WHAT WILL IT BE NEXT?
There are two things we know for sure about the ELCA. First, they will always give us plenty to write about. And second, they will always leave us wondering what will it be next. Such was the case during the past couple months.
On August 23 the Religious News Service released the story that Nadia Bolz-Weber, the ELCA’s most famous pastor, has been installed as pastor of public witness by the Rocky Mountain Synod. This is the Nadia Bolz-Weber who was one of the keynote speakers at the 2018 ELCA youth gathering. She led 31,000 young people in a chant rejecting traditional views of human sexuality as a lie. (See CORE Voice July 2018). This is the Nadia Bolz-Weber who is known for her profanity and her bragging about the sex she is having outside of marriage. I assume it was to accommodate Nadia Bolz-Weber that the ELCA Conference of Bishops recommended and the ELCA Church Council approved a wording in the recently revised document, “Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline,” which no longer describes abstinence from sexual intercourse until marriage as an expectation and requirement for pastors and other rostered leaders, but instead only as “the aspirational teaching of this church.”
In the past, when I have expressed concern about the pagan goddess worship at Ebenezer HerChurch in San Francisco, I was told that they do not represent the ELCA. When I wrote to ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton regarding the “We Are Naked and Unashamed” movement, which wants to eliminate the requirement that pastors be married (by any definition) in order to be sexually active, I was told by her that they are outside of the teachings of “this church” and she does not want to give them attention and credence by commenting on them.
The news story said that the entire Conference of Bishops had to sign off on at least the creation of that position, if not also choosing Nadia Bolz-Weber for that position. In addition, she was called to that position by the Rocky Mountain Synod and installed in that position by the bishop of that synod, Jim Gonia. All that tells me that there is no way that the ELCA can say that this is action that does not represent and reflect on the ELCA.
Well, if that is what happened in August, what happened in September? The ELCA again made the news. That must be one of their greatest goals – to make the news. This time they made the news by installing Protestantism’s first transgender bishop, Meghan Rohrer of the Sierra Pacific Synod. There is much to be said about that action.
Of course there is much that could be said about the ELCA’s even having a transgender pastor who could be elected bishop. The ELCA fully embraces the LGBTQIA+ agenda, even though the ELCA has never officially taken action to approve the BTQIA+ portion of LGBTQIA+. (Transgender is the “T” portion of LGBTQIA+.) The actions taken by the 2009 churchwide assembly only approved the ordination of a certain group of L and G persons – those that are in (PALMS) publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous same sex relationships. Even the recently approved document, “Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline,” which I have referenced above, affirms that “this church’s understanding of human sexuality is stated in its authorized social teachings” – the most recent of which is the 2009 “Social Statement on Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust.”
Not too long ago I received an email from an ELCA synodical staff person, who is now an ELCA synodical bishop. She agreed that in 2009 the ELCA did not act to approve the ordination of BTQIA+ persons. She also said that if the ordination of BTQIA+ persons had been part of the vote, it probably would not have been approved at that time. But, she said, the Holy Spirit has revealed new things to the church. What good timing on the part of the Holy Spirit! To reveal new things to the church after and only after enough traditionally minded people have left that church so that these new things will not only be accepted, but welcomed and embraced.
But there is much more that can be said about the installation service for Bishop Rohrer. I will start with the wording of the invocation given by ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton. The news story said that “congregants were invited to stand as clergy gathered around the orchid-festooned baptismal font, giving thanks as decanters poured water from the Sacramento and Garcia Rivers, Lake Tahoe and the San Francisco Bay as acolytes waved blue streamers overhead.” And then Bishop Eaton said, “You, oh God: Parent, Child, and Holy Breath. You are the water we crave. . . . You, oh God: Rain, Estuary, and Sea. You are life for us all, now and forever. Amen.”
I assume all this is intended to be some kind of creative reference to baptism, but what is it actually? Idolatry. Notice the parallel sentence structure. The first “You, oh God:” is followed by five words that identify God – “Parent, Child, and Holy Breath.” Not Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as per the ecumenical creeds and the Lutheran Confessions. (Interestingly enough, at the ELCA service of ordination for a minister of word and sacrament – the new term for pastor – the candidate is asked, “Will you therefore preach and teach in accordance with the holy scriptures and these creeds and confessions?” At the ELCA service of installation of a bishop, the bishop is asked, “Will you carry out this ministry in accordance with the holy scriptures and with the confessions of the Lutheran church?” But why would we expect the ELCA to expect one of its own pastors and/or bishops to actually do what they said they would do?)
The first “You, oh God:” is followed by five words that identify that God – “Parent, Child, and Holy Breath.” So we should be able to assume that the words that follow the second “You, oh God:” also identify God. And what are those words? “Rain, Estuary, and Sea.” What is this? Idolatry. Invoking God as Rain, Estuary and Sea, and invoking Rain, Estuary, and Sea as God. Worshipping the creation rather than the Creator.
And who is this said by? No one less than the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA. The ELCA could argue that Ebenezer HerChurch does not represent the ELCA, and the agenda and goals of “We Are Naked and Unashamed” are outside the teachings of “this church,” but I assume that what the Presiding Bishop says represents the ELCA and is within the teachings of “this church.” Does Bishop Eaton actually believe that God is “Rain, Estuary, and Sea” and “Rain, Estuary, and Sea” are God, or is she so careless about saying what she is handed to say at the service for the installation of a synodical bishop?
What if the prophets of Baal were right and Elijah was wrong and the gods are merely forces of nature? Certainly rain is a gift, and water is essential for life. I live in Arizona. I give thanks for the monsoon rains which fell this past July and August. The danger of fires is now listed as low or moderate, rather than extreme, and most of Arizona is no longer suffering from extreme or exceptional drought. But if God were only the forces of nature, and the forces of nature were God, then what do I do about the fact that the forces that can make life possible can also destroy? If God were only the forces of nature – Rain, Estuary, and Sea – then I would know nothing of a God who loves me as well as created me and who went to great lengths and paid a high price to save me.
Yes, it does matter what we believe. It does matter how we witness. It does matter what we say within the context of a worship service – especially one that is so publicly visible.
The final thing that I would want to comment on from the installation service for Bishop Rohrer is the way in which the service began with a “land acknowledgement” – a declaration that “the land where we live and worship in this place is stolen land.” Participants in the ceremony, which was held in Grace Cathedral – in a historically wealthy neighborhood in San Francisco – were encouraged to “find concrete ways to make reparations to the original stewards of these places and their descendants.”
It is interesting. For the ELCA the worst of sins are the ones that they are proud that they are not guilty of – white supremacy, racism, male dominance, and sexism. They feel free to blast and criticize those awful white settlers who stole the land from indigenous persons, not realizing that they are doing the very same thing when they send in “woke” pastors who decimate congregations. These congregations then close, their buildings are sold, and from the proceeds synods and ELCA churchwide finance their agenda.
For example, I wrote in my June letter from the director about the online synod assembly for the ELCA synod in which I was rostered before I retired. The proposed spending plan for the 2022-2023 fiscal year included income of $899,000, but expenses of over $1.2 million. The assembly rejected the budget, not because it was not balanced, but instead because it did not provide funding for all of the favored ministries. The attitude of the assembly was, We need to sell more buildings from closed congregations, and we need to use more of the dollars already obtained from already selling buildings from closed congregations.
The hypocrisy is amazing. Encouraging the participants in the installation service of an ELCA synodical bishop to “find concrete ways to make reparations to the original stewards of these places and their descendants” while showing neither respect, consideration, appreciation, nor regard for the people who built and paid for the buildings which they are now selling in order to fund their agendas, values, and priorities.
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IN SHARP CONTRAST
In sharp contrast was the LCMC gathering in early October, which I had the privilege of attending on behalf of Lutheran CORE. In the second reading for October 10 – in Hebrews 4:14 – the author of this letter urges his readers, “Let us hold fast to our confession.” The people at this gathering were not afraid to hold fast to their confession. They were not afraid to call God Father, believe in the authority of the Bible, see the Lutheran Confessions as an accurate statement of Scriptural teachings and relevant for us today (even though they were written by white males), and view the mission of the Church as proclaiming Christ and helping people grow as disciples of Christ.
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VIDEO BOOK REVIEW – “WE WILL NOT BE SILENCED”
Lutheran CORE continues to provide monthly video reviews of books of interest and importance. Many thanks to Bill Decker for giving us a review of Erwin Lutzer’s book, We Will Not Be Silenced: Responding Courageously to Our Culture’s Assault on Christianity. This is a book for all who are concerned about how they can and will live out their Christian convictions against a growing tide of hostility in our contemporary culture. Picking up on the words of Jesus to the church in Sardis in Revelation 3: 2 to “strengthen what remains,” this book is written with the ardent hope that the U. S. church will wake up and “strengthen what remains.”
Mr. Decker is an ELCA rostered lay leader who has done editorial and grant writing work for the ELCA. Erwin Lutzer is a student of Martin Luther and pastor emeritus of Moody Church in Chicago.
This review, as well as ten others, have been posted on our YouTube channel. A link to the channel can be found here.
Dennis D. Nelson
Executive Director of Lutheran CORE