Once You Know the Makeup, You Know the Outcome
If there ever will be a time when that old adage will be proven true, it will be with the ELCA’s thirty-five-member Commission for a Renewed Lutheran Church.
This commission was formed in response to action taken by the ELCA’s 2022 Churchwide Assembly. The assembly directed the Church Council “to establish a Commission for a Renewed Lutheran Church” which would be “particularly attentive to our shared commitment to dismantle racism” and would “present its findings and recommendations to the 2025 Churchwide Assembly in preparation for a possible reconstituting convention.”
Later communication from the ELCA Church Council stated that the commission should be made up of at least 25% people of color or whose primary language was other than English and 20% youth and young adults. Keeping in mind that the membership of the typical ELCA congregation is older and white, this means that the commission will not represent the ELCA as it is but the ELCA as those who are leading and driving the process want the ELCA to be.
The thirty-five members of the commission have been chosen and have met once (in mid-July). Their biographical paragraphs can be found on the ELCA website under www.elca.org/future.
As I read the bios there is no doubt in my mind that the commission is made up of people of great experience and expertise. I have no question about their ability. My concern is with their passions and priorities. Reading their bios and remembering that these are the people who have been chosen to reshape the ELCA, one realizes that in a very short time the ELCA is going to be radically different from the church body that was formed in 1988.
This is a very capable group. It includes –
- Two synodical bishops
- One seminary president
- Three ELCA college and seminary professors
Members of the commission have held such positions as –
- President of the ELCA Latino Ministries Association
- Assistant general secretary for international affairs and human rights for Lutheran World Federation
- Top leaders of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
- Chair of the Lutheran Campus Ministry Network
- A person who has been chair, vice chair, and secretary of the board of trustees for Portico Benefit Services
- Executive Director of South Carolina Lutheran Retreat Centers
- Member of the board of trustees and treasurer for Lutheran Outdoor Ministries
- President and chief executive officer of Mosaic (a social ministry agency which serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and other diverse needs)
Thirteen of these people have held positions within their synods or have served on the ELCA Church Council.
I was glad when I read comments from two of them.
- One said that “he hopes the perspectives he brings from his law practice and his work on synod and churchwide constitution committees will help him spot obstacles and identify solutions in our governing documents.”
- Another one (one of the co-chairs) described himself as having “a penchant for good governance and organizational structure.”
But beyond that, reading the bios I became more and more deeply concerned. I see this group as creating a new church body whose primary focus will be not on fulfilling the Great Commission but on social justice, LGBTQ+ and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion activism, and where men will continue to play a diminishing role.
For all of the talk about the equal participation of women in the church, the ELCA Church Council and this commission are obviously not concerned about the equal participation of men in the church. The commission is made up of twenty-one women and only fourteen men. Women outnumber men by 50%. And there are nearly three times as many women of color on the commission as men of color. Of the eleven people of color (eleven out of thirty-five or nearly one-third of the commission), eight are women and only three are men.
Three of the members of the commission are assistants to synodical bishops. But in each case their focus is on social justice issues and anti-racism, not on any of the other functions and ministries of a congregation. As an example, one of the members is assistant to a bishop for communications and development, but in his bio paragraph he celebrates the fact that he “has successfully centered social justice and advocacy in all aspects of communication and community engagement.”
Seven out of thirty-five (20% of the commission) hold positions of leadership within LGBTQ+ activist organizations and/or mention that they are in a same-sex married relationship. Please note: This is not saying that only 20% of them are in favor of LGBTQ+ issues. Rather it is saying that 20% of them see their being an LGBTQ+ activist as among their most prominent qualifications for being on the commission. These people include –
- A Proclaim chaplain with Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries
- Someone who has consulted with numerous synods supporting LGBTQIA+ cultural competency
- An ordained deacon at a Reconciled in Christ congregation
- The convenor of a synodical Reconciled in Christ ministry
- The director for Pride in her company’s LGBTQIA+ Business Resource Group
- Someone who has served as director of community relations for a non-profit corporation that serves the support and advocacy needs of transgender service members
- A board member and former co-chair of ReconcilingWorks
- Someone who since the age of six has “stubbornly refused to conform to society’s expectations” and whose self-description is a “genderqueer lesbian” who “seeks to bridge binaries and transgress borders”
Equally alarming is the fact that seven out of thirty-five (again 20% of the commission) hold positions of diversity, equity, and inclusion activism in their place of employment and/or leadership. Again this is not saying that only 20% of them make decisions and take actions based upon the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Rather it is saying that a full 20% of them see their holding positions of diversity, equity, and inclusion activism in their places of employment and/or leadership as among their most prominent qualifications for being on the commission. These people include –
- A senior diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant in local government
- The chief diversity officer for a religious health organization who has received two certificates in diversity, equity, and inclusion
- A former diversity/cultural competency consultant in the non-profit sector
- The convenor for a synodical resolution on authentic diversity and inclusion
- Someone with over thirty years’ experience facilitating and training for intercultural equity leadership and organizational change
- Someone who conducted discussions about race and diversity at the 2015 and 2018 ELCA youth gatherings
- A person who is vice president of diversity and inclusion at one college after being director of diversity and inclusion at another college
This final person shows the great extent of her passion for and experience in diversity, equity, and inclusion as she writes that she has “facilitated several workshops on privilege and identity, creating inclusive learning environments, and the basics of diversity and inclusion.” In addition she has “served as a keynote speaker on topics related to diversity, equity, and inclusion,” and has “completed a year-long fellowship with the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education.”
Following the principle that “once you know the makeup, you know the outcome,” it should be painfully obvious and clear what this group is going to come up with for the shape and mission of a fully reconstituted Lutheran church. We will keep you posted.