I’m new to Northfield and the Southeast Minnesota synod of the ELCA, one of sixty-five synods spread around the country. Each synod has a chief administrator and “pastor to the pastors”, a bishop. In Southeast Minnesota, that would be Bishop Huck Usgaard. On Wednesday the 9th, Bishop Huck invited the clergy from the 185 congregations of the synod to come together to discuss the recent ELCA Churchwide assembly actions approving gay clergy in “publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous” relationships and allowing congregations to recognize and support same gender couples. I was pleased to be present.
The bishop began by reminding the assembled that the ELCA and its predecessors have a history of conflict over issues of inclusion as old as Paul and his Gentile churches against James and the Jerusalem church. Closer to home, he shared the story of the two Lutheran churches of his home town in Iowa that had a vigorous dispute over the theology of predestination in their early days, but when they celebrated their centennial, those gathered couldn’t remember which congregation took which side. Then there was slavery and some churches were quiescent and others were activist, then women’s ordination divided congregations, and now policies of LGBT inclusion.“We’ll get through this, too,” was the implicit message of assurance.
Each of the clergy who had been voting members at the ELCA convention in Minneapolis in August were asked to share their impressions. Six or eight spoke. All, save one, were positive, even though some acknowledged they had voted “no” on the key resolutions. The one was quite negative and accused the ELCA of going against the word of God. He quoted extensively from the assembly address by the president of the Missouri Synod (LCMS), which in turn quoted from the 16th century Reformation era Formula of Concord. He fit the pattern of the Lutheran Core / WordAlone response, and he echoed their talking points … rejection of the Word of God … reference to Reformation documents … strong rightward tilt toward the LCMS. See my earlier posts here and here.
A question and answer session was followed by small group discussions. How were voting members picked? From conference meetings. The Bishop reported hearing suggestions that voting members were hand picked and/or were incompetent and/or were pressured, and for the only time during the day, he showed his irritation as he rebuked such suggestions. Have any congregations notified the bishop of an intention to secede? Not one, not yet. There was appreciation expressed for the pastoral leadership of presiding bishop, Mark Hanson, during the assembly.
We broke bread and drank wine together. Spontaneous hymn singing, a capella, broke out.
In closing, the bishop expressed hope that no members and no congregations would leave the ELCA, but he also said those staying should not be motivated by revenge or ill will—better to leave than fester. He quoted Gamaliel’s speech to the Sanhedrin after Peter and others were arrested:
keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!