Yesterday I came across a two week old newspaper article from Pipestone, Minnesota, a small city on the prairie of SW Minnesota. The article reported on Tensions Within the Church Body, referring to the ELCA and the Lutheran CORE opposition. It was a well written piece which addressed the status of a couple of local ELCA churches, and it also quoted extensively from Pastor Erma Wolf, one of the primary spokespersons for Lutheran CORE. Although several of her comments merely parroted Lutheran CORE talking points, I was struck by this quote:
“I’m not withholding my church offerings and I would not encourage a congregation to do that,” CORE’s Wolf said. “As long as we’re in the ELCA, we need to be financial stewards of the church.”
This is striking, of course, because Wolf deviated from the Lutheran CORE party line, which has consistently encouraged ELCA congregations to withhold financial support of the ELCA. On August 22, before the 2009 Church wide assembly had closed, the CORE newsletter stated, “Lutheran CORE leaders are inviting faithful Lutheran congregations and individuals to direct funding away from the national church body because of the decisions made this week by the Churchwide Assembly.” Furthermore, the Lutheran CORE website promotes a paper by Pastor Steven King which attempts to provide a justification for withholding financial support of the ELCA.
This morning, Pastor Wolf has taken her views a significant step further. In an article posted on two blogs, Satis Est, her own personal blog and on Lutheran CORE’s blog, she proposes a radical departure from the Lutheran CORE financial boycott. “I am going to make a suggestion, request, perhaps plea is the best word for it, now,” she writes.
“Send an offering to the ELCA Vision for Mission Fund,” Pastor Wolf pleads.
Of course, one could minimize Pastor Wolf’s radical departure from the Lutheran CORE position by pointing out the exceptional circumstances of the Haiti earthquake, which is the occasion of her appeal. Yet, her own stated rationale goes further than Haiti (bearing in mind, her newspaper quote before Haiti, “As long as we’re in the ELCA, we need to be financial stewards of the church.”):
Why? Because the main reason the ELCA International Disaster Relief Fund can dedicate such a high percentage of the offerings it receives to those who are most in need is because the ELCA Churchwide budget covers the cost of offices, lights, office machines, and staffing expenses. That is part of the mission work of this denomination. The Disaster Relief folks don’t have to pay for that stuff, so their money can go to places like Haiti. (And the flood victims in Iowa, and the hurricane victims on the Gulf Coast, and the tornado victims in Oklahoma, and you name the places where the ELCA has been in the past 10 years.)
Kudos to Pastor Wolf.
One can only hope that her good sense and compassion rubs off on her cronies at Lutheran CORE. Perhaps she sees that the CORE financial boycott has been a classic “cut off the nose to spite the face” effort from the outset. Perhaps she understands that the financial boycott affects those who need ELCA missions and ministries the most. Perhaps she senses that the boycott serves only to depict Lutheran CORE as mean-spirited, vindictive, and manipulative. Certainly, Wolf’s plea reflects an adult understanding of the positive benefits that flow from the denominational infrastructure of the ELCA, something which Lutheran CORE as a separate denomination can only aspire to years down the road.
Most importantly, let’s hope that we can mark this as a breakthrough in the acrimonious relationship that has developed between CORE and the ELCA. Again, kudos to Pastor Wolf.