The apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians, “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow.” (Galatians 6: 7) From my viewpoint, the ELCA is reaping what it from its inception has been sowing.
Lenny Duncan is an ELCA pastor who describes himself as “the unlikeliest of pastors.” He is author of the book, Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the United States. We should not be surprised that he quickly became a celebrity within the ELCA – a sought after speaker in congregations and educational institutions. He sounds exactly like someone to whom the ELCA would give the greatest amount of publicity and visibility.
There is only one problem. He has turned on the ELCA and has done so viciously. Check out his website – https://lennyduncan.substack.com. There you will find parts one through five of his articles, “Why the ELCA needs to start a reparations process,” which he subtitles, “Why you should defund your denomination.”
What is his plan? What I really should ask is, What is his demand? He is demanding that the ELCA set aside $32 million over the next three years to create a reparations fund to right the wrongs of centuries of racial injustice here in the United States. And if the ELCA does not set aside $32 million over the next three years, then he is challenging people to “defund churchwide” and redirect $32 million in contributions away from the ELCA into his reparations fund. What is amazing to me is not only the audacity of the way in which he demands that the ELCA make his top priority into their top priority, but also the vicious way in which he speaks of the leadership of the ELCA – a group that gave him support, visibility, and every opportunity to make maximum impact.
But as I think about, I realize that his words and behavior should not be surprising. I would like to distinguish between the more moderate, pro-organization revisionists, and the more extreme, burn-and-tear-the-organization-down revisionists.
The more moderate, pro-organization revisionists are the ones currently in power in the ELCA. They have three top priorities – their relentless agendas, their own power, and the preservation of the churchwide organization. For them it seems that anything goes – you can believe and advocate for anything you want – even the rejection of basic, Biblical moral values and the foundational tenants of the historic Christian faith – as long as you are loyal to the organization. For them preservation of the organization is paramount.
The problem is that they are now running into – or maybe I should say that they are being run into by – what they have been enabling and empowering – extreme revisionists who feel no loyalty to and do not value the organization. Rather these extreme revisionists would be just as happy to burn or tear the organization down. As it is happening in our nation, so it is happening in the ELCA.
Here is another example. In 2019 the ELCA Conference of Bishops recommended to the Church Council a document entitled, “Trustworthy Servants of the People of God” as a basic statement of the ELCA’s expectations for rostered leaders. Extremists, who do not want pastors and other rostered leaders to have to be married (by any definition) in order to be sexually active, objected so strongly that the ELCA Church Council declined to consider the document and instead sent it back to the ELCA’s Domestic Mission Unit to come up with a new document that would not be so hurtful and harmful for people who had been deeply wounded by former ELCA statements that held to traditional Biblical standards for behavior and relationships. The latest I have heard is that the ELCA’s Domestic Mission Unit has not yet come up with a new document because it wants to give the ELCA a “breathing space.” Here also the extreme revisionists have been enabled and empowered. You can be sure that they will not rest until the document that is approved by the ELCA Church Council is one that reflects the most extreme, revisionist view of human sexual relationships and identities.
And what about the ELCA’s refusal to stand up to the “We Are Naked and Unashamed” movement, which arose out of one of the ELCA seminaries and which rejects marriage by any definition as normative for sexual activity? Or what about the people who are chosen to be keynote speakers for the ELCA’s triennial youth gatherings? The last time – in 2018 – one of the keynote speakers – another pastor whom the ELCA has chosen to make into one of its greatest celebrities – led 31,000 young people in rejecting traditional Biblical standards for morality as a lie. What will the ELCA do as it continues to experience the effects of what it has been enabling and empowering? How will the ELCA respond as it continues to reap what it has been sowing?