According to the polity of the ELCA, ultimate legislative authority resides with the voting members to the Church Wide assembly that meets once every two years. The Church Council acts as the penultimate legislative authority, acting on necessary matters that arise between the biennial Church Wide Assemblies and formulating specific policies in response to general directives emanating from the Church Wide assemblies. And so it was with the much ballyhooed pro-LGBT resolutions at CWA09 that have now been formulated into actual policy language by action of the Church Council over the weekend.
Despite protesting letters from the president of the Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the president of the Roman Catholic Conference of Bishops that encouraged the Council to deviate from the decisions of CWA09, the ELCA Conference of Bishops had earlier taken a significant step toward ministry policy revisions by issuing draft documents in October 2009 (the ELCA Conference of Bishops is advisory). Those draft documents formed the core of the revised ministry policies adopted by the Church Council on April 10th. According to the office of the ELCA Secretary, copies of the actual revised ministry policies will be available online by the end of April.
I reprint the full text of the ELCA press release, followed by the response of Lutherans Concerned North America (LCNA), the LGBT advocacy group.
CHICAGO (ELCA) — The Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) adopted a series of historic and sweeping revisions to ministry policy documents April 10, the result of months of extensive writing, comment and review by hundreds of leaders and members following the 2009 Churchwide Assembly.
The Church Council is the ELCA’s board of directors and serves as the interim legislative authority of the church between churchwide assemblies. The council is meeting here April 9-12. The next churchwide assembly is in Orlando, Fla., in August 2011.
The changes were called for by the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, which directed that policy documents be revised to make it possible for eligible Lutherans in committed, publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships to serve as ELCA clergy and professional lay leaders. The assembly directed that revised policies recognize the convictions of those who believe the ELCA should not allow such service. The assembly also adopted a social statement on human sexuality.
The council adopted revisions to two documents that spell out the church’s behavioral expectations of ELCA professional leaders — “Vision and Expectations: Ordained Ministers in the ELCA” and “Vision and Expectations: Associates in Ministry, Deaconesses and Diaconal Ministers in the ELCA.” The council also adopted revisions to a document that specifies grounds for discipline of professional leaders, “Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline,” and it adopted revisions to the “ELCA Candidacy Manual,” used by regional committees to help guide candidates seeking to become professional leaders in the ELCA.
Council members asked few questions and commented briefly on each proposed document before approving them. Only minor editorial changes were proposed and adopted by the council. Each revised document was adopted overwhelmingly.
The Rev. Keith A. Hunsinger, council member, Oak Harbor, Ohio, who said he does not agree with the sexuality decisions made in August 2009, announced April 11 that he had abstained on each vote on the documents. He explained that he didn’t believe that the first drafts of the documents released last fall embodied the full range of decisions made at the 2009 assembly. “My conscience won’t allow me to vote for any of these documents, but as a member of the board of directors, I can’t vote against the will of the churchwide assembly,” he told the ELCA News Service.
However, Hunsinger told the council that the final forms of each document reflected “the breadth and depth” of the decisions, including the fact that “we agreed to live under a big tent,” and that multiple voices would be heard. “Because those documents now said that, I feel my ideas and I are still welcome in the ELCA,” he said.
The revised policies are effective immediately, said David D. Swartling, ELCA secretary. Final revised text of each document will be posted online at http://www.ELCA.org/ministrypolicies by the end of April, he said.
Following council approval of the policies, the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, expressed his appreciation to many, including the council and the Conference of Bishops for leading the revision process over the past few months. He also thanked the Rev. Stanley N. Olson, executive director, ELCA Vocation and Education, the lead staff person working with church leaders and various constituencies through the revision process.
Olson thanked many others who have worked for changes in ministry policies through more than two decades of effort. “This is the work of many — hundreds, thousands of people who have reflected, thought and prayed. We are still a church that is tense over this, but we are Easter people, and I think we have done an Easter thing today,” he told the council.
Prior to voting, the Rev. A. Donald Main, Lancaster, Pa., chair of the ELCA Committee on Appeals, which led the effort to revise Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline, told the council that the document had not been revised since 1993. New sections address matters such as integrity, and substance abuse and addiction, he said.
The Committee on Appeals also “considered each and every word, constantly testing different language so as to be clear and concise as possible, and remain faithful to our charge and to the social statement and ministry policies recommended and adopted by our assembly,” Main added.
The two Vision and Expectations documents and the Candidacy Manual are “tools in the service of God’s mission through the ELCA, primarily to assist us in that work of calling forth and supporting faithful, wise and courageous leaders,” Olson said. The Vision and Expectations documents were most recently revised in the early 1990s, and the Candidacy Manual was revised in the past few years, he said.
“We have not attempted to spell out every possible situation and to give definitive direction for every possible situation,” he told the council. “There are broad principles in these documents, and there are guidelines with some details.” Olson added the documents call for the ELCA to trust established processes and its leaders who have responsibility for oversight and decision-making.
“Our next step is to orient our staff and the candidacy committees,” Olson said. A memo summarizing key policy revisions will be sent this week to help guide synod bishops, staff working with candidates for professional leadership, candidacy committee chairs, seminary presidents and selected staff, and applicants and candidates.
Olson added that the ELCA Vocation and Education program unit, the ELCA Office of the Secretary and others are responsible for monitoring the new policies, and suggesting further revisions and guidelines if necessary.
And here is the text of the LCNA response:
This weekend, the ELCA Church Council meeting in Chicago moved the decision of the 2009 Churchwide Assembly into policy by replacing the language in church documents that excluded ministers in committed same-gender relationships with a policy that allows congregations and organizations to call a fully-qualified minister in a committed, same-gender relationship. And, the Council also approved the way to reinstate ministers who have been removed from the roster because of the previous policy and to receive ELM pastors onto the roster of the ELCA. The Council also made the benefits of the ELCA pension plan available to rostered ministers and employees in committed, same-gender relationships.
There were no votes on the Council opposing the adoption of the revised documents, the pension plan inclusion, and the rite of reception for those Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries pastors who were ordained “extra ordinem.”
The ELCA has reached two milestones long sought by the movement for full inclusion. First, it has eliminated all prohibitions against qualified people in a same-gender relationship serving on the ELCA”s roster of ministers. Second, and more importantly, it created a pathway that frees the gifts of ELCA members to pursue ministry and mission with new vigor. Each of these steps is crucial for both our continued healing and our bold walk into a more just future.
These actions are important because they are a major milestone along the journey of full inclusion. We have a policy that recognizes the gifts of its members to spread the good news of God in Christ Jesus and that will allow the return of those who have been removed or alienated from rostered leadership solely on the basis of the old policy.
Bishop Hanson said that one of the results of the Council”s actions would be new life in the church through new leaders. Bishop Hanson also thanked the Church Council for shepherding this task in most thoughtful way. He lifted the Conference of Bishops” participation up as key to the process.
As we reflected on the great amount work and effort it took , we observed a paradox. On one hand, in order to follow God”s call for justice, the former policy forced us, as a community, to restrict how we could use our gifts. Many of us spent considerable time and effort working to make the ELCA a more inclusive church. However, even within a relatively narrow focus on the policy concerning LGBT people”s role within the church, we have lifted up crucial questions for the church: What is the relationship of sexuality to salvation in Christ? What is the diversity in God”s wondrous creation? What is sinful? How do Lutherans read and interpret scripture? Who continues to face barriers to ministry and mission? How do we journey together faithfully, in spite of so many differences? What some people have dismissed as a narrow issue has both opened up and profoundly deepened our moral and theological life. God indeed works in mysterious ways.
Although we are closer to full-participation than we ever thought that we would be, there is still further to go. The ELCA continues to be heavily involved in a myriad of issues as it reaches out in Christ”s name and mission. We pray that our well-earned celebration as a community of reconciliation will renew us, will energize us to go yet more miles with even more joy and less fear, together with the whole people of God, as we follow Christ in love, healing, and abundant life.
Since the August decision to change policy, we have heard from many of you that it feels as though celebration is “stuck in our throats.” Verily, the time has come to clear our throats. Currently, censures are being lifted from congregations, for which we can celebrate. Soon, we will start to see pastors received and reinstated across the whole church. By the time we gather together in Minneapolis at Let Justice Roll Down Like Waters, we will be ready to shout out in holy joy! We hope that you can join us in July to add your voice to the chorus of people singing praise and thanksgiving to God.
Finally, there are acknowledgements to make. There are so many people who have worked to overturn the policy of the ELCA for so long. Among them, we offer thanks to God for the past and present service of the Goodsoil Legislative Team, the Regional Coordinators, Board, and staff of LC/NA, countless volunteers in congregations and synods, and the working group of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! Thanks be to God!