Dr. Robert Benne of Roanoke College Center for Religion and Spirituality is one of the principal spokespersons for Lutheran CORE, and he serves on the advisory board. His latest missive, “Why There Must be New Beginnings”, is a lengthy justification for Lutheran CORE as a new Lutheran denomination.
He offers both a three point preface and ten Lutheran CORE goals (stated negatively, as “things that must be left behind”). One noteworthy aspect of the preface is the acknowledgement that the pro-LGBT actions of the 2009 ELCA church wide assembly are probably irreversible.
During the preceding six years we had spent huge amounts of time, energy, money, and determination to stop the juggernaut. We didn’t and we won’t.
We have been in the loyal opposition for a long time. Our only “victory” is that we have slowed the process down. But it is now complete at the churchwide level and it is unlikely to be reversed.
While the preface claims a “great upheaval” and that “many churches … are leaving the ELCA”, he also suggests that “we don’t know how many.” While it is true that this is an ongoing process and the final outcome unknown, one wonders why Dr. Benne doesn’t offer more specific information.
Here’s the reality: The ELCA consists of over 10,000 congregations. Yet, current reports put the number of congregations that have voted to depart the ELCA at less than 200. Again, I don’t want to prematurely judge the final outcome or to minimize the significance of departing congregations, but to suggest a “great upheaval” is self-serving hyperbole, but it fits the rather grandiose goal of Lutheran CORE to accomplish “a reconfiguration of Lutheranism in North America.”
The list of ten things that “must be left behind” contains familiar rants (the ELCA ignores the clear meaning of Scripture and distorts the gospel) but also offers rather startling insight into CORE’s vision for a new Lutheranism: the ELCA from the beginning has been too democratic with too much input from the laity, ELCA seminaries are too alike other Protestant denominations and not Lutheran enough, the ELCA has been too favorable to feminism and environmentalism and overly concerned with diversity and inclusivity, CORE will turn away from other mainstream Protestant churches (Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, and UCC, etc.) and turn instead toward the Missouri Synod and Roman Catholicism.
If I may be so bold as to summarize and paraphrase, here are the ten goals of Lutheran CORE:
- return to orthodoxy
- strict interpretation of law and gospel
- less democracy and less lay influence
- greater emphasis on converting non-Christians
- seminaries that are distinctively Lutheran
- less feminist, less environmental, less inclusive, less diverse
- greater appreciation of white, middle class, Euro-Americans
- less support for progressive causes
- turn away from Protestant mainstream toward LCMS, Roman Catholicism, & Evangelicals
- a streamlined organizational structure that doesn’t waste time and money on social ministries
I kid you not. This is the agenda of Lutheran CORE per Dr. Benne.
Pastor John Petty, over at Progressive Involvement blog, also critiques the Benne article. He pulls no punches.
Although Benne attempts to provide a holistic rationale for a full fledged denomination, Petty suggests he fails to show CORE as anything other than a negative, judgmental, and exclusive organization.
Petty also points out the contradiction in Benne’s argument that the ELCA churchwide decisions were dictated by a powerful hierarchy but also due to rampant democratic impulses of unqualified voters.
The first thing CORE must do, he says, is leave behind “the heterodox arrogance by which the leadership of the ELCA has ignored the clear meaning of Scripture.” Notice that it’s the “leadership” which is in the wrong, not those rank-and-file folks who did the actual voting. When in doubt, take a swipe at the supposed “elites”.
In truth, the leadership of the ELCA had almost nothing to do with the August vote. Those who supported change worked through the established processes of the church. It wasn’t a decision handed down from on high. It came from the “grass roots.” To accuse the leadership of “heterodox arrogance” is mere hyperbolic fluff borne of frustration.
But wait. Wasn’t that vote because of the “heterodox arrogance” of the ELCA leadership? Now you’re telling us it was because lay people are too ignorant to know what they’re doing, and what they need is the “learned and experienced”–i.e. anyone who agrees with me–to tell them what to do. Turns out Benne was for the “elites” before he was against them.
Petty openly wonders whether CORE is ultimately destined to be just another fringe Lutheran denomination without great numbers or influence. He points out that the WELS has 1,000 congregations and that CORE has a long, long way to go to reach that minimal status, much less a “reconfiguration of American Lutheranism.”