Who Counts and Who Does Not

In my letter from the director for December 2022 I wrote about several concerns that arose in my mind as I read a November 16 news release from the ELCA about the November 10-13 meeting of the ELCA Church Council.  A link to that letter can be found hereIn that letter I said that I would be writing to Imran Siddiqui, vice president of the ELCA, who also serves as chair of the church council.  I would be asking him how it was decided that a representative from ReconcilingWorks would become an advisory member of the church council and whether any consideration would or had been given to having a representative from a group with traditional views as an advisory member of the church council.  Here is the letter which I sent him the morning of December 13.  Please note that I also expressed my concern that the ELCA would be committing a massive breach of trust if in the revised human sexuality social statement traditional views on same sex relationships were no longer seen as valid and legitimate and having a place of respect within the ELCA.  

Dear Mr. Siddiqui –

Congratulations on your election and thank you for your ministry of leadership within the ELCA. I believe that Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton was absolutely correct – as was described in the November 16 ELCA news release – when she drew attention to the “substantial work charged to the (ELCA Church Council) by the 2022 Churchwide Assembly” and when she said that the work done by the Council now will “have a significant effect on this church.”

I am writing because of my deep concern over two of the bullet points under the section entitled “In other actions” in the November 16 news release regarding the recent meeting of the Church Council.

Under the second bullet point it says that the Church Council has “scheduled for 2024 the initiation of a task force for reconsideration of the social statement Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust.

I know that this process, as directed by the 2022 Churchwide Assembly, will include a reconsideration of the whole concept of bound conscience.  I realize that those who all along have been driving for the elimination of bound conscience were correct in determining that the time had come when they would have more than enough support to pass this kind of a motion, but still, if this action is taken and the provision for bound conscience is eliminated, it will be nothing less than a massive breach of trust on the part of the ELCA against those within its community who hold traditional views.  It will call into question whether the ELCA can be trusted on anything if it cannot be trusted to keep this promise to honor traditional views and those who hold them.  This is a promise the ELCA made in order to gather enough support to get the social statement approved.  Eliminating bound conscience will call into question the ELCA’s claim to have the moral integrity and authority to criticize other organizational entities for not keeping their promises – such as the way the ELCA criticizes the U. S. government for not keeping its promises to Indigenous persons – if the ELCA does not keep its promises. 

And then under the sixth bullet point it says that the Council “adopted a continuing resolution establishing council advisory members to include . . . a representative of Reconciling Works.”

As I understand it, until and unless it is revised and/or replaced, the 2009 Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust social statement still represents the ELCA’s official position and policy on same sex relationships.  This document describes four positions, which people within the ELCA hold “with conviction and integrity” (p. 20).  It states, “This church, on the basis of ‘the bound conscience,’ will include these different understandings and practices within its life as it seeks to live out its mission and ministry in the world” (p. 19).

At this time traditional views on same sex relationships are still recognized as legitimate and valid and having a place within the ELCA.  Therefore, why is there not also consideration being given to having a representative from a group with traditional views as one of the advisory members of the Church Council?

If the Church Council were to say that there are just too few people remaining within the ELCA who hold traditional views to have an advisory member with traditional views, then I would see the Council as doing two things.  First, it is totally discounting a significant percentage of the actual membership of ELCA congregations.  Second, it is ignoring, dismissing, and marginalizing those whom it sees as too small and/or too weak and insignificant a minority, and it is doing so even as the ELCA is constantly and sharply criticizing those whom it accuses of ignoring, dismissing, and marginalizing vulnerable, oppressed minorities.   

I also wonder how it was decided that the Church Council would have advisory members, what will be the role and limitations of the role of advisory members, and how it was decided that a representative of Reconciling Works would be one of the advisory members. 

I deeply appreciated the response you gave in the ELCA Clergy Facebook group when someone claimed that you had said that Robert’s Rules are oppressive and racist.  Because of your response in that situation, I have great hope that you will be a voice for fairness, reason, good sense, and balance.

I look forward to your response.

Blessings in Christ,

Dennis D. Nelson

Executive Director of Lutheran CORE

Retired ELCA Pastor – rostered in the Grand Canyon Synod

That evening I received his response.

Pastor Nelson,

Thank you for your email and expressing your views and concerns. Please allow me to respond to each of your two concerns in order. Regarding the reconsideration of the social statement Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust. The vote of the 2022 Churchwide Assembly was overwhelmingly in support of reconsideration of the social statement. The Church Council is the interim legislative body of the Church between Churchwide Assemblies and is mandated to carry out the wishes of the Churchwide Assembly. The task force would be charged with bringing recommendations on the basis of the approved assembly actions to a future Churchwide Assembly. At that time, that Churchwide Assembly may approve or reject those recommendations. At the November 2022 meeting, the Church Council received the proposal for an editorial reconsideration to be considered first for the human sexuality social statement and then the task force would consider the bound conscience question.

Regarding Church Council Advisory Members, the advisory members were intended to give voice to those who have been historically marginalized within the Church. This allows those groups to have voice, but not vote, in Church Council decisions. This is especially necessary in actions that affect those who have been historically marginalized in our Church. For that reason representatives from ELCA Ethnic Specific Associations and a representative from Reconciling Works were named as Advisory Members to Church Council. 

Thank you again for sharing your concerns,

Imran Siddiqui

Vice President

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America  

* * * * * * * *    

I can think of four things to say in response to his response.

First, I did receive a response, and in a very timely way – within just few hours.

Second, the ELCA feels totally empowered to do what it is doing. 

Third, the ELCA sees itself as having no reason to do anything other than what it is doing and no reason to consider any other views.

Fourth, the ELCA is only concerned for those whom it describes as “historically marginalized.”  It has absolutely no concern for those who are currently being marginalized.  And that total lack of concern is in spite of all that the “currently marginalized” have done in the life of the ELCA and its predecessor church bodies.   




How Did It Happen? The ELCA and Community Organizing – Part One

Introduction

A question I am often asked by people is this – How did it happen?  How did LGBTQ+ values, priorities, and agenda completely take over the ELCA, and so quickly?  The purpose of this article is to show how the principles of community organizing were used most effectively to bring about this change.

The ELCA was formed in 1987 and began functioning as a church body in 1988.  At the 2005 Churchwide Assembly traditional values prevailed, though just barely.  It was not until 2009 that standards changed, and look at all that has happened since.  For nearly twenty-two of the thirty-four years that the ELCA has existed, at least the officially recognized position was more traditional.  It has only been during the last twelve years that revisionist views have prevailed.  Actually and officially, the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly only gave its blessing to (PALMS) publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous same sex relationships.  But in reality the ELCA has fully embraced the LGBTQIA+ agenda, values, priorities, and lifestyle.  The ELCA has completely marginalized anyone who holds to any other view, and it is charging ahead at such a rapid pace that it makes you wonder whether anything could stop it except a total crash.

How did it happen?  Part of the answer can be found in the fact that those who have been driving this are super focused and relentlessly dedicated.  Part of the answer can also be found in the image of lily pads on a lake.  Let’s say that the area of the surface of the lake that is covered by lily pads doubles each year.  At first, the amount of increase is small.  Then it becomes larger and more noticeable.  Eventually lily pads are covering half of the lake.  At that point and at that rate how much longer will it take for lily pads to cover the entire lake?  One year.

Community Organizing

A more detailed answer can be found in the principles of community organizing and how that methodology has been used extremely effectively by such groups within the Lutheran community as ReconcilingWorks.  ReconcilingWorks is an organization that since 1974 “has advocated for the full welcome, inclusion, and equity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual/aromantic (LGBTQIA+) Lutherans in all aspects of the life of their Church, congregations, and community.”  Specifically we will be looking at how community organizing is the central approach employed by the Building an Inclusive Church Toolkit (BIC) developed by ReconcilingWorks in order to change peoples’ minds, turn the minority position into the majority position, and thereby take over the church.  A link to the Toolkit can be found here

Community organizing is also the primary approach employed by many other social justice activists – in the secular world as well as in the mainline church – in order to push for social change.  It is popular because it works.  Its techniques are effective, which is why and how the liberal/progressive movement has been so successful in taking hold of the mainline church and secular society.

Lutherans who hold to a high view of the authority of Scripture need to be aware of this process, so that we might develop and offer an effective response.  Our failure to do so is a major reason why we are losing the battle – in the mainline church as well as in the secular world – to the LGBTQ+ agenda and other liberal/progressive concerns. 

Texts

Here are some resources that you can use for further study.  Fortress Press is “an imprint of 1517 Media.”  1517 Media is “the ministry of publishing of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.”

  • Building an Inclusive Church Toolkit by Reconciling Works
  • Doing Justice: Congregations and Community Organizing by Dennis A. Jacobsen (Fortress Press)
  • Faith-Based Organizing by Charles Frederickson, Violetta Lien, Herbert E. Palmer, and Mary Lou Walther (Fortress Press)
  • Faith-Rooted Organizing by Alexia Salvatierra and Peter Heltzel (Fortress Press)

Theological Education

Several ELCA seminaries offer classes and/or training in community organizing as part of the public theology and/or practical theology components of the seminary curriculum.  At one ELCA seminary the “public church” curriculum has become the primary organizing principle around which the degree programs are structured.  At other ELCA seminaries, efforts have been made and/or are in progress to expand the “public theology” focus, often at the expense of Biblical and confessional theological content.  At one ELCA seminary a career in community organizing is one of the possible career pathways that the Master of Theological Studies (M. T. S.) degree leads to and prepares for.

Background

Community organizing methodology was developed by Saul Alinsky, a secular Jewish man, in the late 1930’s.  Although Alinsky never identified as a socialist and/or a communist, he shared in common with them radical left (for his time) ideology, concern for the poor, and support for working-class communities and labor movements.  Alinsky saw the need to fight for specific goals and used the principles and techniques of community organizing to achieve those goals.

Overview

Community organizing relies on two main things – strong relationships and shared values.  Community organizers use these two things to change the minds of community members in order to get them to support a cause.  In this way they build a coalition of supportive people.  They then rally these people together and work together to press for change.

Community organizing begins with the following steps –

  • Gather together a small core team of people who are already committed to your cause. These are the people who will start the process of pushing for change.
  • Gather information about individual people as well as about the community. Build relationships with people.  Learn about what they believe and why.  Use what you learn to plan your approach.  Identify key influencers and supporters who may be assets to your cause.
  • Tell stories which evoke sympathy and support for your cause.
  • Build common ground with your community (shared values and/or experiences).
  • Educate the community in order to bring its members to your side.
  • Once the initial prep work has been done, choose a course of action.
    • Either a conflict approach, where the people in power are seen as your enemy.  If so, confront them and take them down.
    • Or a consensus approach, where the people in power are seen as people who can change their minds.  If so, convince them to side with you.

Building an Inclusive Church Toolkit

The Building an Inclusive Church Toolkit from ReconcilingWorks builds upon, and relies upon, the community organizing method.  Its approach assumes that there is already support from the leadership (clergy, church council, lay leaders, etc.) and that what needs to be done is to convince the rest of the community – enough to secure a 75% vote for RIC (Reconciling in Christ) status, as required by ReconcilingWorks.

As such, the proposed course of action is similar to the consensus approach.  However, normally in community organizing the primary target is people in power (i. e. the clergy).  However, in the BIT Toolkit, the primary target is the community at large (i. e. the congregation).  The primary target’s minds need to be changed in order to accomplish the desired goal. 

A Faith Community Assessment Survey is taken to evaluate the faith community’s current position(s).  A link to the survey can be found here. Based upon the results, one of three timelines is suggested – Cautious, Moderatus, and Adventurous.  The timetable ranges from six years to under one year.  But no matter how long it may take, those working to bring about change are focused and relentless.  

Whichever timeline is followed, the process is broken down into eleven steps, and there are six tools that are employed in order to work the process.  These steps and tools are described in the Toolkit.  Four of the six tools are Graceful Engagement, One-to-One Visits, Public Storytelling, and Scriptural Engagement.

Scriptural Engagement

It is interesting – and significant – that the sixth step – Providing Educational Opportunities – and the sixth tool – Scriptural Engagement – both come so late in the process.  Typically, people who hold to a high view of the authority of Scripture would begin by focusing on what the Bible says.  But that is not what the BIC Toolkit does.  Instead the primary means of building community support are finding shared values – such as diversity, equity, inclusion, and welcome – and then engaging in carefully crafted storytelling in order to evoke sympathy and support for the cause.  “Scriptural Engagement” does not actively come into play until the steps that build support from the community have already been completed. 

It should not surprise us that “Scriptural Engagement” does not come until late in the process.  The Bible does not support what ReconcilingWorks is trying to accomplish.  The Scripture passages that are included in the BIC Toolkit include Luke 10:29-37 (the parable of the Good Samaritan), John 4: 4-26 (Jesus and the woman at the well), Matthew 22: 35-40 (the Greatest Commandment), Matthew 26: 51-52 (Peter’s cutting off the high priest’s servant’s ear), and Luke 23: 34 (one of the words of Jesus from the cross.)  There is obviously no way that these passages support the LGBTQIA+ agenda.  They do not even address LGBTQIA+ issues.  No wonder support and agreement must be built in other ways rather than on the clear message of Scripture.  Relying on the principle that feelings are often more important and more powerful than facts when it comes to convincing people to change their minds, the BIC Toolkit focuses on feelings-based approaches, such as storytelling, rather than on facts-based approaches, such as asking what the Bible says, in order to get people to come on board with the cause. 

By the time the “Scriptural Engagement” tool comes into active use, the community’s minds and hearts have already been shaped into being LGBTQ+ affirming.  Very little of Scripture is engaged with, and the purpose as well as the message of Scripture is distorted.  The whole of Scripture’s message is reduced to three themes –

  1. We are called to love God and love our neighbors.
  2. It is not our place to judge.
  3. Treat others as you would want to be treated.

Specific passages from Scripture which appear to support these themes are selectively chosen in an effort to demonstrate that these ideas form the fundamental message of Scripture.

Other themes of Scripture – such as sin and our need for God’s forgiveness, God’s command that we repent of our sins, our need to obey God, and the Bible’s instructions regarding holy living – are minimized or avoided entirely. 

The prescribed approach to the so-called “clobber passages” (the passages that clearly speak against same-sex sexual behavior) is to avoid them, or else to minimally engage with them only as needed, until the three themes mentioned above are firmly established in the hearts and minds of the community as the primary message of Scripture.  Only then are the “clobber passages” engaged with, under the assumption that, if indeed the primary message of Scripture is one of welcome and inclusion, and the “clobber passages” are neither welcoming nor inclusive of LGBTQ+ identified people who are engaged in same-sex sexual behavior, then either we have misunderstood these “clobber passages” or the “clobber passages” must be wrong in some way. 

With so little engagement with Scripture, and with what little of Scripture is utilized being so badly misrepresented, people are left with an understanding that is far from biblically sound.

I will be completing this article in my February Letter from the Director.  In that second part I will tell more about how the Building an Inclusive Church Toolkit uses the principles of community organizing to change people’s minds and get them on board with the cause.  I will also offer several suggestions as to what those with a high view of the authority of Scripture need to do and can do in order to provide a viable, effective, and convincing alternative. 




She Just Does Not Get It

After reading two recent communications from ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, the only conclusion I can come to is this.  She just does not get it.

The first communication is dated September 3, 2021 and is entitled, “We Are the Body of Christ.”  A link to that communication can be found here. In that letter Bishop Eaton writes about the great, long-standing animosity between Jews and Gentiles, and about how in the early church, these two groups of people were able to be brought together.  She refers to the council in Jerusalem in Acts 15 as well as to the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, and to how “the dispute between the two groups was healed.”  She said that this healing “went to the very core of what it meant to be part of the church.”  She then said, “They were one body.  We are one body. . . . Yes, we have significant disagreement about very important issues, but our cultural and political differences cannot dissolve this bond.”  I was absolutely floored by what she wrote next.  “We can take heart from the example of the early church.  If, by the Spirit’s power, they could set aside their differences – which were far greater than any of ours – then we, too, by the power of the Sprit, can live into the unity that already exists in Christ.”

She just does not get it.  The differences between confessional Lutherans today who hold to the authority of the Bible and who believe that the Lutheran Confessions are a reliable interpretation of the Bible and those who would call themselves the “progressives” are not far less than, instead they are far greater than the differences between Jews and Gentiles in the early church.  For example –

No one in the early church led the young people of that church in denouncing the views of the more traditional folks as a lie from Satan that needs to be renounced – unlike what happened at the 2018 ELCA youth gathering. 

The apostles did not ignore, dismiss, minimize, or marginalize the Hellenists when they expressed their concern that their widows were being neglected (Acts 6).  Instead, they appointed seven deacons to resolve the matter.  In contrast, those with traditional views are usually totally ignored when they express their concerns to those in positions of power.    

Heresies in the early church were dealt with (for example, see Colossians 2) rather than just accepted or even celebrated as culturally sensitive ways to contextualize the Gospel.

After the early church made their decision in Acts 15 as to how uncircumcised Gentiles could be a part of the church, they did not then a few years later claim to have decided something else.  Their honesty and integrity in holding to what they had decided stands in sharp contrast with the way in which the ELCA has expanded and re-interpreted what was actually voted on and approved in 2009 so that they are now able to embrace the full LGBTQIA+ agenda. 

The apostles did not break promises and ignore commitments as the ELCA has done by its not giving a place of honor and respect to traditional views and those who hold them.  I have heard of white male seminarians with traditional views being told to put tape over their mouths and not speak.  I also know of people whose ordination candidacy process was cancelled or who were denied entrance into the candidacy process because of their traditional views.   

Yes, Bishop Eaton just does not get it.  The differences between confessional Lutherans and those who would call themselves the “progressives” are not far less than, instead they are far greater than the differences between Jews and Gentiles in the early church.

Even more out of touch with reality is what Bishop Eaton wrote in the second communication, which is dated October 20, 2021, and is entitled, “A pastoral letter from the ELCA presiding bishop regarding the actions of the Reformed Church in America General Synod 2021.”  A link to that communication can be found here.  In that letter she told about one of the ELCA’s full communion partners, which had recently met in General Synod.  The final Vision 2020 Report was presented to the assembly, with its recommendations for the future of the denomination “with regard to staying together . . . and grace-filled separation.”  Bishop Eaton commended that church body for “adopting regulations to provide an unobstructed pathway for those local churches that will depart the denomination.”  She praised their actions, which she says “reflect the RCA’s commitment to walking together, respecting differences, and affirming common mission and ministry.”  She described the spirit of the synod as “conciliatory and hope-filled, as delegates shared their disagreements in the bond of peace.” 

What she then says in the next paragraph is totally out of touch with reality.  She talked about how the ELCA has “traveled this same road.”  She uses language from the 2009 social statement, “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” when she says, “It is possible, by the grace of God, to be a church that makes an active choice to live with the disagreement among us, and ‘to accompany one another in study, prayer, discernment, pastoral care, and respect.”  How out of touch can you get?  There may have been those who – back in 2009 – were deceived into buying that line so that they were willing to vote in favor of the human sexuality social statement and the changes in ministry policies.  But I do not know anyone today who continues to believe that the ELCA has any plans to “honor bound conscience.”

I know that there are ELCA bishops and synod councils who have been gracious in their dealings with congregations who were voting to disaffiliate from the ELCA.   But I have also heard many stories of bullying, intimidating, threats to take property, and efforts to get as many dollars as possible from congregations who wish to leave.  I know of retired ELCA pastors who were told by their synods that they would be removed from the ELCA clergy roster if they did not leave a congregation that has voted to disaffiliate from the ELCA.  I know of a seminarian who was no longer welcome at an ELCA seminary once the congregation that she was affiliated with began the process of leaving the ELCA. 

Too many ELCA congregations have not experienced a “grace-filled separation.”  Too many ELCA congregations did not find “an unobstructed pathway” when they began the process of voting to leave the ELCA. I am certain that what Bishop Eaton wrote in her October 20 communication is something that she wishes were true and that she desires to be true.  But why does she not know that it is not true?  Does she really think that people will believe what she wrote?   




Seminary Devastated

Greetings in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Ethiopia Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) no longer receives support from the ELCA due to the 2009 ELCA churchwide assembly.  Prior to that point, the ELCA had been among the greatest supporters of the EECMY.  The EECMY is now the largest Lutheran body in the world, growing by over 60,000 per month.

On August 17th, 2021, an unprecedented flash flood on the campus of the their main seminary destroyed 96 dormitory rooms as well as the homes of 21 families including 5 missionary families.  Damage is in the millions of dollars.  Eight lives were lost from the seminary community.  Here is a link to a video showing damage.  We grieve the loss of our brothers and sisters, yet not as the world grieves (1 Thes. 4:13ff).

The future of their main seminary is now at risk.  Much of the campus needs to be rebuilt.  Students and faculty no longer have places to stay.  Serious steps are being taken to guarantee such flooding does not take place in the future.

In the words of Bishop Dan Selbo in the September NALC newsletter, “We will also be inviting ‘every pastor, congregation and member to enter into intentional and intensive prayer for Ethiopia’”.  The story needs to be told and retold, as the EECMY has no other full-communion relationship with other bodies in North America.  The NALC has only 500 congregations.

You can help.  Tax-deductible disaster relief contributions are being received by the NALC.  

It is likely that short-term relief efforts will still not adequately rebuild the campus.  Thus, if you feel called to support the seminary in their efforts to recover and achieve long-term self-sustainability, a noteworthy building project on higher ground, untouched by the flooding, has been underway in partnership with Lutheran Bible Translators.  This project provides much needed assistance as well as creating an ongoing revenue stream of $225,000 per year to the seminary.  (Details and how to give are included in a separate handout, “God is on the move in Ethiopia!”)  If 250 congregations, or one from their membership, respond with a $4,000 donation, that project will be completed, generating revenue starting early in 2022.

Both of these opportunities provide much needed assistance to Mekane Yesus Seminary at this critical point in time. 

With a heavy heart for our brothers and sisters in Ethiopia,

John Conrad,

Chair, Mekane Yesus Seminary Advancement Team

Pastor, First Evangelical Lutheran Church, Floresville, TX

JTCSwede@gmail.com

Mobile: 830-534-3139




An Unanticipated Agreement

I find that usually I can anticipate fairly accurately with whom I will agree or disagree.  However, there are times when I am caught by surprise.  Such was the case with a public letter written by a member of the board of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM).  

On its website this organization describes its mission in this way: “Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries organizes queer seminarians and rostered ministers, confronts barriers and systemic oppression, and activates queer ideas and movements within the Lutheran Church.”

This is not the kind of organization that I would expect myself to find something to agree on with.  So how did that come about?

A few months ago in celebration of Pride Month (June) the ELCA posted a link to the document, A Lutheran Introduction to SOGIE by ReconcilingWorks.  SOGIE stands for Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Gender Expression.

Pastor Suzannah Porter, an ELCA pastor and member of the board of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, responded by commenting with concern that the ELCA was giving the impression that the whole church body is LGBTQ+ affirming, when in fact it is not, since there are congregations which hold to traditional sexual ethics with the church’s sanction.  Pastor Porter supported her statement by quoting the Bound Conscience policy which is a prominent part of the 2009 social statement, Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust.  That document described four different positions regarding same gender relationships, which it acknowledged that people within “this church” hold “with conviction and integrity.”  On the basis of “the bound conscience,” it said, “We . . . believe that this church . . . will include these different understandings and practices within its life as it seeks to live out its mission and ministry in the world.”  In other words, traditional views of human sexuality have the full endorsement and sanction of a social statement that was approved by no less an authority than an ELCA Churchwide Assembly. 

What happened after Pastor Porter sought to expose the ELCA’s dishonesty by revealing that the ELCA actually sanctions traditional views when it tries to give the impression that it is LGBTQ+ affirming?  Several things.

First, others replied to Pastor Porter’s comment with stories of lack of LGBTQ+ acceptance at various ELCA congregations.

Second, the ELCA deleted Pastor Porter’s comment – the only one, to her knowledge, that cited the Bound Conscience policy.  

Third, Pastor Porter responded in an angry public letter condemning the ELCA’s action.  She said, “It is Pride 2021 month, and I cannot be deleted today.” 

Here is more of what she said:

“ELCA, get back here and answer for yourself. On the post listing Reconciling Works SOGI resources (found herehttp://bit.ly/elcasogipost) you deleted my comment clearly stating that projecting the image that the ELCA is welcoming and affirming of queer people without clearly stating that it is also our policy that the church can call queer people to repentance and refuse to recognize same sex marriage is misrepresentation.

“After now hundreds of people think the whole denomination is affirming, you deleted the only comment that clarified your policy. And erased the testimony of the replies of people who labored to tell their stories. But you seem to keep the reattempt when I stated my position on the board and council. This leads me to believe that misrepresentation was not just an accident, it was the goal.”

What is going on here?  A lot.

First, the ELCA sought to silence a leader in the LGBTQ+ community, in the name of being LGBTQ+ affirming.

Second, Lutheran CORE and ELM agree that honesty, integrity, and transparency are important.  What is actually done in the church needs to match what public statements say will be done and what official policy says should be done.

Third, the ELCA’s misrepresentation, as Pastor Porter calls it, is dishonest and unhelpful both to people seeking LGBTQ+ affirming communities and to those who hold to traditional sexual ethics.  It would be far better for the ELCA to be truthful and honest and consistent all across the board. 

Now, to be sure, Lutheran CORE and Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries would have totally opposite purposes for raising these issues.

Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries would want the ELCA to eliminate language that sanctions traditional views, while Lutheran CORE would want the ELCA to keep its promise and live up to its commitment to also honor and provide a place for traditional views. 

Nevertheless, Pastor Porter’s point stands, and we agree.  The ELCA’s actions were dishonest and unhelpful.    

Click here to read the ELCA’s original post.

Click here to read Pastor Porter’s original post.




ELCA Support for the Equality Act: What Does it Mean?

Earlier this year, I noticed that ELCA Advocacy had given the Equality Act its full and unqualified endorsement.   It also encouraged members of the ELCA to write their Senators, calling upon them to support the legislation.  In doing so, the ELCA made reference to the social statement Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust (HSGT). 

I wrote to Presiding Bishop Eaton, saying:

The ELCA has declared its support of the Equality Act.  It is also urging its members to write to their Senators in support of the Equality Act. What I am wondering is whether the ELCA has given any thought to how the Equality Act will affect those congregations who choose not to call partnered homosexual pastors, or who choose not to perform same-sex weddings.  

As you know, there is debate about whether the act will remove religious freedom protections from congregations and pastors.  Has the ELCA considered this question?  Is the ELCA prepared to defend the right of its congregations and pastors to act in accordance with their “bound consciences” as was promised in 2009

The response came not from Presiding Bishop Eaton, but from Rev. Amy Reumann, Senior Director, Witnessing in Society, ELCA.  She assured me that the ELCA is aware of the “implications with respect to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”  She further stated that the ELCA is “reviewing that language in consultation with a number of our full communion partners and ELCA legal staff.”  Finally, she said that the ELCA hopes “to work with these Senate offices in discerning legislative language that achieves a bi-partisan and fair bill for protecting equal rights and religious integrity.”

I was very pleased to hear this and I had only two requests.  I asked if the ELCA would be willing to reiterate what Rev. Reumann told me in a public statement to ELCA congregations and whether I could share her reply.  She said yes to the latter.  In regard to the former, she asked what kind of public message would be helpful in my context.

It is at this point that our conversation began to go awry.  I gave her a fairly detailed response, clearly stating what I would like the ELCA to reaffirm.  Essentially, I asked that the ELCA publicly restate that choosing not to call a partnered homosexual and not to perform same sex weddings, and teaching in accord with positions 1, 2, or 3 of HSGT are still permitted and encouraged by this church.  Secondly, I asked that the ELCA publicly state its opposition to any language in the Equality Act that would or might punish ELCA congregations for these approved practices.

From that point forward, I received several replies reiterating ELCA policy, along with historical documents that detailed the Ministry Policy Resolutions adopted in 2009.  However, the question about whether the ELCA would publicly reiterate its commitment to those documents and to religious freedom protections for its congregations was not answered.  Finally, after a full week and another e-mail to Presiding Bishop Eaton, I received an e-mail telling me that my concerns would be addressed in ELCA Advocacy materials that would come out in April.

In April, ELCA Advocacy did in fact include the following words in its message:

Some U.S Senators support the intent of the Equality Act but have broader concerns about religious exemptions. There may be amendments proposed responding to these concerns.

As in the Senate, in the ELCA there is a diversity of beliefs and debates about possible impacts of this legislation on religious exemptions.

In an April 13 “guest blog” on ELCA Advocacy Blog, ELCA General Counsel, Thomas Cunniff, wrote:

We urge the adoption of legislation that ensures the full rights of LGBTQ+ persons without infringing on religious liberty or permitting improper government interference in the ecclesiastical activities of religious organizations. Blanket exemptions for anyone claiming a religious motive are too broad and would eviscerate necessary civil rights protections for historically marginalized groups. Not providing space in which dissenting religious groups can practice their beliefs free from government interference, however, would gravely damage freedom of conscience. Moreover, fully exempting statutes from RFRA sets a dangerous precedent of permitting the government to forcibly impose the views of the majority on minority religions, a precedent which could easily be weaponized by a future Congress and President. For these reasons, the ELCA is committed to continue working with others, including full communion partners, to find a solution that fully protects the civil rights of our LGBTQ+ siblings while at the same time protecting the free exercise and conscience rights of religious objectors.

That was not the last word on the matter, however.  On April 16, ELCA Advocacy sent an Action Alert with the following apology:

Issuance of the Action Alert related to the Equality Act on April 13 elicited strong reaction communicated through social media and other channels. Anger, deception, confusion, and contribution to a deepening of harm already part of the lives of many LGBTQIA+ members and other siblings surfaced, along with questioning advocacy process and accountability in the ELCA. For presenting a lack of care on these deep-felt issues, we apologize.  [alert]

It further stated that:

The blog post, “Equal Rights and Religious Freedom,” remains public on our ELCA advocacy blog not for prescriptive purposes but as background on “a false choice between equal rights and religious freedom.” Anticipated is a guest blog post that will provide further perspectives.

This seems to indicate that Mr. Cunniff’s blog post does not express the opinion of the ELCA and in no way indicates how the ELCA will proceed in relation to the Equality Act.  So we are left with a deeply ambiguous and equivocal statement of ELCA policy regarding “bound conscience” and religious freedom.  

Sadly, this leaves us where we began.  Any congregation with a commitment to traditional views on marriage and ordination is left uncertain about the future.




Tribute to Paull Spring

I remember well the first time I met Paull Spring.  It was in a meeting in a Gullixson Hall classroom at Luther Seminary that would lead to the beginning of CORE.  Paull walked into the room (in clerics, of course, whenever he was doing church business) with a leader of Word Alone …  that was an amazing sight and combination to be sure.  But the cause of Lutheran Orthodoxy and faithfulness brought such together.  And many more of us with them, too. 

Paull Spring represented some of the best of eastern Lutheranism, a pastor and bishop and leader from years of ministry.  He brought those gifts to the diversity of faithful Lutherans all over the country as we began to form Lutheran CORE.

Those were amazing days, as we came together around the challenge to affect the slippery slope of the ELCA’s theological and spiritual descent.  Paull Spring was articulate and theologically able.  He spoke with both authority and passion……and a deep love and concern for the Church. 

We didn’t always agree, but we had huge respect and mutual patience to get the best from each other, not just me but everyone else with Paull Spring.  It was a fruitful partnership and collaboration.  Our work brought us to Synod and Churchwide Assemblies, to gatherings all over the country.  Who could forget the hundreds who came to Fishers, Indiana after the ELCA vote of 2009?  Paull was a giant at that meeting and others to come.

Our CORE work eventually came to the reality of forming the NALC, which was launched at a yearly CORE Convocation in Columbus, Ohio.  Paull Spring was chosen as the NALC’s first bishop.  He knew how to do that already.

Since those times Paull Spring led faithfully and has been succeeded now twice.  Yet he has remained a valued leader and respected confidant to many in this new “retirement.”

Paull Spring’s wisdom lives on even as we grieve his passing.  Eternity will tell the rest of Bishop Paull Spring’s story.  We will enjoy hearing then what now only God knows and Paull sees more fully.

“Oh God, the generations rise and pass away before You.  You are the strength of the weary; You are the rest of the blessed dead.  We rejoice in the company of All Your Saints” including now Bishop Paull Spring. 

Blessed be his memory and legacy to us all.

Paul Ulring




ELCA: Answer the Question!

There
is a question I have asked several times, but I have been unable to get an
answer.  The question is this –

How can the ELCA say that 2019 is the tenth anniversary of LGBTQIA+ persons’ being able to serve freely in the church when what was actually voted on and approved at the 2009 Churchwide Assembly was only the ordination of persons in publicly accountable, life-long, monogamous same gender relationships?

Recently
I was sitting at a table during lunch with several pastors from the synod in
which I have been rostered since retiring. 
When I realized that one of the persons at the table was a member of the
synod council, I figured this was an opportunity to ask my question.  So I did. 
His reply was, “I am new to the synod council.”  He then added, “That sounds like a question
for the bishop.”  To which I responded,
“I have asked the bishop, but I did not get an answer.” 

I
then asked another person at the table, who told me, “I was hoping that you
could answer that question.”

I asked a third person.  His immediate response was, “Cognitive dissonance!”  I answered, “I do not see how this could be cognitive dissonance, and who are you saying is having cognitive dissonance?  The ELCA in its making a claim about a tenth anniversary?  L, G, B, T, Q, I, A, or plus persons, who are now able to serve freely?  Or people like me who are asking the question?”

He
never replied.  Instead he said, “The
world has changed since 2009.”  I said
that I agreed that the world has changed since 2009, but that does not change
what was voted on and approved in 2009. 
He then argued, “Same sex marriage has become legal across the country
since 2009.”  Again, I said that I agreed
that that has happened, but, again, I made the point that that did not change
what was actually voted on and approved in 2009.

He then said, “LGBTQIA+ persons’ being able to serve freely is the logical next step to what was approved in 2009.”  To which I replied, “There were many back in 2009 who were concerned – and who were belittled for being concerned – that if the ordination of people in publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous same gender relationships was approved, then that would lead to the approval of the ordination of other persons who were not eligible for ordination prior to 2009.”  I then added, “There are many who believe that they were deceived.  The vote was purposefully defined as being only about persons in publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous same gender relationships in order to get enough votes to get the resolution approved.  And then once the resolution was approved, then the description of who would now be eligible for ordination would be expanded.”  He replied, “That would be an example of the hermeneutics of suspicion.”  To which I agreed that, yes, many people were suspicious about what was being said back in 2009 versus what was intended for the future.

I
then asked him, “If the ELCA is now allowing LGBTQIA+ persons to serve freely
in the church, what is the standard by which the ELCA will decide what new
sexual identities, expressions, and behaviors – now identified by the “+” part
of LGBTQIA+ – would be approved and what would not be approved for ordination?”  He did not have an answer, nor did he even seem
to feel that there was a reason to be concerned about and ask such a question.  Rather what he said next was, “Where are you
from?”  I was perceptive enough to
realize that the conversation was over.




CORE Response to “Naked and Unashamed”

This is Lutheran CORE’s response, dated April 2017, to the “Naked and Unashamed” movement, which has come out of the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago.  CORE is doubly concerned because it is unaware of any response from the administration and faculty of the seminary, the ELCA Council of Bishops, and Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton rejecting or distancing the ELCA from this movement.

RESPONSE TO “NAKED AND UNASHAMED”

ELCA PASTORS AND SEMINARIANS NOT ASHAMED

TO REVEAL BLATANT AGENDA

In 2009 the ELCA Churchwide Assembly rejected as normative the traditional, Biblical definition of marriage as it approved changes to policy and practice which allowed for the endorsing of and ordaining persons in publicly accountable, “lifelong, monogamous, same gender relationships.”  There is now a movement within the ELCA which would reject any definition of marriage as normative for sexual relationships.

Known as “Naked and Unashamed,” this movement was started by seminarians at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago and since then has been reaching out to other pastors, leaders, and seminary students in the ELCA who share their beliefs and values.  Their purpose and agenda are clearly revealed on their website, www.wearenakedandunashamed.org, which contains such statements as the following in regard to current ELCA policy and practice –

  • “The limited and hierarchical focus on marriage and family life over alternative forms of relationality is oppressive, preferential, manipulative, and culturally irrelevant to the variety of healthy sexual, emotional, contractual, and/or romantic expressions that could be part of an appropriate Christian lifestyle.”
  • “Life and liberty are being oppressed in the pressure for church leaders to be in marital relationships, or otherwise abstain from all sexual intimacy.”
  • “Marriage is not the only healthy relationship model within which sexuality can be safely enjoyed.”

As seminarians and pastors who have recently been ordained, they are objecting to “overt policies and direct questioning during the ELCA candidacy process that disallow sexual intimacy, cohabitation, and committed relationality outside of civil marriage.”

What can those who hold to the traditional, Biblical view of marriage as a life-long, committed relationship between one man and one woman, and even those who hold to what was approved in August 2009, which allowed for the ordaining of persons in publicly accountable, “lifelong, monogamous, same gender relationships,” now expect?  Based upon experience of what happened before, we can only expect that those who wish to reject marriage altogether are going to pursue their agenda relentlessly until they achieve their goals, and once they do so, then all conversation is to stop and anyone who still advocates for the traditional view, and even the approved-in-2009 view, will be criticized for being disruptive, divisive, schismatic, and trouble-making.  That is what happened during the time leading up to and since the August 2009 decisions.  Why should we expect it to be any different this time?

Never is there any Biblical basis given for this group’s thinking.  And why would we expect that there would be?  Just as the documents that were approved by the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in 2009 were based not upon the Bible, but upon psychology, sociology, and the dynamics that build trust between and among people, so this group is arguing for their desired changes on the basis of such vague reasons as “the common good,” the fact that they are “healthy” and “life giving,” “the plethora of stories we hear,” and “our values and lived experience.”  

Even in their use of the phrase, “Naked and Unashamed,” this group is turning its back on the Bible’s description of God’s judgment and mercy.  Adam and Eve were described as “naked and unashamed” before their distrust of God’s word and their disobedience.  Their transgression caused them to be ashamed, to hide, to clothe themselves in fig leaves.  Their self-justification was their primary clothing.  When God sent them out of Eden, He gave them something better.  He did not send them into the world “naked and unashamed” to make a “fresh start” of things.  Rather He clothed them even more fully – with the skins of animals who died in their place, as a forerunner of Jesus who would die in our place and whose blood would be shed to cover our sins.

According to the Lutheran understanding of the Bible, God gives us a “fresh start” in baptism.  Spiritually we go into the water naked.  Our old, sinful, deathly self is drowned in Jesus’ own death for our sake.  And when we rise in the power of His resurrection, we are immediately clothed in white robes that signify that we are more fully clothed in the righteousness, purity, and holiness of Jesus Himself.  As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5: 4, in our redemption in Christ we are not unclothed.  We are more fully clothed!

This group’s website claims that the ELCA’s teaching, expectations, and documents surrounding sexuality are “heteronormative, white-centric, economically oppressive, and non-Lutheran.”  Standards of monogamy, commitment, and chastity are deemed oppressive and demeaning.  Ideals of faithfulness and purity are rejected.  Biblical norms of “life together” are dismissed as the invention of elite, wealthy, and white Europeans.  This group asserts that other cultures have different understandings of sexual good.  In so doing, they are not only ignoring the very staunch standards for sexuality of our African fellow Lutherans, they are also ignoring the stringent sexual ethics of the Old and New Testaments, which certainly are neither elite, wealthy, white, nor European.  

Those who thought and hoped that the decisions of August 2009 to accept same gender relationships if they are publicly accountable, lifelong, and monogamous would be enough, would satisfy those who were pressing for changes, and would be as far as this issue would go, should be alarmed to read on this group’s website that they reject those decisions because of the way in which those standards define what is a “decent and acceptable marriage in the ELCA.”  They reject the 2009 decisions because they say that “acceptable same-gender relationships must look the same as acceptable heterosexual relationships.”  

The documents of this group even give a place for advocating for polyamory (multiple partners), as evidenced in these statements.  

  • “This is what we are pushing back on:  the idea that one person in your life must be the one whom you trust the most, and with whom you simultaneously work together financially, domestically, sexually, emotionally, and parentally.”
  • “There exists in the ELCA multiple positions on (several different relational patterns are listed, including polyamory).  We lift this multiplicity up and demand that its full diversity be recognized within the Christian lifestyle in our church.”

There is no sense of marriage as based upon our creation as male and female, and as given its most perfect expression in the model of God’s faithful and permanent love for His people and Jesus the bridegroom’s love for the Church, His bride.  Rather this group says that “understanding and practices of marriage, relationality, and sexuality also change over time, and must be understood as contextual.”  There are “many possible forms of ‘Christian’ relationality, just as we see diverse forms of Christian worship.”  To see different expressions of sexuality as no more significant than the difference between traditional and contemporary worship would be absurd if it were not so alarming.

This group makes absolutely no mention of the long-standing and profound Biblical linkage between sexual sin and idolatry.  At the risk of being gross and offensive, I would refer you to an article entitled, “My clitoris keeps my faith alive,” posted on the “Stories” page of the “Naked and Unashamed” website.  A seminary Ph. D. student writes, “My clitoris became a gateway to the mystery of God’s presence. . . . My clitoris became more than an organ of pleasure, but a piece of heaven within me.”

How is this different from the pagan sexuality and fertility cults of the Canaanites, which the Bible clearly condemns?  This is idolatry, making a god out of part of my own body.  This is what the apostle Paul described in Romans 1: 25 as he talked about those who “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.”

Any faithful member of the ELCA should be absolutely alarmed to see this kind of thinking coming out of one of the ELCA seminaries.  Our concern for the future should be in overdrive, as we realize that our future pastors are being exposed to this kind of thinking during their seminary training.  Since this group is focusing especially on sexual ethics for pastoral candidates, are they saying that if a pastor or pastoral candidate has sex with a prostitute, it is okay, as long as s/he is respected as a sex worker?  Are they implying that if a congregation is not able to pay within guidelines, then a pastor or pastoral candidate is free to sell sexual favors to supplement income – again, as long as it is done in a healthy, life-giving, respectful, and mutually beneficial fashion?

This past February we were all reading and hearing with great alarm about the Oroville Dam in northern California.  Because of unusually heavy rains, the dam’s main and emergency spillways were significantly damaged, prompting the evacuation of more than 180, 000 people living downstream.  Those who oversee the Oroville Dam would be grossly irresponsible if they were to not take any and all necessary measures to repair the damage and ensure the future integrity of the dam.  Will the leadership of the ELCA – the Presiding Bishop, the Church Council, the Council of Bishops, those who oversee the ELCA’s seminaries – say, “Enough is enough; this has gone too far; this is not what was voted on and approved at the Churchwide Assembly in 2009”?  Or will they allow the damage and the erosion of Biblical values to continue – at probably an ever increasing rate?

Dennis D. Nelson

President of the Board and Director of Lutheran CORE




Letter to ELCA Leadership following Same-sex Marriage Decision

The following letter was sent in June 2015 to the sixty-five synodical bishops of the ELCA and to Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton after the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in favor of same-sex marriages. Of the sixty-six people who received the letter, CORE heard back from only one – the bishop of the Oregon Synod – and he basically minimized our concerns.

 

June 28, 2015

Dear

Thank you for the ministry of oversight which you are providing for the Church.  God has entrusted you with the enormous responsibility to care for His flock, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ gave His life.

The social statement, “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” as approved by the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in August 2009, describes four different positions that members of the ELCA hold “with conviction and integrity” regarding same-gender relationships.  After acknowledging that “at this time this church lacks consensus on this matter,” the social statement then continues with these words: “Regarding our life together as we live with disagreement, the people in this church will continue to accompany one another in study, prayer, discernment, pastoral care, and mutual respect.”  

I am writing as president of the board of Lutheran CORE on behalf of all the pastors and congregations of the ELCA who do not celebrate and agree with the recent Supreme Court decision regarding same-sex marriage.  Many are wondering what impact this ruling will have upon them both now and in the future.  Some are wondering whether the law will continue to allow them to marry and not marry according to their religious convictions, and what will happen if the laws were to be changed.   Some are wondering whether in the future churches will lose their tax-exempt status if they refuse to perform or host same-sex marriages.  Some are wondering what steps they should be taking now to preserve and protect their legal right to not perform same-sex marriages.  

The human sexuality social statement also states, “The ELCA recognizes that it has a pastoral responsibility to all children of God.”  I am writing to encourage you in your calling to uphold this principle and to ask how you will do so.  Since 2009, those who have supported the changes in our teaching on sexuality and marriage have seen those changes confirmed and supported in many concrete ways: the ordination of practicing homosexuals, public statements by various leaders of the ELCA, a new working group on ministry to same-gendered families, and an increased tolerance of transgenderism, to name a few examples.  Lutheran CORE and its constituents do not believe that equal confirmation and support have been afforded those of a traditional mindset.  How will you now unreservedly lend your affirmation, pastoral care, and episcopal defense to those who uphold the traditional view of marriage?     

Thank you, again, for your ministry of leadership, oversight, and pastoral care.  And thank you for your attention and response to our concern.  

 

Sincerely,

Dennis D. Nelson

Retired ELCA Pastor, President of the Board of Lutheran CORE