HAS THE ELCA SPUN OUT OF CONTROL?
My original plan was to share with you the letter I wrote to my synodical bishop regarding “Trustworthy Servants of the People of God.” That is the document which the ELCA was considering to replace “Visions and Expectations” as a statement of the behavior that is expected of pastors and deacons. But after receiving a very strong negative response to the document, the ELCA Church Council – at their meeting in early April – declined to consider it. Instead they referred it back to committee for further review and redrafting. After all of that, what I had been planning on writing seemed so out of date. Therefore, instead I will be reviewing and evaluating what the ELCA Church Council had to say as it decided not to consider for adoption a document which had been recommended to them by the Conference of Bishops.
First, the ELCA continues to be obsessed with sex. Any who thought (and maybe even hoped) that this obsession would subside after the 2009 Churchwide Assembly should now see that this preoccupation will persist until the radical, relentless LGBTQIA+ community and agenda get all that they want. Many times we of Lutheran CORE have been accused of being obsessed with sex, as we have been advocating for the historic, traditional view of human sexuality that the vast majority of the world’s Christians for two thousand years have understood the Bible to clearly be teaching. We are not the ones who are obsessed with sex. We are not the ones who keep on bringing up the subject, always pushing the perimeters one step further. Rather we are the ones who keep on lifting up and holding onto traditional Biblical values and views as others keep on pushing for an erosion of Biblical understanding and standards.
Second, something is wrong if ELCA leaders do not realize by now what they have enabled and even created by continuing to cater to the radical, relentless LGBTQIA+ agenda. They have allowed it to become more and more prominent and empowered. One group that appeared before the ELCA Church Council, which calls itself the “Trustworthy Servants” Public Witness Team, wants at least 25% of the members of a task force that would carry out the work of revision to be LGBTQIA people. The traditional view was trashed at last summer’s youth gathering, the LGBTQIA+ community was able to force the firing of a seminary president, and ELCA leaders refuse to stand up to a movement which rejects marriage by any definition as normative for sexual activity. Is all this being allowed because ELCA leaders agree with it, or do they feel powerless and unable to stop it? Either way we have a serious problem.
Third, the ELCA expects its leaders to be trustworthy, while the ELCA itself is not trustworthy. It was only after a very long, painful, and divisive process that the 2009 Churchwide Assembly approved the possibility of ordaining persons, and the possibility of congregations calling persons, who are in publicly accountable, life-long, and monogamous same gender relationships. And yet the ELCA has neither honored the commitments that were made nor remained within the boundaries of what was actually officially approved. The 2009 Social Statement, “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” describes a wide range of four positions on human sexuality that exist within and that would have a place within “this church.” The “Trustworthy Servants” document describes only one acceptable position – that “those who serve as pastors and deacons reflect a variety of sexual orientations and diverse gender identities” (page 11). Even though the ELCA has broken trust by developing a document that goes way beyond what the 2009 Churchwide Assembly actually officially approved, it is not enough for the LGBTQIA+ community. They have risen up against it, claiming that the document’s expectations concerning marriage are shame producing and not life-giving. Therefore, the ELCA Church Council declined to consider it and instead sent it back to committee for review and rewriting – I assume until it turns out the way the LGBTQIA+ community wants it.
Fourth, I am not aware of any statement from the Presiding Bishop concerning this fiasco. She will make and has made statements on many things – including gun violence, immigration, the recent vote taken by the United Methodist Church, and the Middle East. But on subjects where a statement from her could elicit a strong negative response – such as standing up to the “We Are Naked and Unashamed” movement, dealing with a prominent ELCA “public theologian” who advocates for sex outside of marriage and “ethically sourced pornography,” and addressing recent state legislation on abortion which is clearly contrary to the ELCA social statement on abortion – she is silent.
Fifth, what is the ELCA Church Council saying to and about the Conference of Bishops when they decline to consider what the Conference had recommended? What are they saying to and about the Domestic Mission unit, which developed this document? What are they saying to and about the leaders of the ELCA for the first twenty years of the life of the ELCA when they say that now they especially want to hear from “those who have been most harmed by the misuse of ‘Visions and Expectations’”? How will they feel if twenty years from now the new leadership of the ELCA most wants to hear from “those who have been most harmed” by the statements and actions of the current leaders of the ELCA?
Having made these five general statements about the Church Council’s response, I would now like to comment on specific parts of their response.
First, the Church Council referred the document back to the Domestic Mission unit “for further review and redrafting that is governed by this church’s social teaching documents.” And then it gives “Sexuality” as an example of one of those social teaching documents. A couple things are significant here. For one, the review and redrafting are not to be governed by the Bible and the Lutheran confessions, but instead by “this church’s social teaching documents.” Once again, the ELCA sees itself as wiser and more insightful than the authors of the Bible and the writers of the Lutheran confessions. Also, if this review and redrafting truly were to be governed by this church’s social teaching documents, it would have to include and respect the wide range of views that are described and honored in the 2009 social statement, not just the one view that endorses a “variety of sexual orientations and diverse gender identities.”
Second, the Church Council said that they want a “process that intentionally includes diverse voices.” The “Trustworthy Servants” Public Witness Team, which I previously mentioned, wants at least 25% of the people on the task force to be LGBTQIA. Once again will the makeup of the group be so lop-sided that the end result is predicable? Will these “diverse voices” also include voices that will give credible, respectable expression to the traditional view? Will there be enough credible, traditional voices so that it will not be just a token group so that the ELCA can say, “We also listened to the traditional view”?
Third, the Church Council said that they especially want to include the voices of those who have been most harmed by the misuse of “Visions and Expectations.” What about the voices of those whose congregations have been most harmed by the actions of the ELCA since 2009? Do the leaders of the ELCA care – does the LGBTQIA+ community care – about the amount of turmoil that has been created in and the amount of damage that has been done to congregations where many, if not most of the people, have traditional views? How can they say that there are people who have been “most harmed by the misuse of Visions and Expectations” when the original wording in “Visions and Expectations” was not misused but instead was applied in determining who would be eligible to be a rostered leader in the ELCA?
Fourth, the Church Council said that they would support the Conference of Bishops in their “living into their commitment . . . to listen and take seriously the concerns of all our leaders – particularly those who historically have been marginalized.” What about those who currently are being marginalized? First as president of the board and now as director of Lutheran CORE, I have written many times to the presiding bishop and the sixty-five synodical bishops. Over the years I have written on such subjects as the Supreme Court decision on same sex marriage, the ousting of the president of an ELCA seminary, last summer’s youth gathering, state legislation on abortion, the removal of our former director from the ELCA clergy roster, and the question of whether anyone from Lutheran CORE is welcome at a synod assembly. Once in a while I do receive a response. I would want to say that my own bishop was most gracious in her response to my letter to her about the “Trustworthy Servants” document. But usually, if I do hear anything, the response rarely engages with and takes seriously what I have said. Usually I am completely ignored. I have written many times to the bishop of the synod in which I was rostered before I retired. I have never received a single response to any of my communications. When one is usually completely ignored, is not that person being marginalized? Do the Church Council and Conference of Bishops only want to listen to and take seriously the concerns of those whom they say have historically been marginalized, or are they also willing to listen to and take seriously the concerns of those who currently are being marginalized?
As I read what has been posted on Facebook by some of the people who attended the meeting with the ELCA Church Council, and as I read statements from the “We Are Naked and Unashamed” movement, I conclude – If the real issue is that there are ELCA pastors and seminarians who do not want to have to be married in order to be sexually active and/or do not want to be limited, bound, or confined by the expectation that they will be monogamous, then the ELCA Church Council and Conference of Bishops should just admit it and state it rather than use all of this other language to make it sound better than and/or different from what it really is.
Blessings in Christ,
Dennis D. Nelson
Executive Director of Lutheran CORE