I wasn’t planning on blogging again on the ELCA Churchwide Assembly’s decision to approve a social statement allowing the blessing of same-sex unions on Wednesday, and to allow the ordination of sexually active homosexuals who are in monogamous, committed relationships on Friday. That is until Sunday. The Des Moines Register, had two articles one news regarding how the Assembly’s decision would effect Iowa’s Lutherans (those in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America), and then an op-ed by a UCC pastor. I’ll handle the first in this post, and the second in another post since it touches on a larger issue.
Perry Beeman of the Register, who wrote the article titled “Lutherans won’t bolt over gay clergy, Iowans predict,” painted a very one-sided picture of the debate, Beeman wrote:
Lutheran congregations across Iowa will avoid a mass exodus of members despite tension over the denomination’s controversial decision to allow sexually active gay clergy, according to predictions on Saturday by church-goers, pastors and gay-rights activists…
And then goes on to quote people who were in favor of these votes, with the exception of Rev. Marshall Hahn who pastors St. Olaf Lutheran Church in Dubuque who said that he would have to talk with his bishop “to discuss what this means for my future with this church.” He may have had more to say on that issue, we’ll never know. Basically, yet again, the Register’s reporting stinks. News articles should present both sides and there is hardly unity since the first vote came with exactly the amount of votes needed to pass (so exactly 1/3 is against a 676-338 vote). The vote of Friday, a procedural vote which only needed a simple majority and was much closer – 559 to 451, so almost 45% were against.
Not that such things should ever be put to a vote. Pastor Mike Housholder is senior pastor of Lutheran Church of Hope in West Des Moines. His church is the largest ELCA church in Iowa which has an average weekly attendance of over 6,000. Pastor Housholder was Mac’s World Live on Thursday, and said this:
There are those of us who say we love these folks (homosexuals), they are welcome at church with us, to be involved in ministry with us, but we are not in the business of blessing sinful behavior. Whether we want to or not, our authority isn’t us. We’re not a democracy where we get to outvote God. Because we believe God’s word is clear on this issue, we don’t have the authority to override that with a vote…
…God’s law is not up for a vote. We don’t get to debate that. For us it is a settled issue. That doesn’t mean it is comfortable for us to say that; we’re not naive we are aware there’s a culture out there that thinks that is a horrendously horrible thing to say – that it is filled with bigotry and hatred, but it is not.
He also made very clear that we as followers of Christ must love and accept homosexuals as persons, even if we do not accept their behavior. Pastor Housholder also notes that unlike the Episcopal Church, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly’s decisions are not binding on congregations – “your church won’t change unless it chooses to change.” He also doesn’t believe the Assembly represents the majority of those who are members in ELCA churches. “If we were to vote, not that we should vote on this, but if we did, it wouldn’t come close to passing.”
He also for now says that Lutheran Church of Hope is “threatening to stay” to see if they can’t bring change. He says it would be easy for them to leave and even be an independent Lutheran Church, but they are the strength and backbone for small ELCA churches that are like-minded that don’t have the resources to leave. He said that at some point they may have to leave if forced to teach or do something that is in conflict with biblical authority, but since it is non-binding they will likely stay.
Pastor John Kline is senior pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in Des Moines, another large ELCA congregation, had this to say on Saturday on his blog when considering if Zion should leave the ELCA:
We must pray and seek the face of the Lord together but in short of repealing recent decisions, I don’t see how we can proceed in the company of the ELCA. We simply don’t value the same things any more.
This will be an incredibly hard parting for those of us who grew up in the ELCA and its predecessor bodies. We need to be very patient and understanding with each other. But this isn’t about leaving the Lutheran Church. This is about finding our home in a Lutheran body which shares our love of Scripture and of Christ Himself. To quote an oft use phrase: In this case perhaps we have not left the denomination so much as the denomination has left us.
As a congregation, Nazareth strongly opposes these proposals, and the Nazareth Church Council recently communicated that opposition in a letter addressed to the Presiding Bishop and the national Church Council of the ELCA.
It is important to remember that our congregation retains the sole authority to call its own pastors (by a 2/3 vote at a congregational meeting), so these proposals, even if they are approved in some form by the Churchwide Assembly, would not directly or immediately affect Nazareth.
In reading scripture, we believe there is clear biblical teaching that prohibits homosexual behavior and that declares such behavior to be sinful. We are grieved that this issue is not only causing division within the ELCA, but is also causing much pain in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We must remember God’s first command to love Him and to love others.
Until the Churchwide Assembly formally acts, we as a congregation cannot know what our response should be. As a part of the Body of Christ, we have a desire to be unified in Christ, both within our congregation and with our fellow Lutherans. Our heritage as a congregation is uniquely both evangelical and Lutheran and rests firmly upon the authority of scripture. As a congregation, we are called to be a strong witness of our faith in Jesus Christ. We can best do this by being faithful and submissive to the authority of scripture. We encourage you to pray, to trust God in His leading and guiding, and to continue to focus on our mission as a congregation.
So if there is no “bolting” of churches in the ELCA it will only be as a result of churches who disagree rejecting the authority of the Churchwide Assembly and not see this statement as binding. I don’t see that guaranteed however. I would suspect that ELCA churches that do adopt the Assembly’s decisions would see attrition by those who love the truth and authority of God’s word.
One thing is clear is the spin that Beeman gave his news article. With a little research I found three statements from three prominent ELCA churches or pastors who dissent, couldn’t he have done the same?