genetics

Critics of the ELCA can find the lamest of excuses to justify their stance.  A small, rural, farm community congregation of the Red River Valley of North Dakota announced that part of their rationale for leaving the ELCA is a pending social statement on genetics.

Members of the Anselm Trinity Lutheran Church near Sheldon, N.D., interpreted the ELCA’s draft statement as saying farmers who use genetically modified seeds are “pretty much sinners,” said church council president Jill Bunn.

The church is located in the Red River Valley, where farmers often use enhanced seeds to help plants resist weed killers.

Turns out that the pending social statement, which is still in draft and discussion stage, says nothing of the sort.

“If anyone reads the statement for themselves they’ll see that it does not condemn genetically engineered seeds and it doesn’t make any recommendation on farm management practices,” said Roger Willer, the ELCA staff person working with the task force developing the statement.

Was Paul the apostle gay?

A week ago, I spent the weekend in Milwaukee promoting my novel to the 2,000 participants of the Roman Catholic Call to Action Conference.  One of the keynote speakers was retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong.  The Bishop is an outspoken proponent of progressive Christian causes, and he has published a dozen or so books in the last several decades that have attracted a huge liberal readership.

I was greatly pleased to have the opportunity to visit with the Bishop for a short time.  For those unfamiliar with my novel, A Wretched Man, a novel of Paul the apostle, the characterization of the man from Tarsus suggests he struggled with homosexual urges, which he characterized as his “thorn in his flesh”.  Bishop Spong shares this view, and we briefly discussed our common impression.  Bishop Spong said he first read of this idea in a 1930’s treatise by the British theologian Arthur Darby Nock.  I offered the bishop a copy of my book as a gift, which he graciously accepted and asked me to sign it for him.

A video of the bishop explaining his rationale has appeared on You Tube.  Watch and enjoy:

Call to Action: progressive Catholics hold a convention

Along with a couple thousand others, I spent the weekend in Milwaukee attending the annual convention of Call to Action (CTA), a beleaguered group of progressive Roman Catholics.  The conservative retrenchment of the Vatican and the American bishops marches on, and one wonders what the future holds for Catholic progressives.  I met hundreds of interesting persons with fascinating stories: former priests and nuns who are now married, many gays or parents of gays, and numerous women who have recently been ordained to the priesthood or who are anticipating ordination in the near future. 

“What,” you ask, “women ordained as Catholic priests?”

Roman Catholic Womenpriests is a movement less than a decade old that began with the 2002 ordination of seven women (six Europeans and one American).  Since then, the movement is growing rapidly (despite excommunications), and I can attest to a sense of vibrancy at the Womenpriests’ booth that attracted an earnest crowd.  One of the priests at the exhibit told me that their booth at the 2008 CTA Convention attracted a few curiosity seekers, but overall the mood was “don’t get too close to these excommunicated dissidents”.  Last year, at the 2009 CTA convention, she reported that the fear of contagion had dissipated and the curiosity level had increased dramatically.  This year, the Womenpriests booth was filled with visitors who had moved beyond curiosity to genuine interest.  Their US map with red and green dots signifying locations of ordained womenpriests and pending ordinations was a hit with many asking for more specifics so they could attend a nearby Eucharist celebrated by female clergy.

Are progressive Catholics coming to the realization that their future lies outside the patriarchal hierarchy and beyond the control of the Vatican?  If so, where?  If not, how can progressive Catholics effect reform within the existing conservative power structures?

Enter the American Catholic Council.  The Council also had an energetic presence at the CTA conference, passing out brochures inviting all to a Pentecost gathering next June.  CTA is one of the member organizations of the Council, which also includes other Catholic reform organizations.

American Catholic Council is a movement bringing together a network of individuals, organizations, and communities to consider the state and future of our Church. We believe our Church is at a turning point in its history. We recall the promise of the Second Vatican Council for a renaissance of the roles and responsibilities of all the Baptized through a radically inclusive and engaged relationship between the Church and the World.  We respond to the Spirit of Vatican II by summoning the Baptized together to demonstrate our re-commitment. We seek personal conversion to renew our Church to conform to the authentic Gospel message, the teachings of our Church, and our lived context in the United States. Our reading of the “signs of the times”, as we experience them in the US, our plan and our agenda are set out in our Declaration.  We educate; we listen; we facilitate discussions and encounters; and, we build toward an American Catholic Council  that will convene in Detroit over Pentecost weekend in June of 2011.  At this Council we hope to proclaim our belief in the Rights and Responsibilities of US Catholics.

June 10, 2011.  Mark the date. 

On a personal note, I had the opportunity to visit with keynote speaker, retired Episcopal Bishop and noted author John Shelby Spong, and we discussed our mutual suspicion that the Apostle Paul may have been a conflicted gay man (which is developed in my novel, A Wretched Man).  Bishop Spong said he first encountered that theory in a 1930’s book by theologian Arthur Darby Nock.  We also discussed our mutual admiration for recently deceased British theologian Michael Goulder, who rekindled interest in the theory of Christian origins that posits a fundamental opposition between Paul the Apostle on one side and the Jerusalem Christians Peter and James, Jesus’ brother, on the other.  This dispute provides the main plot line of A Wretched Man

I also visited with Linda Pinto of CORPUS who favored me with an early report on her reading of the novel:

It was indeed a delight to meet you at CTA. I am, however, a little annoyed. I packed your book (a present to my husband) and at the last moment thought….you might browse through it at the airport. As the hotel forgot to change their clocks, they woke me up at 3:45 am rather than 4:45 am. So, with that much time to kill, I started to read A Wretched Man. WOW!!!! I am addicted. My annoyance comes from the fact that I had to return to work today and my husband insisted that I keep the book at home for his consumption!

I love your attention to detail and description. I love the interplay between the story of Paul and Jesus. And I love your description of Jesus’ family.

That is to say, get me a book review and I will publish it in CORPUS REPORTS.

Anyone interested in writing a book review for CORPUS?  Contact me.

November figures of ELCA departing congregations

The figures are out for November.  The latest figures follow the August convocation of the North American Lutheran Church (NALC), the Lutheran CORE spawned denomination that promises a “realignment of North American Lutheranism”.  One regular commenter here (an ELCA critic) predicted that the months following the NALC startup would see a short term surge in ELCA congregational votes followed by a gradual withering down of congregational defections.

The actual figures don’t suggest any significant surge and it is too early to discern whether the process will slow:

as of 11/3/10, congregations have taken a total of 629 first votes [representing 596 congregations since some congregations have taken multiple first votes].  Of the first votes taken, 431 passed and 198 failed.  308 congregations have taken second votes (and one congregation has taken two second votes!)  Of the total of 309 second votes; 291 passed and 18 failed.

For purposes of quantifying any recent surge, I think the “first vote” figure is most illustrative.  As of Sept 2, 529 first votes had been recorded, so exactly 100 new first votes occurred in the last two months.  This is slightly higher but similar to the monthly pace of first votes during the first year following the ELCA churchwide assembly of 2009 (CWA09).  On the other hand, these figures do not suggest any slowing of the pace, either.

According to the NALC website, the dissident denomination lists forty-four member congregations at this time.