March 14, 2019
Dear Bishop Collins –
I read with considerable confusion and concern your letter to the Rev. W. Stevens Shipman informing him that action had been taken by the Upper Susquehanna Synod Council to remove him from the Word and Sacrament roster of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
My area of confusion was in your quotation from section 8.62.15.d of the ELCA’s constitution which says that “ministers on the Word and Sacrament roster of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America must accept and adhere to this church’s Confession of Faith, as well as abide by this church’s standards and policies for ministers of Word and Sacrament.”
We all know that there are pastors of the ELCA who do not adhere to the ELCA’s Confession of Faith. One needs to look no further than Ebenezerher Church in San Francisco, which promotes goddess worship; the various versions of the Lord’s Prayer which were options in the service after 2009 which welcomed or welcomed back people to the ELCA Clergy Roster; and any followers of Marcus Borg and his version of “Progressive Christianity,” which denies the deity and physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus. There were pastors on the clergy roster of the synod in which I served before I retired (Southwest California) who did not believe in the basic tenants of the historic, orthodox Christian faith as expressed in the ELCA’s Confession of Faith, but the bishop just looked the other way.
One needs to look no further than the signers of the “We Are Naked and Unashamed” movement to find people who are objecting to – and one can safely assume are not living up to – the ELCA’s standards and policies for ministers of Word and Sacrament. And yet not only are they allowed to remain on the ELCA clergy roster, they are celebrated, endorsed, two of them were chosen to be keynote speakers at last summer’s youth gathering, and in many ways one of them, who openly advocates for “ethically sourced porn” and sex outside of marriage, has been allowed to become the most prominent, public spokesperson for the ELCA.
In a letter to Bishop Eaton I expressed my concerns regarding last summer’s youth gathering. She wrote back, “Regarding the ‘We Are Naked and Unashamed’ movement, it is not an official group or policy of the ELCA. I do not wish to give more attention and credence to a movement that is outside this church’s social teaching by speaking about it publicly.” Again, nothing is being done. It is not being addressed. It is being allowed to continue and even flourish even though it is in violation of “this church’s standards and policies for ministers of Word and Sacrament.”
In their “Pastoral Message”, which was released on March 6, 2019, the ELCA Conference of Bishops said regarding “Visions and Expectations,” “We recognize and acknowledge that its application has been uneven and inequitable.” They ended by saying, “We aspire and pledge in the future to apply the church’s standards for ministry with equity and compassion.” Is your removing Pastor Shipman from the ELCA’s clergy roster while other people are being allowed to remain on the roster another example of ELCA standards being applied unevenly and inequitably?
My area of concern has to do with the Synod Council’s motion, which you quoted at the end of your letter, in which the Synod Council expressed its support for any decision that you would make that would prohibit Pastor Shipman from even attending a synod function and or event, “especially as a representative of Lutheran CORE.”
Is the Synod Council saying that no representative of Lutheran CORE would be welcome to attend one of your synod’s functions and or events? Would I, as Executive Director of Lutheran CORE and a retired pastor on the ELCA roster, or a pastor or member of a congregation that is a part of the Upper Susquehanna Synod, also not be welcome to attend a synod function and or event, such as to set up a display table at a synod assembly?
Bishop Eaton began the letter which I previously referred to with these words: “Grace and peace to you and to our brothers and sisters in Christ who are part of the Lutheran Coalition for Renewal.” Pages 19-21 of the “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust” social statement, which was approved by the 2009 Churchwide Assembly, laid out four different positions on same-gender relationships and behavior, which the document said are held to by people “with conviction and integrity.” The social statement also said, “This church . . . encourages all people to live out their faith . . . with profound respect for the conscience-bound belief of the neighbor.” That same paragraph ended by saying, “Regarding our life together as we live with disagreement, the people in this church will continue to accompany one another in study, prayer, discernment, pastoral care, and mutual respect.”
The March 6 “Pastoral Message” from the ELCA Conference of Bishops ends by saying, “We aspire and pledge in the future . . . to listen and take seriously the concerns of all our leaders – particularly those who historically have been marginalized.” Do the leaders of the ELCA, including the leaders of the Upper Susquehanna Synod, wish to “listen and take seriously the concerns of all our leaders” – not just those who are described as “historically . . marginalized,” but also those who are currently the most marginalized – those with a historic, traditional view?
Thank you for your leadership in the Upper Susquehanna Synod and your attention to my confusion and concern. I will look forward to receiving your response.
Dennis D. Nelson
Executive Director of Lutheran CORE
Retired ELCA Pastor