The trickle of congregations departing the ELCA and the individuals who have chosen to worship elsewhere have been painful for both sides.  For those of us staying with the ELCA, we sadly bid those folks farewell with our best wishes.  We recognize that they have differing religious world views that may make the LCMS, or evangelical congregations, or the loose association of congregations known as LCMC, or even the yet to be created and defined Lutheran CORE denomination more compatible with their beliefs.  These departures are sad but understandable.

Less defensible is the decision of many individuals and congregations who choose to stay in the ELCA but to withhold funds.  Lutheran CORE bears responsibility for this manipulative and vindictive financial boycott that frankly is counterproductive to their effort to win friends and influence people.  I previously reported on the crack in Lutheran CORE’s resolve regarding this issue in the words of CORE spokesperson, Pastor Erma Wolf, who was quoted by a local newspaper after speaking to a congregation early in January:

“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.”

Following the Haiti disaster, Wolf followed up with a post on the Lutheran CORE blog urging contributions to ELCA disaster relief.  Since the CORE blog does not publish reader comments, it is uncertain how her position resonates with CORE leadership or followers.

All this is background to a story from Hope Lutheran Church of Fargo, North Dakota, the largest ELCA congregation in the largest city in the state.  It is merely an anecdote, one story that stands out from many others, and certainly should not be read as a trend; yet, it is a fascinating tale. 

Hope Lutheran of FargoHope is one of those that remains in the ELCA but chose to withhold funds.  According to the story posted in Fargo’s Inforum, this decision emanated from pastoral leadership and congregational Council action.

In October, Hope Senior Pastor Chuck Olmstead wrote on the Hope Web site that the congregation’s “leadership has suspended all financial support to the ELCA.”

This top-down decision for the congregation didn’t sit well with certain members, including George Koeck, and he did something about it.  He proposed a counter-resolution at the annual congregational meeting, and his resolution passed.  The resolution authorized a gift of $10,000 to the ELCA synod.

George Koeck, a Hope Lutheran member, said he proposed the amendment Thursday because he believes “that the fundamental mission of Hope, to encourage all people to know the love of Christ, is far more important than differences of belief we may have on human sexuality.”

Eastern North Dakota Bishop Bill Rindy said he was “really glad” about the church’s decision on funding the national offices.  “Some really good ministries will be funded because of that,” he said.

Does this story signal a shift in attitude among those congregations uncomfortable with the actions of the 2009 Church Wide assembly?

As to whether this is a sign that backlash against decisions at the Churchwide Assembly are dying down, Rindy said, “I don’t know if it’s dying down as much as it is that most congregations are realizing that they have members all along the spectrum on this particular topic.”

And that, it seems to me, is the essence of bound conscience, a recognition that well meaning ELCA Lutherans can hold differing views without name-calling (“unchurched and heretical”), financial manipulation, and schismatic rabble rousing.  Thank you Mr. Koeck and Hope Lutheran for your example for the rest of us.  Thank you also, Pastor Wolf, for swimming against the Lutheran CORE current.