ELCA Lutherans met in Minneapolis during the third week in August for their 2009 biennial Churchwide Assembly. In the midst of the convention, on Friday, August 21, Lutheran Core (the organized opposition to pro-LGBT policies) issued a press release condemning the approval of revamped ministry policies that authorized the ordination of gay clergy and “support and recognition” of committed same-gender couples. The press release renounced Lutheran Core’s formal relationship to the ELCA and called for a financial boycott of the ELCA.
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. Lutheran CORE will participate in and support faithful ELCA ministries, but, cannot support ELCA ministries that reject the authority of God’s Word.
An earlier blog post asked “Who bears the burden of withheld funds?” and contained a letter from an ELCA mission congregation pastor concerned that his multi-ethnic startup would be jeopardized. The issue has not abated, and the Rev. Stephen P. Bouman recently submitted an open letter to Core in which he asks, “Will you be serious about mission?” Bouman is executive director for the ELCA’s Evangelical Outreach and Congregational Mission. Bouman attended the recent Core Convocation a couple of weeks ago.
Bouman called his experience at the meeting “sobering.” He said he attended the meeting to listen and to “make sure that unintended consequences of withdrawal from mission support as a means of protest do not hurt” the “precious missions of our church.”
“I want to say as publicly and as strongly as possible that exactly the opposite is true,” he said. “I want to beseech Lutheran CORE to build your witness and your organization around truthful conversation and not on caricatures of your church body or unfounded fear.”
Are funds being redirected or merely withheld? Does the Core boycott merely justify the human tendency to hoard and not share? If funds are redirected from synod benevolence to Lutheran Core, what does Core do with the money? Does it go to mission or ministry, or does it merely go to the development of Core’s own power base and infrastructure? What is Core’s motivation behind their boycott? Is it missional or selfish? We note that Core’s website now offers a functionality for an online credit card donation to Core (administered by WordAlone). Follow the money.
ELCA presiding Bishop, Mark Hanson, posed an equally ominous challenge a few weeks ago:
Although these actions [withholding funds] are promoted as a way to signal opposition to churchwide assembly actions or even to punish the voting members who made them, the result will be wounds that we inflict on ourselves, our shared life, and our mission in Christ.
But the financial news is not all bad. Some ELCA congregations, including my own, are considering an increase in their synod benevolence. Others are finding other ways to look outward rather than inward with congregational funds.
Augusta Victoria Hospital, a medical facility of the Lutheran World Federation on the Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem, and a food pantry near Madison, Wis., were ministries “outside of our building” that inspired the 1,000-member St. Stephen Lutheran Church, Monona, Wis., to tithe money it is raising to fix the church roof, said its pastor, the Rev. Nicholas G. Utphall.
“Fixing our roof and paying our mortgage are certainly important details in the life of our congregation, and those necessities have come to serve as a reminder of the larger mission we are about here,” he said. “The news of congregations withholding money makes it seem very appropriate.”
[I]t is also important to recognize the vast extent of what our dollars do in this church,” Utphall said. “There is so much vital social and gospel work done by this church in this country and around the world that there is simply no way to know everything that we are doing as the ELCA. We regularly hear people say that they are proud to be a part of this church and its work,” he said.