Reflections post Churchwide Assembly

The following is what I emailed to the members of the congregation I serve following the actions of the recent ELCA Churchwide Assembly.  I think it gives some perspective.

By now you have likely heard some reports that at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly the voting members have decided to recognize and support same-gender relationships and to permit those in such relationships to serve our church as pastors and other rostered leaders.  I want to provide you with facts and my perspective on these changes.

  1. Approved: “Resolved, that …the ELCA commit itself to bear one another’s burdens, love the neighbor, and respect the bound consciences of all.”

My observations: The ELCA has long recognized that people of faith differ, often dramatically, about what scripture says and how to understand the intersection of faith and life.  For instance, the Social Statement on the Death Penalty declares that this church does not support the death penalty … but gives voice in the document to those who on the basis of scripture and their understanding of scripture support the death penalty.  Likewise, in our Full Communion agreement with the Episcopal Church, we have agreed to ordination into the historic episcopate … except for those who object to that requirement.  In this same way, the Assembly recognized that there is no consensus in this church about how to read scripture with respect to same-gender sexual relationships and agree to respect those differences.  Respecting the “bound conscience” of all does not mean demanding that my position be approved of by others, but that in my relationships with others I respect those differences and treat those who differ from me with kindness, respect, and love.  The responsibility is on “me” to respect another person’s perspective.

2. Approved: “Resolved, that the ELCA commit itself to finding ways to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support, and hold publicly accountable life-long monogamous, same-gender relationships.”

My observations:  Notice the important words, “congregations that choose to do so”.  This is an honest recognition of our present reality and has the effect of truth-telling by the ELCA.  We already have congregations which recognize & support, persons in these relationships.  In this resolution, we agree together that for those congregations choosing this path, that we will put no obstacles before them.

3. Approved: “Resolved, that the ELCA commit itself to finding a way for people in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as rostered leaders of this church.”

My observations: This action takes resolution 2 above just one more step.  It is important to note that it too is truth-telling by the ELCA.  These pastors and others exist now in vital ministries within congregations that cannot imagine being served by anyone else.

4. Approved: An implementing resolution (too long to reprint here) which does contain these two paragraphs.  “Resolved, that the ELCA make provision in its policies to eliminate the prohibition of rostered service by members who are in publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships; and be it further Resolved that the ELCA make provision in its policies to recognize the conviction of members who believe that this church should not call or roster people in a publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationship.”

My observation: Please notice that this church is recognizing that there is not full agreement on the rostering of persons in same-gender relationships and is careful to make sure that policies are in place respecting the bound conscience of all.

At the end of Friday’s plenary session, Bishop Hanson served well as our pastor.

He reminded us that some in this church are experiencing profound loss.  He offered words from Romans to them.  “Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who was at the right hand of God, who intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”

He reminded us that some in this church area experiencing profound joy in celebration of full inclusion.  He offered words from Ephesians to them.  “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”

He reminded us that some in this church are full of uncertainty.  Did the voting members do the right thing?  Did we create division in the church or was this prophetic?  He offered words from Colossians to them.  “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

I’m thankful for Bishop Hanson’s care.  It is reflective of what I wanted to share with you also.  There are those in this congregation who will celebrate these decisions (and hold disappointment that the actions were not stronger).  There are those here who will see these votes as going against clear scripture (and wonder if they can even remain in the ELCA).  And there are those who are filled with uncertainty.  I rejoice with those who rejoice, and my heart aches for those who hurt or uncertain.  I care about you deeply.

I remind you that a core value of this congregation is that “We will continue to discover that people of faith often disagree about all sorts of things, but we can engage in respectful faith-centered conversation and learn from one another.”  This is a good test of whether this is a lived  value.

Also, please know this.  These votes are not asking anyone to change their perspective on the Bible.  These votes are asking people to respect the bound conscience of those who have a different perspective. ELCA positions are often very carefully worded and nuanced.  Read these decisions carefully for what they say and for what they do not say.

There are plenty who will seek to make these votes some awful sign of the end of the church.  There will be some who generate fear and much wringing of hands.  Many people are part of Our Shepherd because of the care, ministry, & learning opportunities we offer.  Most people are part of Our Shepherd because of the important relationships with one another and the proclamation of the Gospel.  That won’t change.

Bishop Hanson also said to us, “We meet one another finally, not in our agreements or our disagreements, but at the foot of the cross — where God is faithful, where Christ is present with us, and where, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are one in Christ.”

As always, I will be available for individual discussion of these votes and their implications for you, this congregation, and the ELCA.

I joyfully serve as one of your pastors,

Pastor Earl


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