LCMC Pastor Tony Stoutenburg, who has been a frequent commenter here at times, sent me an email link to a press release from the SW California Synod of the ELCA.

The Southwest California Synod Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, meeting at the Synod offices in Glendale on March 20, 2010, voted to instruct Bishop Dean Nelson to call together the Synod Consultation Committee to address whether or not there is cause for disciplinary action against Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, Torrance, and Christ Lutheran Church, Santa Clarita, and the clergy of both congregations.  The Consultation Committee is made up of ordained and lay persons elected by the Synod Assembly.

The Synod Council took this action upon learning that both congregations had recently voted to affiliate with Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC), while retaining their membership in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).  The ELCA has recognized LCMC as a separate Lutheran church body since 2003 but has no official relationship with the denomination.  For clergy or congregations to attempt to belong simultaneously to different denominations is precluded by the constitution of the ELCA.

What is the ELCA to do with congregations or pastors that attempt to be dual rostered with both the ELCA and LCMC?  While dual rostering is permitted with denominations in full communion with the ELCA (Episcopal, UCC, PCUSA, RCA, Moravian, & UMC), the ELCA has no such relationship with LCMC.  Clearly, the present attempt to dual roster with the LCMC violates the ELCA constitution, but the question persists—what is the appropriate ELCA response?

A follower of this blog from Florida reported in a private email that she heard LCMC rabble rousers openly suggesting to congregations that were unable to mount the 2/3 necessary majority to sever ties with the ELCA, that dual rostering was a convenient shortcut.  “Dual roster then wait for the ELCA to kick you out,” was the gist of the message.  Similar sentiments were expressed on the Friends of the LCMC Google group (which is now private and hidden from prying eyes like mine) based on the example of a small group of Pennsylvania congregations that were not LCMC but part of their own tiny organization.

To the LCMC, this process serves the twin purposes of accomplishing a departure from the ELCA without following constitutional procedures and makes the ELCA out to be the “heavy” and the poor LCMC church that is expelled the martyr.  Is expulsion a classic Br’er Rabbit briar patch response?  Is a reprimand or censure the better response in the case of congregations?  What is an appropriate punitive response for the pastors, who often are the real culpable party anyway?  Removal from the ELCA roster?