Category Archives: Homosexuality

Boycott!

These days it has been hard to get me here to post some “ponderings”.  Recent events calling on boycotts as a first response to news has me riled up.

You’ve seen the news.  Dan Cathy, The CEO of Chick Fil-A disclosed his objection to marriage between two people of the same gender.  He made the claim that the company is run on Christian values to justify his perspective.  The backlash was immediate.  Many groups have called for a boycott of the business, protests are planned, and counter protests are planned.  Almost every action is directed against another group with the desire to draw attention to one’s own perspective.

What a mess.  This is nonsense.  This is more polarization of our society.  I’ve never seen it so bad.

When did it become true that if we disagreed with someone that instead of talking we protest, demonize, or boycott?  What ever happened to civil discourse?  What ever happened to the hard task of listening to others not to find fault with their perspective but to hear their perspective and learn from it.  Are my opinions so full of ultimate truth that I must make sure that all people agree with me in word and deed?  The arrogance is astonishing.

While I personally disagree with Mr. Cathy’s reading of scripture related to same-gendered marriage, I also disagree with the actions of those who are calling for boycott or banning Chick Fil-A from certain communities.  These actions have further damaged any chance of seeing any change in Mr. Cathy’s stance.  Thanks for making that work harder.

My experience has been that I have more influence in someone’s life and decision-making if I am in relationship with them.  Boycotts and bans damage the possibility of relationship.  Boycotts and bans have their place, but not as the first response, or maybe even the 10th.

Martin Luther explained the 8th Commandment (You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor) this way: “We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and interpret everything he does in the best possible light.”

Exposing “The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) EXPOSED”

It has become sport to attack the ELCA these days.  The ELCA is a flawed institution like every institution.  It is contaminated with sin just as every other human endeavor.  Martin Luther claimed that even our worship of God is tainted.  What characterizes many of these attacks is “painting with a huge brush” objections some have.  One example of this is a website that claims to “Expose” the ELCA.  Here are some of the author’s key points about why persons should leave the ELCA, and my comments.  I offer this as “pondering material”.  My statements are indented and in bold.

The ELCA is promoting a brand of “universal salvation.” The Lutheran Study Bible says, “Jesus includes in salvation people who do not believe in him or even know about him.” That is not Biblical. Is this the denomination we want to have ties to?

In the first printing of “The Lutheran Study Bible” the website’s author is correct.  The systematic theologian writing the study notes for Matthew 28 did include that phrase.  It is my understanding that in subsequent printings, it has been changed/removed.  It would be interesting to debate this more inclusive view of salvation.  What can we say about God’s grace as applied to those who do not know about Christ?  If indeed baptism is necessary and life begins at conception, what about stillborn persons?  Is there room for God’s grace beyond those “who believe and are baptized”?  Let’s at least raise the question and discuss it!

This denomination teaches that Jesus did not say what the Bible says He said. Is this the denomination we want to have ties to?

As a pastor in this denomination, I’m not aware that I do this, nor am I aware that anyone else teaches this.  The charge is very short on details.

They date the writings of scripture by seeing when “prophecies are fulfilled” and decide there is no way the writers could know what would happen before hand, so they decide scripture must have been written after the fulfillment. i.e. – God not involved. Is this the denomination we want to have ties to?

I think this is an attack against modern Biblical scholarship.  If so, then I’d simply reply that when prophets and others write, with God involved, it is entirely possible that the authors believe themselves to be writing about one thing, and God uses it for something in addition.  For example, in Isaiah, when the author writes that a young woman will conceive and bear a child, the immediate application was a promise that before that child was weaned certain events would occur.  It is a poetic way of describing time.  Later, others used the phrase and applied it to Jesus.  Please don’t tear away contextual meaning from scripture, because when you do that, you violate scripture.

The ELCA does not believe there is prophecy in the Bible! There are hundreds of places where the Bible says there is! Jesus says many times that it does. Some people say over 25% of the Bible is prophetic. Is this the denomination we want to have ties to?

It depends on what you mean by prophesy.  I understand that often prophecy is interpreting current events in light of God’s action in the world.  If prophecy only means “prediction of future events” then many Biblical scholars across the church will take issue with the definition.

This denomination has denied God’s authorship of the Holy Bible, as evidenced from the listing above. And the Bible even refers to itself as Holy (2 Timothy 3:15). Is this the denomination we want to have ties to?

More inflammatory rhetoric here.  Look, in a legitimate debate, using 2 Timothy 3:15 as proof will completely fail.  It relies on circular logic.  If by “God’s authorship of the Holy Bible” means that every word is literally true and factually accurate and there are no metaphors, parables (other than that which is called a parable) or the like then I’m guilty as charged!  This Bible is a library.  It contains a wide variety of literature that is God-breathed, and that the people of God have found to speak God through.  Come on, even the genealogies of Jesus don’t agree.  I’d suggest a reading of Karen Armstrong’s books for some interesting perspectives for debate. (That reference will get me labeled a “flaming liberal”!)

The ELCA has taken a stand against Israel. They threaten to stop all financial relations with Israel. They want Jerusalem and parts of Israel given to the Arabs. God gave Israel that land. It states it clearly in the Bible. God confirmed it with Isaac and Jacob that the land was for them. This is against God’s will, and it is an action that the Bible warns about. “In those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. There I will enter into judgment against them concerning my inheritance, my people Israel, for they scattered my people among the nations and divided up my land.” Joel 3:1-2. Is this the denomination we want to have ties to?

The Bible also commands hospitality to the sojourner and that the laws apply equally to the people of God and to the resident alien.  Is the modern state of Israel the same as the Israel of the Bible?  Not necessarily so!  God has delivered Israel into the hands of its enemies many times in scripture when it was disobedient.  Is this a like time?  The Evangelical Christian tendency to support the nation of Israel at all costs is often disingenuous.  Many see it as a way of inviting the second coming of Jesus more quickly.  Just maybe the ELCA is serving God as a prophet to the modern nation state of Israel.  Read the prophets once again!  What does the Lord require but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.

The ELCA supports abortions in their medical coverage. They also actively promote and lobby for the use of public funds for abortions. Is this the denomination we want to have ties to?

I hear this pretty consistently and I don’t have any factual information to say about this.  Abortion is tragic and undesirable … but I know that if it is to occur, I’d rather it be done by medical personnel.

The ELCA and others supporting homosexuality try every kind of theological gymnastic move to make the the Bible mean something other than what it says. They even try this when God so clearly says homosexuality is a sin. They also try to say Revelation is not about prophecy, even when the biblical author writes “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw–that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.” (Rev. 1:1-2) In reality, what the ELCA is doing is calling the Biblical authors and God, LIERS! Is this the denomination we want to have ties to?

Homosexuality is the issue that seems to be “the straw that broke the camel’s back”.  The Bible says a lot of things that are difficult and require interpretation.  Sometimes we’ve gotten that right.  Sometimes we’ve gotten that wrong.  Each generation must wrestle with the text in a way to be faithful to it.  Many serious and faithful scholars disagree about what the texts that seem to be about homosexuality say and don’t say.  I say, let’s engage in the conversation without resorting to “slander” (which is also listed in scripture as something we should not do … within a few verses of one of the most commonly quoted passages about homosexuality).  Likewise, serious scholars have discovered contemporary meaning to the time it was written in the apocalyptic writings of The Revelation.  In the text itself it says, “what must soon take place”.  Is 2000 years your idea of soon?  (And don’t give me the thousand years is but a day to God quote.)

—–

That is enough.  At least I’ve got that off my chest.

Pondering Pastor

ELCA Angst: Scriptural Authority

In August, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly voted to allow persons who were in publically-accountable life-long monogamous same-gender relationships (the acronym now in use to keep the terminology consistent is PALMS) to be on the leadership rosters of the church (pastors, diaconal ministers, and associates in ministry).  There are many who point to these decisions and make the claim that the ELCA has abandoned the “authority of scripture”.  The rhetoric is often quite shrill.

I’ve spent some time in scripture with an eye toward evaluating the response of those who claim the scriptural “high ground”.  I’ve taken my time in this process, and have invited members of the congregation I serve to consider scripture’s guidance and experience with what I think is a similar controversy described in the last 2/3 of the book of Acts.  I’ve been careful to ask these participants whether or not they believe (a) that the story has similarity to the conflict within the ELCA and (b) whether or not it is instructive for our life together.  We have participants who are anxious to rush to judgment about the Assembly votes themselves, but I try to gently steer them back to the questions at hand.  Thus far, the process has been very helpful.

Beginning at Acts 10, we learn about a vision that Cornelius has where an angel of God appears to him and instructs him to summon Simon Peter.  Cornelius is a “God-fearer”, which means that he is a Gentile believer who has attached himself to portions of Jewish law and practice, but who has not submitted to circumcision.  There is no indication in the text that Cornelius has any idea about the reason he would be instructed to summon Simon Peter.  Likewise, in these opening verses of the story, we have no clue what God has in store for Cornelius.  Meanwhile, as the messengers of Cornelius are approaching Simon Peter, this disciple of Jesus has a vision of his own, where a sheet is lowered from heaven with all sorts of animals on it and a voice commands Simon Peter to eat.  He objects and resists, because there are unclean animals on the sheet, but the voice declares, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane”.  The Spirit further commands Simon Peter to go with the Gentiles sent by Cornelius.

We found it interesting that the only possible reference to any other part of scripture declaring all food clean is Mark 7:14-19.  If that is indeed a place where Jesus declares all food clean, would not have Simon Peter, a disciple present at the event, have recalled it and known its significance before this new vision?  We also noted that there was a three-fold repetition of the instruction and still Simon Peter remains puzzled.

Simon Peter arrives at the home of Cornelius and specifically states that “it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile”.  Simon Peter further states, “but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.” (Acts 10:28)  That is different than what the voice stated in Acts 10:15, and demonstrates an expansion of the teaching of the vision.  One of our questions of the story thus far is whether or not Simon Peter’s expansion carries the weight of a new revelation by God.  If so, it has tremendous implications about that which the Old Testament calls an “abomination”.  We also note that by this time in the story, there are few clues as to what God is doing with this encounter.  Simon Peter makes a speech, and says “…anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him …”  and “… everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”  There appears to be both obedience (to what is not clear in this particular text) and trust/belief lifted here as important.

Then, in Acts 10:44-45 an absolutely astonishing thing happens.  The gift of the Holy Spirit falls upon those who are completely outside the bounds of who is acceptable according to Jewish thought and Jewish law (contained within scripture).  The significance of this cannot be minimized.  If we were wondering at all about what God’s purposes were in bringing together the orthodox of orthodox Simon Peter who had never eaten anything unclean and a Gentile dabbling in the faith but not really committed, here it is.  Note too that the astonishment is among the circumcised believers accompanying Simon Peter.  This is not a throw-away reference.  Time and cultural changes tends to make it hard for us to recognize the new thing God is doing here.

After the dramatic and powerful experience in Caesarea, Peter (and likely those with him) travel to Jerusalem where the decisions Simon Peter made were openly challenged.  Specifically at issue was the table fellowship with Gentiles, in other words, his willingness to even to be engaged with the Gentile Cornelius.  I love the way the text describes Simon Peter having to go through his experience “step by step”.  At the end of this description, Simon Peter says, “… who was I that I could hinder God?”  The challenge by the leaders in Jerusalem was that Simon Peter had made some poor decisions, and Simon Peter’s witness is that he was simply following the lead of God.

Hearing this account, the leaders in Jerusalem had no spoken objections.  We would expect the matter now to be settled.  We also noted that there is “relief” sent to the believers living in Judea.  We will continue to see this theme throughout the rest of Acts, even when the controversy is not over.

The story of the controversy isn’t apparent again until Acts 13-14.  Following a speech by Paul in Antioch, there are some “Jews and devout converts to Judaism” (read all circumcised) who challenged Paul.  Paul defends the ministry to Gentiles, but is driven out by the Jews.  The same thing happens in Iconium.

In this part of the story, I don’t read “Jews” as “Jewish people” as much as I do “faithful people of God who hold on to what scripture says is the only faithful way of inclusion into the faith, that is, circumcision”.  At stake for them was the adherence to the law as revealed to Moses.  They were protecting the traditions and scripture from those who were claiming a new revelation from God that contradicted more than 3000 years of God’s history with God’s people.  I’m sure they held these teachings very passionately and were absolutely convinced of their continuing validity.  However, participants in our study made the observation that if they were right, then the Christian Church developed completely in error and the witness of Paul is completely wrong.

In Acts 15-16, the controversy has grown so intense that a consultation occurred with the leaders in Jerusalem.  A compromise is worked out.  James orders that the Gentiles do not have to be circumcised, but need to be obedient to the law in some minimal ways, including abstinence from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood.  This remains an uneasy compromise for many, and there is lack of trust that even this compromise is right or will work.

What was he thinking?!?  On the heals of this consultation, Paul circumcises Timothy!  Now, Timothy’s mother was Jewish and his father was a Greek (Gentile), but there is a perfect opportunity to assert the freedom granted by the consultation.  Yet, one might say, Paul was either respecting the bound conscience of the Jewish believers in the area or was tired of the conflict or had more important things to focus on.  Our group is not to this point yet, but I’m anxious to learn what they make of this part of the story.

In Acts 21, Paul is arrested.  Paul has gone back to Jerusalem, where people of the circumcision party are bound and determined to silence this one who is contaminating the true faith.  They attempt to kill him, but soldiers (Gentiles) arrest him and save him.  Paul’s story continues eventually to Rome where he is in house arrest.  Note that this conflict is the very thing that spread the Gospel to Rome through Paul.  The witness of the author of Acts is that this very conflict is used by God to spread the Gospel.

I notice that in the midst of the controversy, with its center in Jerusalem and to a certain degree with the leaders of the church in Jerusalem, Paul never suggests the withholding of offerings or “relief” to the church and the people of Jerusalem.  He always encourages the Gentiles to give generously to the very people who would exclude them from full participation in Christianity if they do not submit to the ritual of circumcision.

I don’t claim to know what God is doing in the ELCA.  Our current conflict seems overwhelming at times.  I watch people who saw themselves as brothers and sisters in Christ in July, now name-calling in September.  I’m of the firm belief that the story of the conflict between the circumcision party and the god-fearers in Acts (and in Galatians) can be instructive for us as we seek to find ways to live with our differences.  Faith is often shaped in the times when God seems absent and there is not the clarity we desire.

Pondering Pastor

One Month post ELCA Churchwide Assembly

It has now been about a month since the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly where the Assembly voted to allow congregations to recognize same gender relationships and allow to the roster those in same gender relationships.  (The actual language is more nuanced than this, but finding shortcut language that is accurate is quite a challenge yet.)  There are congregations and individuals reeling from these decisions, congregations and individuals celebrating these decisions, and the majority of congregations and individuals attempting to make sense of these decisions in our life together.

I’ve been putting together some frequently asked questions about these decisions as they apply to the congregation I serve, and while this is not in its final form, I’m posting it here.

Comments are encouraged, but will be moderated.

Frequently Asked Questions

Churchwide Assembly decisions made related to human sexuality

Q.  Can we talk to a pastor about our questions?

A. Absolutely!  Please do!  In speaking with people, we listen carefully and respond to what you are looking for.  Do you want to voice opposition and find ways to still be a part of the congregation?  We do that.  Do you want to celebrate the decision?  We do that.  Do you want to explore the perspective different from yours in a safe environment?  We do that.  Your position is respected, honored, and important for us to know as we serve as pastors of this congregation.

Q.  Shouldn’t the pastors take a firm definite position in these matters?

A. I do.  I believe that the believer’s encounter and wrestling with scripture should impact faith.  I experience scripture to be inviting us to consider the paradoxes of life.  I experience scripture to be knocking us away from trusting in our own conclusions and encountering God in some new ways.  Therefore, one of my goals is to assist those wrestling with scripture to see where it might be leading them.  This will have an impact far beyond this limited topic.  Frankly, human sexuality is not central to the Christian faith.

Q.  How could the ELCA go against the clear teaching of scripture about homosexuality?

A. The reality is that there is not “clear teaching” in scripture about homosexuality.  Faithful Biblical scholars and readers reach different conclusions about what the very few passages of the Bible that mention same-gender relationships actually mean.  Some argue that they mean that all homosexual acts are forbidden.  Some argue that they mean that abusive same-gender relationships are forbidden.  Some argue that other portions of scripture set aside the prohibitions.  Still others argue that the words and culture into which these passages were written do not speak at all of lifelong, monogamous, committed same-gender relationships.  We have to determine the appropriateness of all these interpretations while realizing that all of us make interpretations about the appropriateness and applicability of portions of scripture.  No one comes to scripture without a particular lens through which scripture is seen.  Even those who adhere to the “plain reading” of scripture make different interpretive decisions.

Q.  With such different interpretations, how can we trust anything in the Bible?  Doesn’t this lead to relativism?

A. These differences have always existed, and we seem to have been able to trust the Bible thus far.  Some have decided that the Bible is a rule book.  Some have decided the Bible is a “love story” between God and humanity.  Some have decided that the Bible is a historically factual event without any kind of error. Some have decided the Bible is a guide to opening us to the experience of the in-breaking Kingdom of God.  Each of these initial assumptions brings with it different perspectives that are of value to the others.  I’m a firm believer that we learn best about God when we are in conversation with others who experience God differently than we do, and are therefore stretched in our faith.  When I say I trust the Bible, I say that from my basic understanding about what is the Bible.

Q.  With such different interpretations, how can I stay in the ELCA, or this congregation?

A. It pains me to know that people are wrestling with these kinds of decisions.  I believe that people have been called into this congregation to share the gifts God has given them.  The purpose of the church is not to find uniformity, but “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12-13)  We need the voices of those who celebrate this decision and we need the voices of those who reject this decision so that we can learn from one another.  What is not helpful is to “draw a line in the sand” without engaging in that dialogue and learning.  Having said that, I greatly respect a friend of mine who has committed to staying in the ELCA so that he can have voice and influence toward the eventual overturning of this decision.  He says publically that if he leaves, he loses that prophetic voice.

Q.  What is this about “bound conscience”?

A. The Churchwide Assembly voted to encourage everyone in this church to respect the bound consciences of one another.  This means that we commit to honor the perspective that the other person brings to these concerns, and not to belittle, condemn, minimize, or bear false witness to those perspectives.  This is the hardest part of what the Churchwide Assembly voted to do, and is already the most widely abused.  Our culture rapidly moves to violation of the 8th Commandment whenever we disagree.  Remember Luther’s explanation of the 8th Commandment.  “We are to fear and love God so that we should not tell lies about our neighbor, nor betray, slander, or defame them, but should defend them, speak well of them, and interpret all that they do in the best possible light.”

Q.  Can the ELCA change its mind?

A. It is possible, but I suspect not likely.  The greatest challenge to reversing these decisions is a practical one.  Many who would advocate reversal are contemplating leaving the ELCA, meaning that they will not have a vote.  Lutheran Core is proposing a non-geographical Synod whereby congregations opposed to these decisions could remain in the ELCA and have influence.  That is the greatest hope for those who oppose the decisions made by the Churchwide Assembly.

Q.  Will our pastors now start performing same gender blessings?

A. As I understand the polity of the ELCA, we are pastors called by a congregation to serve a congregation.  We are pastors of the ELCA, but are not “independent contractors” who perform ceremonies outside the authority of the congregation.  In fact, we are not ordained until we have a call to a congregation or other ministry.  The ELCA Churchwide Assembly decisions applied specifically to congregations and did not authorize individual pastors to do whatever they wish.  Any requests for such blessings would be vetted through the Church Council, at least in this congregation.  That does not preclude a pastor working to achieve that approval if deemed appropriate.

Q.  Does the Bible offer any guidance as we try to find a way to live together with these differences?

A. Absolutely!  Pastor Kathy’s friend Carla pointed out 1 Samuel 8 to her the other day.  It is the story about God disapproving of the people choosing a king for Israel.  God lays out all the justification for not having a king, but then relents and allows them to choose a king even though God is against it.  God will use the circumstances for God’s purposes.  In the book of Acts (starting at about Chapter 10 and woven throughout the rest of Acts) we read the story of the intense conflict between the “circumcised believers” and the “god-fearers” about what is necessary for Gentiles to become Christians.  Eventually, the decision was made to allow baptized Gentiles to avoid circumcision if they “were circumcised in the heart” and agreed to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood and strangled animals, and from fornication.  This was an uneasy peace, eventually leading to the arrest of Paul.  I think there are important parallels between these events and our current reality.

Q.  What will our children be taught in Sunday School?

A. They will be taught the things that have always been taught.  I really don’t anticipate any real changes here.  Yes, in the older grades, the conversation may arise about same-gender relationships, (and have in the past) and I trust that our commitment to the bound consciences of one another will prevail.  Remember, my priority is the encounter with scripture and the resulting impact on faith, not some social agenda.

Q.  When can we as a congregation vote on whether or not we agree with these decisions?

A. There are no plans to put this forward to a vote.  The best way right now to signal your disapproval or approval is to have conversation with a pastor.  As we hear from people, we essentially “take the pulse of the congregation” and determine the best course of action based on that information.  If people do not share their concerns with us, then we have no real way to gauge the level of concern.  I promise, I’ll observe the 8th commandment in my listening and responding.

Pondering Pastor

For those open to understanding the ELCA Decisions

The decisions by the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly to

  • “bear one another’s burdens, love the neighbor, and respect the bound consciences of all”,
  • to find “ways to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support, and hold publicly accountable life-long monogamous, same-gender relationships”,
  • and find “a way for people in such publicly accountable lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships to serve as rostered leaders of this church.”

are the reason some give for leaving the ELCA.  There are claims that this decision does not take scripture seriously and overturns thousands of years of Christian tradition.

Two pastors I respect have written some very helpful articles for those who are open to understanding these decisions from a Bible-centered way.  I recommend them to you.

The first is from Pastor Peter Marty and is here.

The second is from Timothy Wingert and is here.

Our goal with these decisions is to engage in respectful, honest conversation.  I’ve stated often that we are blessed by people of different perspectives in congregations.  I want to learn from people who are traditional in their understanding of scripture and from those who are non-traditional.  I believe our faith is strengthened by the conversation.

Pondering Pastor

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

ELCA Churchwide Assembly 2009 – Day 1 Reflection

I’m a voting member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Amercia’s (ELCA)  11th Biannual Churchwide Assembly.  Two years ago here, I blogged while watching the streaming webcast.  This year, I’m providing some observations from the assembly floor as a voting member.

Monday evening’s rule vote was considered by many to be the initial reflection of how the Assembly will vote on the matters of human sexuality that are to come before the body, particularly whether or not this church will ordain persons in same-gender unions.  While that may be true to an extent, I think something more significant is at work.

The new rule moved by Bishop Gregory Pile of the Allegheny Synod (a former Bishop of mine) was so all-inclusive that it left no room in the middle.  It would have required a 2/3 vote for ANY motions, amendments, substitute motions, etc related to the ELCA Human Sexuality Task Force Recommendations on Ministry Policies.  That was curious to me, in part, because a substitute motion can be completely opposite of the main motion.  Was the attempt to kill any decision about these matters at this Assembly?  The result was that the proposed rule didn’t leave any room for those in the middle.

There is the assumption that everyone in this church is polarized about gay or lesbian partnered (in same gender relationships) pastors.  I believe that there are many who are quite conflicted about this, and will be influenced by the debate and by the guidance of the Holy Spirit at work here.  If either “side” raises the bar too high, there will not be sufficient agreement.  Those advocating the 2/3 rule know this, and at the heart of the proposed rule is the recognition that if this Assembly advocates change, then we should at least do it so overwhelmingly that there is no doubt left.

There has to be room for the middle, for people to be able to say, “This makes me uncomfortable, but I can do this. I can go this far.”  Whatever rules, motions, amendments, etc. in either direction that gives room to the middle will ultimately be that which is approved.  I encourage all at the assembly to find ways to make room for one another.

Unfortunately, the proposed rule change didn’t do that.

Current odds of seeing me at a microphone this week:  40%