those of you who keep up with religion news know that the ELCA (evangelical lutheran church of america) recently had their 2009 annual churchwide assembly and made some controversial decisions. let me summarize a few of those decisions before opening up a discussion.
- the ELCA adopted full communion with the united methodist church. controversial to many lutherans, but overshadowed in most coverage by the other decisions made at the cwa.
- the ELCA adopted the social statement, “human sexuality—gift and trust.” although this social statement deals with many different aspects of human relationships and sexuality, the most controversial part speaks about homosexuality. here is an excerpt from the executive summary of the resolution:
It is only within the last decades that this church has begun to understand in new ways the need of same-gender oriented individuals to seek relationships of lifelong companionship and commitment as well as public accountability and legal support for those commitments. This has led to differing understandings about the place of such relationships within the Christian community. Disagreements exist in this church and in the larger Christian community about whether marriage is also the appropriate term to use to describe similar benefits, protection, and support for same-gender couples entering into lifelong, monogamous relationships.
Although at this time this church lacks consensus on this matter, it encourages all people to live out their faith in the local and global community of the baptized with profound respect for the conscience-bound belief of the neighbor. This church calls for mutual respect and for guidance that seeks the good of all. As we live together with disagreement, the people in this church will continue to accompany one another in study, prayer, discernment, pastoral care, and mutual respect.
the church recognized four different views of this matter within the denomination, and the practical effect is that local churches may deal with this issue as they see fit.
- the ELCA adopted ministry resolutions allowing the church to recognize homosexual relationships and for the denomination to have homosexuals serve in ministry. Here is an explanation from the ELCA website:
The assembly adopted four resolutions that commit the ELCA to bear one another’s burdens and respect bound consciences in these matters; to allow congregations that choose to do so to find ways to recognize and support lifelong, monogamous, same gender relationships and hold them publicly accountable; and to find a way for people in such relationships to serve as rostered leaders in the ELCA. The fourth resolution points toward a specific way to allow rostering while respecting bound consciences.needless to say, these decisions have raised an uproar. one group of conservative lutherans met in indianapolis last weekend and laid the groundwork for separating from the denomination and realigning lutheranism in america. one of the largest lutheran churches in the u.s. voted this past weekend to leave and join a more conservative lutheran group. even the united methodist church, with whom the ELCA just joined in full communion, has said they will not welcome any homosexual pastors as they share in ministry together.
on the other hand, i spoke with my pastor sunday and he said we most definitely will not be leaving the ELCA. in his view, the decision is a social policy statement and does not go to the heart of the gospel or affect our doctrine of salvation in christ. furthermore, our church did not participate in the entire process of studying the social statement, we have a rather distant relationship with the larger denomination, and the decision has little or no effect on our life and ministry as a local congregation.
in fact, one of the redeeming characteristics of the ELCA decision is that it clearly recognized the differences of opinion that exist in our churches regarding homosexuality and how to deal with it. and it called people on all sides to respect the "bound consciences" of others as we go into the future together.
gail and i have been members of an ELCA congregation for about a year now. we love our local church, its worship and emphasis. it is a very different experience for us, having been in mostly non-denominational evangelical churches for 30+ years. the evangelical churches of which we were part were more compatible with our beliefs in some areas of doctrine, moral convictions, and worldwide mission emphasis. this includes our understanding that the bible does not set forth homosexual behavior as congruent with god's design for creation. however, as i wrote last year on my other blog, we also saw significant weaknesses and failures in the evangelical church in worship, pastoral theology, missional living among our neighbors, culture war emphases, and many other areas.
frankly, i don't consider myself a part of "american evangelicalism" anymore. i am what michael spencer calls a "post-evangelical". i long for the wisdom of good theology and the lessons of history and tradition to inform my faith. i'm no longer into the next christian fad and i have moved out of the christian ghetto. i love luther as well as lutheran theology and worship, consider myself a reformation, confessional christian, and feel connected to the catholic (universal, historical) church in ways that i never have before.
however... in the mainline churches of today (heirs of the social gospel, higher-critical thinking, and liberal theology), one must come to grips with an entirely different perspective on theological, social, political, and moral issues. the bible is sometimes understood and treated differently. it's a "big tent" approach that forces me to consider many challenging concepts and relationships.
so, i guess i don't really have one question today. can we just have a conversation about all this? i'd like to get feedback from people in mainline churches, evangelical churches, folks who don't go to church at all, etc., about how you would view the situation in the ELCA if you were in our shoes.
don't be shy. let it out. keep it civil, but don't be afraid to express strong opinions strongly.
today's van gogh
path in the woods, 1887