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.




Letter From The Director – October 2022

IT SHOULD NOT SURPRISE ANYONE

It should not surprise anyone that a movement is developing to get the ELCA to commit a massive breach of trust and to eliminate any provision for traditional views and those who hold them.

In my August letter from the director I told about some of the more significant actions that were taken by the 2022 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.  One of the most alarming was the overwhelming approval of a resolution “to authorize a possible revision of the social statement on Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust” which “reconsiders the church’s current concept of the four positions of bound conscience.”  (These four positions can be found on pages 19-21 of the 2009 social statement.  They provide a way for there to be a place of respect for traditional views and those who hold them.  A link to the document can be found here.)

At least there were a few people who spoke against this resolution, and 12% voted against it, but still it should be obvious to all that the days of the ELCA’s claiming to honor bound conscience and to provide a place for those who hold traditional views are over. 

In my August letter I wrote that I am certain that the ELCA actually never intended to honor traditional views.  The language regarding bound conscience and the four positions was placed within the 2009 social statement only to obtain enough votes to get the social statement approved, and even then it was barely approved.  One needs to look no further than the ELCA’s total embrace of ReconcilingWorks and its choice of keynote speakers for the 2018 youth gathering to realize that confessional Lutherans with traditional views are not welcome.

But how will it happen?  A recent statement from Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM) suggests a possible path.  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.”    

On September 7 this organization released a document entitled “ELM Churchwide Assembly and Bound Conscience Statement.”  A link to the full statement can be found here.

In this document they say, “The ELCA must address our sins of racism and ‘bound conscience.’”  It then says, “As Lutherans, we confess our participation in these systems, yet we continually fall short in the ways to overcome these systems of oppression.”  “Sin” and part of the “systems of oppression” – that is what Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is challenging the ELCA to join with them in calling traditional views of human sexuality. 

I am sure that no one who had been paying attention thought that bound conscience was anything more than temporary.  In some places it was ignored right from the beginning.  What is new here is explicit language with which bound conscience might be repudiated and the means by which it might be done – through a public apology by the Churchwide Assembly and the Presiding Bishop.

The statement from Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries describes recent times when the ELCA has made a formal apology.

  • “In 2019, the Churchwide Assembly adopted a formal letter of repentance to commit to examine the church’s complicity in slavery, and to acknowledge ‘the ELCA’s perpetuation of racism.’”
  • Also in 2019 the ELCA made a formal apology to the African Descent community.
  • “At the 2022 Churchwide Assembly, Bishop Eaton formally apologized to the worshipping community of Iglesia Luterana Santa Maria Peregrina for both individual and institutional racist harm done to the congregation & the Latine community.”

And now Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is calling upon the ELCA to make a similar apology to the LGBTQ+ community.  Their document states, “Queer people in the ELCA deserve an apology and behavior consistent with repentance for the harm caused by ‘bound conscience’ and policies like ‘Visions and Expectations.’”  “Vision and Expectations” is a document that was approved by the ELCA Church Council in 1990 to describe what the church expected of its leaders but then removed from use by the ELCA Church Council in March 2020 because its more traditional views and expectations were “a source of great pain for many in the ELCA.”

Bound conscience and traditional views are now a sin – on the same level as racism and other forms of systemic oppression.  What should alarm every Lutheran with traditional views is the fact that Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries always gets what it wants.  They wanted the ELCA to remove the word “chastity” from its revised version of Definitions and Guidelines so that ELCA public theologian Nadia Bolz-Weber would be able to remain on the clergy roster while bragging about her sex life with her boyfriend (to whom she is not married), and they got what they wanted.  If Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries gets its way (which they always do) sooner or later – maybe in 2025, maybe in 2028 – the ELCA will officially repent and apologize for permitting pastors and congregations to teach and live according to what the Church has been teaching for two thousand years.

But while the ELCA grovels and repents as Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries tells them to, do not expect them to repent for breaking their promises to honor and provide a place for traditional views and those who hold them. 

In my August letter I also wrote about another resolution that was approved by the Churchwide Assembly which should cause great alarm for confessional, traditionally minded Lutherans.  The assembly voted to direct 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.” 

The question naturally arises, Who will develop this revised version of the 2009 human sexuality social statement and possible reconsideration (rejection) of the four positions of bound conscience?  Also, who will be appointed to this “Commission for a Renewed Lutheran Church”?  You can be sure that those who have been driving the process to get things to where they are today have been busy, working to make themselves the dominant factor in the process.  Many of these people have said that they do not believe that any “white male over the age of sixty” should be allowed to have anything to do with the process, and the Statement from Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries urges “the committee tasked with reconsidering ‘bound conscience’ to include ‘new, young, and diverse’ voices and those that have been most harmed by ‘bound conscience.’”  The ELCA has made it very clear that high on its list of priorities for the coming years is to reach “one million new, young, and diverse people.”

The ELCA Church Council is scheduled to meet November 10-13.  We assume that among the actions taken will be the appointment of people to the Commission for a Renewed Lutheran Church and the task force to review and revise the human sexuality social statement.  We all know that once you know who is on the committee, you know the outcome.  We will keep you posted. 

* * * * * * *

VIDEO MINISTRY

Each month we feature two videos – the most recent addition to our video book reviews, and a recent addition to our CORE Convictions videos.  The CORE Convictions series is being designed particularly for those who wish to grow in their knowledge of Biblical teaching and Christian living as well as for those who want to know more about how Lutherans understand the Bible. We also want to provide this resource for those who do not have the opportunity or the option of attending a church where the preaching and teaching is Biblical, orthodox, and confessional.

Here is a link to our You Tube channel.  In the top row you will find recordings from both sets of videos – in the order in which they were posted, beginning with the most recent.  In the second row you will find links to the Playlists for both sets of videos.  We now have five videos in our CORE Convictions series.  Many thanks to retired AALC pastor James Hoefer for his video on “The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit.”  His video will be featured in December.

This month we want to feature a video book review by Pastor Chris Johnson and a CORE Convictions video by Pastor James Lehmann.    

“LIVES AND WRITINGS OF THE GREAT FATHERS OF THE LUTHERAN CHURCH”

Many thanks to Chris Johnson, LCMC pastor and secretary of the board of Lutheran CORE, for his review of this book, which is edited by Timothy Schmeling and Robert Kolb.  A link to his video can be found here.

Pastor Johnson begins by reminding us of the phrase, “If we can see farther, it is because we are standing on the shoulders of giants.”  He sees this statement as true in many areas of life, including theology, and as well illustrated in the biographies and writings of twenty-one theologians who came after Luther from the 1550’s to the late 1600’s.

Some of these men were educators, some were brilliant systematic theologians, some were preachers.  Some were known for their poetry, their hymnody, or their devotional literature.  They served in many different ways, but they were all very gifted and dedicated to the Christian faith as understood by the Lutheran Confessions.   

Some were known for their polemical style, which is quite understandable since they lived during tumultuous times.  They faced many challenges and endured great suffering, such as during the Thirty Years War and from the plague.  Many experienced deep pain and sorrow from the death of several family members. 

They fought hard battles, were attacked on many sides, and suffered great losses.  They lived during a period of Lutheran history that we often ignore.  But according to Pastor Johnson, it is a great gift to us to get to know them and what they did.  They were men of faith who were dedicated to the Lutheran Confessions.  We would do well to learn from them as to how they persevered and remained true to the faith no matter what. 

TEACHING THE FAITH TO CHILDREN OF ALL AGES 

Many thanks to NALC pastor Jim Lehmann for his video, a link to which can be found here.  According to Pastor Lehmann, teaching the faith to children of all ages “may be easier than you think.  It does take discipline to make disciples.  It starts before a person can understand the language of faith and continues when language may be lost.  Join me for some ideas.”

The temperatures are cooler here in Arizona, and the Sonoran desert is lush and green from the summer rains.  No wonder the Snowbirds are returning.  We are constantly being reminded of God’s goodness.  May you also experience His blessings.

In Christ,

Dennis D. Nelson

Executive Director of Lutheran CORE

dennisdnelsonaz@yahoo.com  




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.