Please join me in praying for Elizabeth Eaton, presiding bishop of the ELCA. A recent news release from the ELCA reported that her request had been approved by the Church Council Executive Committee for a four to six month leave of absence effective November 17. I strongly disagree with so many ways in which she is leading the ELCA, but I still recognize her as a sister in Christ and a very capable (though misguided and misguiding) leader in the church.
I wish the news release had said more and I am surprised that they did not say more. But I can only imagine the kind of stress she has been under. Any one of us would have become physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted because of all the issues in the ELCA.
I also realize that hers is a situation that she helped create. She feels the need to address multiple political and global issues rather than mind her own store. For years – also before Elizabeth Eaton became presiding bishop – the ELCA has enabled, encouraged, and empowered disruptive forces that would be more than happy to tear the organization down. The ELCA has been like parents who raised an out-of-control child who are now dealing with an out-of-control young adult who would be more than happy to destroy the family business and burn the house down. And with the ELCA’s prime emphasis being dismantling systemic racism, which is not the main mission of the church, she is leading an organization that is seeking to solve enormous problems with merely human resources.
I think of times in my own ministry when I ran into – or was run into by – a crisis. Often the crisis happened because of the actions of others. But I know that sometimes I contributed to the crisis – through such things as an unwise response or poor judgment. Looking back I realize that often it was during those times of crisis that I learned and grew the most – that I realized that I needed to do things differently.
I think of what the apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 1: 17. After meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus, he “went away at once into Arabia.” Because there are fewer distractions in the desert, the desert is a great place to face yourself and really think through what you have been doing. I see Paul going out into the desert to try to figure out how he could have been so wrong about Jesus.
I pray for rest, renewal, and rejuvenation for Bishop Eaton. But I also pray that she will think through and come to terms with why it was that leading the ELCA is so stressful and what she now needs to do differently.
With pastoral concern,
Dennis D. Nelson
Executive Director of Lutheran CORE