In previous posts, I discussed the article of retired theologian, James Nestingen, in which he charged that the ELCA is no longer a church.  Thus, ELCA members are now “unchurched” according to Nestingen.  I started my earlier post with a folksy fish story Nestingen once told involving a boatload of whoppers.  Today, I write about a different type of Nestingen “whopper”.

The Nestingen article first appeared on the WordAlone website, but it has now made its way to the Lutheran Core website.  By posting the article, Lutheran Core endorses its hyperbole, exaggerations, and outright falsehoods.  Much of his article is dedicated to de-legitimizing the actions of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly regarding same-gender relationships.  Dissatisfied with the voting results, he criticizes the voters.  And the procedures.  And the leadership.  He twists the facts.  He falsely accuses interested parties of intimidation.  But he never, never considers that his might be the minority view, and that his side lost the elections, fair and square.

The truth is that the 1,045 voting members at the assembly were elected nationwide by local conferences and regional synods.  Most of them were laity.  Nestingen referred to these dedicated individuals and their 2009 Assembly votes as “a naked power play by the privileged—the few allowed some actual voice in the proceedings.”

His words drip with contempt for the 65 elected bishops, the presiding bishop, and other leadership: “national officials along with the bishops do whatever they can to stage manage the assemblies, thereby moving the voting members in their own direction.  The ELCA has made such power mongering official procedure and policy.”

I’m a retired trial lawyer, and I understand the importance of the rules of evidence, but it appears Nestingen the theologian does not, even though he claims, “Rules of evidence, the normal standards for disciplined consideration go right out the window.” His article is then rife with inadmissable hearsay.   “According to second hand reports,” he says.  “In fact, while the evidence has been difficult to come by,” he admits.  He also relies upon “whispered apprehensions to sympathetic ears.”

There is also something in the rules of evidence about truth telling, and Nestingen appears to overlook that minimal requirement as well.  There are two statements in his article that are blatantly false.

First, he said, “while the gay advocates freely use the microphones, those who are opposed remain conspicuously silent.”  Say what?  Were you there, Dr. Nestingen?  If you were there or watched the live stream of the proceedings, did you not see the two lines behind the red and green microphones where the speakers were alternated between those for and those against?  If you did not witness this personally, either live or via feed, whose hearsay report are you relying upon?

And then there’s this slanderous falsehood, “the hallways and the back of the assembly fill up with gay advocates bussed in to influence the voters using, commonly enough, intimidation up to and including physical threats.”  Physical threats, Dr. Nestingen?  “Commonly enough,” as if physical intimidation was the order of the day? 

Again, I must ask, were you there Dr. Nestingen?  I was, and I am willing to state unequivocally that your charges are false.  I was a Goodsoil volunteer, Dr. Nestingen, and you bear false witness against me. 

There was no bussing.  I drove to the assembly at my own expense, and while there may have been some car pooling, there was no bussing.  People like me volunteered to come to the assembly, we came at our own expense to help in whatever way we could: prayer vigils, distributing materials, singing, or helping with Goodsoil’s facility at the assembly.  Many incurred airfare and hotel costs. 

More importantly, there was not a single incident of intimidation that I witnessed or participated in.  To the contrary, we were constantly reminded to be courteous and polite.  All volunteers received training in “graceful engagement”.  Each and every Goodsoil volunteer that I met exhibited a kind heart and generous spirit as they attempted to exhibit “bound conscience” respect toward all.

Hear the words of Emily Eastwood, executive director of Lutherans Concerned / North America and Goodsoil leader,

It is both disappointing and dismaying that there are those, responding to their anger and pain, who seek to enflame passions against us and against the church through inaccuracies, exaggerations, and lies about what took place, why it took place, and what it means.  That this rhetoric is neither corrected nor curtailed by those in positions to do so among those opposed to the decisions makes those leaders complicit in the spread of untruths.

I understand that there are those who mightily disagree with the actions of the 2009 ELCA assembly.  I also understand that they steadfastly believe they are right.  However, such self assurance does not justify unbridled self righteousness that tilts toward demagoguery.