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  

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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.   

Letter From The Director – August 2022



The ELCA held its Churchwide Assembly August 8-12 in Columbus, Ohio.  The gathering sent a strong message to confessional Lutherans with traditional views – You are not welcome.  In this article I will list several ways in which the decisions that were made and the events that took place communicate that message loud and clear.    

First, the resolution concerning human sexuality that came from the Memorials Committee early on in the gathering was bad enough.  The assembly voted overwhelmingly, without discussion, and with no concerns expressed “to authorize a social statement reconsideration to revise Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust (2009) so that its wording reflects current church understanding, church policy, civil law, and public acceptance of marriage of same-gender and gender non-confirming couples.”  It was obvious where this was headed, and it took only two days to get there.  Towards the end of the week a resolution came through the Reference and Counsel Committee “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.”  At least there were a few people who spoke against this resolution, and 12% voted against it, but still the days of the ELCA’s claiming to honor bound conscience and to provide a place for those who hold traditional views are over. 

I am certain that the ELCA 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.  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. 

David Charlton, vice president of our board, has done a powerful analysis of the possible (even probable) implications of this action. 

  • Candidacy committees and seminaries will no longer need to pretend to work with traditional candidates.  They can reject them outright.
  • Seminaries will be able to openly purge any traditional professors who remain, in the name of ELCA policy.
  • Synods will no longer need to work with congregations who do not want to call LGBTQIA+ pastors.  These congregations can be told, “Either call an LGBTQIA+ person or you will get no pastor at all.”
  • It will be difficult for a pastor who holds traditional views to move to a new synod or a new call.  A bishop will be able to refuse to recommend a pastor for a new call if that pastor is unwilling to do same sex weddings.
  • It will be easier to sue congregations for not doing same sex weddings.

Second, during the days leading up to the assembly there was much conversation about calling for a restructure of the governance of the ELCA.  I read comments from many people who believed that the Memorials Committee’s original recommendation to refer the memorials from synods to the Church Council was an act of deliberately stonewalling their efforts.  Some even talked about a showdown at the assembly.  By the time of the assembly the Memorials Committee had changed its recommendation – to one which 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.” 

One could hope, when this new church is reconstituted, that congregations will be given an opportunity for an “easy exit” because the new church will not be what they had signed up for in 1988.   There is even talk about removing the word Evangelical from the name of this new church.  The claim is that the word evangelical is associated in the minds of many people with right-wing, racist, white-supremacy fundamentalists.   

Prior to the assembly I read much criticism of Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton – some of it even very severe.  Some were calling for her resignation or a vote of no confidence because of the way she initially handled the situation with Meghan Rohrer and Iglesia Luterana Santa Maria Peregrina.  Bishop Eaton survived the assembly (though she did test positive for COVID on the morning of the final day – we pray for her quick and full recovery) and she demonstrated throughout the week her great giftedness for presiding over a large and complex gathering.  But I definitely got the impression that she was not setting the course.  The relentless revisionists were, and they have completely taken over.

Third, the whole assembly was a powerful example of the amount of damage that can be done to and the depth of embarrassment that can be created for a large organization by the foolish and self-centered actions of just one person.  It felt like the specter of former bishop Meghan Rohrer and their termination of Nelson Rabell on the Feast Day of our Lady of Guadalupe hung over the entire week.

Fourth, Bishop Eaton’s apology to Iglesia Luterana Santa Maria Peregrina was deep and thorough, and the response of the representatives of the congregation was incredibly gracious, but it should be noted that Bishop Eaton apologized only on behalf of the ELCA.  She did not apologize for herself.  It is a whole lot easier – and a whole lot less painful – to apologize on behalf of a large group of people rather than on behalf of yourself.

During the apology she said, “Part of the body was disconnected; the body was not whole.”  She also promised to be “committed to listen to voices that have traditionally been marginalized.”  But what about another part of the body that is disconnected?  What about other voices that are being marginalized – the voices of those who hold traditional views?  During and after the 2009 Churchwide Assembly Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson reached out to those who were feeling alienated by the actions that were taken (even if it was only for the self-serving reason to preserve the organization).  I have not heard of any effort – nor do I expect to hear of any effort – to reach out to those who feel disconnected and marginalized, even more so now because of the vote on the human sexuality resolution.  We are just too few in number and we are seen as insignificant.  Unlike Pastor Rabell and Iglesia Luterana Santa Maria Peregrina, pastors and congregations who hold traditional views do not have well-positioned, powerful, and credible people to advocate for them – and to do so relentlessly – until finally something is done.

Fifth, the overwhelmingly positive vote on the Land Back Memorial is another example of ELCA inconsistency and hypocrisy.  The assembly fully supported a resolution which, among other things, called upon the ELCA to “support creative programs of restorative justice in partnership with Indigenous people, including, but not limited to, whenever considering a transfer or sale of real property, including returning land (and any structures built on it) after satisfying any financial obligations, to the appropriate Native nations, and when direct return is not feasible or not desired by the Indigenous people, to return the proceeds from the sale of the land to the ELCA Native American Ministry Fund or other local Indigenous led ministries or organizations.” 

Several months ago I wrote a letter to the bishop of the synod in which I was rostered before I retired.  In that letter I said that if that synod truly believes that the land now occupied by the synod offices and all of the congregations of that synod is stolen land, then they are morally obligated – whenever they close a congregation and sell the property – to return at least the value of the land to indigenous persons, and if they do not do so, then they would be complicit in the stealing of land.  The problem is that the number of congregations in that synod and the size and vitality of the remaining congregations are so diminished.  Therefore, that synod needs considerable funds from the sale of buildings and land of closed congregations to balance the budget. 

Will the ELCA truly want to return land and structures to Native nations if the ELCA is struggling financially, or is virtue signaling something the ELCA does only when it does not cost too much?  Also, will the ELCA be willing to return the land and structures of congregations that had to pay a very high price to leave the ELCA?  And if those congregations no longer exist, will the ELCA be willing to give the land and structures (or the value of that land and those structures) to other church bodies which better reflect the beliefs and values of those congregations that paid a very high price to leave and/or were decimated by the persons whom the synod sent in?

Sixth, those who hold a pro-life position should be deeply disturbed by the action that was taken to archive a number of social policy resolutions. In the ELCA social statements cover broad frameworks and are intended to help God’s people think about their faith in the context of social life.  Social policy resolutions are a much narrower and more focused category of social teaching.   

The idea behind archiving a social policy resolution or social statement is to say that that document is no longer relevant to the ELCA’s mission, does not have continued significance for society, and is no longer congruent with ELCA social teaching.  The ELCA’s abortion social policy resolution states essentially the same thing as the ELCA’s 1991 abortion social statement, and it has now been archived.  It has been ruled as not relevant, not still significant, and not still congruent with ELCA social teaching.  It is only a matter of time – perhaps at the 2025 churchwide assembly – until the ELCA’s abortion social statement also will be ruled as not relevant, not still significant, and not still congruent.  After all, as one person said recently, “The ELCA’s abortion social statement was written in the 1900’s.”  I do not remember any explanation of the meaning and significance of archiving prior to the vote to archive.  If anyone who holds a pro-life position happened to be present, there is a good chance that that person would not have understood what just happened. 

Seventh, there was a lot of strange spirituality and even the worship of other gods during the assembly.  The opening focused more on the original inhabitants of the land than on Jesus, and the welcome from the bishop of the host synod focused more on the rivers that flow through that synod than on Jesus.  And the prayer from a member of the prayer team during the vote on the human sexuality resolution was particularly strange.  First, Bishop Eaton needed to be reminded of the importance of having a prayer even though voting had already begun.  And the wording of the prayer was completely irrelevant. A member of the assembly prayer team read from her i-phone an invocation to Mother Earth and Father Sky, concern for all the creatures of the earth, and repentance for our not recycling enough.  The only possibly relevant phrase was, “Help us to dance together,” but even considering that phrase relevant is a stretch.  The thinking seems to be that if we pray prior to a vote, then the outcome of the vote must be within the will of God. 

Eighth, one might wonder how so much groveling, repenting, and apologizing by the assembly could possibly be uplifting for the voting members.  The reason is that they were groveling over, repenting of, and apologizing for what other people have done and not for anything that they have done or ever would do.  A definite characteristic of the whole Woke Movement is an arrogant self-righteousness.

Ninth, in an article entitled “Major Disaster on Its Way,” published prior to the assembly, I wrote of my concern regarding two constitutional amendments that would be considered.  A link to that article can be found here.  The first amendment, which removed proclaiming God’s love for the world from the role of rostered leaders and essentially made them social justice advocates, was originally voted on in 2019.  This amendment was part of a block of amendments that were ratified overwhelmingly.  A motion to ratify previously approved amendments is not open to debate.  ELCA parishioners should not be surprised if their pastors do not preach about Jesus, but instead are only social justice warriors.   

I was glad to hear considerable concern expressed regarding the role of the ELCA’s colleges and universities as described in the other amendment.  Many felt that the deletion of a certain paragraph from the constitution weakened the church’s connection with those institutions and diminished their Christian witness.  A slight majority voted to approve, but it did not receive the required 2/3rds, so the amendment failed.

Tenth, it was good to see certain issues addressed – such as the evils of racism and abuse of power, the need for fair and adequate compensation for all rostered leaders, and the issue of seminarian debt.  And there were four times when the proceedings made me chuckle.

  • When Bishop Matthew Riegel of the West Virginia-Western Maryland Synod responded in the words of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to a motion to eliminate the breaks in order to give more time to the consideration of the memorials.  He said, “If we do not satisfy the lower level needs, we will never be able to self-actualize.”
  • When a voting member who made a motion to table the Land Back Resolution was told that a better way to go would be a motion to postpone debate until a fixed time or when certain conditions have been met.  His response was, “I have no idea how these rules of whatever work.”
  • When Bishop Eaton said to Bishop Riegel, “I have learned not to doubt you.”
  • When a voting member spoke to a certain resolution, using all the right woke phrases but not making any sense.  Bishop Eaton had a very pained and confused look on her face as the voting member was speaking and then said, “Thank you.”

The “Embody the Word” Bible studies prior to the assembly culminated on the second day with a theological presentation by Anthony Bateza, associate professor of religion at St. Olaf College.  He talked about the importance of trust, the lack of trust today, and the question of how do and can we become people who can be trusted.  He told of his having to undergo surgery and physical therapy after tearing his ACL in a skiing accident.  He said that he needed to learn to trust his own body again.

Even more so than ever before – with the motion “to authorize a possible revision of the social statement on Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust” and reconsider “the church’s current concept of the four positions of bound conscience” – the ELCA has totally obliterated any reason why anyone with traditional views would ever trust the ELCA.  The damage to the body is irreparable.  Far more than an ACL has been torn. 

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Lutheran CORE is always looking for ways to take our ministry to the next level and expand our work of being a Voice for Biblical Truth and a Network for Confessing Lutherans.  Our most recent new effort is to expand our video ministry.

For about two years we have been posting on our You Tube channel a new video book review on the first day of every month.  Many thanks to the Lutheran pastors and theologians who have been recording these reviews of books of interest and importance. 

We are calling our new video ministry CORE Convictions.   This new video series is being planned particularly for those who are looking to strengthen and renew their Christian faith. We believe that these videos will be a valuable resource 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 – Book Reviews and CORE Convictions.  Here is some more information about two of the most recent videos. 

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Many thanks to Dr. Paul Hinlicky, professor emeritus at Roanoke College in Roanoke, Virginia, for giving us a review of Simeon Zahl’s book, The Holy Spirit and Christian Experience.  Here is a link to his review. 

Prior to the rationalism of the Enlightenment, during the early years of Reformation theology, part of the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer was seen to be the giving of a new heart, new emotions, a change in one’s desires.  This book helps regain that emphasis.  Faith is not just a matter of intellectual conviction.  It is also something that strikes home for us personally.  It changes us and what we love. 

Grace can be an abstraction – simply the idea that God is merciful and loving.  Instead grace needs to be and can be a concrete experience of the merciful Jesus Christ, who finds His way into our hearts through the extraordinary work of the Holy Spirit.  


We now have four videos posted in our CORE Convictions series –

  • “Defending Christian faith and morality without being a nasty jerk or a defensive Bible thumper” by NALC pastor Cathy Ammlung
  • “Jesus is the only way to salvation” by Russell Lackey, campus pastor at Grand View University (ELCA)
  • “Teaching the faith to children of all ages” by NALC pastor Jim Lehmann
  • “What does it mean to be Confessional?” by NALC pastor Jeffray Greene

More videos will be posted as they become available.  Here is a summary of Cathy’s video.



Many thanks to NALC pastor Cathy Ammlung for this video on how to share the Christian faith and moral values in a hostile environment.  Here is a link to her video.

In this video she discusses what Christians can do to prepare for and engage in conversations on difficult topics like abortion.  Cathy does not give answers or talking points.  Instead she counsels the viewer on leading with the love of Jesus and doing the hard work that provides solid information, insight, and confidence.  Finally, she walks the viewer through some of the tactics for argumentation and activism that were formulated by Saul Alinsky and that are being used by many people today who oppose Christian faith and moral values.  It’s less threatening when you know what’s going on!

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Thank you for letting me share regarding these issues.  May the Lord continue to bless you.

Dennis D. Nelson

Executive Director of Lutheran CORE


Letter From The Director – June 2022



For years I have been writing articles about the ELCA – often with the subtitle, “What Will It Be Next?”  The images I have chosen for those articles have often been a car or motorcycle careening out of control, a road with the pavement washed out, a road with a bridge ahead washed out, a road covered by an avalanche of rocks, or a road that goes over a cliff.  I have been certain that eventually the ELCA will crash. 

That “eventually” could very well be soon.  Last December the bishop and synod council of the ELCA’s Sierra Pacific Synod (northern California and northern Nevada) terminated the call of a Latino mission developer, and did so on December 12, the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, one of the most special days for many in the Latino community.  At first Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton did not follow the recommendations of the “Listening Team” which she had convened, but instead felt that the words and actions of Bishop Megan Rohrer of the Sierra Pacific Synod did not rise to the level of initiating disciplinary procedures.  Instead she merely asked Bishop Rohrer to resign because they (Bishop Rohrer’s chosen pronoun) no longer had the trust and confidence of the synod.  A resolution proposed at the June 2-4 synod assembly that Bishop Rohrer resign by the end of the assembly and that they be dismissed from their position if they do not resign failed to pass by a vote of about 56% to 44%.  A two-thirds majority vote would have been required.  The synod assembly ended with Megan Rohrer still serving as bishop, but the fallout continues across the ELCA.  Congregations within that synod have said that they will leave the ELCA and at least one other synod has said that they will stop sending financial support to the ELCA as long as Megan Rohrer continues as bishop.  In addition I read of plans for demonstrations during the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in August.

Here is a link to a website that contains the most complete list that I am aware of to articles and videos related to the crisis.

I have been reading about the situation and watching it unfold for months, but I certainly do not claim to fully understand it.  Nor is it my role or my responsibility to make a statement about the rightness and/or wrongness of the actions and words of the people involved.  But I would want to make it abundantly clear.  Racism is wrong.  Abuse of power is wrong.  Discrimination and unequal treatment of people are wrong.   

In this article I want to explore two things.  First, Why has this whole situation been so explosive within and damaging to the entire ELCA? (For shock waves have been reverberating not just in one synod, but throughout the entire church body.)  And second, What does this whole situation say about the ELCA? 

First, Why has this situation been so explosive within and damaging to the entire ELCA?  I can think of six reasons. 

First, because the ELCA already was a weakened and injured church body.  The ELCA is painfully aware of the fact that it is significantly diminished from what it was when it was formed in 1988.  The number of members has decreased from over five million to less than 3.3 million in thirty-four years.  The number of congregations has dropped from over 11,000 to under 9,000.  And the congregations that remain are significantly diminished.  Smaller congregations mean less income to congregations, which means less income to synods, which means less money to churchwide.  The ELCA is obsessed with the fact that it has been labelled “the whitest denomination in the United States” (and this in spite of all of its efforts to be inclusive and multi-ethnic).  And the ELCA is constantly apologizing for everything and for all of the ways in which it has been complicit in the mistreatment of all disadvantaged peoples.  How could any organization – or any person – who is significantly diminished, failing to meet goals, and constantly apologizing be healthy and strong?

Second, the ELCA promotes a culture of victimization.  Throughout this whole situation – including at the recent Sierra Pacific Synod Assembly – people have been talking about how victimized they and other people are.  Now, I fully agree that it is wrong to victimize people.  I do not want to deny, minimize, or disregard the pain of those who have been victimized.  But I believe that any organization where such a high percentage of the people see themselves as and will frequently talk about themselves as being victimized will not be healthy and strong.

Third, in the ELCA there is competition for who is the most oppressed, marginalized, abused, and powerless.  For the person or group who is the most oppressed, marginalized, abused, and powerless actually has the most power.  They are the ones who are most to be listened to because that they are the ones who have the most accurate insight into the way things “really are.” 

Fourth, in the ELCA racism and white supremacy are the worst of sins.  A synodical bishop, who a few short months ago was the greatest of celebrities, has become the worst of sinners.  Even the presiding bishop is now being seen as having committed the unforgiveable sin.  Because Bishop Eaton at first did not follow the recommendations of the “Listening Team” and did not see racism as sufficient reason to initiate disciplinary procedures against a synodical bishop, she is being accused of being what she has been speaking most strongly against.    

Fifth, in the ELCA there is an absence of grace.  Oh, the ELCA talks about grace.  But it is the grace of being inclusive.  According to the ELCA, God is inclusive; therefore I need to be inclusive.  And anyone who is not as inclusive as God and me has committed the worst of sins.  If grace is all about being inclusive, then there is no grace for anyone who is not inclusive.  Not being inclusive is the unforgiveable sin.   

I wrote about this in my article, “Did Jesus Die for Our Sins?” which appeared in the May issue of our newsletter, CORE Voice.  A link to that article can be found here.  For many within the ELCA the reason Jesus died on the cross was not to pay the price for our sins (for if He needed to do that, then God the Father would be a Cosmic Child Abuser).  Instead Jesus was killed because His being inclusive was a threat to the Roman empire.  But the problem with that view is that without the blood of Jesus the only resource I have to deal with my own sins and the sins of those who sin against me is my being inclusive and following the example of Jesus who was inclusive and who resisted oppressive, non-inclusive power structures. 

Towards the end of the second day of the Sierra Pacific Synod Assembly there was talk about wanting to be able to find reconciliation and healing.  But without the blood of Jesus to cover over sin – without grace – how would you ever hope to be able to find reconciliation and healing when someone has committed the worst of sins?  

Sixth, there is a real zeal for works righteousness within the whole “woke” movement.  People need to show that they are just as woke as, if not more woke than, everyone else.  Therefore, if someone has committed the worst of sins, I must jump in and show myself to be totally woke.   

Those are six reasons why I believe the whole situation has been so explosive within and damaging to the entire ELCA.

Now I would like to turn our attention to my second question – What does this whole situation say about the ELCA?  I can think of eight things.

First, just being part of a so-called “marginalized” people group does not qualify someone to be bishop.  Enough said.

Second, Bishop Eaton has a habit of being very quick to issue statements and make judgments regarding issues outside the ELCA.  And yet she was very slow – it took her three weeks – to make a statement about and to become involved in this issue within her areas of responsibility.   She has plenty to deal with within her own arena of oversight.  She needs to focus her energy and attention on her areas of responsibility.   

Third, at the Sierra Pacific Synod Assembly Bishop Eaton made a very strong statement against racism and white supremacy.  A similarly strong statement was made by the interim vice president of the ELCA, Carlos Pena, who presided over much of the proceedings.  I wonder whether Bishop Eaton will ever be able to regain full credibility.

Fourth, the vote on the resolution to call for Bishop Rohrer’s resignation or dismissal if they do not resign failed by a margin of 56% to 44%.   (A two-thirds majority vote would have been required.)  A majority voted to dismiss, but not a two-thirds majority.  That alone is a recipe for a disaster.  I think of congregations where the vote to leave the ELCA failed.  A majority voted to leave, but not a two-thirds majority.  There are many tragic examples of what happened next.

Fifth, before the formation of the ELCA, I was a part of the ALC (American Lutheran Church).  The ALC was much more congregational, much less hierarchical, than the ELCA was designed to be.  In the ELCA synodical bishops have been given a great deal of power and authority.

But recently there has been much discussion that there needs to be a curbing of the power and authority of synodical bishops and synod councils, because the bishop and synod council of the Sierra Pacific Synod are seen as abusing that power and authority.  I wonder how many synod assemblies will be working to have that issue come to the floor of the Churchwide Assembly.

Sixth, another dynamic that I have heard mentioned is what has been called the “Purple Code” – the at least unwritten agreement that the Conference of Bishops will circle the wagons whenever there is controversy and no synodical bishop will ever speak against another synodical bishop.  But several synodical bishops have been calling for the need to bring charges against Bishop Rohrer.  The wagons are no longer circled.  Will they ever circle again?  The Purple Code has been broken.  Will it ever be intact again?

Seventh, I have heard that there has been much discussion the last few months that such things as parliamentary procedures and Roberts Rules are all rooted in systemic racism and all promote and maintain white supremacy.  They disadvantage ethnic minorities, people whose primary language is other than English, and people of color.  Therefore, they must all be dismantled.  Again, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in August should be interesting.

Eighth, for months Bishop Eaton has been talking about Future Church and her goal to reach one million “new, young, and diverse people” by the end of this decade.  If people in the ELCA are already calling for a dismantling of everything in the ELCA that fosters racism and white supremacy, what will it be like when one million “new, young, and diverse people” become a part of the equation?  I assume that most of these one million “new, young, and diverse people” will not have a history with the ELCA, will not value the ELCA, and will not have experience in being a part of church life.  Is the ELCA really ready for what it says it wants?    

How all of this will play out I do not know.  Major new developments have occurred between the time when I started writing and when I finished writing this article.  Bishop Eaton announced that she would bring charges against and would initiate a disciplinary process against Bishop Rohrer and Bishop Rohrer has resigned.  I assume that there will be further developments by the time that you read this article.  Part of the reality of writing an article like this is knowing that it will always be out of date.

Please join with me in praying for all those within the ELCA.  No matter how far they have strayed, Jesus still loves them and He shed His blood for them. 

* * * * * * * *


On May 17, a couple weeks after the news broke of a leak of a draft opinion written by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton released “A Pastoral Message on Abortion.”  A link to her letter can be found here.

Please find below my analysis of what she has written. 

Typically misleading 

It is very typical of Bishop Eaton to say a few words to make it sound like there is room for traditional views within the ELCA, but then she always comes down solidly on the revisionist side.

In the third paragraph of her communication she refers to the ELCA’s 1991 social statement on abortion and says, “This church holds both women and ‘developing life in the womb’ (page 2) as neighbors.”  She acknowledges “life in the womb” as life and seems to give the impression that that life will be valued, considered, and cherished.  She goes even further in the third paragraph when she adds, “This church longs for a future with fewer abortions every year.”

So far it sounds good.  But in the seventh paragraph, after advocating for a “more just society that cherishes and guarantees the dignity of all,” she expresses no concern for cherishing and guaranteeing the dignity (or even life) of the “developing life in the womb.”  She acknowledges the “developing life in the womb” as life, but then totally ignores any concern for the rights, preservation, and cherishing of that life. 

Lack of clarification 

In the third paragraph she states that the ELCA opposes “the total lack of regulation of abortion” (page 9 of the 1991 social statement) but does not state or affirm what kind of “regulation of abortion” the ELCA would and does support.  As is typical, Bishop Eaton is very careful to make sure that she does not say anything that would lead to her being “blasted” by liberals and progressives.  I understand that that is what happened when she said after the death of George Floyd that rioting was not peaceful protesting.  

In the fourth paragraph she says, “Abortion must be legal, regulated, and accessible,” but she says nothing about how abortion should be “regulated.”  Again, if she were to do so, she probably would be “blasted” by liberals and progressives. 

She says nothing specific and definitive about whether there are situations where abortion would not be a morally defensible decision.  She says nothing about the kinds, timing, and/or circumstances of abortions that the ELCA would not or might not support.  She says nothing about the difference between situations where abortion may be deemed “medically necessary” for the life, health, and well-being of the mother, and situations where abortion is an easy way to get rid of an inconvenience. 

One-sided concern

Her concern for protection is totally one-sided. 

In the fourth paragraph she says, “People who choose to have legal abortions should not be harassed,” but she shows no concern regarding –

  • The vandalizing of church buildings or the disruption of worship services for congregations with traditional views.
  • The picketing and protesting outside the homes of SCOTUS Justices with the intent to harass and intimidate.
  • The long-term effects of allowing people who need to make difficult decisions to be harassed and intimidated – whether at the federal or local level, or even in the church. 

Here is one more example of Bishop Eaton’s being very careful to make sure that she does not say anything that would result in her being “blasted” by liberals and progressives. 

She also does not address the whole issue of the leak of a SCOTUS document and how that kind of betrayal of trust undermines the integrity of our institutions. 


She engages in the same kind of fearmongering that has been running rampant in this situation.

In the sixth paragraph she says, “Any Supreme Court decision similar to the leaked draft. . . . has the potential to foster communities of conflict and moral policing rather than complex moral discernment.  It will likely endanger or cause the deaths of people who need an abortion.  And the legal bases (sic) established by any such decision threaten people’s access to birth control, same-sex marriage, voting rights and their right to privacy.”

Bishop Eaton makes these statements even though the draft opinion clearly states that the right to have an abortion is “fundamentally different” from “rights recognized in past decisions involving matters such as intimate sexual relations, contraception, and marriage.” (page 5)

She makes strong statements but then gives no evidence for how a change in one area (abortion) would threaten all these other areas.

Those who hold traditional views were belittled and ridiculed for their concerns leading up to 2009 regarding the slippery slope – that changing the ELCA’s position regarding same sex marriage would lead to other changes.  Here we see “the other side” having a major concern for the slippery slope.  

In the seventh paragraph she adds, “Any ruling similar to the leaked draft will . . . damage the health and well-being of many.  The prospect is daunting.”  Again, she is fearmongering. 

In the fifth paragraph Bishop Eaton says, “This church teaches that abortion and reproductive health care, including contraception, must be legal and accessible.”  By combining contraception with abortion within this sentence Bishop Eaton is again engaged in fearmongering – implying that if the Supreme Court takes away your right to an abortion, it may next take away your access to contraception. 

What the draft opinion actually says

A link to the draft opinion can be found here.

Please note these three significant sentences –    

  • “The constitution makes no mention of abortion.” (page 1)    
  • “No such right is implicitly protected by any constitution provision.” (page 5)
  • Therefore, the draft would “return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.” (page 6)  

Progressives/liberals say that the Supreme Court would make abortions illegal.  In actuality, the draft opinion would overturn Roe v. Wade’s holding of a federal constitutional right to an abortion.

The draft opinion would not make abortions illegal.  Instead it affirms that the constitution does not provide a basis for the right to an abortion.  The right to have an abortion – or the limitations to the right – should be based upon the action of individual states. 

In the sixth paragraph Bishop Eaton makes the statement, “I urge you to work locally to moderate any Supreme Court decision similar to the leaked draft.”  In making that statement she seems to be acknowledging what the draft opinion is actually doing – returning the decision to the states.

Bottom line

Bishop Eaton’s “Pastoral Message on Abortion” makes one wonder whether she actually read the draft opinion before writing a letter about it. 

She needs to be far more careful if she wishes to help contribute to “complex moral discernment” rather than “conflict and moral policing” (sixth paragraph).  Instead of helping to avoid conflict, she has created conflict by releasing a statement that is highly critical of a position held by many within the ELCA.  She is not serving well as presiding bishop of the whole church when she makes such strong statements that do not respect the diversity of viewpoint within the ELCA. 

Once again the ELCA communicates that in spite of all of its talk about diversity and inclusivity, traditional views and those who hold them are not welcome.  

* * * * * * *



Many thanks to NALC pastor Brett Jenkins for his review of two books which give a Biblical response to transgender ideology, a movement that is gaining predominance in our culture.  Brett writes –

Since the advent of the Renaissance, Christian orthodoxy has faced increasing challenges to its beliefs, primarily in the form of alternative spiritualities and, as the Renaissance became the Enlightenment, materialism in its various manifestations, including the Darwinian account of human origins.  The rise of transgenderism allied with postmodern assumptions presents a challenge on a new front, a front for which the Church is ill-prepared: human nature itself.  This fact makes these books worth reviewing.

When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment by Ryan T. Anderson

This book details the cut-and-thrust of academic and the politics it has influenced in bringing about a historical moment when the first question asked by new parents since the dawn of time, “Is it a boy or girl?” has become impossible—and in some cases, illegal—to answer.  It does so with evident compassion for those suffering from gender dysphoria while making clear that Christians and others sharing the conviction that culturally conditioned notions of gender have their roots in the objective fact of biological sex need to prepare themselves to be cultural pariahs.  They need to take self-consciously active steps to educate their communities in a narrative different from that being imposed by cultural elites.

Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution by Carl R. Trueman

In this book Carl Trueman provides a succinct, easy-to-read history of the ideas and thinkers that have led to the “transgender moment.”  This book was produced at the request of a thinktank for a resource for non-specialist teachers, leaders, and political staffers encapsulating the key insights of his 2020 book The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution.  The book ends with some helpful suggestions for ways church leaders could contribute to the cultural conversation as well as provide pastoral responses and care for congregation members.

This review, as well as nineteen others, have been posted on our YouTube channel.  A link to the channel can be found here.

Thank you for your partnership in the Gospel. 

Dennis D. Nelson

Executive Director of Lutheran CORE


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.